Flooding in Thailand

The last few days has seen the water levels begin to subside in some of the affected provinces. The most heavily affected area is the Nakhon Ratchasima province, a gateway to the northeastern region. The floods have spread to another 33 provinces in the northeast and the low-lying rice fields in the centre of the country, cutting off some roads and railways.

A minimal amount of flood water has now reached the outskirts of Bangkok, though all possible measures are being taken to prevent the flooding reaching the central Chao Phraya areas, with water flows from the Chao Phraya, Pasak and Rama VI Dams being controlled to manage the water volumes. 2.5 meter high dykes have been set up along parts of the river and the gates to the canals have all been closed to prevent excess river water getting into the inner parts of the city. The next 48 hours will be monitored carefully with the high tide due on Wednesday and Thursday.

Inner Bangkok areas, including the Grand Palace near the river, business districts and big shopping malls are currently unaffected and safe. As of this morning our Klong Tours were still operating in the city. Out of the city, specifically in the Ayutthaya region, we are currently recommending to any clients to avoid cruise trips, as the waters are running high, though some suppliers are still operating these trips. In Ayutthaya the main roads and tourist sites are unaffected, with Wat Phanang Cheng and Wat Chai Wattanaram still open for tourists as usual. In Khao Yai, the main road can be used as usual, allowing visits to the Khao Yai Historic Park and Moo Baan Dan Kwen. However the Pimai Historical Park and Baan Prasat are currently affected by the flooding, with reports anticipating they should return to normal in a week.

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Volcano and Tsunami in Indonesia

On Tuesday 26th October, just after 17:00, Mount Merapi in the island of Java, Indonesia has erupted for the first time in four years. Authorities had started already to evacuate many villages in the vicinity of the volcano but unfortunately there have been 28 recorded deaths, mainly due to locals choosing not to follow the evacuation warnings. The main tourist areas of Yogjakarta, Borobodur and Prambanan are well away from the danger zone with everything there and open for visitors as normal.

Jogjakarta and the main tourist attractions on Java lie a minimum of 27km from Mount Merapi, with current warnings in place for the immediate 10km radius around the volcano.

Mount Merapi is one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes and Indonesian scientists had warned of a pressure build up in the dome of the volcano. As a result of these warnings authorities have evacuated tens of thousands of local people to temporary shelters outside of this radius. The official status from the Institute for Research and Volcanic Technology Department has changed their classification of the situation from ‘Standby’ to ‘Beware’ and has called for all people living within a 10km radius from the summit of Merapi to evacuate. All climbing activities, feeding of livestock and mining within this area have also been stopped. At this current stage it is hoped that the energy that has built up will release slowly, with immediate signs indicating towards this.

On Tuesday 26th October, an earthquake also triggered a tsunami hitting the Mentawai Islands of West Sumatra, causing 108 fatalities. The area of Mentawai is very remote with difficult access, the only way to reach the archipelago is by overnight ferry from Padang in West Sumatra, meaning this group of islands are rarely visited by tourists.

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Perhentian island

Hotels in Perhentian island in Malaysia will be close during from November 1st, 2010 till February 28th, 2011 due to the Monsoon season.

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Club Med Yabuli Promotion

Book before October 31st, 2010 and get the promotion: for 1 adult going, 1 adult free. Of course lots of conditions apply, like it is not available during Chinese New Year, a minimum of 3 nights stay, it does not apply on the flights, the Club Med membership card and transfers.

But it is definitely a great offer so call us to get a quotation!

Check the offer on: http://www.travel-stone.com/travelstonepp/Club_Med_Yabuli,_China.html

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Commune by the Great Wall

This winter the hotel Commune by the Great Wall (Kempinski) will be close from November 21st 2010 to March 31st 2011.

There will be upgrating and renovating of the hotel and facilities in order to make it even nicer.

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Travel-Stone store

Since December 2009, we’ve opened a point of sell inside April Gourmet (http://www.travel-stone.com/travelstone/product/our_address) where you can come and meet us to discuss about your travel plans.

