Tom Vater

Tom Vater

Irreverent, informed and downright eclectic crime fiction and reportage from Southeast Asia and beyond

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Tourism woes in Laos in The Nikkei Asian Review

VIENTIANE — It is Saturday afternoon in tourist high season, and Vientiane is very quiet. Most shops are closed for the weekend. A couple of Asian tour groups ascend the Patuxai, the Laotian capital’s answer to the Arc de Triomphe. On every floor, stalls are packed with five-year-old photocopies of the Lonely Planet guide to Laos, fake antiques and communist flags, while its female vendors relax in deck chairs…

My latest story with Laure Siegel on tourism, development and China’s influence in the Nikkei Asian Review.

Vang Vieng Boutique Riverside in The Daily Telegraph

Set on the banks of the Song River and facing spectacular limestone mountain ridges, Vang Vieng’s swankiest hotel resort offers a winning combination of Laotian culture and French colonial era ambience, with fantastic service, excellent facilities, great tours and a good restaurant…

I am just back from Laos, where I was researching articles for the Nikkei Asian Review and CNN with Laure Siegel, and also climbed a mountain, rode a mountain bike round Luang Prabang, ate some strange food  while finding the time to write a review of the Boutique Riverside, a great French owned resort in Vang Vieng for the Daily Telegraph.

Little Europe – The proto-colonies of West Bengal in The Nikkei Asian Review

Last story of 2017, first story of 2018, with Laure Siegel.

The show stays on the road and the road takes me wherever. Home is anywhere I lay my head. In this instance, north of Kolkata, the world’s most beautiful city, along the banks for the river Hooghly.  Really enjoyed researching this one and am looking forward to more commissions that require the use of both head and feet to get the story.

Happy New Year to everyone who snows through this page, above all of course, my readers. Thanks to everyone who bought one of my books or read my work and has kept me alive and on the road in 2017.

Kolkata, or as the city was formerly known, Calcutta, was founded by the British on the humid banks of the Hooghly River in Bengal in 1690. Two centuries later, the city had grown into the most important trading center east of the Suez and remained the world’s second most important economic hub (after London) until 1911, when the British moved their capital to Delhi.

But the British were not the first Europeans to set up shop along the Hooghly. Other maritime powers and traders were drawn to Bengal for its rich resources, particularly muslin silk, spices and opium, and established their outposts, or “Kuthis,” along the river…

Happy New Year to everyone who snows through this page, above all of course, my readers. Thanks to everyone who bought one of my books or read my work and has kept me alive and on the road in 2017.

With Little Europe, I am optimistically sliding into the next one searching for new ideas, new stories, new travels.

The next best thing to a sacred tattoo – Sacred Skin

The holidays are almost upon us, we’ve burnt another year into oblivion. The end of the year is a great time to focus the mind and spend some moments in silent contemplation.

A Sak Yant, a sacred tattoo from Thailand, certainly helps. Many ancient Thai tattoos are in fact diagrams designed for meditation.

But if there’s no genuine Sak Yant master near you, then Sacred Skin – Thailand‘s spirit tattoos, my best-selling book on Sak Yant, co-authored with photographer Aroon Thaewchaturat, is the next best thing.

Happy days!

Get your copy here.

Moon Angkor Wat 3rd edition racing towards final deadline

In the final throes of writing the new edition of Moon Angkor Wat, my guide to the Angkor temples in Cambodia.

Two trips this year, and I met some great people in Siem Reap, Battambang and Phnom Penh, and of course the monuments remain as magnificent as ever, no matter how vulgar the mass tourist discourse around them.

Be nice to wrap this one up before Xmas.

Happy holidays, you could do worse than spending them around the Angkor temples.

India’s City of Joy: 3 days in historic Kolkata at CNN

My latest travel feature with Laure Siegel on one of my favorite cities – Kolkata – for CNN Travel

Mother Teresa did the same for this spendid city as Spielberg did for sharks. She ruined the West Bengal capital’s reputation for generations. But Teresa is dead, the city is on a bumpy rebound and its global reputation as a place of hardship deserves to be put into a larger perspective.

Great people, incredible historic architecture, super food, cool hotels and plenty of grit.

I’ll be back.

Read the full story here.

Hidden India: Odisha’s secrets revealed on CNN

The eastern India state of Odisha, stretching for more than 300 miles along the Bay of Bengal, bristles with architectural and cultural gems.

