Dec 30, 2016
The Temple of Literature or Van Meiu, Quoc Tu Giam was Vietnam’s first university. This temple is dedicated to Confucius as well as past scholars and sages, so significant it’s even featured on the back of the 100,000 dong note. Confucius was a Chinese teacher, philosopher, and politician among other things. In the early part of his life in 500 B.C. China had broken into rival states battling for supremacy. To bring more peace and harmony into society Confucius, created a code of ethics for people. He traveled the country to explain his principles. At the time his philosophy was radically different from the belief of acquiring status by power and heroic actions rather than selflessness, non-violent behaviour, and respect for others. It was Founded in 1070 by emperor Ly Thanh Tong. Dedicated to Confucius or Khong Tu, when it first opened in 1076 entrance was only granted to those of noble birth. It wasn’t until 1442 that the university opened it’s doors to gifted students from across Vietnam who came to study the principles of Confucianism, literature, and poetry. As you walk the main path of the complex you pass through the landscaped grounds filled with trees and ponds and several gates that lead into other sections with a total of 5 courtyards. It’s easy to picture students taking a break to relax in between studies during the days of when the Temple of Literature was an active university. It’s still possible to feel some of that peace with just a dull rumble of motorbikes and traffic in the background. It’s easy to appreciate the traditional Vietnamese architecture with many structures and features made of wood and tiles. In the third courtyard sits the pond known as the Well of Heavenly Clarity, sometimes also referred to as the Lake of Literature. It’s here where you also find the tombstone looking stelae dedicated to 1307 Doctors who studied here between 1442 and 1779. All of the stelae sit on stone tortoises, the sign of wisdom and longevity. In May during exams in Hanoi, students were often seen at the temple rubbing the heads of the tortoise, believing it will bring good luck and a pass on their tests. Today there’s a fence in place to help preserve the turtles. The fourth courtyard is dedicated to Confucius and 72 honored students as well as Chu Van An, known as an extremely passionate teacher. There’s another tortoise on display, this one is gold plated ceramic. The tortoise is one of 4 sacred and mythical animals revered by Vietnamese, the others are the Phoenix, Dragon, and Unicorn. This area is also where Confucius along with his four closest disciples are worshipped.10 other philosophers are also honored in this sanctuary. Because the Temple of Literature is such a picturesque location of history and traditional architecture there’s probably not a day that goes by without young couples posing for their wedding photos. Depending on the time of year you’ll also notice students upon graduation or completion of studies taking pictures. During the time the Temple of Literature was operating as a university right up until it’s closing in 1779, students lived as well as studied here. Along with Confucianism, poetry, and literature, students learned Chinese, Chinese philosophy, and Chinese history. They had minor tests each month and four major ones every year. Students were enrolled in the university anywhere between 3 and 7 years. The fifth courtyard was constructed in 1076 to be the imperial academy. In 1236 the Minh Luan House, more classrooms and dormitories were added. Khai Thanh Shrine was constructed to honor Confucius’ parents. In 1946 the French destroyed the fifth courtyard and it wasn’t until 2000 that new buildings were constructed along with the addition of a bell and drum tower. Ceremonies are organized in the fifth courtyard for cultural scholars and events along with other activities. Ho Chi Minh is considered the founding father of modern Vietnam. He was a communist revolutionary, prime minister and president. He died in 1969 before he could realize his dream of a united Vietnam. Upon the fall of Saigon and the end of the war the former capital of the south was renamed after him. That same year a mausoleum was constructed in Hanoi where his body is displayed under dim lights in the cool central hall of the building. The mausoleum, inspired by Lenin’s mausoleum in Moscow is open to the public daily from 9 to 11am. There are strict dress codes and even body posture. No shorts or skirts, and hands must not be in your pockets or arms crossed. Photography or video is not allowed and even outside of the mausoleum when the doors are open there is a minimum distance where visitors to the area are allowed. Still, it’s definitely worth visiting just for the fact that there are only 5 former leaders on display, this way, in the world. The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is located at the center of Ba Dinh Square, where Ho Chi Minh read the Declaration of Independence in 1945 establishing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Another