Just Back: Laos and Burma

By Carol and Kenneth Laidlaw Published 8:30 pm, Thursday, April 16, 2015 Image 1of/1 CaptionClose Image 1 of 1 Carol and Kenneth Laidlaw of Oakland Cheerful tourists with Mekong tributary in background - note smokey sky from slash and burn farming Carol and Kenneth Laidlaw of Oakland Cheerful tourists with Mekong tributary in background - note smokey sky from slash and burn farming Just Back: Laos and Burma 1 / 1 Back to Gallery Why we went: We wanted to see these two exotic countries that have been difficult to visit for 50 years. Don’t miss: The floating gardens and hill areas around Inle Lake in Myanmar. The gardens are a unique technique passed down. Hills still are home to traditional tribes. Don’t bother: Spending a lot of time in Yangon and Mandalay. The traffic is horrendous, and a city is a city. Coolest souvenir: Variety of textiles (cotton, silk and cotton-silk blends) woven in the villages. At least one Burmese longyi is a must. LATEST TRAVEL VIDEOS Now Playing: Now Playing Southwest Announces Five New Nonstop Routes Beginning This Fall Travel & Leisure Queen Elizabeth's Royal Wedding Declaration Just Revealed a Little-known Fact About Meghan Markle Travel & Leisure Stunning Abu Dhabi Sights Travel & Leisure Hillary Clinton’s Trip to India Included Sightseeing, Shopping, and Time With Friends Travel & Leisure Marrakesh's Vibrant Sensory Landscape Travel & Leisure Belugas of Churchill, Manitoba Travel & Leisure Jordan's archaeological wonders Travel & Leisure The Oldest Message in a Bottle Ever Discovered Just Washed Up on an Australian Beach Travel & Leisure Fall in love with Iguazu Falls Travel & Leisure This 26-year-old Traveler Put Herself $10,000 in Debt for the Perfect Instagram Travel & Leisure Worth a splurge: No splurges; everything is really reasonable: dinners under $10 and large bottles of Continue Reading

50 years ago, Vietnamese forces launched the Tet Offensive and changed how America saw the Vietnam War

Ben Brimelow, provided by Published 3:41 pm, Tuesday, January 30, 2018 Associated Press Just before the end of January 1968, South Vietnam's communist guerilla force, the Viet Cong (VC), launched an unprecedented offensive in coordination with the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) that would change the course of the Vietnam War. The Tet Offensive saw the VC and the NVA attack all of South Vietnam's largest towns and cities — bringing a war that had been mostly confined to the countryside into the streets of metropolitan cities. With a combined force of 85,000 soldiers and guerrillas, the objective was to take over the cities, destroy political and military targets, and provoke a popular uprising all over South Vietnam. Local Channel Now Playing: Now Playing Pickup truck T-bones sedan on rural S.A.-area road, killing woman San Antonio Express-News Galveston PD releases image of 'Little Jacob' Galveston Police Department Man found covered in blood after crashing car into ditch San Antonio Express-News Man+killed+by+police+after+stealing+bike%2C+riding+onto+Loop+410 Jacob Beltran Police: Drive-by gunman fires 30+ rounds into home, strikes man San Antonio Express-News Woman killed as firefighters battle flames for hours San Antonio Express-News SAPD: Man catches 2 suspect breaking into car on West Side, opens fire Caleb Downs Kawhi Leonard's Relationship with Spurs Is Just Fine, According to His Uncle Sports Illustrated Shots fired call near Alamo Heights prompts large police presence Fares Sabawi UTEP athlete, SA native snubbed @lamTre_/ Twitter The offensive would be a battlefield failure for the communists; the general uprising they had hoped to provoke didn't happen, they didn't hold on to a single town or city that was seized, and the Viet Cong was effectively wiped out as an independent fighting force. But it would prove to be a political and propaganda victory. American and international news Continue Reading

