In pictures: China’s other great wall

Posted by - September 21, 2018

A road to restoration for China’s other great wall. Source: Shutterstock
WHEN it comes to walls, China has the most famous one in the world.
But if you look a little further south from where the Great Wall of China runs across the country, you’ll discover another incredible example of ancient engineering.
Constructed 600 years ago from 350 million bricks, the City Wall of Nanjing is the largest circular city wall in the world.
Standing 21 meters high and 14 meters thick, the wall has stood the test of time throughout centuries of battles and invasions.
Sunset over Nanjing, seen from the old city walls. Source: Shutterstock
After the collapse of the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty in 1368, Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang founded the Ming Dynasty and named Nanjing as the capital.
In a quest to protect his sovereignty and keep out invaders, Zhu sought the advice of his advisor Zhu Sheng.
Zhu Sheng, known to be a reclusive but wise man, told him to build a city-encompassing wall.
The wall took 21 years to finish and enlisted more than 200,000 laborers who moved over seven million cubic meters of earth.
Zhongshan Gate in Nanjing. Source: Wikimedia Commons
But according to records, Zhu also ordered 118 counties and 20 states across China to make bricks, each weighing 10 kilograms and measuring around 50 centimeters.
To this day, most of the bricks on the wall still have the names of the officials who were responsible for overseeing the quality of the bricks.
Experts suggest the wall has withstood the test of time because each brick contains a mixture of starch water, in which glutinous rice had been cooked, as well as tung oil, known for its strength in bonding materials.
Cannons still line the City Wall of Nanjing today. Source: Shutterstock
However, despite the enduring materials used in the wall, the 1960s and 1970s brought a bout of neglect for the wall and parts of it began to crumble.
Other parts were knocked down to make way for roads and to facilitate Nanjing’s sprawling economic development.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
90-year-old Nanjing resident Xie Zhiru told BBC Travel that although a lot of wars took place in Nanjing, none managed to ruin the wall.
“When the Japanese invaded, even they couldn’t destroy Nanjing. We [the city’s residents] destroyed this wall ourselves,” she added.
As the wall began to collapse, market sellers used the fallen bricks to build tables and stalls.
“I couldn’t believe people were sitting on 600-year-old bricks,” explained Xie.
A view over Nanjing’s Turtle Lake from the wall. Source: Wikimedia Commons
In 2016, the local government launched the Every Grain to the Granary campaign which requested residents to return any bricks they had taken.
In total, 80,000 bricks were returned and used to restore parts of the wall.
The Xuanwu Gate, one of the gates of the city wall. Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Great Wall of China is also facing a massive restoration project after years of overtourism has taken its toll.
But unlike Nanjing’s Every Grain to the Granary campaign, authorities at the stretches of the Great Wall which need repair have been reckless.
In 2016, it was revealed a 700-year-old “wild” stretch of the Great Wall had been covered in cement under orders from Suizhong county’s Cultural Relics Bureau.
This caused an outcry from historians, locals, and netizens.
Since then, however, greater care has been taken to restore the wall to its original glory.

