Quintessential Qatar

Out of all countries in the Middle East, probably 2 are widely recognized thanks to their respective airlines promoting them to the world: United Arab Emirates and Qatar. We are going to focus on Qatar here.

Qatar is a natural gas-rich country in the Middle East bordering Saudi Arabia. In 2017, due to certain dispute we are not going to write here, many of its neighbors imposed economic blockade against it. Qatar had to act fast to keep its economy running. Within weeks of sanctions, Qatar dropped the visa requirements it had imposed on citizens of developing countries. After a few years, the sanctions were lifted. But fortunately for us faciletrippers, Qatar doesn’t revert to its old visa policy.

Today, visitors from China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Thailand can visit Qatar visa-free for 30 days. Contrast that with UAE’s visa policy, requiring citizens from the 4 aforementioned countries (except for China) to apply for visa prior to travel. I have already decided which country is worth visiting. So what exactly does Qatar has to offer?

Admittedly, Qatar is a relatively small country, but here are some ideas:

1. Al Thakira Mangroves

Mangroves are usually found in tropical climates, not the desert ones. The local type of mangrove native to the country is the Avicennia Marina (aka white or gray mangrove), a species that can endure the high level of salinity that’s characteristic of the Persian Gulf. They can be found 8 km away from the industrial city of Al-Khor.

Source: https://qatarofw.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/AL-THAKIRA-MANGROVE-VISIT-QATAR.png

2. Al-Zubarah Fort

Al-Zubarah Fort is located in the ancient town of Zubarah, in northwest Qatar, 105 km from Doha. It was built by Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani in 1938 to serve as a Coast Guard station. Today it serves as a museum and a famous landmark. In 2013 it is listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Source: http://www.explore-qatar.com/images/banners/al-zubara21.jpg

3. Al Jassassiya Petroglyphs

Al Jassassiya is a deserted quarry in the middle of Qatari desert. First reported in 1956 by Danish archaeologist Peter Glob, a total of more than 900 rock carvings can be found at this surprising site. Their age and purpose are still a matter of speculation at this point.

Source: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/al-jassasiya-petroglyphs

Note that we deliberately left out attractions such as The Pearl Doha, Corniche, and Souq Waqif. We feel that similar attractions can be found elsewhere (although they will never be exactly the same with the Qatari version of them) and hence are not absolutely unique to Qatar. We would like you, fellow faciletrippers, to get the most out of your time and money.

We also suggest you to avoid visiting Qatar, from one month before to one month after the 2022 World Cup (scheduled from 21 November to 18 December 2022). This global sporting event will certainly result in overcrowding and inflated prices.

Have you visited Qatar before? Or are you planning to visit? Please share your experience below!

July Snowfall – Part 2

This is continuation of Part 1. Having covered Lesotho & South Africa, we’ll continue with Argentina and Chile. But first, on how to get there by air… It is not as simple as booking a flight to these two.

On your journey to any of both countries, you may have to change your plane in North America (either the US or Canada). And this is a big problem, because you will have to apply for a tourist visa! Yes, even if it’s only for a few hours of transit!

Don’t fret though, there is a workaround. We suggest you to change plane in any one of major airports in Schengen Area (i.e. Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Madrid, Munich, Paris, or Rome). Unlike the US or Canada, these airports allow visa-free transit, and then it’s non-stop flight to either Argentina or Chile. Alternatively, you can fly on 3 of the 4 major Middle East carriers to Brazil. You can enter Brazil visa-free if you hold a Belarusian, Indonesian, Russian, Philippines, Thai, or Turkish passport. From Brazil, it’s just a medium haul flights to both countries.

With that sorted out, let’s see what both countries have to offer…

Argentina – Chile

Argentina and Chile are the two southernmost independent countries, comprising the southernmost parts of South America. Football legends Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi pretty much puts Argentina on the world stage. Chile is Argentina’s neighbor to the west. Argentina grants visa-free visit for holders of Kazakh, Russian, Thai, or Turkish passports, among others. Meanwhile, Chile grants visa-free visit for holders of Indonesian, Russian, Thai, Turkish, or Vietnamese passports.