site in Hanoi worth a visit and that should take less than two hours to properly cover is the infamous Hoa Lo Prison, known to American POW’s during the Vietnam War as the Hanoi Hilton. Much of the prison was destroyed in the nineties for development but the original gatehouse remains as do some of the old cells and corridors. The displays are mostly focused on the days when the prison, run by the French colonists, kept Vietnamese political prisoners. Inside a model of the original prison compound is on display along with lots of stories and articles of clothing of revolutionaries. Some of the cells are remembered as places where Vietnamese looking to overthrow the French suffered. A guillotine used by the French to behead revolutionaries is in a haunting room complete with soundtrack. There are a couple of rooms where flight suits, photographs, and other personal items from captured U.S. military are on display which most will find interesting. Including pictures of young North Vietnamese female soldiers capturing and marching big tall American soldiers through the jungle. Another room with the use of mannequins shows how crowded and horrid the conditions for Vietnamese prisoners were. Originally to house 450, records show there were up to 2000 imprisoned here in the 1930’s. The prison is really a show of the fighting spirit of these revolutionaries honoring their suffering for the eventual freedom from the French. There’s even the actual sewer on display that many escaped through. The final outside area of the museum is where a memorial is located and a haunting mural/sculpture depicting the torture and suffering of the Vietnamese that were jailed here. Hanoi is the polar opposite is some ways to Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City, more traditional and formal in some ways, even strict, with much of the old quarter closed by 11pm. Different but still fascinating and exciting in it’s own way, and I can’t wait to share more. Subscribe now-https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/adventure-travel-far-east/id890305531?mt=2
Dec 22, 2016
For some Christmas in Taiwan might not feel quiet like the time of year they grew up knowing. For one thing, Christmas is not recognized as a holiday on the island. If Christmas falls during the week it's a regular work day for everyone. It also doesn't help that more than 95% of the island is not of Christian faith, so the religious importance of the day and time of year has no significance. Still many Taiwanese enjoy the Christmas season, going out to shopping malls seeking out selfies in front of the many decorated trees, holiday inspired mascots, like sumo wrestler elves, and Sanrio style characters. It's a fun time of year with office parties and gift exchanges, and some households adding some seasonal decor, although there are no live trees sold anywhere, that I've seen. A family gathering, is not necessarily important and there are no big holiday meals to shop for and prepare. As a Westerner what you will notice the most missing is the overall energy, spirit, and anticipation of Christmas and the holidays. That "buzz" in the air, especially a week before the big day is non existent. On the positive side there isn't the frenzied feel of people dashing around overspending on gifts and getting upset by long line-ups or stores running out of the latest gadget or toy. The best thing about Christmas in Taiwan is looking forward to their big celebration that's just around the corner, Lunar New Year, when the real festivities begin. This year having spent the most time on the island in December I've been extra curious about Christmas light displays, temporary markets, including the fabled Strasbourg Christmas Market appearing in Taipei for the first time, and other ways a foreigner can at the least, feel the essence of the holiday spirit. I also find that through all of my sharing platforms, including live streaming on Periscope and Facebook, that people from the rest of the world are very curious as to how people celebrate or recognize the holiday in other countries and cultures. So I hopped on what was my version of the "Polar Express", Taiwan's Bullet train, from Taipei, out to Taoyuan District to see the closest HSR station to the international airport, the new MRT airport line, and some wonderful Christmas light displays in a new shopping mall that I heard was authentically festive. Who would have thought that someone in a foreign land could find peace and that warm undeniable feeling of goodwill toward man amidst outdoor clothing stores, and luxury brands. Walking around that quiet new outlet mall with people putting the last minute touches on their store opening, listening to tasteful Christmas music, enjoying the dazzling illumination made possible by Taiwanese LED lights and watching children playing under a little snow machine surprised me. Those few moments stirred up wonderful feelings of treasured memories and reminded me that Christmas, if you allow it, is with us no matter where we find ourselves in the world.