In pictures: Hiroshima remembers

Posted by - August 7, 2018

73 years on, the shadows and the scars remain. Source: Shutterstock.
JAPAN is marking 73 years since the US dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, one of the only times the US has used nuclear weapons as warfare, the other being Nagasaki.
On Monday, an annual somber ceremony was held about 700 kilometers west of Tokyo to honor the people killed and injured.
It was about 8am in the morning on Aug 6, 1945, in Hiroshima, the capital of Hiroshima Prefecture and the largest city in the Chūgoku region of western Honshu. The world was already inching towards the end of the World War II.
Citizens of Hiroshima were just going about their day that fateful morning.
Some were just getting ready to head off to the factories where they work. Kids in their summer clothes were playing outside since schools were closed because officials thought bombers might be hovering near the city.
A handful was gathered outside Sumitomo Hiroshima Bank in Kamiya-Cho waiting for its doors to open.
Not knowing that in just a matter of seconds, the city would be flattened by the world’s first atom bomb, wiping off more than 70,000 people off the face of Earth.
[embedded content]
The fireball from “Little Boy”, as the nuclear weapon was called, landed with a surface temperature of 5,000 degree Celsius and ignited every flammable material for over 3.5 kilometers.
It created a firestorm that lasted for six hours.
Junji Sarashina, a Hiroshima bombing survivor told Newsweek how he had to crawl from a pile of rock, glass, and sand. He had tried to cross a nearby bridge towards the city as a huge cloud of smoke filled the sky.
“That’s when I saw burned people: skin hanging and no hair,” he said. “The city of Hiroshima – it was burning.”
Just three days later, another nuclear attack was launched, engulfing the city of Nagasaki about 300 kilometers away from Hiroshima.
Hiroshima after the bombing. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The bombings left death and destruction in its wake, killing at least 129,000 people, most of whom were civilians. Many others perished due to radiation and illness.
All that was left of its people, plants, and animals were the haunting shadows left behind when they were incinerated, known as Hito Kage No Ishii (which translates to “Human Shadow Etched in Stone”).
Of the 90,000 buildings in Hiroshima, only 28,000 remained.
Some ruins that were left standing near ground zero, such as the Genbaku Dome (commonly called the Atomic Bomb Dome or A-Bomb Dome), have been preserved and are still there today.
The Genbaku Dome was originally the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. It has been made part of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1996.
Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall in its original condition. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Matsui called nuclear deterrents and umbrellas “inherently unstable and extremely dangerous” approaches that seek to maintain international order by only generating fear in rival countries. He urged world leaders to negotiate in good faith to eliminate atomic arsenals.
Today, the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) actively promotes Hiroshima via “peace tourism” campaigns to draw attention to sites related to the nuclear devastation.
The program is designed to encourage tourists to learn more about the bombing, not to gain sympathy but to remind people of the darker, war-torn times in Japan and the cruelties of war, in hopes of promoting peace.
In 2016, nearly two million people visited the city, a 3.2-fold jump from about 360,000 in 2012.
Take a look at Hiroshima in current day:

Lainey Loh | @laineyx
A certified daydreamer, when she's not physically travelling, she's often going places in her head. Her first love is coffee & her second, wine – & she accepts bribes in either forms. She's also entirely capable of deep conversations about life & random musings just for laughs, but do excuse her if she appears AWOL mid-chat – she's just going places in her head.

Australian airports roll out digital boarding passes

Posted by - August 7, 2018

Australia’s airports are utilizing technology to cut passenger time spent in queues. Source: Shutterstock
AIRPORTS and long queues have gone hand-in-hand since the dawn of commercial aviation.
And now, with more people than ever traveling internationally, airports can be a dreaded place for many.
But Australian airports are hoping to change this traveling experience by allowing outbound passengers who are flying internationally to check-in for their flights using a mobile phone.
This means passengers will no longer have to queue up at airport desks to get a paper boarding pass.
Starting this week, airlines operating in Australia will be able to issue electronic boarding passes directly to passengers.
“Australia is a world leader in seamless travel, and this move will allow travelers to move across our border smoothly,” Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge said in a statement.
In 2016, nearly 1.5 billion people traveled internationally. This is almost a billion more people than a decade earlier in 1996.
Of these travelers, more than 21 million of them passed through a border at one of Australia’s international airports.
“These increasing volumes mean we are always looking for ways to clear legitimate travelers efficiently and seek out those of interest to law enforcement,” added Tudge.
The implementation of this new check-in system follows several successful trials of mobile boarding passes for international flights in multiple Australian airports.
International outbound passengers at Australia’s airports will also have experienced the automatic SmartGates which are another technology used to improve the flow of passengers.
In fact, SmartGates are a common sight in airports across the world and Acuity Market Intelligence predicts the market for e-Gates and kiosks will exceed US$752 million this year.
Source: Shutterstock
A Qantas spokesperson told nine.com.au, “Using digital boarding passes has already been popular with our customers who have used their mobile devices to help make their travel experience more seamless.”
Qantas began offering passengers the option of digital boarding passes 12 months ago on routes between Australia and New Zealand.
The airline is now expected to extend this mobile access to other international destinations, including the US, as soon as October.
Qantas is Australia’s national flag carrier. Source: Shutterstock
But Australia isn’t done with its utilization of technology just yet.
Last week, the Queensland government approved a grant of US$6.1 million from the Queensland Ignite Ideas funding which supports local businesses.
One of these is a cryptocurrency startup called TravelbyBit.
The startup aims to open Australia to a digital currency tourism by offering a multi-cryptocurrency platform where users can purchase commodities such as flights.
One of TravelbyBit’s first partnerships is with Brisbane Airport Corporation, which also offers electronic boarding passes. The startup has high hopes of making it the “world’s first digital currently friendly airport.”
With all this new technology on the horizon, travelers in Australia could soon find themselves not needing to show their passports or travel with cash in their wallets.