What do they offer, in terms of snow? For a start, both countries cover parts of Andes mountain range. In Chile, there are 3 ski resorts located within 1-hour drive from Santiago airport, they are Valle Nevado, La Parva, and Lagunillas. Portillo, the oldest ski resorts in South America, is 2.5-hour drive from the airport.

Unlike Chile, Argentina’s ski resorts are located far away from Buenos Aires. We think it’s better to base yourself in Bariloche, 2 hours of flight time to the southwest of the capital. From there, you may reach Cerro Catedral, Cerro Bayo, Cerro Chapelco, and Perito Moreno Ski Area.

Further south in Chile, you can get to Nevados de Chillan ski resort. It is 2.5 hours away from Concepcion, which itself is 2 hours of flight time from Santiago. Once you are in the southern Chile, It is also possible to vary your experience by visiting Torres del Paine National Park. This national park also borders Los Glacieres National Park in Argentina. Speaking of which, you can opt to ski in Cerro Castor, the southernmost ski resort in the world. It is located 26 km away from Ushuaia, which itself is the southernmost city in the world. Luckily, Ushuaia is served by 3-hour non-stop flights from Buenos Aires.

So there you have it, an exotic wintry microcosm within your summer break. Do you miss the cold and snow? Have you made your decision? Please comment below!

July Snowfall – Part 1

Snow? In July? Yes of course! They are somewhat rare but not unheard of. What are your options? Either you go very far north, climb up high in the mountains, or, visit the southern hemisphere (remember that the seasons in the south is opposite to that in the north). Let’s examine these three options…

July snowfall in the very far north requires you to go…well, very far north. But since it is summer in the north and the Arctic tundra has very low precipitations, your odds are still low…

July snowfall in the mountains in northern hemisphere requires one of these two conditions:

a) tolerance to high (5 km and more) altitude  do you have what it takes?

b) apply for a tourist visa to visit the Alps (in Austria, France, Italy & Switzerland) or the Rocky Mountains (in Canada and the US)  not an option for us faciletripers

That leaves most of us with the final option. If you look at a world atlas or a globe, unlike in the north, there are comparatively few land area in the south. Only 6 countries are located in the far south (excluding British overseas territories): Australia, Argentina, Chile, Lesotho, New Zealand, and South Africa. For this blog, only four is worth writing about: Argentina, Chile, Lesotho, and South Africa. We’ll group these four countries into two: Argentina – Chile, Lesotho – South Africa, in accordance to their locations.

Lesotho – South Africa

South Africa needs no introductions. Meanwhile, Kingdom of Lesotho is a mountainous country, landlocked by South Africa. The lowest elevation in Lesotho is still a high 1400 m above sea level, so it gets below freezing in winter. Likewise the mountains in South Africa.

Lesotho has one ski resort (Afriski). The base is located at 2900 m above sea level and run all the way to 3200 m, making it the highest ski resort in Africa. Natural snowfall is unreliable, so the snowmaking machines come to the rescue…

South Africa, on the other hand, has two ski resorts: Matroosberg and Tiffindell. Matroosberg is located in Western Cape, southwest South Africa. The winter sports area is located between 1800 – 2100 m. Tiffindell, which is located on the border with Lesotho, has a base elevation of 2700 m and run all the way to 2900 m. Just like with Afriski, snowmaking machines are needed.

Lesotho grants visa-free visit to several countries. The rest of us can apply for an e-visa. But it is still not one of the easiest countries for faciletripers to enter to… This is because the only country Lesotho connected with, either by air or land, is South Africa.

This fact necessitates you to enter South Africa before entering Lesotho. Out of all countries whose citizens suffer from mobility gap (as defined here), Belarusian, Jordanian, Russian, Thai, or Turkish citizens can enter South Africa visa-free. There is also plan to implement e-visa to Chinese and Indian passport holders.

Perhaps Lesotho’s and South Africa’s unique selling point is not the prodigious natural snowfall, but its proximity to population centers in Asia and Africa, where temperature never drops to freezing point. But if no distance is too great to traverse for you, stay tuned for my next post on Argentina and Chile!

The Greatest White North – Part 3

This is the continuation from part 2. Having given you some ideas about destinations in the European parts of Russia, let’s pick up where we left, with the Asian parts of Russia. Here are some worth mentioning:

Yekaterinburg

The unofficial capital of Ural, this city connects European Russia and Asian Russia thanks to its flat terrain and location. The last Russian emperor and his family was killed here in 1918 by the Bolsheviks.