Cleaveland: The Tet Offensive, 50 years later

Dr. Clif Cleaveland Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press. A hammer blow fell on U.S. and Allied forces in South Vietnam in the early morning hours of Jan. 30, 1968. The day marked the beginning of the Lunar New Year, celebrated as the most important holiday in Vietnam. The Tet Offensive marked a turning point in U.S. politics and public opinion. A massive artillery attack on the Marine base at Khe Sahn, near the border of South Vietnam and Laos began on Jan. 21 and became a focal point of U.S. news for the ensuing two months of siege. Perhaps the attack was planned as a diversion for the coming, widespread offensive. On Jan. 30, a coordinated attack of an estimated 85,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers began on more than a hundred cities, towns, villages and military bases in South Vietnam. Planners of the offensive expected it to turn civilians of South Vietnam against their government and lead to its collapse. U.S. and South Vietnam combat deaths soared to more than 500 per week in the intense fighting of February. Details of the casualties and chaos related to the Tet Offensive reached the U.S. slowly. On Jan. 31, a combined force of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese attacked Hue, Vietnam's third-largest city. Most of the city fell to the invaders who executed thousands of civilians. Recapture of Hue required three weeks of bloody, street-by-street fighting by U.S. Army, Marine and South Vietnam forces. A surprise attack on the capital city of Saigon was repelled, but not before a Viet Cong unit managed to enter the grounds of the U.S. embassy before being annihilated. By the end of February, the first wave of attacks had been repelled. Other attacks followed in May and August. Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces lost an estimated 45,000 killed. U.S. forces sustained 1,536 deaths; South Vietnamese forces lost 2,788 soldiers. Civilian casualties numbered in the thousands. National media reported in early March that General Westmoreland, Continue Reading

Grim reminders of a war in Vietnam, a generation later

HANOI, Vietnam — It’s been over for 40-plus years, the war that Americans simply call Vietnam but the Vietnamese refer to as their Resistance War Against America. Yet it lingers in so many ways, as was apparent this week when Defense Secretary Jim Mattis dropped in for a couple of days of defense diplomacy with a former enemy. Although he never served in Vietnam and had not previously visited the country, Mattis has said he learned from a lot of Marines who did. In his meeting with Vietnamese government leaders, Mattis’ focus was on a peaceful future. Not the bloody past. Still, the legacy of the conflict that divided America and ultimately unified Vietnam confronted Mattis almost immediately after his arrival on Wednesday as he visited a U.S. office that oversees the search for remains of American servicemen still missing from the war. More than 1,200 Americans are unaccounted for in Vietnam and 350 more are missing in Laos, Cambodia and China, according to the Pentagon’s POW-MIA Accounting Agency. That accounting effort, decades in the making and dependent on cooperation from Hanoi, is likely to continue for decades. Later, while talking to his Vietnamese counterpart, Mattis was presented with photo identification cards of two U.S. servicemen from the war. Details weren’t made public. More than 58,000 U.S. service members were killed in the war, including more than 1,200 in Cambodia and Laos. Estimates of the number of Vietnamese killed vary widely, from about 2 million to nearly twice that. For the Vietnamese, the war was a continuation of their fight for independence from French colonial masters. And it was quickly followed by a border war with China in 1979. The country reunified and remains communist, although it has opened up to foreign investment. Hanoi is a bustling, vibrant capital city. Among Vietnam’s other reminders of the war: environmental damage and unexploded mines. Vietnamese still suffer from the effects of Continue Reading

Cambodia’s temples shrouded in nature and mystery

As I approached Angkor Wat, I paused on a causeway over the moat that surrounds it. Reflections of the monument’s five spires shimmered below, each shaped like the delicate, pink lotus buds that floated on the water’s surface. The quintet represents the five peaks of Mount Meru, the mythical center of the Hindu universe that’s home to a pantheon of powerful deities. The weathered stones of this vast temple complex, originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, blend harmoniously with the lush, verdant landscape. One glance, and I was spellbound. Determined to get the perfect shot, I clicked my camera until my husband, Wesley, reminded me that the religious site sprawls across more than 400 acres, and we had yet to step inside. (Angkor Wat is the world’s largest religious structure; Vatican City, by contrast, encompasses a mere 108 acres.) I reluctantly moved along, madly waving the cheap fan I had bought at a local market in a vain attempt to keep the oppressive tropical heat at bay. Hundreds of temple ruins dot Angkor. Its Angkor Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, contains the remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire that flourished from the ninth to the 15th centuries. But Angkor Wat, at the epicenter of the once grand city, is the most famous landmark by far. It is such a source of national pride that the Cambodian flag features it prominently. The temple embodies a time when the Khmer Empire was the region’s superpower. Back then, Angkor was a bustling metropolis that covered an area about the size of New York’s five boroughs, making it the largest pre-industrial city in the world. An innovative system of canals and reservoirs helped produce sizable rice harvests, enough to support an estimated population of around 1 million. Today, a landscape strewn with stone temple ruins is all that remains of the flourishing civilization that suddenly vanished about 500 years ago, an enigma for 21st-century Continue Reading