What Bangkok is doing about its sinking problem

Posted by - August 6, 2018

Source: Shutterstock.
A FEW CITIES in the world are sinking ten times faster than sea levels are rising: Venice, New Orleans, and Bangkok.
This is largely due to a combination of subsiding land due to human activity and rising sea levels caused by global warming.
“Land subsidence and sea level rise are both happening, and they are both contributing to the same problem – larger and longer floods, and bigger inundation depth of floods,” the Netherlands’ Deltares Research Institute’s Dr. Gilles Erkens told the BBC.
Erkens pointed out that parts of Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok and numerous other coastal urban settlements would sink below sea level unless action was taken.
“The most rigorous solution and the best one is to stop pumping groundwater for drinking water, but then, of course, you need a new source of drinking water for these cities. But Tokyo did that and subsidence more or less stopped, and in Venice, too, they have done that,” Erkens revealed.
Source: Shutterstock.
Home to some 20 million people, Bangkok made international headlines in 2011 when it was inundated by one of the worst floods in its history. About 815 people were killed, with three missing, and 13.6 million people were affected.
The megacity remained underwater for months, and the Thai economy suffered a US$40.7 billion loss.
Bangkok is set to turn 250 years old in 2032, but if action isn’t taken, the city could sink under water. The latest estimates suggest that Bangkok is now sinking as fast as two centimeters per year in parts of the city.
In fact, The Global Post reported that by 2100, Bangkok would be fully submerged and unliveable.
[embedded content]
To prevent Bangkok from being swallowed up a little more each day, experts have offered a couple of solutions.
This includes mapping out an extensive water-management plan, erecting a massive seawall, or moving the capital to higher ground.
One of the more functional solutions was the construction of an 11-acre park that collects up to one million gallons of rainwater.
Built on property owned by local university Chulalongkorn University, which commissioned the project, the Chulalongkorn University Centennial Park (CU Centennial Park) is capable of collecting equivalent to one and a half Olympic-sized swimming pools’ worth of water.
Source: Landprocess.
“Chulalongkorn Centennial Park is designed to face future uncertainties of climate change,” landscape architectural firm Landprocess said.
The raised green roof at the park “directs runoff water through sloped rain gardens, filtered in the constructed wetland, and then to the retention pond.”
The CU Centennial Park will also treat water from neighboring areas by sending it through the wetland filtration system.
Other sections of the park include reading areas, walking and bike paths, herb gardens, and a recreation area. The public can easily access the CU Centennial Park on foot.
Source: Landprocess.
Meanwhile, a project for an even larger park that will mitigate flooding like CU Centennial Park is currently underway.
Located on the campus of Bangkok’s Thammasat University, it’s expected to open in 2019.

Lainey Loh | @laineyx
A certified daydreamer, when she's not physically travelling, she's often going places in her head. Her first love is coffee & her second, wine – & she accepts bribes in either forms. She's also entirely capable of deep conversations about life & random musings just for laughs, but do excuse her if she appears AWOL mid-chat – she's just going places in her head.

