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Top 10 Highlights in Southeast Asia

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Southeast Asia has been a magnet for travelers since it was discovered by hippies in the sixties. It’s easy to understand why. With its sublime beaches, ancient temples, colorful markets and dynamic cities, there is something for everyone. Additionally, it is one of the cheapest regions in the world to travel in. I first visited South East Asia back in 1992, and since then have returned many times, often for several months at a time. Here is a pick of ten of my favorite destinations.
1) Angkor Wat, Cambodia 
Although it is always crowded, nothing can detract from the beauty of this sprawling temple complex. The Khmer Kingdom ruled the whole of South East Asia from the city until 1431, when it was invaded by Thailand. It wasn’t until the 1860’s that the city was rediscovered by the French.
Reclaimed by the jungle, nature has taken its course and tree roots twist their way round the ancient temples. The site became even more popular after Lara Croft’s Tomb Raider was filmed at Ta Prohm. It is, without a doubt, one of the most awe-inspiring destinations on the planet.
2) Halong Bay, Vietnam
The iconic images of the towering limestone islands of Halong Bay that I had gazed longingly at in magazines were even more stunning in reality. The best way to see them is take a cruise, preferably for at least a night or two. That way it is possible to escape the more crowded areas of the bay that the day-trippers linger in.
There are spectacular illuminated caves, beaches and fishing villages to explore from the traditional Vietnamese junk boats. Watching the sun sink over the bay was spectacular and probably one of the best sunsets I had ever witnessed.
3) Luang Prabang, Laos
Located on the Mekong River, this lovely UNESCO town has an abundance of Buddhist temples, crumbling French architecture and excellent cafes. The fact that it is surrounded by the beauty of magnificent mountains and waterfalls only adds to its appeal.
The daily alms ceremony takes place at dawn when barefoot monks pad silently through the streets and collect alms of rice from kneeling locals and tourists. Luang Prabang has managed to retain its charm despite having become a popular tourist destination and remains the jewel in Laos’ crown.
4) Sukhothai, Thailand
Sukhothai Heritage Park in Thailand is about three hundred miles north of Bangkok. The park is full of 13th-14th-century temples, wats, and statues. The best and most enjoyable way to explore is by bicycle, which I did over two days. The grounds are well-maintained the central zone has a scenic lake, complete with lotus flowers.
Smaller than South East Asia’s major sites, it’s less crowded and has a more peaceful vibe. Adjacent to the park is a market which is a great place to sample some tasty Thai street food.
5) Komodo Island, Indonesia
It’s remote, but worth the journey to see the ferocious Komodo dragons! They can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh 150 pounds. Komodo Island was established as a national park in order to protect the dragons.
Not only can you see the pre-historic looking monsters, but snorkeling is excellent in the clear waters off the island. It’s is a great opportunity to see turtles, clown fish and manta rays and is rated as one of the most unspoilt snorkelling spots in the world.
6) Bagan, Myanmar
Bagan is another awesome temple site, a twenty-six-mile area of over 4,000 temples. Visitors get around by bicycle, e-bikes or horse and carriage. The temples date back to the 13th and 14th centuries and are fascinating to explore. Many of the temples have a Buddha within their walls and the variety of styles is incredible.
There is nothing quite as magical as cycling along the dusty tracks of Bagan with a soundtrack of monk’s chants in the background. Watching the sun go down from Shwesandaw Pagoda is one of the most spectacular sights on the face of the earth.
7) Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok is one of the most invigorating cities in the world. Zooming around in a tuk-tuk, eating delicious street food and temple-hopping are all part of the Bangkok experience. At weekends, the vast Chatuchak market is the place to be.
Thailand’s progressive attitude makes Bangkok a utopia for LGBTQ visitors. Anything goes in this city. Most of the action takes place around Silom Soi 2 and 4, the hotspots for bars and clubs, including the famous DJ Station.
8) Beaches of the Philippines
Everyone knows the beaches in Thailand are fabulous, but these days it’s tough to find one that’s not over-run with tourists. For a less crowded experience, The Philippines offers postcard-perfect white sand beaches, secluded coves, and pristine coral reefs.
With 7,107 islands, it’s not too much of a challenge to find a secluded beach. From backpacker’s cabanas to luxury hotels, you are bound to find your personal slice of paradise.
9) Sarawak, Malaysia
Sharing the island of Borneo with Sabah, Sarawak is Malaysia’s largest state and a fantastic destination for wildlife watchers. With ten national parks, it’s possible to see proboscis (big-nosed) monkeys at Bako and orangutans at Semenggoh.
A river trip to visit the longhouses of the Iban tribe is unmissable and there are also great trekking opportunities. Kuching, the state capital is situated on the Sarawak River, a cute and chilled out city.
10) Hoi An, Vietnam
This enchanting town, located on Thu Bon river is quintessentially Vietnamese. With Chinese temples, traditional merchant houses and canals, it is unbelievably picturesque. The winding streets are a joy to explore and every turn provides an iconic Vietnamese scene straight out of a National Geographic magazine.
Many of the streets are pedestrianized and there are an abundance of excellent restaurants and lovely craft shops to peruse. At night time, colored lanterns glow throughout the town, creating a magical atmosphere.