You can find us Monday to Friday from 5pm to 7:30pm, on Saturday from 10:30am to 7:30pm and also on Sunday from 5pm to 7pm.

If we are not there you can leave your request on the box so we can get back to you.

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Did you know…

  • Myanmar borders China, Laos, Thailand, Bangladesh and India?
  • “Hello” in Burmese is “Ming-ala ba”?
  • For 62 years, Burma was under the rule of the British Raj (British India)?
  • Mohinga, rice noodles with fish is considered to be it’s national dish?
  • It is compulsory for all Bhuddist boys to become a monk after 20?
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Eco-hotels in China

Despite its dubious distinction as the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, China has a handful of accommodation options where you can reduce your travel carbon footprint. These eco-hotels are leading the way toward sustainable tourism in China, promoting low-impact business practices in environmentally sensitive areas.

The river town of Yangshuo is one such place where these green hotels have appeared in recent years. Located one hour from Guilin, Yangshuo has experienced explosive tourism growth as large groups of mainly Chinese visitors come down the Li River on huge tour boats to experience the mystical beauty of the area’s otherworldly limestone formations. This once quiet western backpacker town has become a must-see destination for domestic groups, which has brought a massive influx of tour buses, large hotels and river traffic. 

Just outside of the town, which now features both a McDonalds and KFC (Starbucks is sure to be next), there is one hotel that has been a haven for Asian expatriates and western travelers. It was stared by an American educator whose idea was to create a sustainable business model that would help preserve Yangshuo’s natural beauty, as well as promote its unique culture. Chris Barclay has spent 18 years in China and opened the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat in 2000.


It was originally planned to function as an offsite retreat for his corporate clients in China, but grew into a full-service tourism hotel. The property is situated on the banks of the Yulong River (which does not have any motorized boat traffic), and is surrounded by towering limestone peaks. It features 29 guest rooms, and has made concerted efforts to minimize its impact on the environment. 

To begin with, the hotel does not use any disposable products, such as chopsticks, napkins, or single-use items in bathrooms. The entire Retreat has a policy of no plastic bags. Instead of bottled water, guests will find a traditional hot-water thermos and an aluminum flask filled with drinking water in their rooms. These practices save the Retreat over two metric tons of waste per year.  All of the food cooked in the kitchen comes from local farms or specialty items from local markets and is recycled for use as animal feed. The Retreat also has its own herb garden and grows pumpkins and bananas on the property. To protect the local water supply, the hotel uses water from its own wells, and features a natural waste system where sewerage is filtrated underground and gray water is contained in nearby lily-covered septic fields. The grounds have been landscaped with flowering osmanthus trees, bougainvillea, and local grass which require little watering.

The Mountain Retreat also uses solar hot water and is implementing a unique waste-briquette fuel to supplement the hot water boiler. These briquettes are made from recycled newspaper, sawdust, clay and rice straw, with a small amount of glycerol to reduce smoke. Using a hand-screw press build at the Retreat, the briquette fuel initiative intends to replace coal as fuel in the near future. 

In addition to these sustainable practices, all the staff at the Mountain Retreat are hired from nearby villages, where the Retreat has created a village homestay network, to encourage all guests to spend a night in the local villages and have dinner with the local farmers. This has helped to develop several village B&B business, and help guests experience authentic local culture. The Mountain Retreat rents Trek mountain bikes and has a locally drawn map of trails for both hiking and bicycling. 

Inside the Retreat you’ll find handmade bamboo furniture made from local trees and reclaimed wood to make the plank floors in the bar and restaurant, as well as river stone wainscoting throughout the buildings. It has the feel of a lodge, but with modern comforts and a distinctly rustic Chinese style.