The Philippines promises a ‘Better Boracay’ in October

Posted by - August 6, 2018

The rehabilitation period is almost coming to an end. Source: Shutterstock.
IN APRIL, the resort island of Boracay officially closed off to tourists to allow for a six-month-long restoration project.
The dramatic tourist ban came under scrutiny with claims that it violated a handful of things including the constitutional right to travel. The Philippines’ armed forces swooped in to shuttle remaining tourists off the once pristine shores of Boracay.
Boracay, with its pristine white sand beaches and crystal blue waters, sees an estimated US$772.5 million in revenue every year.
Considered as one of the Southeast Asian country’s major tourist destinations, it attracts approximately two million annual visitors, close to half of which are foreigners.
Boracay is especially popular with Chinese and South Korean tourists.
The closure led to airline companies such as AirAsia suspending all flights to the destination, offering instead other alternatives and service recovery options. Hotels and resorts on the island scrambled to attend to guests with affected bookings.
The hiatus also affected restaurants, cafes, vendors, and other businesses on the island.
Source: Shutterstock.
Two issues that are being addressed in Boracay’s rehabilitation are the setting up of sewage treatment plants for hotels and proper relocation sites for illegal wetland occupants, according to Rappler.
However, the rehabilitation period will soon come to an end and Boracay will once again be ready to receive tourists in October.
The Philippine Department of Environment and National Resources (DENR) confirmed visitors will be able to enjoy a “Better Boracay” on Oct 26, 2018.
DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu, who is in charge of the Save Boracay Task Force (SBTF), said he will make sure that each beach resort on Boracay maintains its own sewage treatment plant.
Task force officials will ensure strict enforcement of environmental laws once the establishments resume operation.
Source: Shutterstock.
Meanwhile. the Philippine Department of Tourism has vowed to do its part to sustain Boracay’s rehabilitated state.
“We need to strike a balance between nurturing our natural endowments like Boracay and sourcing our people’s livelihood off them,” PDOT Secretary Bernadette-Romulo-Puyat said, stressing the need for environmental protection and a sustainable and inclusive tourism program.
“The task force will see to it that only compliant establishments will be open for business to ensure that our guests will get the world class service they deserve,” said Puyat.

Lainey Loh | @laineyx
A certified daydreamer, when she's not physically travelling, she's often going places in her head. Her first love is coffee & her second, wine – & she accepts bribes in either forms. She's also entirely capable of deep conversations about life & random musings just for laughs, but do excuse her if she appears AWOL mid-chat – she's just going places in her head.

In pictures: The Hawaii of Asia

Posted by - August 6, 2018

Why you should make Hainan the first place you visit in #China. Source: Shutterstock.
HAINAN’S tourism department is pulling out all stops to boost tourism to the island, positioned to be China’s Hawaii.
Its Tourism Development Commission recently engaged Xiaozhu.com to leverage the rise of home sharing and develop rural tourism, including through establishing a Hainan Tourism B&B Association.
Located in the southernmost province of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Hainan consists of various islands in the South China Sea. Hainan Island is the largest and fifth most popular island under PRC rule and makes up the majority of the province.
There are 10 major cities and 10 counties in Hainan Province. Haikou on the northern coast of Hainan Island is the capital while Sanya is a well-known tourist destination on the southern coast.
The other major cities are Wenchang, Qionghai, Wanning, Wuzhishan, Dongfang, and Danzhou.
Source: Shutterstock.
Beijing-based Xiaozhu, often called China’s answer to Airbnb, offers listings in over 400 locations globally and raised US$65 million last November. Existing investors include Joy Capital, Morningside Ventures, Capital Today, and Jack Ma’s Yunfeng Capital.
The Hainan Tourism B&B Association aims to regular the development of the B&B industry in Hainan, establish a mechanism for police-citizen interaction, solve problems in B&B operations, improve the industry’s service level and drive competition.
On top of that, the agreement between Xiaozhu and the association will also see the partners jointly promote villages in Hainan, build village B&B accommodation for poverty alleviation, and establish a B&B industry association.
Source: Shutterstock.
Village home-sharing in Hainan Island has become a driver of village rejuvenation. Xiaozhu now has over 30,000 village B&Bs and each village B&B creates six local jobs on average.
Hainan Provincial Tourism Development Commission deputy director Ao Liyong shared there are about 516 rural tourist sites across the island, bringing about CNY1.75 billion (US$256.7 million) in revenue in the first half of this year, up 14.2 percent year-on-year.
It has created a historic opportunity for China’s economic development and the country is ramping up efforts to grow the island’s international tourism intake, first by allowing visa-free access for 59 countries for a 30-day stay.
Source: Shutterstock.
For years, the province has been developing its tourism industry. China also aims to make Hainan an international free trade zone by 2020 to help increase its tourist numbers by 25 percent annually to at least two million.
Will China succeed in making Hainan province – with its warm oceans, golden beaches, green palm trees, luxury resorts – an international tourism destination?
Take a look at what the island has to offer:

