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The Silk Road. The road less travelled.

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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 ThaigerThe 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 ofSilk 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.

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Top 10 tips to avoid food poisoning in Thailand, and how to recover

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Top 10 tips to avoid food poisoning in Thailand, and how to recover | The Thaiger

NOTICE: The Thaiger are experienced travellers but we’re not doctors. This information is provided as a general guideline if you are confronted with food poisoning. In all cases consider seeking medical attention.

Travelling in foreign locations and trying out the local dishes will always risk a bout of the dreaded food poisoning – Bali belly, Thailand tummy. Thailand has some of the world’s tastiest food but also the potential to put you flat on your back for a few days.

Travelling around Thailand you face a double whammy of exotic new spices along with an equally exotic list of new microbes and bacteria working hard to make your day a bad one. One bit of bad luck and you’ll disrupt the delicate balance found within your digestive system.

Contaminated water? Spoiled meat? Food left out in the open for too long? Whilst the vast majority of Thai food, even the street food, is unlikely to upset your digestive system, the more adventurous your eating, the more likely you are to confront a bout of food poisoning along your journey.

It will start with stomach cramps, nausea and sweating. It will usually kick in in the first four hours after your meal, probably earlier. You’ll know it!

Projectile vomiting and diarrhea are usually the result and the next 10-12 hours of your life will be spent in close proximity to a toilet. You will feel like death-warmed-up… chills, cramps, maybe a fever and lots of sweating. But you WILL get over it.

Here is The Thaiger’s Top Ten ways to avoid, and recover from, a bout of food poisoning.

Top 10 tips to avoid food poisoning in Thailand, and how to recover | News by The Thaiger

Don’t get food poisoning!

The best way to avoid food poisoning, or its lesser partner traveller’s diarrhea, is to not get it in the first place. But even the most cautious tourist can consume something they think is safe… but isn’t.

Avoiding food poisoning is everyone’s obvious aim, but if it does happens it’s not the end of the world. But it is going to put a dent in your plans for a few days. Be cautious, read up about potential problems and turn you brain on before you go ‘full commando’ on food you’ve never experienced.

No fresh leafy greens

Unless you are absolutely sure they have been copiously washed with filtered water it is best to avoid eating anything in this category. Cooked greens are usually ok, especially in boiled soups. Try to also avoid raw unpeeled fruit or vegetables as well.

Salads in a street restaurant, somewhere off the beaten track? Probably not.

Street food

Street food, literally food you can buy on the kerbside or footpaths anywhere in Thailand, often looks and smells amazing, and is usually safe to eat. But avoid anything that looks like it’s been sitting around in the sun and humidity. Stick with bubbling boiling soups, freshly fried Pad Thai, and meat that has been grilled right in front of you.

Ice ice baby

The vast majority of restaurants and bars in tourist areas use ice that comes from frozen purified water and have it delivered daily. Off the beaten track it’s best to ask first if the ice (nam kang) is made from tap water or is fresh that day. When in doubt, leave it out – better a warm beer than half a day leaning over the toilet 🙂

Drinking water

It’s best to observe the golden rule about drinking water in Thailand – never drink the tap water. The down-side is that most of the potable water is going to come to you in a single-use plastic water bottle which we’re all trying to avoid these days. Most hotels, and some restaurants, will have drinking stations where you can top up your water safely.

Drinking water is very cheap in Thailand and is available everywhere, like EVERYWHERE!

All that said, we suspect that in places like Phuket, Chiang Mai, most of inner Bangkok, Pattaya and Hua Hin, the water out of the tap IS safe to drink these days. But don’t take our word for it! As a traveller, you need to err on the side of caution.

The Thaiger has lived in Thailand for a decade and brushes teeth and uses the local supply (in Phuket and Bangkok) and has never had any ‘tummy-rumbles’ from interacting with the local potable water supply. But that’s not a scientific study, just our own experience.

Leftovers

“Mmmm, that pizza was great last night. I’ll have the rest tomorrow.”

Maybe, but you need to refrigerate it before it gets cold and then eat it quickly the next day before it has time to ‘warm up’. If it’s more than a day old, throw it out or feed it to the dog or cat who have cast-iron stomachs compared to humans.

Ditto for any other leftover you think you’d like to save for the next day.

Top 10 tips to avoid food poisoning in Thailand, and how to recover | News by The Thaiger

Rehydration

If you are experiencing diarrhea or vomiting you need to make sure you rehydrate properly. If you are not doing a great job holding water in, go to the nearest pharmacy and pick up Oral Rehydration packets.

If you are suffering from food poisoning in Thailand you will do well to grab some of these packets. They should cost you no more than 5 baht. Use up to 5 a day.

Seek Medical Treatment

If it’s a mild case you are probably going to be able to self-medicate your way back to perfect health. If it’s serious and you’re just flat on your back (between rushing to the toilet) for more than a day, then you’d be advised to seek medical attention. If you have blood in your vomit or stools, or high fever lasting more than an hour or so, seek medical attention quickly.

Thai doctors usually go down the medication route whereas some western doctors would now specify a more natural approach to recovery. If you have medical and travel insurance (you’re insane travelling without both!), and are in places like Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Pattaya, Samui, Hua Hin or Khon Kaen, then head to a private international hospital, rather than a local hospital.

There’s nothing really wrong with the local hospitals – you will be charged less but you will be charged – but you’re going to have to battle language barriers and waits at a time when you’re not really focussed on anything except how sick you feel.