Dec 14, 2016
This broadcast originally aired as a livestream on Periscope during my visit to Hue, Vietnam. Portions have been edited and some narration has been added for clarity. Hue, Vietnam was the seat of the Nguyen emperors and was the imperial capital from 1802-1945. The Perfume River divides the North and South sections of Hue. In the north, the Citadel, a walled fortress and the remains of The Forbidden Purple City, home to the Nguyen emperors. The South contains modern Hue, much of which had to be rebuilt after the Vietnam War. As I passed by the Citadel and the remains of The Forbidden Purple City of the Ngyuen emperors I chatted about the recent intense weather. Pedal boats in the shape of swans are popular at rivers and lakes throughout East Asia and Southeast Asia. Someone asked about a man I met working at a restaurant that made me a bottle opener with a bolt and scrape piece of wood. The Truong Tien Bridge was designed by Gustav Eiffel, who was responsible for many bridges and buildings during the French Colonial Period. This is a wonderful setting at night viewing the multi-colored spotlights on the bridge from the Walking Street market. The current population of Hue is approximately 350,000. As we passed under the Trong Tien Bridge my boat ride on the Perfume River was coming to an end. This was a fantastic experience riding past the green banks of the river seeing the Citadel and other sites from my very own chartered dragon boat. Hue is a city that in a relatively short time has seen emperor rule, terrible loss and devastation from war, and an eventual acceptance of what had been seen by the Vietnamese Communist Party as the reminder of a feudel regime. Currently restoration of many of it’s historic sites is underway. A truly remarkable experience and perspective from Hue’s legendary atmospheric waterway-The Perfume River.
Dec 12, 2016
On my recent trip to The Philippines I flew from Taipei,Taiwan direct to Cebu City, the second largest urban center in the country next to Manila with a population of approximately 1 million. The total surrounding metro Cebu City population is around 3 million. After arriving I immediately headed for the Fort San Pedro and waterfront area hoping to catch the sunset and some of the early evening activity. Looking at the flag of The Philippines at The Port Authority Building I felt excited but a little confused as I wandered through Plaza Independencia. Some followers expressed their concerns about crime in The Philippines. After watching some of the daily activity of the locals in the harbour including boaters and swimmers I walked back to Fort San Pedro. The original fort was built from wood. In the early 17 century a stone fort was constructed by the Spanish to repel Muslim raiders. The current structure dates back to 1738. It is one of the most visited sites in the city. The Philippines at 90 percent of the population holds the highest percentage of Christians in all of Asia, 82 percent of which are Catholic. It’s no surprise that signs of Christmas were seen everywhere in late November. Some Filipinos say that Christmas starts in September but there were still many decorations and tree lightings that weren’t commencing until early December. I visited Cebu City’s largest mall, SM Seaside City Cebu, the 3rd largest shopping complex in the country and the 8th biggest in the world to see how Christmas preparations were coming along. I also wanted to show how similar if not identical the Christmas shopping mall experience is in The Philippines compared to the West. Thanks for joining me for the Best of Far East Adventure Travel live in The Philippines. For images and other videos don’t forget to follow Far East Adventure Travel on Instagram and Facebook.