Lainey Loh | @laineyx
A certified daydreamer, when she's not physically travelling, she's often going places in her head. Her first love is coffee & her second, wine – & she accepts bribes in either forms. She's also entirely capable of deep conversations about life & random musings just for laughs, but do excuse her if she appears AWOL mid-chat – she's just going places in her head.

Climb, laugh, slide, play at Changi Airport’s new playground

Posted by - August 3, 2018

This is one giant playground that both children and adults will love. Source: Shutterstock.
SINGAPORE’S Changi Airport is way ahead of the game when it comes to teching up its terminals and beefing up its facilities.
Recently, its brand spanking new Terminal 4 unveiled its only independent pay-per-use lounge. Changi Airport also announced exciting features for its Terminal 1 expansion, slated to open in early 2019.
And it doesn’t stop there.
The airport has installed a new playground at Terminal 4, something that both children and adults will love.
Chandelier, the five-story crimson red playground, features climbing nets and fireman poles for people to slide down at two-meter intervals.
Built using 10 kilometers of rope and supported by 15 tonnes of steel, it’s shaped in a double helix with a weaved tapestry steel core.
Here’s a sneak peek of our latest and largest playground – Chandelier! Located at #ChangiT4 transit hall, it is the perfect spot for the young and young-at-heart before your flight. Stay tuned for more details on its opening date! pic.twitter.com/g4G42XklEv
— Changi Airport (@ChangiAirport) August 2, 2018
Said to be the airport’s “largest art installation”, the playground is anchored to the ceiling and the ground and can admit up to 50 people at a time.
There is no fee to use the playground and it will be open 24 hours for passengers.
Chandelier is located within the departure lounge of Terminal 4 and will be opened to passengers in a few weeks’ time.
Spread over an area of 225,000 square meters, the relatively new Terminal 4 is home to 11 major airlines including Cathay Pacific and AirAsia, but it won’t be the last expansion that we’ll be seeing from Changi Airport.
In 2030, Changi Airport will officiate the opening of its giant Terminal 5.
Changi’s four passenger terminals can now accommodate up to 82 million passengers a year. The giant Terminal 5 will accommodate the growing number of travelers.

What’s driving tourists in Japan?