Novosibirsk

The largest city in Asian Russia, split into two by the Ob River. Novosibirsk Zoo is one of very few zoos in the world that owns liger (a hybrid of lion & tiger).

Liger and her cubs (https://www.calvertjournal.com/articles/show/1082/three-more-liliger-cubs-born-in-novosibirsk-zoo)

Irkutsk & Lake Baikal

Nicknamed the Paris of Siberia, often used as a base to explore Lake Baikal (70 km to the east), the most voluminous freshwater lake in the world. The oldest surviving icebreaker ship, Angara, now turned into a museum, can be found here.

Ulan-Ude

East of the Lake Baikal lies Ulan-Ude. This city is greatly influenced by the Mongolian culture, due to its proximity to, and extensive trade with, Mongolia.

Yakutsk

Famous for being one of the coldest cities in the world (but it gets warm enough in summer). It is possible to visit Kingdom of Permafrost, a unique underground gallery exhibits all of which are made of ice.

Source: https://russiatrek.org/blog/photos/tourist-center-the-kingdom-of-permafrost/

Vladivostok

Literally translated to Ruler of The East, this port city is the eastern terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railway. The legendary S-56 submarine from WW2 era can be found here.

Sakhalin Island

Russia’s largest island, which has plenty of wild natural scenery, indigenous Nivkhi tribe, whale colonies on the coast, and various fauna further inlands.

Kamchatka Peninsula

A geologically-active, thinly-inhabited peninsula on Russian Far East. Volcanoes, nature reserves, hiking, trekking in the summer. Skiing and heli-skiing untouched powders in winter. Truly a land of fire and ice.

Active volcano of Kamchatka (source: https://visitkamchatka.ru/about/the-volcanoes-of-kamchatka/)

There you have it! We have outlined what Russia has to offer to give you some idea, but nothing compares to visiting Russia physically. With so many options to choose from, have you decided how to make the most out of 16 days you have? Please post your comment below!

The Greatest White North – Part 2

This is the continuation of my previous post. Here, I will write in greater details about tourist destinations in Russia. But first, here are your travel options once you are inside Russia…

Being the largest country on Earth, huge distances separate cities from each other. If you venture outside Moscow and St. Petersburg, you will certainly cover thousands of kilometers. Don’t worry though, cities are connected with domestic flights, with hubs in Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Yakutsk, and Vladivostok.

Alternatively, you can travel by rail. Trans-Siberian Railway is the longest single rail line in the world, spanning 9200 km between Moscow and Vladivostok and taking 7 days to travel from end to end non-stop. You can start and end your trip at any point along the line, though. Branching from Trans-Siberian Railway (red line in the map below), there are Baikal – Amur (green line) and Amur – Yakutia (orange line) rail lines.

By OpenStreetMap: OpenStreetMap contributersNatural Earth: Tom Patterson, Nathaniel Vaughn Kelso and other contributors https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=84020385

But if those two options sound boring, you can visit Russia in winter, and simply drive over frozen lakes and rivers! In fact, if you travel on land, it is the only way to reach the city of Yakutsk in winter, driving over the frozen Lena River. In summer, you will need to take a ferry. Other than Yakutsk, most major Russian cities are connected by rail or federal highway.

Source: https://www.rcinet.ca/eye-on-the-arctic/2016/04/06/the-long-road-from-yakutsk/

Having known your options, here are some of the destinations worth visiting (ordered from their longitude, from west to east, and excluding the world-renowned Moscow and St. Petersburg):

Kaliningrad

Russian enclave in Europe, Germany lost control of this city to Soviet Union after being defeated in WW2.

Murmansk

The last city found under the Russian Empire, and the largest city north of the Arctic Circle, a base for cruise to the North Pole. Also, aurora viewing.

Sochi

Located on the Black Sea coast, it is one of the most southerly cities in Russia. Host of 2014 winter Olympics and the Russian Grand Prix.

Arkhangelsk

The cultural capital of Russian north, a base to explore Solovetsky Islands and its monastery, which is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Nizhny – Novgorod

Home of Sokol Airbase, where you can fly on MiG fighter jets (it’s expensive though…)

Volgograd

Called Stalingrad from 1925 – 1961, the site for one of the most important battle in the 20th century: Battle of Stalingrad (does it ring a bell?). More precisely, on Mamayev Kurgan.