Chattanooga on list of 52 Places To Go in 2018

From Bourbon Street to the South Pacific pull of Fiji, destinations abound for the tourist with a strong case of wanderlust. And those destinations include Chattanooga in the Top 25. 1. New Orleans: A one-of-a- kind U.S. city turns 300 There is no city in the world like New Orleans. Influences from Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa and indigenous peoples have made it the ultimate melting pot. And that diversity expresses itself in a multitude of ways that define New Orleans in the U.S. imagination: music, food, language and on and on. Although it's been a long recovery from Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans isn't just back on its feet, it is as vibrant as ever — particularly impressive for a 300-year-old. In honor of its tricentennial, there are events scheduled throughout the year. Other planned developments include a $6 million makeover for Bourbon Street, streetcar service expansions and additions to the Lafitte Greenway in Mid-City (including a new outdoor bar) and, in early 2019, the Sazerac House, a visitors center and cocktail museum. A burst of hotel openings and the city's always excellent and diverse restaurants (Compère Lapin, Marjie's Grill, DTB and other recently opened spots are celebrating that diversity) and bars (Latitude 29, Portside Lounge) only sweeten the deal for travelers looking for tastes of all that America can offer. — Dan Saltzstein 2. Colombia: With the war finally over, the entire country is opening up. After over a half-century of civil war coming to a close, Colombia is eager to become the adventurous-yet-cosmopolitan hot spot it deserves to be. While much work is needed to integrate former rebels back into society, the past decade has already seen foreign tourism rise by 250 percent. In the pulsating capital of Bogotá, dozens of luxe hotel chains have opened, while the food scene has gotten a boost from spots like Leonor Espinosa's restaurant Leo. Elsewhere, you will find coffee fincas turned into luxury Continue Reading

North Korea fires off fifth nuclear test, creating its largest explosion; Seoul slams Kim Jong Un for ‘fanatic recklessness’

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Friday conducted its fifth nuclear test, producing its biggest-ever explosive yield, South Korean officials said, with the South's president calling the atomic detonation an act of "fanatic recklessness." The North's test, which comes eight months after its previous such detonation, defies both tough international sanctions and long-standing diplomatic pressure to curb its nuclear ambitions. It will raise serious worries in many world capitals that Pyongyang has moved another step closer to its goal of a nuclear-armed missile that could one day strike the U.S. mainland. South Korean President Park Geun-hye strongly condemned the test, saying in a statement that it showed the "fanatic recklessness of the Kim Jong Un government as it clings to nuclear development." Kim is the North Korean leader. Park's office said she spoke with President Obama about the test Friday morning, during a regional summit in Laos. Park said South Korea will employ all available measures to put more pressure on North Korea, which has previously conducted nuclear tests every three to four years. The explosion put the region on edge. Chinese state media reported that the nation's environmental protection agency started nuclear radiation monitoring. Japanese planes began to collect air samples from national air space to analyze possible radioactive materials. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said Japan's capital city is also testing water samples and monitoring radiation levels in the air. South Korean and international monitors detected unusual seismic activity Friday morning near the North's northeastern nuclear test site. South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that "artificial seismic waves" from a quake measuring 5.0 were detected near the Punggye-ri test site. The South's Defense Ministry said it believed the North conducted a nuclear test, while European and U.S. monitoring Continue Reading

CARIBBEAT: International investors eye economic projects to revitalize Marigot port area of French St. Martin