Posted by - August 3, 2018

It’s true: We (travelers) are very visual people and this theory proves it. Source: Shutterstock.
JAPAN is one of Asia’s top 10 countries in terms of international tourist arrivals in 2017 and it’s showing no signs of slowing down.
At least not for the next five years or so, with Tokyo hosting the 2020 Olympics. Japan will continue enjoying a surge in inbound travelers for sure.
In 2016, there were about 40 million departures from Japan, including 17 million by Japanese nationals.
In 2017, the country attracted a record 28.68 million tourists, reflecting the sixth consecutive yearly increase. As for departures, Japan saw around 45.2 million leaving its shores in the same year.
On top of strong promotional pushes by the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO), the East Asian country already welcomes a steady stream of travelers ready to check out its dark tourism, sakura season, food tourism, heritage tourism, night tourism, fall foliage, and a whole lot more.
But what’s really driving the tourists in Japan these days? It’s not just tourism campaigns and guidebooks for sure.
Source: Shutterstock.
Destinations that are more off the beaten track like Nagano, the capital city of Nagano Prefecture in the Chūbu region of Japan for example, saw more than one million visitors last year.
Which is every bit impressive for the landlocked area as it marks a 36-fold increase in just three years.
How did this happen? First, CNN described Nagano as one of Japan’s most beautiful places, which spurred an influx of postings featuring Nagano’s sights flooding Instagram.
Since then, Instagram’s numbers have seen a steep increase, with Nagano becoming one of the most active markets on the platform.
Zenkoji Temple, one of the most important and popular temples in Nagano, stores the first Buddhist statue ever to be brought into Japan. Source: Shutterstock.
As of June 20, 2018, Instagram has reached one billion monthly active users.
And a majority of these users turn to the Facebook-owned photo-sharing app to match #ootd coordinations, decide where to eat, get suggestions on things to do, and add things to their travel bucket list.
“Instagram is different from other social media because users are the ones taking the initiative to post and spread pictures, not the local municipalities,” Travel And Tour World quoted marketing firm Full Speed Inc.’s Kazukiyo Yonemura of Full Speed Inc. as saying.
Source: Shutterstock.
For Nagano alone, there are more than a handful of Instagram hashtags chalking up thousands of posts such as:
City officials expressed their sheer surprise to see people of all ages visiting the mountains to get a shot of its shrine, with the mass crowds leading to four-hour-long traffic jams.
“We widened roads, built toilets and increased parking from 24 to more than 100 spaces this April,” Nagano city tourism division’s Erika Watanabe said.
The multiple foreign currencies, 27 to be exact, found in the shrine’s offertory box proved that many of the visitors were from overseas.
Last year, Instagram joined hands with the JNTO to introduce a new hashtag, #UnknownJapan, which led to more than five million foreign visitors sharing posts.

Over half of Australia’s travel insurers don’t cover this common illness

Posted by - August 3, 2018

Cancer and heart disease are more commonly covered by travel insurers than mental illness. Source: Shutterstock
A NEW study has revealed that a staggering 51 percent of Australian travel insurance companies don’t cover people suffering from mental illness.
The comprehensive research by Australia-based comparison website Mozo was conducted via a “mystery shop” involving insurers being asked to outline their definition of mental illness and what qualified as a history of mental illness.
Mozo discovered 24 of the 47 travel insurers questioned didn’t offer cover for mental health conditions. This means many suffers could be left with expensive medical bills while abroad.
The remaining 23 insurers which offer the cover make it difficult for mental illness sufferers to get insurance.
Source: Mozo
The research found that definitions of mental illness differed between each insurer.
Some consider anything from stress and anxiety to chronic depression and schizophrenia a mental health.
For the companies that offer cover, a mental health assessment is also required. But this doesn’t guarantee insurance, it just simply means sufferers will be considered for it.
“While it’s feasible to cover for a range of conditions, from cancer to heart disease, mental illness falls into a murky area that many travel insurers don’t want to touch,” Mozo Director Kirsty Lamont said.
The research also points out that at least 50 percent of insurers considered a customer to be mentally unwell if they have ever previously suffered from mental illness.
The emphasis being on “ever”.
This means travelers who used to suffer from depression, stress, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or eating disorders, to name but a few could be discriminated against by insurance companies even if they don’t suffer the ailments anymore.
However, the Insurance Council of Australia denied these claims and told The Sydney Morning Herald that the travel insurance industry has progressed in terms of cover for mental illness sufferers.
“Most [travel insurers] now cover for first instance episodes of mental health conditions,” a spokesperson said.
Source: Mozo
In another interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Psychological Society professional adviser David Stokes said, “Extensive guidelines need to not only be agreed on but adopted by the industry in terms of how it assesses these conditions.”
And very soon travel insurers will have to seriously consider their stance on mental illness and implement agreed guidelines as at least 45 percent of Australians have experienced mental illness in their lifetime.
That equates to over 10 million Australians who could potentially be denied travel insurance or be forced to pay a premium.
“While the travel insurance industry is making steps in the right direction when it comes to mental health cover, we’d like to see greater industry-wide coverage,” Lamont added.
“Right now, the onus is very much on the customer to see whether they are covered for any mental illness related incidents.”