Dec 8, 2016
I was checking out Pham Ngu Lao and Bo Vien known as the backpacker center. I normally like exploring and photographing less touristy areas of a city but it never hurts to be familiar with places where you’re more likely to meet up with fellow travelers and exchange stories, suggestions and tips. I was on my way to Ben Thanh Market, another lively and well-known part of the city. Actually most of Ho Chi Minh City is lively. In fact pretty much all of it is. The constant buzz from the hundreds of thousands of motorbikes that race the streets fuels what looks like to the uninitiated, pure chaos. But for the most part, it seems to work. There’s lots of ways of getting around Ho Chi Minh City, or as many of the locals still call it, Saigon. It’s not for everyone, but when it wasn’t raining I found myself hopping on the back of a motorbike taxi ordered using an app. Safe, convenient, and courteous drivers only interested in getting you safely to your destination with fair pricing. The original Ben Thanh market area was established in the 16th century by local street vendors and eventually was organized by the French into a more formal setting in the mid 1800’s. The current location was established in 1912 with a renovation completed in 1985. Even though the market closes at 6pm every night it’s still a great gathering spot with lots of people hanging out, eating and socializing. A night market opens up just outside Ben Thanh right after the indoor market closes. Ben Thanh Market is a great place to see what people eat, and shop for in Saigon, but be aware these prices are set high for naive tourists and hard bargaining. Personally I love looking at stuff here, the giant stacks of clothes, souvenirs and massive containers heaped with dried fruit and nuts, candies, and coffee and tea sellers around everycorner. The displays are amazing and enticing, but I tend to shop in non-touristy neighborhoods where they’re not accustomed to foreigners and it’s easier to bargain. Because most people that work here speak pretty good English communication is easier. If you’re pressed for time and want to shop at Ben Thanh Market, look at everything with disinterest, and bargain hard. The food and drinks at the stalls are tasty and the prices are pretty fair for a high traffic area. Ho Chi Minh City is divided into 24 districts, but there’s really only 7 that you are likely to find yourself in. This is District 1-which is Saigon proper. It’s where you’ll find most of the major sites. From Ben Thanh Market there’s lots of places to see within a 15 minute walk, like the Opera House, The Old City Hall, major shopping malls, historic hotels with rooftop bars, and more. It’s also where the War Remnants Museum is located. This is one of the most visited museums in Saigon with an estimated 500,000 guests per year, mostly foreigners. Although some may find this a one-sided exhibit it does show in very real displays the atrocities of war. On the grounds there are various leftover U.S. military aircraft and equipment including tanks, bulldozers, and howitzers. As well as a large format black and white photograph of a mangrove appearing to have been destroyed by the use of chemicals. In another building on the grounds a display includes the infamous “tiger cages” used by the South Vietnamese to contain VC soldiers. Inside, the two floors, formerly the United States Information Agency Building, are various displays of weapons and bombs used during the Vietnam War.. There are also exhibits relating to the first Indochina War with French Colonists. And a poignant display of all of the international press photographers that were killed during the war. Although some will find many of the exhibits biased, the overall tone of this museum has softened over time. Once called the Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes, later the name changed to Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression and then once diplomatic relations with the U.S. were reestablished in 1995, the name changed again to The War Remnants Museum. On the other side of town a visit to The Jade Emperor Pagoda is one of the most atmospheric temple experiences in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s considered one of the five most important shrines of the area. Taoism was introduced to Vietnam by the Chinese during their thousand year-old occupation along with Buddhism and Confuciunism. By stats Vietnam is considered one of the least religious countries in the world. However those numbers could be deceiving as many Vietnamese will claim they are non-religious to be a member of the Communist party but in fact do visit temples and worship ancestors. Turtles are a sign of longevity. They are a symbol you will see frequently in temples throughout Vietnam. The Jade Emperor Temple has a pond full of live turtles, some with auspicious sayings painted on their shells. Feeding the turtles is considered part of a merit making visit to the temple. The new Chinese name of the temple translates to Lucky Sea Temple or Tortoise Pagoda. It is clearly a mixed denominational temple of Buddhism and Taoism. U.S. President Barack Obama paid a visit to the temple May 22nd, 2016 during his state visit to Vietnam. As you enter the main sanctuary Buddhist and Taoist deities surround you with two giant generals to the right and left. The combination of incense smoke and laser beams of light entering through the ceiling further enhances the power all of the deities seem to wield, especially the Jade Emperor himself. In another room through a corridor the Chief of Hell awaits you. On the walls there’s wood-carved depictions of the various punishments that evil doers will receive in The Ten Regions of Hell. The City God is also found in this room with many worshippers paying him a visit. His hat reads, “at one glance, money is given”. The final room, some refer to as the “women lounge” is where 12 female figures sit that represent the good and bad of human nature. The bad displayed in this figure drinking alcohol from a jug. The Goddess of fertility Kim Hua, presides overall. Childless couples visit here frequently to pray for offspring. Ho Chi Minh City is a megalopolis of contrasts, new and old, traditional culture and modern shopping, pleasant sites, friendly faces and reminders of the dark days of despair and war. In my opinion it’s one of the most vibrant, exciting, and rapidly changing cities in Asia and I can’t wait to share more.