Originally posted 2017-07-12 17:46:41.

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Relationships and Monogamy: Does Sexuality Play a Role in Monogamous Practices?

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Whatever your sexual orientation or gender may be, there’s one thing we can all collectively agree on: Monogamy seems a difficult practice for many people.

That is not to say there are not monogamous partners out there. There are, in fact, plenty of happily practicing monogamous partners who are satisfied with their current relationship situation.

According to the Journal of Sexuality and Social Psychology, men, considered the “fast sex,” tend to “maximize their mating opportunities” by increasing the number of sexual partners in their life. For women, a large number of partners holds no physiological benefits, and “would risk producing offspring of low quality if mated indiscriminately,” making it much more likely for men to cheat than women.

However, as we watch the world progress, we observe a greater tolerance of gender and sexual fluidity. With simplicity comes complexity, and, to state the very obvious: Relationships can be rather messy.

It’s been proven that men show, “a greater interest in uncommitted sex.” It’s also been proven that out of all couples, gay men are by far the least committed to staying faithful in a long term relationship (numbers change based on national averages.)

And while lesbian affairs are the least likely of all, let’s not forget emotional cheating, and how damaging the effects can be on a relationship. More importantly, over the past couple of decades, the percentage of women who have admitted to cheating has risen 40%, while the percentage of men has stayed the same.

We know these numbers also depend on different factors, such as socioeconomic conditions, lack of self-satisfaction, and poor emotional validation,   

Gender norms may have you believe that men are more likely to cheat, but in a 2016 study, statics show that while 57% of men are likely to cheat, this is just a small incline from the 54% of women who have admitted to some type of affair.

In a Psychology Today study, Dr. Elizabeth Sheff finds a common theme among cheating in monogamous relationships over two-decade study, “Some people become polyamorous, starting swinging, or attempt other forms of CNM after they have tried – sometimes for many years – to maintain monogamous relationships and found themselves cheating repeatedly.”

Thus, a question remains: Does your gender and sexual orientation play any type of role in your participation of monogamous relationships?

In short: The answer is no.

Your sexuality does not play a role in whether or not you are more inclined to monogamous practices, but a New York Times article explains that the answers may be found in your genes.

The culprit seems to be “vasopressin,” a “hormone that has powerful effects on social behaviors like trust, empathy and sexual bonding in humans and other animals,” which strongly affects your inclination to cheat.

In a study using prairie and montane voles, sexually monogamous and sexually promiscuous creatures, Dr. Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, noticed a change in the animal’s behavior when vasopressin receptors were induced and when they were blocked.

When blocked, the animals were disposed to monogamous sexual behaviors. When injected, “pair bonding,” the scientific term for infidelity, was promoted.

It seems vasopressin is the key to “social bonding” between animals and can be speculated that this is the reason such a large number of people are naturally against monogamy.

Although this research is not 100% proven and is still debatable, it seems that human’s polygamous nature comes naturally from within.

Of course, we are not set to one standard or one type of relationship with our partner(s). Relationships, much like sexuality, comes in all different shapes and sizes. Everyone should have the freedom to explore whatever they should so choose, but bear in mind that respect, honesty and mutual happiness are the most important factors of any relationship between partners.

Originally posted 2017-07-29 15:01:00.

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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Trump’s Trans Military Ban

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The LGBTQ community has made significant progress in terms of equality. A person was not allowed to be openly gay in the US military until former president Obama repealed the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in September of 2011. Gay men and women are now allowed to be out, proud, and active members of the military. Unfortunately, this is not the case for transgender individuals. On Wednesday, July 26, 2017, president Donald Trump tweeted that transgender people are not allowed to serve in the armed forces “in any capacity.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Images via goo.gl/mSw8hr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How alarming! This is a clear violation of human rights and extremely detrimental to the fight for equality for the LGBTQ community. (We also have to appreciate the irony of the tweets considering that on July 26, 1948, former president Truman desegregated the military).

What Trump is basically saying is that allowing transgender people in the military would be a financial detriment. I’m assuming that he is referring to the cost of hormones for transgender people. What he doesn’t realize that the cost of hormones is significantly less than what the military is paying for medications such as Viagra. According to the United Press International, the US military spends ten times more on erectile dysfunction medication than transgender care. 

So, what does this mean? Well, it may mean any number of things:

  1. Trump has no idea what he’s talking about
  2. He’s pandering to the conservative right
  3. He’s transphobic

Who really knows? Whatever the reason, it is definitely a step back for equality. However, hope is not lost as many people are taking a stand against Trump’s ban. Celebrities such as Lady Gaga had some things to say about this ban.

 

 

 

Images via goo.gl/JmdNo2

 

Lady Gaga is not the only person fighting against Trump’s un-American ban. The Human Rights Campaign, or HRC, is fighting for the rights of transgender people, saying that the ban is an “all-out assault on service members” and that the ban would affect approximately 15,000 currently serving troops. This will clearly have a negative impact on the US military as it consists of millions of brave men and women who fight for the freedom of the American citizens and losing even one soldier due to bigotry can cause the military to weaken.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The American Civil Liberties Union, or UCLA, is also fighting against Trump’s ban.