For two days recently, the French Caribbean territory of St. Martin was the focus of intense international attention from a select group of global investors at the “Invest Caribbean Now!” conference. The confab — produced by the St. Martin government and the “Invest Caribbean Now!” initiative — targeted two major economic projects to revitalize the port capital of Marigot and presented the ventures to attendees from North America, Europe and Asia, including representatives from more than 40 Beijing companies and organizations. At a conference Sept. 24 and 25, St. Martin First Vice President Guillaume Arnell, who represents the territory in the French senate; Tourism Office President Jeanne Rogers-Vanterpool; Economic Development Vice President Wendel Cocks, and initiative founder and CEO Felicia Persaud led the presentations and tours detailing development initiatives to enhance the capital city area. The Galisbay Commercial Port project will expand the port into an impressive transshipment hub, and the Marigot Bay Development Project is an expansion effort creating a major hub of cruise ship docks and mega yacht marinas topped off with conference hotel, residences and commercial shops on the waterfront of Marigot. St. Martin offers investors low rates of taxation; exemption from property tax for five years for new commercial premises and reduced transfer tax on the acquisition of land for the purposes of priority activities. “We must move beyond petty politics and arrogant perceived power and understand that our growth as an island – and as a region – is tied to relationship building globally – whether in the Caribbean Diaspora, the U.S., China, Europe, Africa or other areas around the world,” Persaud said, urging the government to continue to work on creative private -public sector partnerships. “The competitive nature of the Continue Reading

Children deaths in Asia soar as massive floods ravage continent

It took only a second for the murky floodwaters swamping parts of Asia to swallow Nguyen Phuoc Hien's baby. His 3-year-old daughter had been playing happily while her aunt studied, but somehow, the girl slipped quietly outside the family home deep in Vietnam's southern Mekong Delta. When Hien's wife returned to the shack from feeding the pigs and realized her youngest child was missing, "she was in a panic looking around," he recalled. "Our neighbors helped us look for her. Her body was found an hour later in the canal near the house." Children make up around a quarter of the nearly 800 deaths reported since July across Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and the Philippines, according to the United Nations. The region has been ravaged by some of the worst flooding in decades, but drownings are a huge unreported epidemic in Asia. Every year, an estimated 240,000 children up to 17 years old die — mostly because the majority of kids simply never learn to swim. That annual number is roughly equal to the total deaths from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, but day-to-day water deaths rarely get attention. "Those (in the tsunami) were counted because they drowned in a space of six to eight hours in the region, and everyone was just stunned because the number was enormous," said Michael Linnan, technical director of the U.S.-based Alliance for Safe Children in Bangkok, who has studied child drowning. "But the reality is that in that the 364 days before that, an equal number of mothers and children had drowned as well. But they drown one at a time and not in a disaster setting, so they weren't counted." During excessive flooding, it's easy for children to accidentally get in over their heads while playing or wading in filthy water where it's impossible to see what dangers lurk beneath each step. Some fall into fast-moving canals or streams in their yards or villages, while others lose their footing on porches or windows, falling into waters surrounding their Continue Reading

Slovenia driving tour is easy, affordable

My wife Dedrie and I recently took a driving tour of Slovenia, in central Europe. It proved an easy and inexpensive way to see Slovenia’s breathtaking historical and geological sites in just a few days.We began in the capital city of Ljubljana. It was the perfect spot to people-watch at a riverside cafe and then take photographs from the city’s famous Triple Bridge. The bridges connect the historic medieval town with its modern capital city. The city symbol is the dragon and a huge statue of the mythical creature guards the Dragon Bridge.Old Town features centuries-old architecture and a fascinating historical museum, while across the bridge, Republic Square is where Slovenia declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Perched atop a riverside hill and dominating the skyline is the Ljubljana Castle. The 11th-century castle looks magnificent at night, awash in green light.RELATED: Seeing polar bears on Manitoba tundra | Monks' evening ceremony a tranquil surprise in Laos | Polish, Russian history come alive during 2-week tourWe then headed northwest for a short drive to Lake Bled, the gorges and Triglav National Park.Lake Bled is Slovenia’s major mountain resort, replete with panoramic views of the Julian Alps, traditional Pletna boats on the water and an easy-to-walk lakeside trail. On an island in the middle of the lake stands a postcard-perfect castle and church, a vision straight out of a fairy tale.The territory in and around Triglav National Park is breathtaking, with the milky green Soca River valley offset by waterfalls tumbling through white limestone gorges with a backdrop of the Julian Alps. Quaint Alpine villages, hiking trails and an old Russian chapel are other highlights. Mountain culture here has a distinct Slavic flavor despite northwest Slovenia being very close to the Austrian and Italian borders. The nearby Soca Front, the site of fierce fighting in World War I, also Continue Reading