Kazan

Proclaimed as the third capital of Russia (after – you guessed it, Moscow and St. Petersburg), it is also the center of Tatar culture.

Kirov

One of the production center of Matryoshka nesting doll. Also, chocolate history museum.

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/482659285045874671/

Perm

The easternmost city in European part (defined as anything west of the Ural Mountains) of Russia, located just west of Ural Mountains. Also known as the Gateway to the Gulags.

We have only covered destinations in the European part of Russia. Already it gives you so many options. But some of the best Russia has to offer are located in its Asian part. Stay tuned for more!

The Greatest White North – Part 1

If you look at a world map or a globe, you will find two large Arctic nations. The smaller of them is nicknamed the great white north. The larger of them, and the topic of this post, is the Russian Federation. It is certainly appropriate to nickname it The Greatest White North, being almost twice larger than the (now not so great) white north.

Russia has been slowly opening up to foreign tourists since 2017, with the launch of 8-day e-visa to enter and explore the Far East region only. The next year, those who owned tickets to World Cup match were allowed to explore the country for 30 days after the date on their tickets. Then came another e-visa, this time valid to enter and explore St. Petersburg and its surrounding area only, and yet another e-visa valid for Kaliningrad (a Russian enclave in Europe, separated from the mainland). And finally, in 2021, e-visa for 16 days, without restrictions on entry point and areas you can explore. This e-visa is granted to citizens of China, India, Indonesia, Iran, and Schengen Area, among others, as can be seen in the blue-green area on the map below (green signifies countries requiring just a passport to enter Russia):

By Albatalab at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24214471

A word of caution, though. The e-visa is only valid at some entry points. Coming from Middle East or Indian subcontinent, the shortest flight distance would be to any one of Moscow’s 3 major airports or St. Petersburg. For those coming from South-East Asia/East Asia, there are a few flights connecting Asia (Bangkok or Hong Kong) to Novosibirsk. Your e-visa cannot be used for entry through cities located closer to Asia (i.e. Ulan-Ude and Vladivostok, among others).

Source: https://www.studentnewsdaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/russia-map.jpg

Being the largest country on Earth, Russia has endless destinations to go to. I will write in greater details about these on my next post(s).

Have you ever been to Russia? Or are you planning to visit Russia? Please post your comments below!

Vaccine for Visa

In my previous post (The Mobility Gap) we saw that citizens of second- and third-world countries mostly require a visa to enter first-world countries. There was a hurdle, but at least it was not insurmountable. But now there is yet another hurdle, in addition to visa: the Covid-19 vaccine you got injected with.

As per May 2021, here are some of the most commonly-used vaccine:

1. From the US: Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson

2. From the UK: AstraZeneca

3. From Russia: Sputnik V

4. From China: Sinovac & Sinopharm

Already, Iceland does not require those vaccinated with American or British vaccines to quarantine upon arrival, but not those vaccinated with Chinese or Russian one. Meanwhile, the U.S. admits travelers without quarantine only if they have been vaccinated with either Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson.

From this point on, it is possible for other first-world countries to follow both countries. Given such unequal treatment and rejection, China and Russia can possibly retaliate by requiring quarantines for travelers vaccinated with American & British vaccines. Other second- and third-world countries, lacking the economic/political strength China and Russia have, will accept all vaccinated travelers regardless of what vaccine was used. After all, tourism contributes to their GDP, and they need the hard currencies (dollars, euros, pounds, francs and yens) brought by tourists…

At this point, it is just an extrapolation, based on current situations. I may turn out to be wrong, otherwise it looks like the mobility gap is not only getting worse, but it’s getting to the point where this gap cannot even be bridged by applying for a visa. Yet another reason to pick destinations with facile requirements for your next vacation…

The Mobility Gap

The world we live in is unequal. This, in turn, is reflected in various facets of life. Relevant to this blog is the unequal visa policy imposed by a country to citizens of foreign countries.

