For many of us, there are few things more American or summer-like than Brooklyn‘s Coney Island. It’s been the site of family fun, local seediness, freaks of nature, and luxury development plans. Throughout its many iterations, Coney Island has retained its particular mix of beach, carnival, and city resort. Today’s Photo of the Day by Flickr user David Ellwood captures Coney Island’s Cyclone, one of America’s oldest wooden roller coasters and an icon of summer and amusement parks. The Cyclone celebrates 85 years of thrills this year, and hopefully will continue to spell summer fun for years to come.
They were waiting and organizing even before the storm made landfall. Facebook messages and tweets sent out world-wide started a cascading effort of prayers, good wishes, advice and support from every corner of the planet. Social media has become an integral part of crisis management efforts
The numbers are staggering. 23,141 tweets from 10,000 individual users sent in the past 24 hours combined with 90,000 members joining Facebook page Cyclone Yasi Update are giving truly engaging definition to social media efforts.
“The Queensland government and in particular the Queensland Police have pioneered the use of social media in times of crisis. Updates on social media have been timely, accurate and sought to direct information to those most in need.” said Thomas Tudehope director of strategy and management for social media monitoring company SR7.
Many users added their personal experiences to the mix, giving the world a front row seat to the devastation as it occured. While traditional news sources have covered the story extensively, social media efforts extracted real-time accounts of the situation on the ground as it happened during the storm.
Some reports though turned out to be false.On Twitter, the most popular hash tags for users were #tcyasi, #cyclone and #roof. Facebook has been helpful but new groups poking fun at the situation such as Cyclone Yasi After Party have not been all that helpful nor is the ability to add Cyclone Yasi as a friend.
Reports last night that the roof of an evacuation center was being blown off by gale-force winds had to be ruled out.
User @CharlieMunsie posted: “#TCYasi Bad news just in. The evac centre in Innisfail has lost it’s roof. Has 500 ppl inside. No injuries to date but worst still to come.”
@ABCnorthqld followed with : “We are investigating reports that the Innisfail evacuation centre at the State College has lost its roof. We’ll let you know” followed by “a report about the Townsville evacuation centre losing its roof was untrue”.
A manipulated storm image showing a massive rain cloud coming in from the ocean was also circulated on Twitter.
@Bitfuzzy said “That’s a fake . . . it’s NOT a pic of Yasi”.
Now, after the storm has passed, Twitter and Facebook users are maintaining an unprecedented, ongoing dialogue with affected areas through users at the scene. The big difference was that websites could be accessed through the cell phones of those on the ground while power outages made it difficult if not impossible to watch television or listen to a radio.
I think it’s fair to say that everyone deserves to experience a moment like this in their lifetime. A remote beach. A dramatic sunset. Stormy clouds hanging in the distance with nightfall soon approaching. Flickr user Ka wai punahele immortalized this picture perfect moment on the coast of Australia’s sparse Northern Territory, just outside the city of Darwin.
Casuarina Beach (the gorgeous subject of the photo) is in Darwin’s northern suburb of Brinkin, which is just a stone’s throw from the Darwin Airport. Darwin is one of Australia’s most modern capital cities, having been rebuilt once after WWII and again in 1974 after Cyclone Tracy.
The new Intimidator 305 roller coaster has opened at Kings Dominion theme park in Richmond, VA. The coaster, named in honor of the late NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, has ride cars that look like Earnhardt’s famous black Chevy. Earnhardt’s daughter Taylor visited the park last week to open the ride.
The Intimidator 305 screams along at 92 miles per hour, thanks to a 300-foot drop at the start.
Kings Dominion says that makes it part of a new class of giga-coasters – “complete-circuit coasters with a height of 300 feet or taller.” You can now check “add a word to my vocabulary” off today’s to-do list. You’re welcome.
Universal requires 4-night stay for Harry Potter packages (Orlando, FL, USA)
Universal tells the Orlando Sentinel that the package was designed as a 4-night experience when it was introduced in February, but the minimum stay requirement was just set this week.