Dec 4, 2016
Kagbeni is one of the most interesting villages in all of Nepal with it’s ancient Bonn Animist beliefs, statues and a picturesque location in the Kala Gandaki gorge. The Kag in Kagbeni was once Ghag, meaning center and it is, with the important Buddhist/Hindu pilgrimmage site Muktinath to the east and the town of Jomson to the south. The beni in Kagbeni means confluence of two rivers where the Kala Gandaki and Jhong Rivers meet is where the village sits. Before Tibetan Buddhism became the fabric of the culture of this region people followed Bon, another Tibetan religion. Bon is an ancient shamanist religion with rituals, exorcisms, and talismans. Kagbeni still integrates the beliefs of Bon in village life with these ghost eaters or Kennis that protect the town. I asked my friend Dara, the proprietor of YakDonald’s Hotel and Restaurant to explain what the statues do to protect Kagbeni and some of the other beliefs that Bon followers hold. I asked Dara who runs the famous restaurant and hotel of Kagbeni, why the name YakDonald’s? It was time to leave Kagbeni and head for Jomsom, the final stop for my Annapurna Circuit Trek. At roughly 3 hours it will be a light trekking day. The impressive Kali Ghandaki Gorge, some believe the deepest in the world has been an ancient trade route between Tibet and India for centuries. Kagbeni is one of my favorite villages in Nepal but we needed to get out of the gate by 8:30 so we can beat most of the winds that pick up by late morning. With a clear start to the day we were able to enjoy magnificent views of Nilgiri North at 7061 meters, the highest of the 3 peaks of the Nilgiri Himal. Horses are used for carrying loads as well as for tourist groups wanting to enjoy the Upper Mustang on horseback rather than by walking. Mountain biking has also become a popular way to see the region. Upper Mustang is considered one of the easier treks of Nepal. As we approached Jomsom the winds had started picking up. Flights from and to Jomsom airport are only scheduled in the early morning as the winds are too dangerous for air travel later in the day. The original Annapurna Circuit
would take trekkers all the way back to Pokhara. Like most visitors these days, I’m ending my Annapurna trek at Jomsom, with a flight back to Pokhara. Jomsom is the gateway to Mustang and the Upper Mustang as well as Muktinath. Most people just pass through the village. There’s monasteries to visit and some wonderful views of Nilgiri and Dhaulagiri to enjoy and little shops and markets. But for most people stopping here for the night, it’s a place to chill and rest after or before a trek. I was quiet happy having lunch, settling into my lodge, then going for a walk around the village later in the afternoon and enjoying the sunset over Nilgiri. The next morning a little traffic jam on the way to the airport. Then it’s time for checking in and ending my Annapurna Circuit Trek. There are more adventurous and challenging regions for trekking, but for an overall experience of walking through brilliant landscapes, appreciating the diverse culture and people of Nepal, and comfortable friendly lodges, the Annapurna Circuit won’t dissapoint . Even as the region develops with more roads and infrastructure I still believe it lives up to it’s reputation as one of the world’s greatest treks.
