India. The word evokes many images. A land of more than one billion people reaching from the vast Indian Ocean to the stunning Himalayas, India is awash in unparalleled color and beauty. Few locales in the world match its stimulating effect on the five senses — the exotic sights, a cacophony of sound, and exotic smells, tastes, and sensations of a vibrant place. The essence of “India” goes far beyond its exotic, and at times mystical, reputation. Its reality is far more complex that its ecologically diverse geography with dry deserts, towering peaks, and subtropical lowlands; ancient history spanning centuries of kingdoms and modern incarnation; and cultural and spiritual enclaves offer the casual eye at first glance. India is a country in the midst of change that honors its rich heritage as it establishes itself as one of the most dynamic and fastest-growing economies in the world. Millions of tourists journey to India each year to see it for themselves, drawn by the lure of Taj Mahal in Agra, the Golden Triangle, the Land of Kings, Rajasthan, Kerala, and elsewhere. Most soon discover that India is so much more than that. It is a home to countless languages, religions, and traditions — even gods. It’s impossible to absorb it all in just one visit. One must take a pilgrimage or a life-changing experience to begin to understand what India personally means.
The Philippines is a land of contrasts. An archipelago of more than 7,100 islands with almost 100 million inhabitants, it is the most Hispanic nation in Asia but a place all its own. From shades of Spanish culture, Roman Catholicism and Islam, American-style malls and fast food, and its very name in honor of King Philip II of Spain, the country has long been shaped by foreign influences. Combined with its indigenous heritage, the Philippines has become a nation diverse and unique. From the millions of Filipinos who work hard around the world to provide for their families back home to the tragedy of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) that devastated the central part of the country in November 2013, the Philippines is a land filled with resilience and hope. Poverty and an increasing sense that life is getting better for most. Beauty and bad traffic. Gorgeous volcanoes that wipe out cities and villages. Delicious food cheap and fattening. Warm and friendly people who live life and make the best of what may come, for better or for worse. If you have the chance to visit the Philippines, take it. But don’t simply head to a beach resort for scuba diving and a tan. Hop in a Jeepney and go off the beaten path. You’ll never know what you’ll find in this incredible archipelago.
More About the Philippines
A View of Taal Lake and Volcano Island in Tagaytay
Sunset over Manila Bay
Entrance Gate of Fort Santiago in Intramuros, Manila
Kilometer Marker 21 of the Bataan Death March and Mt. Samet on the Bataan Peninsula
During my 2014 trip to the Philippines, I retraced the route of the infamous Bataan Death March on the Bataan Peninsula on Luzon Island north of Manila. It was fortuitous that I followed the route on the 72nd anniversary of the March.
After the surrender of the U.S.-Filipino Bataan Defense Force during World War II to the Japanese on April 9, 1942, thousands of American and Filipino prisoners were force marched 102 kilometers from Mariveles and Bagac on the Bataan Peninsula to San Fernando in Pampanga. An estimated 60,000-80,000 Filipino and American prisoners of war endured the seven-day Bataan Death March. Those who made it to San Fernando on April 17, 1942, were loaded onto train cars by the hundreds and transferred by rail to the concentration camp at Camp O’Donell. Approximately 2,500-10,000 Filipino and 100-650 American prisoners of war died from execution, exhaustion, injury, thirst, malaria, and other causes along the way. Survivors were held prisoner until Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II in September 1945.
This video footage shows what the route of the Bataan Death March looks like today.
No longer a dirt trail, much of it is now the Bataan Provincial Expressway. It begins at Zero Kilometer Death March Marker (Km 00) Memorial in Mariveles. A second route from Bagac, a district in the interior of Bataan Peninsula where thousands more prisoners were forced marched, merges with the Mariveles branch at Kilometer 23. The highway continues north to San Fernando with dozens of markers and memorials along the way.
The video begins at Zero Kilometer and follows the Bataan Death March route from kilometer 4 to 13. The shaky cam from an air-conditioned vehicle doesn’t convey what prisoners of war endured during the March, but it will give you a sense of the challenges they faced en route.
Macau is a place of contrasts. Macau, or Macao as it was better known when it was a Portuguese colony, is officially the Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China. Like its many names, the SAR is filled with more people, culture, and history than its small size suggests. Sitting on just 29.5 square kilometers (11.39 sq. miles) of land, some of it reclaimed from the Pearl River Delta, Macau has a population of more than 600,000 with a density of more than 18,500 people per square kilometer (48,000 per square mile). Although crowded, its denseness does not seem so much from its small footprint as from its rich and colorful history. The former colony still retains much of its Portuguese and indigenous Cantonese character but has grown more Chinese since its return to China in 1999. As the country’s only destination for legalized gambling, a Portuguese legacy dating back to the 1850s, Macau has become a tourist draw with its growing array of gambling and Las Vegas-style entertainment and conference venues. Nestled amid the grand casinos are neighborhoods steeped in colonial and traditional Chinese heritage. Like its sister across the delta in Hong Kong, Macau is worth highlighting as a semi-autonomous region because of its unique character and heritage.
