When you ask Koreans which place you should visit if you’re interested in their country’s history, they would unanimously tell you to go to Gyeongju, located in North Gyeongsang Province. Gyeongju was the capital of the Silla Dynasty which ruled the Korean Peninsula more than 2,000 years ago. Then called Seorabeol, it was the center of political and cultural life in the peninsula and home of beautiful Korean Buddhist art originating from Korea’s earliest history. Because of this, the ancient history, art, and artifacts of Gyeongju are distinct from the Joseon heritage that we usually see and experience in
I was given a four-day transit visa by Turkmenistan immigration so I had to leave on time or risk deportation (probably, maybe).After my overnight stay in the Darvaza Gas Crater, fittingly dubbed the Door to Hell by people for its creepy but romantic (a combination that doesn’t work for people) ambience at night then a mid-morning stroll looking at the ruins of Konye-Urgench, I opted to cross the border to Uzbekistan from Konye-Urgench instead of from Dashoguz. I was worried that I won’t have enough time to get out of Turkmenistan if I travel from Konye-Urgench to Dashoguz, which Sergey
After saying goodbye to the Darvaza Gas Crater, we took off for a short tour of Konye-Urgench before I cross the border to Uzbekistan. We left at 9 a.m. since Konye-Urgench is 270 kilometers away, or around 3 and a half hours of driving. I really debated with myself whether or not I will visit Konye-Urgench. My next destination after exiting Turkmenistan was the former slave trading town of Khiva, now in Uzbekistan. The nearest border exit going to Khiva is through Dashoguz, around 2 hours away from Konye-Urgench, and it was reportedly easier to get a cab to Khiva
This post was first published in 2017 in my old travel blog, Erudite Traveller.During the height of the Cold War in the 70s, a team of Soviet geologists looking for oil fields excavated a likely spot in Derweza village in the Karakum desert. Unfortunately, the site they chose was on top of a cavernous pocket of natural gas that was unable to hold all their equipment. This pocket collapsed and emitted poisonous methane gas, killing animals in the vicinity. Those in charge decided to light a flame on top to use up the emitted methane gas, expecting it to flare
This article was first published in my travel blog, Erudite Traveller, in 2017. While doing my research for the Turkmenistan leg of my Silk Road trip, I stumbled upon the existence of the Akhal Teke horse. The Akhal Teke – also called Golden Horses and Celestial Horses – belong to the world’s most ancient existing horse breed. For 3,000 years the Teke tribe living in Turkmenistan’s Akhal region selectively bred these horses, keeping the horses’ ancestry by oral tradition. Sun touching the Akhal Teke’s coat. Image from Wikipedia taken by a much better photographer than me. Akhal Teke horses are
About 30 minutes away from Ashgabat is the ancient Parthian citadel in Old Nisa dating back to 250 BCE at the time of Arsaces I, founder of the empire. A man so manly that all Parthian emperors hence were officially named after him. The root word of his name meant, obviously, manly. The remains of Nisa, called Parthaunisa or Nisae depending on which old historian you read, traverses the modern-day villages of Old and New Nisa, separated by Bagir village. Ancient fortresses and various ruins dating back to the Parthians can still be found reasonably preserved in these two villages.
After my short visit to Ancient Merv, I had a simple dinner at the canteen beside Mary’s train station to wait for my 11 pm overnight train to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan’s capital 360 kilometers to the west. I asked Sergey*, my tour guide, to book the train tickets instead of driving to the capital since I wanted to experience traveling in Turkmenistan using public transportation but also wary of riding the marshutka as I don’t speak the local language. Name changed for security reasons. The train compartment had 2 bunk beds. Naturally, I took one of the top bunks even before the
After my relatively painless border crossing from Iran, I was pumped to finally start the next leg of my Silk Road journey. This time visiting Ancient Merv, located near one of Turkmenistan’s largest cities, Mary. Waiting for me right outside the border gates was Sergey*, my local tour guide. My first request to Sergey was to find me a bottle of Coke, stat! I have been bamboozled into imbibing Zam zam – Iran’s version of Coke – due to its suspiciously Coke-like packaging. Like its originator Pepsi, it wasn’t good enough for my discerning palate. I swear my taste buds
This post was first published in my old travel blog, Erudite Traveller on 20 December 2017.One of the things I obsessively prepared for during the planning stage of my Silk Road 2017 trip was how to cross to Turkmenistan, a land-locked country with border crossings from Iran, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. In the end, I opted to cross the Iran-Turkmenistan border in Sarakhs, a city straddling the two countries. Getting through the border between the two countries was a surreal experience. The brown and desolate winding mountains and sand dunes in the Iranian side, despite the presence of giant trucks,
This post was originally published in my old travel blog, Erudite Traveller on 05 December 2017.Mashhad, Iran’s spiritual capital and second largest city is located more than 900 kilometers to the northeast and borders Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. This made Mashhad the perfect entry point to my next destination: the ancient Achaemenid satrapy and Seljuk Turk citadel of Merv (Margiana), Turkmenistan. Although not a usual tourist destination for foreigners and non-Muslims, Mashhad is actually a famous site for Shia Muslims worldwide. Devotees flock to Mashhad’s Imam Reza Shrine by the millions during Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, especially
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