How you can avoid Asia’s gem scams

Posted by - August 3, 2018

ASIA is home to many things, and boring isn’t one of them.
Most of East Asia has four very distinct seasons. However, the same can’t be said about Southeast Asia, home to islands, beaches, all-year sunshine and warm breeze. In fact, it’s possible to experience almost every type of weather and landscape on earth on this one continent.
Also, almost every Asian country has its own language complete with its own script, with some countries having numerous languages and dialects. This makes traveling within the region exciting.
#TRAVEL HACKS
How you can avoid getting duped by bogus travel agencies In Asia, oriental and spicy food are aplenty, attractions are a dime a dozen, and shopping is mostly cheap, with steals and deals at every corner. But for tourists shopping for precious stones in Asia, the fear of fakes and scams can be a huge deterrent.
The mere fact that you can neither speak the language nor the dialect makes it even more challenging.
Asia is home to some of the world’s major gem trading hubs. Thailand, Hong Kong, and Jaipur in India are three of its key gem trading centers, according to Gemological Institute of America (GIS) senior analyst Russell Shor.
Thai capital Bangkok is known as the world’s colored gemstone cutting and trading capital, exporting more than US$600 million worth of gems a year, but the gem scam is also extremely prevalent in the city.
In fact, it’s one of the most pervasive scams in Thailand, having been in operation for the past two decades, and the victims tend to be tourists from outside Thailand.
It was demonstrated in a Scam City episode in Bangkok when host Conor Woodman uncovered a gem scam that involved a chain of scammers.
A worker shows gems inside a champagne glass during a press conference for Thailand Gem Cutting Contest 2004 in Bangkok. Source: AFP PHOTO/PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL / AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL
Meanwhile, Hong Kong is Asia’s number one location for expensive gems, including “million-dollar-plus jade and ruby pieces.”
And tourists will keep flocking to Hong Kong to shop for expensive gems largely due to its tax-free shopping. Gem lovers contribute more than US$1billion a year to Hong Kong’s gemstone export trade.
Jaipur in India, on the other hand, is a hub for the sale of gems that are lower-end stones. They’re sold at kiosks, stores, and street markets throughout its Old City area – and that’s where the scammers seek out tourists who don’t know any better.
India’s gem scam is also one of the most common scams, with shopkeepers readily misrepresenting the quality and authenticity of gemstones.
“What’s particularly shocking is how readily tourists fall for this scam — even the most educated and intelligent ones,” tripsavvy wrote. Even those who aren’t looking to buy gemstones get fooled into purchasing them.
India’s gem scam is also common in Agra city, Rishikesh city, and the western Indian state of Goa.
Gem-encrusted gold tiger from the throne of 18th-century Indian ruler Tipu Sultan on display during a press preview of an exhibition titled “Treasures from India, Jewels from the Al-Thani collection”. Source: AFP PHOTO / JEWEL SAMAD.
Still, these are a handful of Asia’s most popular and exotic destinations, with brilliant gems and stones to offer.
The question is, how can you discern real stones from fakes and avoid being scammed?
Speak like them The first step is, of course, to find a credible seller.
Then, once you get the conversation going and start showing some interest, throw in some lingo and see how well the seller does. Gem lingo isn’t at all complicated and is quite universal wherever you go.
If you see something you like, ask the seller about things like its cut, color, clarity, and source.
Source: Shutterstock.
This will tell the seller that you’re not an easy target and if he or she fumbles, get out of there.
Learn to value Start with the basics: color, clarity, cut, and carat.
High-quality gems have pure colors, deep tones, and saturation; be symmetrical and in proportion, thanks to a good cut; and will not be 100 percent flawless due to their formation.
Fake or synthetic stones are also going to be denser than real ones and therefore should be heavier.
Source: Shutterstock.
For more information, check out the International Gem Society, which has both free and paid content including an online gemology course.
Trust no one Moving from store to store in search of that perfect gem? Do it yourself.
By that, we mean you shouldn’t trust tour guides, taxi drivers or touts, as there’s a high chance that they’ve been told to direct you to specific gem shops and will get paid hefty commissions for doing so.
Research qualified and trusted ones and visit them on your own, taking the extra effort to stop by as many stores as possible to compare prices.
Source: Shutterstock.
Be wary if you notice a pattern in the behavior and sale tactics of the staff in different shops.
The post How you can avoid Asia’s gem scams appeared first on Travel Wire Asia.