Although, the Retreat has been following these green practices for nearly ten years, it is only now that other hotels in China are beginning to move in the same environmentally friendly direction.  So far, few are paying the same attention to detail, but there are nonetheless some very interesting developments in in the other southern provinces.  One fascinating example is the Jilongbao Holiday Resort near Xingyi, in Guizhou, just an overnight train ride from Guilin and Yangshuo.  China’s best kept tourism secret is the brainchild of a local hydro-power baron (or should that be magnate?), who has purchased almost the entirety of Wangfeng Lake and its surroundings, the spectacular karst peaks of the ten thousand hills scenic area.  This breathtaking luxury complex might not fit the traditional eco-lodge description with its swanky Cantonese restaurant, a bar that is secreted away inside a cave, and an island castle that boasts honeymoon suites with circular water beds and private jacuzzis, but looks can be deceiving.  The resort has been built around a state of the art hydro power station that is now bringing electricity to thousands of poor farmers in this rugged, poverty stricken area.  But this is not any old power plant.  On the roof there are tennis and badminton courts.  The outflow is an enormous waterfall dropping away into the lake, whose constant flow brings an air of peace and tranquility to the adjacent guest rooms, as well as unlimited amounts of electrical power, allowing everything from screaming fast internet to automatic mahjong tables into what was until very recently a very remote backwater.  Across the water, perched atop an isolated rocky outcropping, the Jilongbao citadel conceals even more surprises.  As well as a vast health centre, the swimming pool is fed by a five meter cascade that doubles as a condenser for the resort’s air conditioning systems, constantly bringing up fresh water from the lake bed.  Power profits continue to be put to good use, with the resort’s latest projects including an organic farm, and the restoration of a magnificent Qing dynasty villa, that was once the home of famed Kuomintang General, He Yin Qin.  Jilongbao shows quite clearly that eco tourism need not be back to basics.  Guests here can enjoy deluxe accommodation as their base while still being able to explore minority villages, hike among the stunning karst peaks or fish the well stocked lake.

Further west in Yunnan province, large scale institutional investment has seen more vast real estate projects rather than eco tourism developments but there are still a few shining examples.  By far the most well known of these is the Wenhai Ecolodge near Lijiang.  First initiated by Canada’s Simon Fraser University in the early 1990s, it has since received additional funding from The Nature Conservancy, UC Davis and even the Japanese Government, when the project was nearly destroyed in the 1996 earthquake. A 56-household cooperative was formed in 1995 where each Naxi family (one of China’s indigenous minority groups, numbering about 275,000, and living mostly in Lijiang) chipped in a minimum of sixty Renminbi to get the lodge started.  Each family contributes an agreed yearly quota of work, sharing the income in return.  Traditionally, they are involved in farming, raising livestock, fishing, collecting fuelwood, hunting and charcoal-making, all of which impact the area’s natural resources.  The eco-lodge concept helps promote ecotourism in the area where the surrounding forests are threatened by unsustainable agriculture and illegal logging.


The ten room lodge is a converted Naxi courtyard style house, fitted it with many alternative energy systems  These include a biogas pit that converts livestock manure and toilet waste into methane cooking gas, and electricity for the kitchen’s light bulb, as well as providing heat for the greenhouse where many of the organic vegetables are grown.  Along with water purifiers, a microhydropower unit powers the lights, and cozy electric blankets, while a solar collecting tank provides hot showers.  This means that snuggling up in soft, toasty beds with fluffy pillows is always a cozy experience, while just outside the carved wooden windows, Wenhai Lake sits in a sub-alpine valley that harbors one of the world’s most biologically diverse temperate forests. Located at about 3,100m, the valley boasts a broad-leaf forest of moss-carpeted earth with lichen-draped poplar and Quercus trees, and green, rolling meadows.  From early spring to late summer, the slopes are awash with bursting rhododendrons, exploding with pink, white, red and purple.  Beyond the waters of the lake, Yulongxueshan (Jade Dragon Snow Mountain), a cluster of 13 snow-laden peaks, tops out at 18,467 feet (5,596m), unfolding before visitors like a vast open air, Imax screening.  Just an hours walk away through the acorn littered trails lies Xue Hua Cun (Snow Flower village), and the chance to visit an authentic shaman’s home in the nearby Yi village.