Image via goo.gl/RxN1n9

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t give up hope! This ban is definitely a step in the wrong direction and it hopefully won’t spiral into something even more horrible which is why it is very important that we speak out against this hateful action. Voice your outrage anywhere where your voice can be heard and stand with the transgender community during this trying time, use the hashtag #protecttranstroops on Twitter, repeat the maxim “trans people are not a burden,” and fight for what is right. It may not be easy but as long as we fight, the rights of transgender individuals can and will be protected.

 

 

 

 

 

Originally posted 2017-07-28 21:19:21.


Also published on Medium.

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48 Hours In...

48 Hours in Mexico City

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Mexico City is a sprawling metropolis full of color and culture. You could easily spend a month there and still not get to see and experience everything the city has to offer. If you only have a weekend, you can get a taste of Mexico City’s delights, but be warned – you will probably be booking your next trip as soon as you arrive home.

With more museums than any other city in the world, amazing architecture, a scintillating LGBTQ scene, delicious street food and many other attractions, Mexico City is one of the most exciting cities on the planet.

Getting There

Juarez International Airport is located eight miles from Mexico City. If you arrive late at night, it is advisable to take an official taxi to the downtown area. During the day, the metro is a good alternative.

Getting Around

Mexico City’s metro system is extensive and one of the cheapest underground systems in the world. Having said that, it isn’t the most comfortable of transport options during rush hour. Taxis are cheap, but make sure you take one from the official sitio taxi stands or use Uber.

Day One

Start the day with Huevos Rancheros, a classic Mexican breakfast – tortillas, fried eggs, salsa and refried beans. Try Café El Popular (5 de Mayo esq Palmas, just off the Zocalo). It’s a popular spot for both locals and tourists and has a diner-style ambiance.

After a hearty breakfast, head to the charming neighbourhood of Coyoacan. The number one attraction here is La Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo’s house, which has now been turned into a museum. It provides a fascinating insight into the life of artist Frida and her husband Diego Rivera. www.museofridakahlo.org.mx

The garden in La Casa Azul

Afterwards, you could head around the corner to the house where the exiled Leon Trotsky lived the last year of his life. It was there that he was murdered by an assassin in his study. In contrast to Frida’s colorful abode, it is an austere house which has been changed little since Trotsky lived there, but is an intriguing slice of political history.

Coyoacan Plaza is a great place to sample some tasty street food. At weekends, it is particularly lively with food and handicraft stalls. There is often live music, adding to the festive atmosphere. It feels like small town Mexico in the heart of the big city.

Back in Centro Historico, take a stroll around the huge main plaza, the Zocalo, the second largest public square in the world after Russia’s Red Square. There are plenty of museums, shops and cool street art to explore in the surrounding areas.

La Catrina, the iconic skeleton lady

El Balcon del Zocalo is a perfect place for dinner. The restaurant has a rooftop terrace, bestowed with spectacular views of the cathedral and Zocalo. It has an international, Mexican and veggie friendly menu. www.balcondelzocalo.com

For a taste of Mexican style nightlife, head to Calle Amberes at Paseo de la Reforma in Zona Rosa. This area is the hub of the LGBTQ scene in Mexico City. Have a wander and take your pick of the many bars and clubs that line the street.

Day Two

Pasteleria Ideal (Calle 16 de Septiembre 18, Col. Centro) could be the largest and most heavenly bakery you have ever seen. The choice of baked goods, both sweet and savory, are a feast for the eyes and as the name suggests, is an ideal place to grab some pastries. With breakfast and coffee in hand, make tracks to Alameda Park and find a bench to sit to enjoy your first meal of the day and partake in a spot of people-watching. You can’t miss the opulent architecture of Palacio de Belles Artes, the grandest building in Mexico City.

Just across the road (Calle Revillagigedo 11, Cuauhtemoc), check out the Popular Art Museum. Housed in an ex-fire station, this contemporary museum is full of colorful Mexican folk art. It’s fun and quirky and the exhibits range from Day of the Dead skulls and skeletons to vibrant piñatas. www.map.cdmx.gob.mx

Museum of Popular Art – fun and quirky

La Ciudadela is an artisan market (Calle de Balderas, s/m Centro, 06040 Cuauhtemoc). It specializes in Mexican handicrafts from 0axacan fantasy animals to beautifully decorated skulls. Prices are reasonable and you are bound to find something that catches your eye.

Even if you have never considered attending a wrestling match before, lucha libre is a unique Mexican experience and not-to-be-missed. (Arena Mexico,189 Calle Dr. Lavista, Colonia Doctores).  Regular sessions are held on Tuesday and Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons. The atmosphere is electric and whole families attend shouting abuse at the bad guys and cheering for their heroes.  

Round off your time in Mexico City with some tequila shots and mariachi music at a bar on Plaza Garibaldi. The haunting sound of roving mariachi bands echo around the square, as you reflect on two action-packed days in this amazing city.

Tequila shots at the ready!

 

Originally posted 2017-07-29 11:22:36.

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