The Orlando vacation packages include a hotel stay, Universal Orlando tickets, breakfast at the new Three Broomsticks restaurant and early admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.Coney Island Cyclone opens for 83rd season (New York City, NY, USA)
The landmark Cyclone roller coaster has re-opened for its 83rd season on Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York.
It costs $8 to ride the combination wooden and steel structure that cost $175,000 to build in 1927. Although the thrill ride is on the National Register of Historic Places, it is still listed among coaster enthusiasts as one of the best current roller coasters in the country – both for its great views of the Manahattan skyline and its 60 mph hairpin turns.
Nearby, the new Luna Park is set to open its 19 rides on the Coney Island shore on May 29.
Great Wolf Lodge tries for water-slide world record (USA)
3,651 miles. That’s the distance that bathing-suit clad visitors slid at 11 Great Wolf Lodge indoor water parks last weekend, in an attempt to set a Guinness World Record.
The Great Wolf Lodges each kept one water slide open for 24 hours and asked sliders to donate to the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. The charity event/publicity stunt resulted in 47,660 trips down the designated water slides.
Guinness is still verifying the information before making the world record – which will be in the category longest distance water sliding in 24 hours in multiple venues – official. Oddly enough, there’s no previous record-holder for this very specific, new category in the company’s record books.
SeaWorld’s Aquatic water park opens new water slide (Orlando, FL, USA)
Orlando water park Aquatica has opened its new slide, the Omaka Rocka. The tube slide deposits riders in funnels designed to mimic the sensation that skateboarders feel in the half-pipe.
This is the third year for Aquatica, SeaWorld’s venture into the water park scene. Omaka Rocka is the first addition to the park since it opened.
Future questioned at Freestyle Music Park (Myrtle Beach, SC, USA)
The troubled Freestyle Music Park is facing foreclosure. The Myrtle Beach, S.C., park – which opened as Hard Rock Park in 2008 then underwent a brand change for the 2009 season – missed a debt payment deadline last week.
The Sun News reports that the theme park’s owners have not been able to find new investors and are facing bankruptcy or foreclosure. Owners are saying it is “unlikely” that the park will open for the 2010 season.
Six Flags releases iPhone app (USA)
The Six Flags Fun Finder, a free app, is now available in the App Store. Beyond the usual park maps and event listings, that app integrates with Facebook to help you find the exact location of your friends within any Six Flags theme park. The app is free.
Who does visit Myanmar these days? For Southeast Asia travelers exposed to a daily diet of CNN, Myanmar is literal no-fly zone, a destination with an infamous reputation for unrest, opium and political repression. Even as other “notorious” Asia destinations like Cambodia and Vietnam emerge into adolescence on the global tourist stage, Myanmar remains largely hidden from view – a mysterious actor shrouded in myth and secrecy.
It’s been nearly two years since Gadling’s Leif Pettersen first visited Myanmar, lifting the curtain on a country of sacred Buddhist shrines, Betel chewing and nary a fast food chain in sight. Not surprisingly, in the years since Leif’s visit, not much has changed. As I soon discovered, everything moves more slowly in Myanmar, from the masochistic 15-hour bus rides to the condensed milk that slowly oozes into your cup of Burmese tea. This “slowness” is further exaggerated by Myanmar’s isolation from the international community and the devastating Cyclone Nargis which hammered the country in 2008. The country’s already-meager tourist industry is still reeling from the shock.
But while Myanmar is indeed a tough place to visit, it rewards persistence. For Southeast Asia travelers willing to move beyond the media reports, one of the most incredible destinations on earth awaits your discovery: deserted temple ruins, gorgeous beaches, awe-inspiring festivals and most importantly, some of the friendliest, most welcoming people on earth. And despite what you’ve heard, Myanmar is actually one of the safest places to visit in Southeast Asia. Intrigued? Let’s start with a look at the details (and ethics) of visiting below…
Let me dispense with the “elephant in the room” of Myanmar travel: the travel boycott. In short, the government of Myanmar has a long history of human rights abuses and political repression. This fact has long kept many travelers away, and many governments and organizations continue to urge travelers not to visit.
