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Friday, May 21, 2010

Top 5 off-beaten path Asian destinations

1. Gili Islands, Indonesia

Nestled alongside the Muslim island of Lombac, two hours by boat from the popular tourist island of Bali lie the Gili islands. The largest of the three, Gili Tranwangen, can be circumnavigated in a few hours with a bike. White sand beaches with warm, crystal clear turquoise waters welcome surround each island, collectively known as the turtle capital of the world. No vehicles are allowed on any of the three Gilis, so visitors must travel by foot, bike, or traditional horse-drawn carriage. Many of the beach-side restaurants serve up a fresh seafood bar-b-cue feast each evening with a late-night party three times per week at one of the local bars. Adventure travelers can enjoy stunning scuba diving along reefs, drop-offs and sunken ships with the opportunity to see an elusive sun fish. Kayaks, bikes, and snorkel gear are available for rent along many of the beaches for guests to cycle off to their own private beach for a day of sun.

2. Phu Quoc, Vietnam

Phu Quoc island, an hour flight from Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam, boasts beaches rivaling Thailand's without the resort development. The quiet beaches with their warm, gentle waters are best enjoyed in the winter months, when Vietnam's other beach towns of Hoi An and Nha Trang experience more inclement weather. Find yourself a quiet bungalow on the beach and laze away the days soaking up the sun, snorkeling, diving, or squid fishing in this untouched, lazy beach town.

3. Ulan Bator, Mongolia

The vast steppes of Mongolia, north of China offer some of the most pristine landscapes in the world. Ulan Bator, the capitol city of Mongolia, serves as the jumping-off point for visitors to this largely nomadic nation. Time your visit with the annual summer Nadam festivals and enjoy the archery, horse racing, dancing, and singing. Stay with a Mongolian family, known for hospitality, in a traditional ger, or tent, while you dine on sheep's head soup or fermented mare's milk. Spend the days on horseback traveling through the wide-open plains, or venture by camel into the Gobi desert. For the truly adventurous, visit Mongolia in the winter to experience sub-zero temperatures as you explore the snowy lands by dog sled.

4. Lhasa, Tibet

Lhasa, the birthplace of Tibetan Buddhism, sits at an elevation of over 11,000 feet. Dine on traditional mutton and beef as you explore the palaces and temples of this religious city. Of particular interest is the Potala Palace. The former residence of the Dalai Lama is now a museum. Plan your visit from March to October and give yourself enough time in the city to adjust to the high altitude.

5. Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap, located in the northern region of Cambodia, is home to the temples of Angkor Wat. The civil war and Khmer Rouge in the 1970s and 1980s made Siem Reap and neighboring Angkor Wat largely inaccessible to tourists, but the country has since experienced a boost in tourism to the famed temple complex. Hire a tour guide and tuk-tuk and spend your days exploring the many temples scattered throughout the Angkor complex. Make sure to see the Bayon, covered with 216 faced of Avalokiteshvara, Ta Prohm, made famous by the film Tomb Raider, and the main Angkor Wat temple depicted on the flag of Cambodia. As the temple grounds close for the evening, head back to the sleepy town to experience traditional Khmer cuisine or a late-night drink at one of the many local watering holes.
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Thai Riots Spark Reporting Via Twitter, YouTube

IDG News Service — The serious riots in Bangkok this week have taken a tragic toll out on the streets, but have also sparked an unprecedented emergence of amateur news gathering, shared over YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, which has proved ideal for the fast-moving situation.

The mainstream Thai and foreign media have been overwhelmed by a small army of individuals equipped with mobile phones and Twitter accounts, who are posting continuously from both sides of the barricades. Such grass-roots reporting may be commonplace in the developed world, but has come as a surprise in Thailand, which still lacks a commercial 3G service.

The appeal of online independent media is easy to understand; the official Thai media is slow and selective, as all the television stations are government-controlled and the message they are required to present is carefully tailored. By contrast, Twitter messages are posted within seconds of incidents occurring, followed a few minutes later by photos posted to TwitPic or TweetPhoto. Videos of street fighting between government forces and the Red Shirt protestors are appearing on YouTube within a few hours of incidents occurring.