Nov 30, 2016
We arrived at Thorung Phedi just before dark. An 8 hour day with an elevation gain of over 1000 meters. Long, tiring, and risky before a summit of the Thorung La Pass. But I was fine other then feeling the long day on the trail. I’m not a huge fan of trekking in the dark. I feel more tired, frustrated, and generally uncomfortable, so sometimes these summit days don’t start out pleasant, but when the first light comes up in the sky my spirits are all of sudden lifted. I feel light, full of energy, and excited to reach our goal, in most cases, the hardest day of the journey. Yes there is a horse on the trek, some choose a horseback ride up to the top of the pass. For most it’s usually a 4-5 hour walk from Thorung Phedi. Some stay at Thorung high camp, just over 300 meters higher, which will slice an hour off your morning summit. Whenever you reach the summit of a pass, which inevitably is part of many treks in Nepal, the feeling of accomplishment, relief, elation, is mutual with all of your fellow trekkers. The Thorung La Pass at 5416 meters, is the widest mountain pass in the world. It’s always a place with dangerously high winds that start as early as 8am, so our time on the pass was limited to less than an hour before we started to descend. Just over a year ago this was the sight of one of the most tragic trekking accidents in the history of the Annapurna Circuit Trail. On October 14 2014, a snowstorm struck the Annapurna, Manang, and Mustang Districts of Nepal causing severe avalanches. In the end over 400 people were rescued from the area with at least 43 deaths, which included 21 trekkers. Because the previous few days brought fresh snowfall to the region, descending down to Muktinath and Ranipauwa, our next stop would be treacherous and tiring. Roughly 4 to 5 hours of carefully trying to keep from sliding on my butt was challenging and on more than a couple of occasions I was defeated by the conditions. Arriving at Muktinath, the religious site that is both sacred to Buddhists and Hindus and the neighboring Ranipauwa village where we would lodge, felt like Shangri La. We passed by Muktinath and headed straight for Ranipauwa, sometimes also referred to as Muktinath, to settle into our lodge and get acquainted with the village. After the long trek of summiting the Thorung La pass and the rough and tumble descent, gazing at Dauligiri, the 7th highest mountain in the world seemed like the perfect way to end the day. The next morning I had more time to walk through the village and enjoy the views of the Mustang region. This is one of the most wonderful settings in Nepal. The dry region filled with captivating views of Himalayan peaks, Buddhist monasteries, and pilgrims that have journeyed from all over South Asia to visit Muktinath. For some Hindus, the central shrine of Muktinath is considered one of the 8th most sacred shrines in Asia. This is a Vishnu temple, one of the oldest and most revered in South Asia. The prakaram or outer courtyard of the temple has 108 bull faces through which sacred water is poured. Many devotees will take baths, even in freezing temperatures in the pools at the complex. Buddhists revere Muktinath for the fact that the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, Guru Rinpoche, meditated here on his way to Tibet. Their name for the temple complex is Chumig Gyatsa-Tibetan for a hundred waters. We all took a turn catching some of the holy water. Hari, being a Buddhist, was all in with his hat off and splashing the sacred water on his face. I took the conservative approach while running my hand through all 108 taps. Some will run under the spouts with nothing more than shorts or a bathing suit on in a total devotional effort to bring good kharma and luck to their life. I just wanted to stay warm while participating in my spiritual quest. You don’t need to be Hindu to have one of the priests on duty perform a puja or prayer for yo either. Just a donation which can be whatever you think is fair. Further away from the main temple complex is another holy site, The Goddess of Fire temple, where 3 eternal flames are located. The natural gas spouts are called the holy flame from rock, holy flame from soil, and holy flame from water. The close proximity of the flames, holy flowing water, and the earth which surrounds it, are the reasons for Muktinath’s prominence as an important pilgrimage site. As with many holy sites throughout Nepal and India, photography of the flames is not permitted. Hindus in particular will travel from as far away as South India to visit the site. Some even fly in from Kathmandu by helicopter, but due to the rapid rise in elevation can only stay for a short time. After crossing the Thorung La Pass many will travel through Muktinath and Ranipauwa only stopping for a short few hours before making their way to Kagbeni. I highly recommend at least staying one night in Ranipauwa. The village is simple, charming and friendly. You will receive attention from the local trinket sellers, but it’s usually just good-hearted. The views of the surrounding Mustang region are breathtaking and there is an heir of peace here that probably hasn’t changed much since Guru Rinpoche’s meditative stop. Mustang was once an independent kingdom, only fully coming into the fold of Nepal in 2008. Up until 1992 the Upper Mustang was completely closed off to the rest of the world. Having visited their myself to view this still preserved Tibetan culture and relatively untouched region I appreciated the similarities the lower Mustang offers. And there is no need for a special permit to trek here, other than a regular Annapurna Circuit
trekking permit. Along with tourism animal husbandry is still one of the main sources of income, along with farming. Sea buckthorn grows in abundance here. The nutritious pulp from the berries is used to make syrups, tea, other drinks and is also used in cosmetic products. The most atmospheric of all of the villages is probably Jhong. With it’s ancient crumbling fortress and hilltop temple it feels like the setting of a fairy tale, or a Star Wars or Lord of The Rings shooting locale. We climbed up to the very top of the hill where the temple was located to enjoy some of the sweeping views of this side of the Himalaya. What seemed like an apple tree growing out of the roof was really rooted in the little courtyard below, where we met one of the young novices of the monastery. This region could be it’s own little trekking trip, with wonderful walks through these villages and comfortable stays in Jomsom, Kagbeni, and Ranipauwa Muktinath. One our way to Kagbeni we stopped to marvel at the peaks in the distance including The Thorung La. As wonderful a trekking day this can be it’s important for comfort to be done the majority of the walking for the day by the early afternoon, as the winds are quite strong through the Kali Gandaki Gorge. By the noon hour we reached the wonderful crossroads of the Annapurna Circuit and Upper Mustang regions Kagbeni. A town loaded with layers of Bon and Buddhist culture, Kennies, guardians or protector statues and an old fortressed village. Next time on Far East Adventure Travel, the ancient village of Kagbeni and the conclusion to Trekking The Great Annapurna Circuit.
Nov 21, 2016
There are two routes to Manang from Pisang. A lower trail that’s a little easier with less climbing and the upper route, slightly more challenging but also helpful for acclimating with bonus mountain views. We chose the route north of the Marsyangdi and headed for Upper Pisang. Annapurna 11 is part of the Annapurna chain but is an independent peak. It was first summited by a team made up of British/Indian/and Nepalese nationals in 1960. It is the second highest peak of the range at 7937 meters. The highest, Annapurna 1, is 8091 meters making it the 10th highest mountain in the world. Fantastic views of Lower Pisang from Upper Pisang, a much more traditional village of the region. Look for lots of opportunity to spread good kharma with the many prayer wheels at the village’s entrance. We saw a few signs of earthquake damage. These traditional village buildings saw the worst devastation in Nepal but this area was not as affected by quake damage as other regions. Our trekking for the day would include one stop for lunch at Ghyaru before settling into to the wonderful little traditional Tibetan style village of Gnawal. More suspension bridge crossings with amazing views of this drier region of the Annapurna Circuit that some feel is the most scenic. Climbing higher now at 3600 meters it’s time to slow the pace down slightly to allow for proper acclimatization. This side of the valley, although a little more challenging to trek will help you get used to the conditions of the higher altitude. Most trekkers will rest two days in Manang before attempting to cross the Thorung La Pass to help with adjusting to the higher elevation. This is the Disyang Valley. Syang is a village in Upper Mustang, Nepal. Disyang means the people who migrated from Upper Mustang to Manang. We arrived at the village of Ghyaru in time for a lunch break. Most all the villages resemble this style seen in the Mustang and Upper Mustang regions. The walled lanes help to shield visitors and residents from the harsh winds. In my opinion this trail is one of the most enjoyable in Nepal, for it’s incredible views of the Annapurna range and the stunning high Tibetan plateau landscape. It’s been an important route for yak and salt traders for centuries. You’re constantly reminded of the deep Tibetan Buddhist roots with stupas and mani walls almost around every corner. We arrived in Gnawal late in the afternoon with a shadow on the village and some cold winds to endure on the approach. With some of the best lodges in the country it was nice to arrive in Gnawal to find some wonderful rooms available for the night. After checking into my room I headed out to the upper part of the village where the sun was still shining to check out the gompa or temple. Sending out good kharma with a spin of the prayer wheels I headed back to the lodge to warm up by the kitchen fire and watch one of the porters entertain us with some improvisational dance. Later in the evening we were lucky enough to see a local performing artist group from Pokhara that specializes in traditional Tibetan and Gurung song and dance at the temple. Back on the trail the next morning for a trek of less than 4 hours to Manang, where we had a planned extra rest day for acclimatization. Should you develop any symptoms of high altitude sickness there’s a medical center that specializes in A.M.S. in the town. By road Manang has become more accessible in recent years allowing for more efficient transport of goods to the village and for the opportunity for some to enjoy this trekking region with a limited amount of time. There’s also a small airport that serves the whole area. There’s cultivation on terraces nearby the village and of course yak herding is popular here. Still with the new access it feels remote, and sublimely Tibetan. About 45 minutes before we reached Manang we walked through the little village of Braga with one of the nicest Buddhist monasteries in the region. The monks had left for Nepal for higher learning leaving the monastery vacant through the winter. Finally we arrived at our stop and rest before pursuing the hardest part of the trek, reaching the summit of the Thorung La Pass. Manang's main source of revenue is the trekking business but some still support themselves with crops and yak herding. After lunch and a break in our lodge I started exploring the village to discover we had a surprise for our itinerary. With one of the biggest trekking disasters in the history of the trail in the previous year we weren’t about to take any chances. We prepared ourselves for at least one extra day on top