Tropical, remote and home to some of the subcontinent’s most striking temples, much of the state was off-limits to foreign travel for some years because of Maoist unrest but reopened in 2016.
Vast tracts of Odisha still never see any foreign visitors and even the state’s main destinations remain refreshingly untouched by mass tourism.
“People who come to Odisha are usually return visitors to India; they have ticked off the Kerala backwaters and the Taj Mahal,” says Claire Prest of Grassroutes Journeys, a travel agency specializing in tailor-made trips around the state that she runs with her husband Pulak Mohanty….

Read the full story by Laure Siegel and myself at CNN Travel.

PsycheDelhi – As Mad House as Art House

A few words om the excellent art house movie PsycheDelhi by Surya Dash.

 

If Godard and Tarkovsky had conceived an illegitimate child, with an anarchist bohemian Brahmin capturing the surrealist copulation on camera round the back of a chowk in the Indian capital, the offspring might look something like PsycheDelhi.

Delhi is usually perceived as a little rough around the edges by foreign visitors, not least thanks to its unbreathable air, but Surya Dash’s sprawling, poetic and occasionally tense epic Noir take on just about everything that irks liberal Indians brings depth and beauty to the grime and venal corruption that snakes through the city like a main circuit cable plugged straight into the country’s establishment, be it political, religious or freelance moralistic.

PsycheDelhi meanders through this darkness of forlorn hopes and dreams of characters – a prime minister, a poet, a gay urbanite and a Tibetan refugee – that are so tied down by system and social circumstance that they can barely move, even when they are on the run. Just before their stories hit rock-bottom, the film swerves to the left into mesmerizing sequences of city life, subtly infused with political anger, that manage to be more poignant than the violence a lesser film maker might have been tempted into.

The film is a crime story of sorts, with a detective of sorts, wearing trilby and personal tragedy with equal conviction. More Lew Archer than Sherlock Holmes, our PI guides us high and low and in between, but always further into the Noir. Dash takes narrative clues, consciously or otherwise, from classic Noir novels of the 60s. We are not really interested in who done it because we are all doing it. Instead, we look at the pathetic humanity of small losers (and that includes the befuddled PM) who have thoughts of happiness and dignity dashed quicker than your street corner cop can raise his lathi.

PsycheDelhi revels in the sublime knowledge that it has the power to infuriate reactionaries at home, while telling a heartbreaking story universal enough to deserve an international audience.

Watch PsycheDelhi here.

Photo taken at Puri premiere of PsycheDelhi at Honey Bee Restaurant. With (left to right) Debu Tripathy, Laure Siegel, myself and Surya Dash.

The Japan Alsace economic love affair in the Nikkei Asian Review

My latest feature with Laure Siegel for the Nikkei Asian Review – Japan’s love affair with Alsace grows stronger. After 150 years, French region continues to attract Japanese companies

“If a Japanese company wants to get off the ground in France, it will move to Paris,” says Japanese entrepreneur Kentaro Kitajima. “If it wants to access the European market, it will settle in Alsace.”

Kitajima began traveling to France to find new markets for MF, an Osaka company that produces protective materials for construction sites. The young businessman from Tokyo had previously studied in France, spoke French and loved French culture. He even named his son Alain after the French actor Alain Delon, whose performance in the 1967 movie “The Last Adventure” he admired.

“It was natural I was sent to Paris to expand my company’s activities. But at the annual Batimat trade fair in 2013, I was approached by a representative of the Alsace development agency,” said Kitajima. “I had been told that the people of Alsace were very serious, straightforward, and that their mentality was quite close to ours.

“When I met people from the region I found this to be true, especially when it came to working culture. And the region lies at the crossroads of Europe, it was perfectly located on a logistical level.”

Read the full story here.

The Bangkok Publishing House in The Daily Telegraph

I recently reviewed the quite unique Bangkok Publishing House in The Daily Telegraph.

The Bangkok Publishing Residence is a unique property, a one-off, and a very personable hotel experience. The building started as a row of 1960s shophouses, though most of the walls and floors have been removed, creating a beautifully open ground-floor space that’s designed like an atrium and reaches up to the fourth floor.

Garish Thai Weekly magazine covers, typesetting sorts, shelves of magazine back issues, family collectables and weird objets d’art have been lovingly assembled to make the property come to life. There’s a piano for guests, the leather couches are comfortable and nicely worn and while the metal lift is new, it looks like part of a set from an old Noir movie.

Read the full review here.

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