A better choice would be a local clinic – Google is your best friend here or ask you hotel or someone with some local knowledge.

CAUTION: A lot of people use to take Loperamide aka. ‘Imodium’ when they had diarrhea in the past. Generally medical advice these days is NOT to take these drugs unless you consult a doctor first. Read more HERE.

Rest and time

Your body will use a lot of energy trying to evacuate whatever is making you sick. Sometimes you will wonder where everything coming out of you, is coming from! It’s just a never-ending source of hell. At some stage though it will calm down and your poor body will be exhausted. So rest.

Don’t be afraid to miss out on a couple of days of activities as a result – put your body and recovery ahead of anything. For now you need lots of sleep and rest.

Be a BRAT

For a few days stay off the exotic foods that put you here in the first place. Go bland, go BRAT. The BRAT diet is tried and tested and, whilst not very exciting, will hep the flora of your stomach recover quickly while getting enough nutrients to keep you going.

BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. Yeah, bland indeed.

You can add to this fairly palette with other gentle foods… plain biscuits, oatmeal, weak tea, apple juice or flat carbonated drinks (just open them and let them sit for a few hours to lose their ‘fizz’), bland ‘broth’ soups, boiled potatoes.

Here are foods to avoid during your recovery… milk and dairy, anything fried, greasy, fatty, or spicy, steak, pork, salmon, and sardines, raw veggies, including salad greens, carrot sticks, broccoli, and cauliflower, fruits, such as pineapple, orange, grapefruit, apple, and tomato, very hot or cold drinks, alcohol, coffee, or other drinks containing caffeine. Or Thai food generally!

After a few days on BRAT you can start trying things like soft-cooked eggs, cooked fruits and vegetables, and white meat, like chicken or turkey.

Importantly, until your body has finished getting rid of ‘whatever is ailing you’, don’t eat anything. It will just end up, along with everything else, making a quick journey from one end of your body to the other.

Start drinking flat soda (lemonade) or carbonated drinks, or ‘Gatorade’-style electrolyte drinks (you can powders from any Pharmacy) as soon as you can to keep the body hydrated, even fresh coconut water, (although make sure it is fresh, otherwise you’re going to end up in the toilet).

Dehydration is a big problem following a bout of vomiting and diarrhea so focus on getting some fluids back into your system as soon as you can tolerate it.

Top 10 tips to avoid food poisoning in Thailand, and how to recover | News by The Thaiger

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Bangkok Airways offering up to a 20% discount to certain groups of Thais

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Bangkok Airways offering up to a 20% discount to certain groups of Thais | The Thaiger

Bangkok Airways is offering 10 to 20% off its standard rates to certain groups of Thai citizens. The demographic groups are split into 5 categories: senior citizens who are 60 years old or over, undergraduates which include students and teachers, disabled persons, travel-related professionals and government officials.

All groups will receive 20% discounts except government officials who will receive 10%.

The discounts are valid on reservations made through December 31, 2020 with travelling dates valid as of October 1 onwards. Such standard rates or fares are the ones posted on the airline’s websites and not on travel agency sites. Passengers receiving the discounts must provide proof of receiving the discount to airline staff upon checking in for their flights.

Yeah, ummm… just Thai citizens get the special deals.

SOURCE: TTR Weekly

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Thai Air Asia returns to Suvarnabhumi in addition to its Don Mueang hub

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Thai Air Asia returns to Suvarnabhumi in addition to its Don Mueang hub | The Thaiger

Thai AirAsia is spreading its Bangkok wings and opening up a secondary hub at the main Suvarnabhumi airport (BKK), to help broaden its attraction and bolster its bottomline. Thai Air Asia was the first airline to head back to the moth-balled Don Mueang in 2012 to re-establish the older airport after all the airlines moved across to the new Suvarnabhumi and discount airlines were seeking a lower-cost base.

Although Thai Air Asia carried 22.15 million passengers last year, this year’s total will fall a long way short, just 6 million for 2020 up to date. Under the new set up, Thai AirAsia will have resumed nearly 90% of its pre-Covid domestic services, a total of 109 daily flights to 39 destinations. There will be 97 flights from Don Mueang Airport and 12 from Suvarnabhumi Airport.

With only a handful of international traffic, Suvarnabhumi officials are keen to re-kindle revenue for the massive airport and have struck a deal with Thai Air Asia to trial operations from BKK. They will be the only domestic carrier to operate flights from the two airports.

If the 2 month trial at Suvarnabhumi is successful, Thai AirAsia plans to add another plane to the BKK fleet by the end of the year. At this stage the trial is only approved up to the end of November.

Thai Air Asia have been concentrating on their ‘bus’ model to ferry passengers from the terminals to their aircraft waiting on remote airport aprons, and visa versa, to avoid some of the landing charges and using the sky-bridges. Some passengers have been complaining about the long trips in crowded buses, wild rides and over-enthusiastic air conditioning, whilst being told to strictly adhere to social distancing.

This week the Malaysian parent company Air Asia, announced the introduction of a ‘super app’, in an attempt to off-set the significant financial losses brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. The mobile application shuffles Air Asia’s model as a flight and accommodation provider, to a broader platform of complimentary services. The app will offer users a variety of options, including digital payment services, delivery services, and an e-commerce platform. Air Asia Chief Executive and founder, Tony Fernandes, says the idea for the app was floated prior to the pandemic, but Covid-19 hastened its development.

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