(A slightly-delayed post from the summer…be warned it’s a little long!)
Two weeks in Kyrgyzstan, a small, mountainous, partially “democratic” ex-Soviet republic in Central Asia – this land of soaring peaks and stunning green-carpeted vistas was the antidote to our city-hopping in Uzbekistan. Two weeks turned out to be not nearly long enough to explore properly as there are lots of places to go to, and travelling around is quite slow and frustrating. There is almost no public transport – between popular places there are shared taxis and minibuses, but as soon as you leave the most central highways, you’re utterly reliant on hitchhiking. More prepared travellers than us arranged car hire, and on balance this would have been a great idea, though apparently there are very few cars available to hire so you must book far ahead. Plus, the number of crashed-up car wrecks we passed on the side of the road suggests it’s not the safest place to drive… However, once we had managed to get to each place we wanted to visit, we had a fantastic time! (more…)
NB: this post was actually written in December 2015 as the last elephant on my South East Asia trip. However it has evaded publication up til this point!
The highlight of our day trip from Bangkok to Ayutthaya was certainly the discovery of this elephant centre. Ayutthaya is the ancient capital of Thailand, and Christine and I visited it on one of our final days in Thailand, just before I flew home. The ruins were also interesting but unfortunately very much still in ruins after having been razed by the Burmese in 1767. In its day it had been one of the foremost cities of the world, but it was quite hard to imagine the place in all its former glory, especially as it was a baking hot day and we were perspiring greatly as we biked around the various temples (before finding an amazing smoothie-juice bar).
We decided not to take a ride on the elephants as I’m never quite sure about the ethics of elephant rides for tourists, but we did buy a basket of food, and had a great time feeding (or having food stolen by) several of the elephants. For an interesting discussion about elephants and tourism, do check out this post. Though the author of that blog decided to give the Ayutthaya elephants a ride, I think it’s an issue that it’s very important to be aware of as a tourist visiting a country that has elephants, so if you do decide to do it, at least you know what you’re doing. I got a bit of a behind-the-scenes insight of the elephant industry in my time in Rajasthan in India in 2011, and after having been appalled by what was going on (exploitation of both elephants and humans by one very selfish man in search of huge profits), I decided not to ride any more elephants unless I could be quite sure of the situation. That’s probably enough elephant-preaching from me for one post…
Unfortunately, Kyrgyzstan turned out to be rather thin on elephants. This was an ornament I found in a homestay in Kyzyl Oi, a small village in the Suusamyr valley – I think it was the only elephant I spotted in the whole country! (more…)
When I told friends that I would be travelling to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan this summer, I was met with a faces showing emotions ranging from confusion to surprise to bafflement and comments along the lines of “like in Borat?” (no, that’s Kazakhstan!). More often than not it was simply blank faces that stared back at me – where the hell is Uzbekistan and why on earth would I want to go there? This post is an attempt to explain why I would count our two weeks in Uzbekistan as one of my most successful trips, and why it’s an amazing place to travel to! (more…)