Posts Tagged ‘tourism

Wat Pho through my eyes

with 4 comments

Wat Pho is one of the most-visited temples in Bangkok and it’s one of the most photographed. So when I returned to the temple last weekend, I deliberately tried to stay clear of the crowds as far as that was possible and explored some of the quieter corners of the complex.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Written by Thorsten

August 21, 2012 at 6:25 pm

Saturday in Halong Bay

with 6 comments

Halong Bay, VietnamIt’s been a few years since I’ve been out on a boat in Vietnam’s Halong Bay.

I’d heard from friends that things had gotten really crowded out there: too many tourist boats. Too much diesel fume in the air. Too much trash thrown into the water.

No doubt: Halong Bay is still beautiful. No wonder it’s Vietnam’s prime tourist attraction. But you can see how crowded the waters of the bay are in this little film I made.

UNESCO designated the bay with its hundreds of little islands a World Heritage Site in 1994. Rumor has it that UNESCO is considering withdrawing this title because of the damage that tourism is doing to the area. Not a pleasant thought. But then again: visiting the bay today, I was part of the problem. Oops.

According to Wikipedia,

Fuel and oil, along with tourist litter, have created pollution problems, which impact on both the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem of the islands. Human waste from portable toilets erected for tourists, finds its way into the soil and water surrounding the islands, once more altering the ecosystem functioning, through increased nutrient flow.


The delicate limestone cave ecosystems are diminishing as tourists visiting the caves break off stalagmites and stalactites. Litter, including wine bottles, are dropped into cave streams. Visitors exhale carbon dioxide, which has a deleterious effect on the caves. The mouths of some caves have been widened to allow for tourist access. This increase in light has led to an imbalance in the delicate links between flora and fauna, and a decrease in the humidity of the caves.

What can you do if you still want to see Halong Bay?

I can’t recommend going out there on a one-day trip. On these short trips, the tour operators only take you to the most visited places. You get a glimpse of the bay, but you can’t really enjoy it because you’re always with a crowd.

Halong Bay, VietnamMaybe it’s better to invest in a longer trip with a more conscientious tour operator. One that takes tourists on eco-friendly cruises or one that goes off the beaten track.

I’ve heard that some operators like HanoiKultour don’t go with the pack of boats touring the bay every day. Instead, they travel on different routes, visit different islands within the bay. That way, the masses of tourists spread out a little.

And who knows – Mother Nature might even have a chance to deal with the damage they do and actually recover.

Written by Thorsten

August 6, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Behind the scenes at the Tsechu

with 4 comments

child monk with ritual mask

This weekend, we got a chance to look behind the scenes of a Tsechu.

This three-day religious festival includes masked dances performed by Buddhist monks.

It’s held once a year in each disctrict or dzongkhag in Bhutan.

For the Bhutanese, the Tsechu is the highlight of the year. Some of them walk for days from their remote Himalayan villages to be part of it.

A deeply religious festival for the Bhutanese

Not many Westerners have a chance to witness these spiritual gatherings. So we were very lucky to be able to attend the Tsechu in Punakha this weekend.

Punakha dzongPunakha is home to one of the most important and most beautiful dzongs in Bhutan.

The dzong is where the religious ceremonies of the Tsechu take place.

It’s the fortress-like religious and administrative center of each district.

The Punakha dzong is made up of many different buildings, courtyards, stairways and walkways.

Inside Punakha dzongWhile the religious dances were taking place in the main courtyard, I sometimes took the chance to stroll around.

I was practically the only tourist in these parts of the dzong.

Most of the other people there were Buddhist monks or Bhutanese visitors to the Tsechu.

On my strolls around the compound, I came across the halls where the monks were getting dressed for their religious dances.

Here, they put on their colorful costumes and elaborate headdresses.

Monks in costume for the Tsechu

monks waiting behind a curtain for the next spiritual danceThen the monks made their way to the edge of the main courtyard, where their ritual dance was due to begin.

They waited behind an orange curtain for other monks to give them the sign to go out onto the courtyard.

Meanwhile, on a balcony above, other monks had picked up their instruments to start the musical fanfare.

Monks playing traditional Bhutanese instrumentsThe inside perspective

Seeing them get ready and play their instruments was something that normal tourists weren’t able to witness from this perspective.