The use of social media this week is reminiscent of how Iranians turned to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube last June, during the government crackdown on protesters following the disputed elections.

This intrusion of independent online news distribution into what has previously been a government monopoly is being keenly felt in many quarters. First, the Thai authorities have no way of blocking the online activities of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is widely regarded as both the figurehead and paymaster of the Red Shirts.

Thaksin, a billionaire who made his fortune in the Thai telecom market, has been a regular Twitter user since mid-2009 from his forced exile in Montenegro, and now has 96,000 followers. Although Thaksin has a Web site, a Facebook page, and conducts phone-ins and live-video broadcasts, Twitter is apparently his favorite communication method, providing a fast and convenient channel to local media.

Second, the YouTube videos have become instrumental in holding both sides to account for their actions. Acts of brutality and recklessness from both sides have been published, and government television has been forced into broadcasting special programs each evening devoted to analyzing the videos and highlighting what they describe as acts of terrorism by Red Shirts while absolving the government forces from criticism.

All this activity has thrived despite Thailand having the most outdated mobile phone system in South-East Asia. Alone among its neighbors, Thailand has no commercial 3G service, and will be without one until next year at least. Most of the country relies on GSM technology, with GPRS/EDGE available in the cities. Even impoverished neighbors Cambodia and Laos have 3G networks, supplied by Vietnamese company Viettel.

Thailand has yet to hold 3G spectrum auctions, with regulator National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) having cancelled several auctions over the past few years. The reasons for the cancellations range from complications in details of the bidding conditions, disagreements over pricing, and uncertainties over NTC's authority under the hurriedly written 2007 constitution which followed Thaksin's ouster.

The delay, critics say, is more likely due to the patronage-based approach to business favored by existing telecom companies allied to a confused regulatory environment, both of which are symptomatic of the country as a whole.

The horse-trading over telecommunications licenses is, in fact, exactly the kind of elitist and exclusionary process that the Red Shirt protestors claim to be trying to uproot.
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USNS Mercy Arrives in Guam for Pacific Partnership

WASHINGTON - The Military Sealift Command's hospital ship USNS Mercy is moored in Guam to bring on mission-support teams, supplies and other equipment to prepare for a five-month humanitarian deployment.

The deployment is part of Pacific Partnership 2010, the fifth in an annual series of U.S. Pacific Fleet humanitarian and civic assistance endeavors. The mission officially kicked off, May 1, when the Mercy left San Diego.

"We have a lot of partners out here," Navy Capt. Lisa M. Franchetti -- Mercy's commodore and commander for the overall Pacific Partnership mission – said yesterday in a "DoD Live" bloggers roundtable. "We have eight partner nations, six host nations and 17 [nongovernmental organizations] that will be sending volunteers throughout the mission."

This year's mission will focus on providing assistance ashore in a variety of ways, including engineering projects, medical and dental care, participating in subject-matter-expert exchanges and conducting programs to provide humanitarian and civic assistance to Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Palau and Papua New Guinea.

Mercy is expected to arrive in Vietnam, May 31, and it will remain on station for slightly more than two weeks. In addition to the current stop in Guam, the hospital ship will re-supply at logistical hubs in Singapore and in Darwin, Australia, during the deployment.

"I can't emphasize enough what a partnership it is," Franchetti said. "That's why they call it Pacific Partnership. [It] really is not purely a military mission in any sense of the word, and we really couldn't do the mission without the support of all our partners."

The crew accompaniment aboard Mercy this year is not exclusively from the Navy. "We have quite a few Air Force and Army personnel, which is very exciting," Franchetti said. "They come from all over the U.S. There is a request that goes out to join the mission, and with some commands, it is a very competitive process."

In addition to the military support during the deployment, Franchetti said, an additional 130 partner-nation personnel will join the crew, as well as 580 volunteers from 17 nongovernmental organizations. "The total number of personnel on board will fluctuate [near] 900, and our maximum number will be right around 1,100," she added.