The pros and cons of visiting Myanmar could make up an article by itself, and there’s no simple answer to this question. Every traveler considering a trip should get the facts on the situation and answer this question for themselves. In writing about the country, my aim is to give potential visitors the information to help make that decision. A great place to start your investigation is over at Lonely Planet, which has a special section devoted to the debate surrounding travel to Myanmar.
So what exactly is involved in entering Myanmar? Will you be strip-searched at airport? Taken hostage by balaclava-wearing rebels? Despite my initial misgivings, entering Myanmar was a relatively painless process. All that’s required is 30-day tourist visa available at most Myanmar embassies abroad for around U.S. $24. Any number of travel agencies, particularly those in Bangkok, can also guide you through the process if you’re willing to pay a little extra and/or don’t want to visit the embassy.
Traveling in Myanmar can be (literally) painful. Transportation options are slow, roads are poor and getting anywhere takes time. That said, the main transport options include:
- Buses – Frequent buses connect the main tourist destinations in Myanmar. Buses are also the option most preferred by independent travelers, due to the fact they are privately (not government) owned.
- Flights – if you’re not ready to tough it out for 15 hours on a stifling hot bus while your seat mate vomits out the window, flights are a good, if more expensive, alternative. Daily trips on Air Mandalay and Yangon Airways connect Myanmar’s major tourist sights. The state-run airline Myanmar Airways is to be avoided, both for safety and political reasons.
- Taxis – another potential alternative to bus service hiring a private taxi, which can drive travelers between most destinations in Myanmar.
- Trains – like much of the country’s infrastructure, Myanmar’s rail system is downright ancient. That said, daily trains are another (potentially) more comfortable alternative to the buses.
- Boats – the most popular boat service runs between Bagan and Mandalay, with both a “fast” and “slow” boat service. Don’t let the world “fast” fool you: boat trips take anywhere from 9-15 hours.
For a complete rundown of options, refer to Lonely Planet’s excellent transportation overview.
What to See
The vast majority of Myanmar visitors spend their trip at “the big four” – a group that includes Yangon, Mandalay, Inle Lake and Bagan. The majority of these attractions, despite their supposed popularity, were relatively empty at the time of our visit. If you’re looking to get off the beaten track however, there’s plenty of small towns beyond these four main sights, begging to be explored. Here’s a quick roundup:
- Yangon – Myanmar’s capital city until 2006, Yangon (Rangoon) remains the cultural and economic heart of Myanmar. Many visitors spend time getting lost in the city’s chaotic street culture and make a visit to Shwedagon Pagoda, one of Myanmar’s holiest Buddhist shrines.
- Mandalay – the country’s second largest city, Mandalay is home to an intriguing patchwork of Chinese and Indian immigrants, royal palaces and plenty of good day trips, including the famous U Bein teak bridge in nearby Amarapura.
- Bagan – if you think Angkor Wat is Southeast Asia’s most impressive temple complex, think again. The temple ruins of ancient Bagan are among the world’s most incredible archaeological sights. Spend your day biking among more than 2,000 deserted ruins, dating back over 800 years.
- Inle Lake – arguably one of Myanmar’s most popular natural wonders, Inle Lake offers visitors an aquatic wonderland of floating vegetable gardens, jumping cats, and picturesque houses on stilts. A popular way to get around is by hiring your own boat for the day, visiting Buddhist temples and handicraft vendors.
- Kalaw – the city of Kalaw is a popular starting point for treks, taking visitors past remote hill tribe villages and secluded Buddhist monasteries. Many travelers like to hike the short distance between Kalaw and nearby Inle Lake (around 2-3 days).
Hungry to learn more about Myanmar? Stay tuned…I’ll be sharing impressions and stories from my trip over the coming days.
Gadling writer Jeremy Kressmann is spending the next few months in Southeast Asia. You can read other posts on his adventures “South by Southeast” HERE.