Monday, 26 November 2012

Thailand: Royal Barge Procession

Thailand's Royal Barge Procession is a ceremony dating back almost 700 years that has been revived during the reign of the current monarch. It consists of 52 barges, most of them historical, manned by over 2,000 oarsmen from the Thai navy. The procession starts at Khet Dusit and proceeds down the Chao Praya River to arrive at Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn.

The procession also passes the UNICEF office, which overlooks the Chao Praya at Phra Athit. During the rehearsal we were free to watch from the windows, roof or fire escape. But during the actual ceremony we were told by police to close all the blinds and move to the ground floor, where we watched through the compound railings. This was because the Crown Prince was on one of the barges and it is not permitted for 'commoners' to be higher than him.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Luang Prabang: lost in space and time

Luang Prabang is like a city adrift in space and time. The main roads are lined with French restaurants, cafes and bakeries in colonial era buildings: brightly painted villas with wooden shutters on the windows. Just behind them are a warren of packed-earth side streets. Here, there are wooden houses on stilts, many with the Laos and communist party flags hanging outside. Women cook food without electricity on coal stoves and chickens peck around in the yards.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Vientiane: temples and riverfront

Vientiane is the capital and largest city of Laos, but still it retains the air of a small rural town. It lies sleepily on the north bank of the Mekong River, facing the hustle and bustle of Thailand to the south. I was in Vientiane with work in October and spent a couple of afternoons wandering around its many temples and along the riverfront with my new 18-200 camera lens.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Timor-Leste: first new nation of the century

I spent three weeks in Timor-Leste in August. The former Portuguese colony was the first new nation of the century, achieving independence from Indonesia in 2002. I worked at the UN base in the capital, Dili. Most evenings I went for a jog along the seafront, which was was spectacular at sunset. I also took a 'road' trip through Ermera province to see UNICEF-supported water and maternal health projects.