For this mission, Mercy has been outfitted with humanitarian and civic assistance equipment, supplies and a staff augmented with a robust multi-specialized team of preventive medicine personnel, veterinarians, medical and dental teams and engineering personnel.

"In addition to [performing] surgeries aboard the Mercy, [during] every one of the visits we will provide primary health and dental clinics, biomedical repair opportunities, preventive medicine and veterinarian care, which is a new thing this year for most of our countries," Franchetti said.

Some servicemembers who are a part of the crew will have the chance to be aboard an Australian ship prior to joining with the guided missile frigate USS Crommelin in Papua New Guinea, Franchetti said. In addition, when Mercy arrives in Vietnam and Cambodia, military personnel from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force will assist in medical training and subject-matter exchanges to provide quality medical and dental healthcare.

While in Vietnam, the Japanese dock landing ship JDS Kunisaki will provide additional medical support.

"We will have a medical team made up of approximately 40 medical personnel from the Japanese Self Defense Forces, as well as three different Japanese [noncommissioned officers]," Franchetti said. "So we are very excited to have the opportunity to work together in both Vietnam and Cambodia."

The concept of Pacific Partnership evolved from the unprecedented international disaster response for countries devastated during the 2004 Asian tsunami. Follow-up missions recognized the benefits derived from cooperation between national governments, militaries, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations during disaster relief operations, as well as in civic assistance projects, according to the official Pacific Partnership website.
Read more! - Celebrate the Cambodian Queen Mother's Birthday in Siem Reap

PRLEAP.COM) can reveal that people who have booked accommodation in Siem Reap during June could find that their stay coincides with one of Cambodia’s royal holidays.

On June 18th, the country celebrates the birthday of the Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk.

This year, she will be marking her 74th birthday, while her husband will turn 88 at the end of October. Their eldest son Norodom Sihamoni is the current king of Cambodia.

Although this is only classed as a minor celebration, anyone visiting Cambodia will notice that banners and greetings for the queen are rolled out around the country’s cities.

In recent years, it has become known as a family celebration, allowing parents to spend time with their children, Holidays Around the World informs.

People visiting Siem Reap will find that there are a range of activities organised for children on this day.

These are usually centred on parks or malls and many families choose to spend the day together and take part in the festivities.

In Cambodia, the royal family remain an important part of life, with several celebrations dedicated to them each year.

These include the King’s Birthday and Royal Ploughing Ceremony, which take place each May, as well as the King Father’s Birthday, which is marked in October.

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Cambodian royalist parties to merge ahead of 2013 election

Royalist parties of FUNCINPEC and Nationalist Party with former name as Norodom Ranariddh Party have agreed to establish an alliance to compete in 2013 general election, a party spokesman said Friday.

Peng Senga, spokesman of Nationalist Party said his party has held talks four times since last month with FUNCINPEC party and had agreed to establish an alliance, but more party's structures need further talks.

He said as the last meeting was convened on Wednesday, the two parties agreed to have co-presidents of the so-called "FUNCINPEC- Nationalist Alliance" while the position as secretary-general will need more discussion before final agreement to be made.

However, he said, the format for the secretary-general will be likely called as first and second with consensus voice or just first and second.

FUNCINPEC was originally brainstormed and set up as a front by then prince Norodom Sihanouk in 1986, but in 1992, it was transformed to a political party to challenge with Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party.

FUNCINPEC won general election in 1993, but had lost in the following three consecutive elections in 1998, 2003 and 2008.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh was the top leader since FUNCINPEC party was formed, but he was kicked out from the party in 2006, and the party then split into two: FUNCINPEC and Norodom Ranariddh Party, but now changed to Nationalist Party.

Currently, Cambodian People's Party has 90 seats in 123-seat parliament; Sam Rainsy Party gains 26, Human Rights Party has three, FUNCINPEC gains two and Norodom Ranariddh gains two.

Cambodia holds general election every five years and the next election will be held in 2013.

Source: Xinhua
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