* Bangkok Shrine Bombing – Case (Pretty Much) Closed

BANGKOK–Two Chinese Muslims are set to go on trial in 2016 on murder charges stemming from last August’s bombing that killed 20 people and injured 125. Thai authorities don’t appear eager to probe into their accomplices or motives, however. Nor will they charge the two with terrorism, despite the web of foreigners implicated in the pipe bomb explosion at a popular Hindu-Buddhist shrine in central Bangkok.


The first man to be arrested, Bilal Mohammed, originally claiming to be a Turkish citizen called Adem Karadeg, was discovered August 29 in an apartment in a Muslim neighborhood of northeastern Bangkok. In the same apartment were several hundred forged Turkish passports and a cache of bomb-making components–suggesting that more attacks might have been planned.


Only in late September did Thai police claim that 27-year-old Bilal was the “backpack bomber” himself–the yellow t-shirted man who left his pack containing a 5-kilogram pipe bomb on a bench at Erawan Shrine shortly before the explosion. According to his lawyer, Bilal has now confessed to the crime. Bilal previously said he had arrived in Thailand–with the help of traffickers–four days after the bombing.       MORE

* Burma’s Last Royals

The King in Exile: The Fall of the Royal Family of Burma by Sudah Shah (Harper Collins)

Reviewed by Susan Cunningham
Los Angeles Review of Books

MYANMAR’S LAST ROYAL FAMILY, summarily ousted by British colonizers more than 125 years ago, hasn’t been a sensitive subject since independence in 1948. But less than three years ago, The King in Exile by Sudha Shah might have run afoul of censors just for noting that Taw Phaya Galae, a grandson of the last Burmese royal couple and one of her sources, served a stint in prison after participating in the squelched 1988-1990 democracy movement.

It is one of many signs of change that an edition of Shah’s family biography, already available in English in Myanmar, will soon be published in Burmese.

4 Daughters of Myanmar's King Thibaw

The Final Four Burmese Princesses

For the past two years, Myanmar’s military government has assumed a gentler, less martial face as it bids to welcome tourists and Western investors. After nearly 20 years of house arrest, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in Parliament in 2012 and ventured abroad to collect her 1991 Nobel Prize and other laurels. The strides the country has taken toward greater freedom of expression in the past two years have received less attention, but are also important.    MORE

* Indonesia hoteliers eye emerging middle class

By Susan Cunningham
HotelNewsNow.com correspondent

BANGKOK—Fueled by steady economic growth exceeding 6% annually, the rise of Indonesia’s middle class and its impact on the hotel landscape were prominent themes at Travel Trends’ No Vacancy conference in Bangkok last week.

Of the 248 million people in Indonesia, approximately 20%–50 million–now belong to the middle class, said Sonia Kapoor, client service director for Nielsen Singapore. Now compiling between $4 and $20 each day to save or spend on leisure activities, members of this group will comprise 50% of the population by 2030, she predicted.

The number of new hotels being built or in the pipeline is unknown. The breakdown of travelers also is hazy, but Scott Blume, group CEO of PT Raja Kumar International, provided an estimate: “At least 25% is probably business travel and the travelers are staying in the 3- to 3-and-a-half-star range hotels. That’s 400,000 to 500,000 rupiah, or about $40.” … MORE

* Deals and developments in Sri Lanka

Cliff-side Kandalama Hotel (Aitken Spence), a Bawa design in central Sri Lanka

          Geoffrey Bawa-designed Heritance Kandalama in Cultural Triangle

Sri Lanka’s hotels have been far from the international spotlight for 30 years, but the country accumulated a sizable inventory during the 1960s and 1970s. More than 500 Sri Lankan hotels and other types of lodging are listed on online booking sites. There are approximately 70 listed just for the Bentota-Kalutara beach strip southwest of Colombo.

Here are some companies that have announced sizable investments for renovations or new builds since the end of the country’s civil war in 2010.

Jetwing Hotels Limited

Jetwing Hotels will build six hotels by 2014, adding to its existing stable of 12, according to Jetwing Chairman Hiran Cooray. Forty-year old Jetwing, which also runs outbound tours, already operates the largest number of hotels in the country with a total of approximately 520 rooms. Cooray said Jetwing will spend $18 million … more

I can tell that many people arrive at this page looking for more about the works of architect Geoffrey Bawa, who designed the magnificent Kandalama Hotel (pictured above), among many other buildings in Sri Lanka and Asia. I initially had some details, but they were deleted in the editing process. While the images in this slideshow are mediocre, there’s a good summary of the reasoning driving Bawa’s choices at Kandalama. And here’s a denser, scholarly analysis of Kandalama from ArchNet. 

* Motoring with Mohammed: Living La Vida Yemeni

Motoring with Mohammed
by Eric Hansen (Vantage)
Reviewed by Susan Cunningham

Eric Hansen, the intrepid, foolhardy author of Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo, is back with adventures from a beguiling corner of the Middle East. Back in 1978, after a yacht-wreck in the Red Sea, he was stranded for two weeks on an uninhabited island off the coast of North Yemen. Rescued after two weeks by a boatload of amiable Eritrean arms smugglers, he left buried on the island a pile of notebooks that he had compiled during seven years of bumming around Greater Asia.

Most of Motoring with Mohammed: Journeys to Yemen and the Red Sea takes place a decade later when Hansen returns with the hope of recovering his notebooks. His plans to revisit the island are stymied by bureaucracy, military security zones, and rumors of the presence of Yasser Arafat. Fortunately, Hansen rapidly loses his sense of mission as he falls into the rhythms of the Yemeni male lifestyle. This demands spending a large part of each day chewing a hallucinogenic leaf qat.
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