We were lucky that we’d gotten VIP passes allowing us on to the balconies surrounding the courtyard.

Our Buthanese hosts had been kind enough to organise these passes for us.

They could not have guessed how special they made us feel and how fascinating they made this Tsechu for us.

next to the reincarnation in the dining hall of Punakha dzongFor lunch, our VIP status got us entry into the dining hall reserved for monks, celebrities and the higher clergy. Here, we were treated to wonderful Bhutanese food.

One day, the 69th reincarnation of one of Bhutan’s past senior religious figures, Je Khenpo Gyedun Rinchen, sat next to us during lunch.

He’s about five years old and it was interesting to see how the senior monks who surrounded him treated him with the highest respect. There was hardly anything childlike about him. And even we could tell that he had a very special aura.

monk returning from ritual danceAfter lunch, it was back to the hallways and the courtyards, where some monks were just coming back from their masked dance.

This one is holding his heavy wooden mask as he walks back to the hall where he will change out of his brocade costume.

He is wearing a protective cap because his carved wooden mask is not padded.

The mask would otherwise bruise his face and the strings that are used to fasten the mask to his head would cut into his flesh.

child monk putting on ritual maskI feel very fortunate that I was able to be a part of this deeply spiritual ceremony.

And being allowed to look behind the scenes, to see the monks with and without their ceremonial masks, was an unforgettable experience.

Written by Thorsten

March 10, 2009 at 6:05 pm

Welcome to the world

leave a comment »

The Vasa sank on its maiden voyage in 1628

The Vasa sank on its maiden voyage in 1628

At Stockholm’s Vasamuseet, you can see a Swedish battleship that sank in 1628 and that was raised from the seabed in the 1960’s.

But you can also see evidence of the end of the cold war and globalisation at this museum.

Throughout the museum, you’ll find multilingual explanations and descriptions of the exhibits. The information is given in Swedish, English, German, French, Spanish, Japanese and Finnish. When the museum opened in 1990, these were the main languages that the visitors to the museum spoke.

Since then, however, the world has changed. Tourists from other parts of the world have entered the stage, and so the Vasa Museum has added two more languages: Chinese and Russian. You can see that they were attached to the information boards later because there is a little gap where the new texts were screwed on to the original information boards.

When I was at the Vasamuseet this past weekend, I thought it was great how these little add-ons show that the Russians and Chinese now have more freedom to travel than twenty years ago.

Now they, too, can finally say “Hello, world.”

Written by Thorsten

August 6, 2008 at 2:12 pm

New York – Still Almost the Same

with one comment

Lady Liberty I came across a music video clip in a blog the other day – and I haven’t stopped humming the tune since then.

It’s an excerpt from the song & dance movie “On The Town”, which was filmed in 1949.

In the clip, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munchin are sailors who have 24 hours on land to explore New York. For the three minutes of the song, they dance and sing their way through New York, seeing a lot of the major sights and attractions.

What I found really fascinating (apart from the music) is that almost sixty years after these scenes were shot, a lot of those backdrops are still around, still recognizable and still tourist attractions.

The pathway across Brooklyn Bridge still looks just like it did in the old film clip, so does the Stock Exchange at Wall Street. Chinatown still has vendors selling Asian stuff on the streets and Lady Liberty doesn’t seem to have aged much either.

Of course, some details have changed – for instance, the visitors’ platform on top of the Rockefeller Center, where the three sailors enjoy the view.

A few years ago, this platform was nicely done-up and rebranded ‘Top of the Rocks’. With a lot of added security like large panes of plexiglass to prevent people from jumping or throwing stuff down. Kelly, Sinatra and Munchin could have easily done that in 1949…

Granted, between 1949, when the movie was shot and today, a lot has changed in New York. The Twin Towers went up and came down. Frank Lloyd Wright built the Guggenheim, and many new skyscrapers now make up the skyline of Manhattan.

But still – I found it amazing that a three-minute video-clip from 1949 can capture so many of the things that are still on the agenda of visitors to New York today. They certainly were on my agenda when I was in the city earlier this month.

Just wish those three sailors had serenaded me on my long walks through the city…

%d bloggers like this: