Having Fun and Staying Safe (in Asia): January 6th-14th, 2019

Hello, Digital Travellers!  

Asia has been doing its thing over this slightly longer period (January 6th-14th), but not all of it is relevant to readers. So, today is a slender—and slightly later (apologies)—offering than normal. In the DPRK (North Korea to you and me), Kim boarded his fun train for China to discuss regional stability; Malaysia’s king abdicated (rumour has it’s because he secretly married a former Russian beauty queen); Taiwan seemed to lose around 150 Vietnamese tourists (though human trafficking is thought to be responsible); and a young Saudi girl fleeing family oppression found herself detained in Thailand but ultimately became a Canadian.

Beyond the political news—little of which poses much of a threat to the safety of Digital Travellers—there have been a few nuggets of positivity we’ve panned in the muddy river that is Asian news. In the heavily polluted Indian metropolises, early seasonal rains offered relief (now cities are only rated unhealthy); a Vietnamese firm, FastGo, plans to rapidly expand their presence in Myanmar which should making getting around much easier; and Thailand’s Sukhothai is promoted by National Geographic as one of those hidden treasures worth venturing to.

Disclaimer: The Digital Traveller Team endeavours to not proffer or impose our personal opinions on politically sensitive topics. If, however, you feel that we have gone beyond our usual mandate to highlight political and security developments in Asia, please email us at thedigitaltravellerteam@gmail.com so that we can correct it. Thank you.


The Middle East

Israel: This weekend saw an Israeli strike on reputed Iranian weapons in a warehouse in Damascus, Syria. Politics aside, there’s always a chance of retaliation. Digital Travellers heading to the Holy Land should therefore keep up-to-date with the regional news.

Iran: It seems that the Iranian elites are continuing with a bellicose posture towards certain states, while also building up stronger ties with others, including, perhaps unsurprisingly, Russia. The Islamic Republic are planning new naval drills with the Federation in the Caspian Sea. The two nations will practice anti-piracy drills amongst other things. While unlikely, this may have some ramifications for those travelling around the inland sea. This news adds to the already troubling stories that have witnessed the Iranians confirming their arrest of the US navy veteran, Michael White. The day prior, Al Jazeera ran a story that said Iran is being hit with yet more sanctions for an alleged role in killing dissidents. All this to say that while Iran has some incredible attractions for Digital Travellers, caution must be exercised (especially if you hold a US passport).

Saudi Arabia: The bombardment of news stories concerning Jamal Khashoggi and the war in Yemen (both of which heavily involve Mohammad bin Salman, or MbS) have receded somewhat in the New Year. Then, out of nowhere, an unknown variable once again cast the KSA in a less than flattering light: Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun. The young Saudi woman was fleeing her abusive family who were intent on forcing her into an arranged marriage, reaching as far as Thailand’s main Suvarnabhumi airport, from whence she intended to make for Australia and asylum. However, she was apprehended by Saudi and Kuwait officials who seized, by force, her travel documents and passport. She then barricaded herself in her hotel room fearing that she would be imprisoned or killed by her family once back in the KSA. Long story short, she eventually gained asylum and citizenship in Canada (there is a huge amount on news about this brave young lady; just type her name into a search engine for more information). What this story does do is highlight the unequal rights of women around the world, particularly in conservative countries like Saudi Arabia. As sad as it is to write, women do have to be more careful and vigilant in many countries around the world.


China and East Asia

China: The People’s Republic doesn’t take a day off, and neither does its army: the President ordered his troops to be battle-ready in an increasingly tense geopolitical atmosphere that includes claims on Taiwan, and a large body of water (as well as the atolls therein) in the disputed South China Sea.

North Korea: It’s that time of the year again when the DPRK’s notorious and much satirised leader, Kim Jong-un, headed to see his buddies within China’s politburo—at President Xi Jinping’s invitation. The meeting is important as the North Korean’s have suggested that they may seek aid from their old friend rather than pursue new avenues with the US that were opened up during the last year. Key DPRK-US issues over sanctions and denuclearisation remain current hurdles that could usher in the beginning of a dramatic political shift on the peninsular – or not. The little that has emerged from the two-day meeting reports that China’s Xi Jinping supports a seconding meeting between Kim and Trump, hoping that both sides are willing to meet half way on their demands and concerns.


Southeast Asia

Indonesia: Yet again, The Digital Traveller writes about another earthquake striking the archipelago. This time, nearly 200 kilometres to the northwest of the city of Ternate, a 6.6 seismic movement occurred. As far as we know, no casualties have been reported, nor are there further updates to our knowledge. Needless to say, if you’re heading to pretty much anywhere in Indonesia, be aware of earthquake drills, make a note of safe zones, and heed the advice of the local authorities.

Malaysia: The king, Sultan Muhammad V, has abdicated after weeks of uncertainty, concerning, in particular, rumours that he secretly married a former Russian beauty queen. He is the first king to abdicate since the country gained independence from the UK in 1957. This is more of an interesting occurrence within the Malay states than something to worry about.

Myanmar: As with all previous updates, Rakhine State is still a conflict zone and is difficult to access even if you should wish to go. The sheer volume of attacks by the Arakan Army mean you only need to do a quick Internet search to understand why it’s a danger area and why we haven’t referenced this problem.

There is some positive news though: Vietnamese ride-hailing firm, FastGo, which launched its services in Myanmar late in December, is planning to rapidly expand in 2019 with its eyes on some 2 million users and utilising around 100,000 drivers. This should be good news for Digital Traveller heading to Myanmar wishing to whizz around the country’s main urban centers.

And if you’re looking for some activities this week, the Inter Region & State Thaing [a marshal art] Championship 2019 is being held in the capital, Naypyitaw, between 17-21 January (The Global New Light of Myanmar, 14.01.2019: p.16). The ‘attacking’ events will feature both men and women, as well as competitions involving swords. Sounds cool, Digital Travellers! If old warrior-sports aren’t your thing, a new elephant camp will soon be open (around the middle of February) in Magway (The Global New Light of Myanmar, 14.01.2019: p.2). The project is set within an 8-acre camp, and will include amenities such as bungalows, common rooms, and elephant houses. Currently, there are 7 elephants, but the camp aims to increase this to 15. Obviously, there are ethical considerations with a) visiting Myanmar in general given the human rights violations, and b) riding elephants. However, unlike countries like Thailand that captures elephants from a young age and breaks them in, Myanmar has a surplus of state-owned pachyderms that are ‘unemployed’ since new regulations on the timber industry and logging came in (elephants are still used substantially in Myanmar’s logging industry). Ultimately, heading to countries like Myanmar and engaging in wildlife camps are a personal choice.

Thailand: Thankfully, and somewhat unexpectedly (given the dire warnings put out by various news agencies), just a day after our last update, the tourist-haven allowed its armadas of little boats to operate again with the worst of the storm passing. Flights also resumed. That’s not to say Thailand got away with just a foreshadowing of a much dire climate change-mutated future: damage was done to buildings, trees, and it disrupted power supplies.

On a more positive note, Abby Sewell piques one’s interest with her article on Sukhothai, and persuasively writes why the ancient city should be higher up on the list of places to visit in Thailand. 

Vietnam: ‘Nam featured in the news on a few occasions since our last update, but those stories bore little relevance. Perhaps—arguably—the only one that really caught our eye for the site was this piece by Mercedes Hutton, entitled: ‘The case of Taiwan’s missing Vietnamese tourists: honest error or human trafficking?’ It probably shouldn’t be a likely concern for most Digital Travellers heading to the island, but forewarned is forearmed, right?


India and the Sub-continent Area

India: Pollution has once again hit the subcontinent. However, early seasonal rains brought some relief to residents and travellers alike. As sad as it might be and as odd as it might look, if you’re a Digital Traveller heading to the main cities of India, please remember to either take or purchase face-masks on arrival. Pollution in India is a serious health risk that should not be underestimated.

That’s all from us this time. As always, if you hear of anything we’ve missed, or have a juicy tip, let us know by emailing the team at thedigitaltravellerteam@gmail.com, or through our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/thedigitaltravellerteam/?ref=bookmarks

*This update was compiled by Thomas David Dowling

Have fun and stay safe

The Digital Traveller Team


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