Wenhai Lake

Thanks to the fantastic local widlife, Wenhai ecolodge was recently ranked as one of the world’s ten best eco-lodges by the US-based “Outdoor” magazine.  In the lake below, endangered water birds continue to thrive. Black storks and black-necked cranes migrate here annually, but patient twitchers can also spot giant laughing thrushes, winter wrens, Hainan leaf warblers, Northern Goshawks and sometimes even very rare species, for instance, the Lady Amherst’s pheasant.  At an altitude of 3,100m, Wenhai boasts an oak forest rich with endangered plants, including the Chinese yew, Lijiang hemlock and Changbao fir. Twelve different species of rhododendron complement, orchids, primroses, gourmet mushrooms and medicinal blooms, such as the snow lotus, a traditional remedy for menstrual cramps.  On the upper slopes, villagers claim to have spotted wild cats, wolves, Asiatic black bears and even the elusive blue sheep.  For Yetis, abominable snow men and other crypto exotica, one has to journey still further up into the Himalayas.

The bad news is that the lodge has struggled since its official opening in November 2002. Visitors were non-existent during the SARS epidemic and more recent events have also hurt this as yet slow and seasonal business.  On good months, the lodge sees fewer than one hundred visitors while at other times, there are practically none. More than 90% of visitors to Wenhai are from overseas, as ecotourism has received a lukewarm response from domestic tourists, many of whom still feel that China has suffered so much in its recent history, that they are now entitled to consume aggressively and excessively, as the west has done in the past.
Back in Yangshuo, there is another eco-hotel worth mentioning. It is part of the new boutique hotel Yangshuo Village Inn, currently the #1 rated guesthouse in Yangshuo on TripAdvisor. Water buffalos in YangshuoSituated in Moon Hill Village, just behind the Village Inn there is a traditional mud brick farmhouse that will soon feature 5 guest rooms and some innovative new and traditional energy-saving features. The farmhouse is one of the mud brick designs that are disappearing across China, as they are replaced by multi-story concrete buildings that many Chinese farmers can now afford to build. Unfortunately in the process of new construction, the farmers raze the original mud brick then use it for the new house foundation. 

Rescued from demolition, this farmhouse is ideal for small groups or a large family, with 3 ground floor bedrooms and 2 loft bedrooms in the space formerly used for grain storage. The farmhouse uses radiant heat with a low wattage electric heater and pump circulating warm water through flexible tubes in the floor. These tubes are sandwiched between layers of fiberglass and bamboo batting to provide heat retention in winter. The mud bricks are built to form double walls which also provide excellent heat retention and an ideal thermal mass to keep in the cooler air in Summer. The traditional roof tiles were removed, fit with waterproof sheeting, fiberglass batting and woven bamboo mats then replaced. This helps shield the guests in loft rooms from the intensity of the Summer sun. 

In the roof above building’s 8m high main hall, glass tiles were used to provide more natural daylight and guestrooms were fitted with oversize insulated glass windows. The building shares solar hot water and a natural septic system with the Village Inn, which also follows strict sustainable guidelines. Traditional metal and glass lanterns and a unique replica antler chandelier, were made with small, low wattage bulbs to provide ambiance in the evenings. 

The guestroom furniture features hand-made beds, tables and chairs, from local bamboo, with antique Chinese wardrobes. The rest of the building is furnished with refurbished antiques giving the farmhouse a kind of rustic chic. The owner has rented the vegetable garden and pomelo grove behind the farmhouse with the agreement that the farmers will continue to cultivate the land. Overlooking the garden is a large covered deck for guests, which offers views of the village and surrounding mountains. 

Guests of the farmhouse can enjoy an open pantry and afternoon tea included with their room and dining facilities are right next door at the Village Inn. The farmhouse distinguishes itself from other traditional village accommodation in its attention to comfort, reduced energy use and enhanced use of traditional building materials. Truly a unique experience in the heart of rural China.

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Jet Set Zero; Live and direct in Tokyo, Japan

Another installment from Jet Set Zero in Japan. I hate the words ‘financial crisis’ but that’s what the G.O. is in this episode. Apart from the lovely backdrop of snowy Japan, the chilling reminder that sometimes adventures take a twist and you have to sleep where there is a seat… but actually, for people inbetween the poverty line, this is life.  Just make sure you get to the seat first. I’ll stop the cryptic messages and give you what you want. Oh yeah.. visit the website and be sure to hit that donate button!