The United Nations classify countries into developed (wealthy) countries, developing countries, economies in transition, and least-developed countries. As per my observations, citizens of developed countries can generally enter countries in all four categories with just their passports, while imposing visa requirements on the other three categories. Some developing countries, economies in transition, and least-developed countries even impose visa requirements on other countries in the same category. This creates what I called the mobility gap.

I consider developed countries to be the following jurisdictions: Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Schengen Area, the UK, and the US. Therefore, for this blog, I consider countries suffering from mobility gap as countries whose citizens are required by all 7 jurisdictions to apply for a visa.

To clarify, here are two examples:

Timor Leste passport holders can enter Schengen Area without visa (although they need visa to enter the other five). Therefore, as per my definition, they don’t suffer from mobility gap.

On the other hand, Thai passport holders need to apply for a visa for all 7 jurisdictions. Therefore, they suffer from mobility gap.

Ten most populous countries, whose citizens suffer from mobility gap, are:

1. China (constitutes 17,9% of world population of 7 billion)

2. India (17,5%)

3. Indonesia (3,45%)

4. Pakistan (2,81%)

5. Nigeria (2,69%)

6. Bangladesh (2,17%)

7. Ethiopia (1,5%)

8. Philippines (1,4%)

9. Egypt (1,29%)

10. Vietnam (1,24%)

Already, these 10 countries make up 52% of world population. That’s 3.6 billion people. Let’s assume only the wealthiest 5% of population (180 million people) – I only make this percentage up – can afford to vacation overseas. Now, imagine up to half of these (90 million) are deterred from travelling to those 6 jurisdictions because of the visa requirements. For perspective, France, the most visited country, received 89 million foreign tourists in 2019.

If these 90 million are given alternatives and therefore start vacationing overseas, imagine their collective impact on local economies of their destinations. Imagine how many people will benefit from their spending. Wealthy countries don’t bother to capture this market share, because it makes little difference to them. For poorer countries, though, this may represent sizable portion of their GDP. In times of poor harvest or low commodity prices, a little tourist dollars can’t hurt…

My future posts will mostly deal with countries giving visa-free, visa on arrival, or e-visa to countries suffering from mobility gap.

Welcome to Facile Trip

Good day everyone, and welcome to my blog. Thanks for paying me a visit.

My name is James, I am a citizen of a developing country in South-East Asia. As a millennial who also happens to like aviation, I have a desire to travel and see exotic places in the world, flying on various aircrafts in the process. But soon that desire gets a reality check.

What is that? It was the requirement to obtain visa, prior to my travel. This requires me to visit the Embassy (or consular office) of the countries I am keen to visit, which are mostly located in the capital city. But as I worked in remote area, 3000 km away from the capital city, obtaining visa is highly impractical and costly. In addition, I had only 37 working days of paid leave per year, split into two 10-days and one 17-days. Those 10 working days is barely enough to obtain a visa. And to rub salt in the wound, by then the newly-elected president waived the visa requirements for tourists from more than 100 countries; but very few (if any) of them reciprocated this good gesture.

From such background was faciletrip created. To give you some ideas about your next travel destinations where you don’t have to apply for a visa in advance; and how to get there (by air) with optimum cost-comfort balance. And hence, the name faciletrip (a hybrid of the word “facile” (easy) and “trip”). This blog might be relevant if you are citizen of China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, Philippines, Vietnam, or any developing countries who can relate to my experience.

The countries I will mention on my future posts mostly won’t be mainstream tourist destinations. But, doesn’t anything mainstream/usual make for a boring conversations anyway? Plus, there are no bragging rights in doing what your buddies have been doing since forever!

True, lots of us would like to visit the US, Canada, or Europe. But if you come from a developing country, chances are you are required by the aforementioned jurisdictions to obtain a valid visa in advance, due to our citizenships. Sure, you may choose to deal with the hassle and uncertainties of applying for a visa, and that’s perfectly fine. But as my experience above shows, this may not always be possible or practical, given the circumstances.

As is everything in life, things change and there will always be exceptions. But when it comes to visa policies, changes come slowly, and are small in magnitude. Here, we’ll mostly be dealing with the norms instead. I will update my writings too, to reflect the changing situation.

Here’s hoping you will find some valuable insights and new ideas from my writings. Do share your comments, ideas, and stories with me. And let’s hope COVID-19 will soon be over, that we may satiate our wanderlust once more…

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