More About Macau
- Top Ten Things to Savor in Macau
- A Skyline View of Macau (Video)
- The Historic Center of Macau
- “The House of Dancing Water” Show in Macau
- Other articles
Ruin of St. Paul’s Cathedral
A Skyline View of Macau
Taipu Village at Night
From the Atlantic Ocean to the top of the Andes Mountains, Argentina is a bridge between the Old and New Worlds. Innately European but distinctly Latin American, the country is a melding of cultural influences brought by the Spaniards and western immigrants and a unique geographic backdrop that offers some of earth’s most stunning scenes. Renown Argentine writer Ernesto Sabato described his homeland thus: “Because of our European roots, we deeply link the nation with the enduring values of the Old World; because of our condition of Americans we link ourselves to the rest of the continent.” One cannot sit drinking a glass of Mendoza wine in the foothills of the Andes or enjoying parrilla (grill) in the shadow of the cruise ships bound for Antarctica departing from Tierra del Fuego without thinking of Europe and the Americas. Argentines are rightly proud of their country and culture that invite visitors to indulge in and savor.
More About Argentina
- Perito Moreno Glacier (Video)
- Three Views of Iguazu Falls (Video)
- Iguazu Falls vs. Victoria Falls (with Photos)
- Ethnic Cuisine in Buenos Aires
- Remembering the Falklands
- Other articles
Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires
Penguin and Seal Colony in the Beagle Channel, Tierra del Fuego
Llao Llao Resort and Nahuel Huapi Lake near San Carlos de Bariloche
Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glacieres National Park
South America’s largest country defies easy description. From the Andes Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean and the Amazon River Basin to the steppes of the Mato Grasso and beyond, Brazil encompasses a staggering 43 percent of South America’s land mass. In addition to being the world’s fifth largest country by size, it is also one of the continent’s most diverse lands. Brazil is a cultural amalgamation of indigenous roots and western influences. The former Portuguese colony has developed a unique culture shaped by native tribes and thousands of immigrants from Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, and elsewhere. One of the world’s most important emerging markets with a dynamic, growing economy, Brazil has taken center stage in the sporting world as host of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics. A short visit will only give you a taste of what this amazing place has to offer and leave you thirsting for more of its unique vibe.
More About Brazil
- Manaus, Brazil – Heart of the Amazon
- The Amazon River
- An Eco-Resort in the Amazon
- Amazon Monkey Reserve
- Meeting of the Waters in the Amazon
- Amazon Nature Walk
- The Amazon Indigenous
- Iguazu Falls vs. Victoria Falls
- Other articles
This is the final article in a six-part series about Hua Hin, Thailand, a coastal city near Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand. Hua Hin hosts the annual King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament, a fun and unique sporting event. The 2012 tournament inspired me to write the children’s picture book Ellie the Elephant about an elephant that dreams of playing in the tournament. Enjoy this and other travelogues about the Hua Hin area.
Elephant polo is a fascinating sport to watch. A variant of equestrian polo, elephant polo originated in Meghauli, Nepal and is played in Nepal, Thailand, India, and Sri Lanka. Teams from England and Scotland also participate in organized tournaments. The sport is governed worldwide by the Kathmandu, Nepal-based World Elephant Polo Association (WEPA) and in Thailand by the Thailand Elephant Polo Association.
The sport features Asian elephants ridden by a polo player and a mahout who steers the elephant. Players hit polo balls into goals with a mallet attached to the end of a long stick. Goal posts are located at either end of a pitch that’s three quarters the size of an equestrian polo field. Teams of four players, mahouts and elephants square off for two ten-minute “chukkers” (time periods) with a 15-minute time out (“interval”). The team with the most goals at the end of the second chukker wins the match. A full list of elephant polo rules is available here.
Thailand-based luxury resort and spa company Anantara Resorts hosts the annual King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament in Hua Hin. Military marching grounds south of Hua Hin Town make an ideal pitch for a week’s worth of elephant polo matches. Dozens of sponsors set up pavilions on the sidelines that cater to visitors and polo players who come from around the world to watch or participate in the games. My family and I watched the 2012 championship match on the final day of competition; other spectators spent the entire week at the event.
While the sport has come under some scrutiny for the use and treatment of elephants, the elephants participating in the King’s Cup seemed content on the sidelines and competitive on the field. They appeared as engaged and eager to participate as the human players. Elephant Polo in Nepal and Thailand is played under the auspices of the WEPA, which enforces strict rules on elephant welfare and game play. To my knowledge, no instances of alleged mistreatment of elephants related to elephant polo have been reported in Thailand.
We enjoyed mingling with the elephants on the sidelines where the polo teams waited to saddle up. Several elephants huddled near the edge of the pen watching the matches and munching on feed like popcorn. They didn’t seemed to mind the spectators who gathered around them for photos. It was all part of their duties as star athletes. We enjoyed taking photos with a jovial pachyderm who inspired the character Ellie the Elephant in my book. This elephant was doing what Ellie aspired to do – play competitive elephant polo.
The mahouts tended to the animals, feeding them, saddling them up, and guiding them on the pitch. They appeared to have experience working with the animals, while the skill of the players varied according to their familiarity with elephant polo. One replacement player took the field for the first time and had trouble handling the cumbersome mallet taller than an elephant’s shoulders. Watching the elephants, mahouts, and polo players work in tandem was mesmerizing. When a player missed hitting the ball, the elephant would back up so they could try again.
All the teams we watched did a splendid job. While only one won the King’s Cup, every team took home a trophy in the shape of an elephant’s head. The tournament was competitive and fun with all the excitement you would expect at any sporting event. There were scrimmages, breakaways, and the occasional error – all in the name of fun.
And you would have too! Here’s a video clip of elephant polo in action.
More about Hua Hin, Thailand
M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, and a short story collection called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. He also wrote and illustrated Alexander the Salamander and Ellie the Elephant, two books in the World Adventurers for Kids Series. His books are available in e-book and print from Amazon.com and other booksellers. Edwards graduated from the University of Washington with a master’s degree in China Studies and a Master of Business Administration. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.
For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.
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