Working through the night and resting by day, one of Matt’s occasional sleeping places as a Net Cafe Refugee was the Den-en-Toshi subway line, which he’d ride back and forth throughout the morning. The following time lapse shows just how one of these trips would go, in the kind of fascinating style that we have come to expect from Bryan Gomez and Kevin Land, crew extraordinaire.

[vimeo 4389374]

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Yunnan, China

Yunnan (云南; Yúnnán) is a province in southern China, bordering Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam as well as the Chinese provinces and regions of Guangxi, Guizhou, Sichuan and Tibet.


Administratively, Yunnan is divided into many prefectures. Some of those are “autonomous prefectures” for various ethnic groups. For the traveller, Yunnan can be divided into 7 regions:

  • Kunming Prefecture is without a doubt the heart of Yunnan Province. You will likely pass through here whether or not you want to in Yunnan (not that it is a bad thing!).
  • Central Yunnan is west of Kunming and where the hills start becoming more rugged. This is a very popular region for backpackers. Includes: Dali Prefecture and Chuxiong Prefecture.
  • Eastern Yunnan is filled with the gorgeous scenery of the rolling hills of neighboring Guizhou and Guangxi transforming into the high, hilly plateau of Yunnan. This area includes many tourist sites not regularly visited by backpackers. Includes: Zhaotong Prefecture, Qujing Prefecture and Wenshan.
  • Southeastern Yunnan is amazingly diverse, in one day you could pass through arid badlands, lush pine forests, barren hills and tropical rainforests. The urban centres in this area of Yunnan are very compact and it is quite easy to get around from city to city to see the sights. Includes: Yuxi Prefecture and Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture.
  • Southern Yunnan is geographically and ethnically part of Southeast Asia, but politically part of China. Jungle covers most of the terrain and this is probably the best region of China to escape the winter. Includes: Simao Prefecture and Xishuangbanna, a major tourist area.
  • Western Yunnan is home to some very rugged, off-the-beaten-path terrain. Once the location of the famed Burma Road, it is now one of China’s most alluring destinations. Includes: Lincang Prefecture, Baoshan Prefecture, Dehong Prefecture and Nujiang Prefecture.
  • Northwestern Yunnan is a chunk of ancient Tibet within Yunnan’s boundaries. Many traveller’s come here to experience ‘Tibet’ without having to enter the actual province. You will find towering mountain ranges and fascinating culture here. Includes: Lijiang Prefecture, Diqing Prefecture and Shangrila.


Old town canals, Lijiang

  • Kunming – the provincial capital
  • Dali – backpacker central, very pretty
  • Dalup – border town, next to Myanmar
  • Deqin – largely Tibetan, at 3500 m
  • Gejiu – second largest city in Yunnan
  • Jinghong – largest city in Xishuangbanna, tropical tourist area
  • Lijiang – scenic old city, an UNESCO World Heritage listed ancient town
  • Ruili – border town, next to Myanmar
  • Shangrila (formerly Zhongdian) – largely Tibetan
  • Shaxi
  • Yuxi – Yuxi tobacco group is the biggest tobacco factory in Asia.
  • Shiping – the culture of the YI people, Shi Ping(石屏,shi ping)


Its name literally means south of the clouds. The province is one of the most diverse in China. The Northwest of the province is heavily influenced by Tibet, with whom it shares a border. The South is influenced by its proximity to Laos and Myanmar. The province is famed for its multitude of ethnic groups, whose diverse customs can still be seen today. Of China’s fifty-five officially recognized ethnic minorities, twenty-five can be found in Yunnan: about one-third of the population is not ethnic Han-Chinese.


The official language of Yunnan is Mandarin Chinese (or Putonghua as it is known). The region is home to a plethora of dialects from Chinese, Tibetan and Thai language families. Yunnan is home to many minority groups who each have their own different language.

Local towns will often have their own version of Mandarin which are sub-dialects of the South-Western dialect of Mandarin common to Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan. Despite a heavy accent, the local dialect of Chinese is very similar to Northern Mandarin with only minor regional differences in grammar and pronunciation.

Get in

By train

Until 2005, Kunming was accessible by rail from Hanoi, Vietnam via a narrow-gauge railroad built by the French. The Chinese section of this rail route is now closed, though, so the best way to get down to the border is by bus to Hekou (from where you can cross the border to Lao Cai and take the train to Hanoi), or by air from Kunming directly to Hanoi.

There is a railway from Hanoi to Nanning, Guangxi, and one with some sensational scenery from Nanning to Kunming. Another rail route reaches Kunming from central China via Guiyang, Guizhou, and a third one comes South to Kunming from Chengdu, Sichuan. All of these train routes offer spectacular scenery, with long stretches of bridges and tunnels.

By air

Wujiaba Airport in Kunming is the biggest airport in Yunnan which is very near the urban, the taxi fare is about 10-15 Rmb if you want to go to any place of Kunming from the airport.

Kunming has non-stop service from Beijing, Xiamen and other Chinese cities. There are also flights to Southeast Asia. Laotian airlines and the consulate are both in the Camellia hotel, Kunming.

Bus, by thumb

There is a road from Laos into Yunnan. It’s not too hard to hitchhike, but it will take some time because of the often abyssmal road conditions and inept drivers.

By boat

Golden Peacock Shipping company runs a speedboat three times a week on the Mekong river between Jinghong in southern Yunnan and Chiang Saen (Thailand). Passengers are not required to have visas for Laos or Myanmar, although the greater part of the trip is on the river bordering these countries.

Get around

From Kunming you can take a train to Dali, but from there you’ll need to travel by bus north to Lijiang and Shangrila. see Yunnan tourist trail for details.

From Kunming you can take a short flight into Jinghong (Xishuangbanna)

By bicycle

Bicycle touring in Yunnan is a very good way to explore the local landscape and many cyclists from world have done this.The Dian-Zang highway(Yunnan Tibet highway) is one of the best cycling routes in China, and many cyclists gather together to explore the landscape and ethnic minority culture. You can hire bicycles in some cities, like Lijiang and Dali. It is possible to delivery your bike by train or bus. Yunnan Cycling [1] a local cycling website.


  • The Caves of the Liujng (Wenshan region)
  • The Stone Forest (Kunming region)


  • Hike the Mekong (Lancang) River
  • Soak in the hot spring waters at Anning – 34 km from Kunming
  • Hike the Tiger Leaping Gorge


For the game of Go (Chinese: weiqi 围棋), the best Chinese stones are Yúnzǐ (云子), Yunnan stones. They are quite different from Japanese stones, and much cheaper. The flower and bird market in Kunming is a good place to pick up a set, and it is possible to visit the factory near Kunming. See the Yunzi article [2] on the go players’ wiki, Sensei’s Library.


  • Guo Qiao Mi Xian, meaning “Crossing the Bridge” Noodles, is a local style of steamy noodles with a variety of vegetables and meats. The price of Guo Qiao Mi Xian is from Rmb 3 to 15, but normally you cannot feel the difference except the price.
  • Yunnan people eat lots of spicy food, nearly each dish you order in the restaurant is very spicy, so if you don’t like spicy food, you should tell the waiter or waitress first, in Mandarin: wo bu chi la, which means I don’t eat spicy food or wo bu xi huan la cai, which means I don’t like spicy food.
  • The tofu in Shi Ping county /石屏/ is very famous. The sauerkraut in Xinping county is famous. Xinping is a Yi Nationality Autonomous County in Yuxi city.


  • Yak butter tea
  • Yunnan coffee
  • Puerh Tea
  • Yunnan red wines. Some, such as Shangrila brand, are quite good.
  • Beer Lao, imported from Laos. Local brands, the usual Chinese brands, and other imports are also available, but Beer Lao is very popular with travellers.
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