of the two we had already planned to spend in Manang. I spent the morning on day two wandering through the village watching everyday life in the snow. While some trekkers were disappointed abandoning the rest of their trip due to time constraints everyone else in the village just seemed to be going about life like it was just another day. Except the day’s chores included clearing roofs, catching animals, and building snowmen. In the afternoon to get some walking in and help acclimate we hiked back to the village of Braga to climb up to the monastery. Unfortunately unable to find the caretaker who had the key to the Buddhist monastery that’s vacant in the winter we had about the same access as these guys we crossed paths with. The next day, was brilliant. Bright sunny, a bluebird day. Time for the classic acclimatization hike in Manang overlooking Gangapurna Lake. After spending two nights in Manang with a planned third night we decided we would head straight for Thorung Phedi the next day, leaving out another acclimatization stop in Yak Kharka. This would mean a summit of the Thorung La Pass, the toughest day of the trek after a 8-9 hour day on the trail. Everything felt right, like this was the way the trek was meant to unfold. Even a herd of goats couldn’t stop us on our push to summit the pass the next day, but they did delay us by a few minutes. The snow backed up the village of Manang so there were alot of trekkers eager to move on with the change in weather. Pushing on right to Phedi would put us ahead of most who would make a stop for the night before the summit base camp. Along the way, some of the clearest best views of the Annapurna range. This was the longest day of the trek so a few stops en route for tea and rest were in order. Another stop at Khenjang Khola for some tea and more spectacular views of the Annapurna range. What originally was our stop for the night,Yak Kharka, has become our lunch break with our adjusted itinerary. We had to take a short lunch and move on so we can reach Phedi before dark. For now it feels like we’re leaving the Annapurnas behind as we make the last few kilometers to Phedi. I was very conscious of ensuring I was properly acclimating to this sever jump in elevation. Technically the rule of thumb is not to ascend and sleep at more than 500 meters from the previous day once you are above 3000 meters. The jump in altitude we were attempting in one day was over 1000 meters from Manang to Phedi. One precaution I took was to hire an extra porter to take the rest of the gear I was packing all the way to the top of the Thorung La, keeping my load light with minimal stress on my system. One last bridge over the Jargeng Khola river and we were on the same side of the valley as Phedi. We stopped one last time for a tea break before reaching our destination for the night. I spoke with Naris, one of the porters on our team about Yarsagumba, the lucrative crop that locals harvest in these hills every year. Next time on Far East Adventure Travel-Trekking the Great Annapurna Circuit
continues with The toughest day of the trek. Summiting the Thorung La Pass. Yarsagumba Photo Credit-By The original uploader was Rafti Institute at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Lvova using CommonsHelper., CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5088245
Nov 8, 2016
It’s a shame that many drive through this part of the circuit for upper Annapurna trekking and stays missing the epic river and waterfall views in this portion of the trail. The suspension bridge crossings that put you right in the middle of the energy path of the mighty Marshyangdi are breathtaking. This is now the third day of trekking and the mornings are feeling a little colder and crisper, so it’s important to get out right after the sun has risen so there’s plenty of time to walk in the warmer temps. In keeping with the original trail, which does take a little longer to walk, we have the opportunity to trek through more little villages for leisurely breaks. Across the valley what looks like a thin ledge carved out of the mountainside is the road that transports people and goods. From a distance the jeeps traveling the road almost appear to be literally on the edge of the cliff as they meander along. Another epic suspension bridge crossing with sweeping views of the Marshyangdi and surrounding valley. If you’re scared of heights you’ll eventually get used to these crossings-you have too! There’s no other way! After reaching Dhranapani, an important crossroads and trekking permit check-in office we agreed to just make this a lunch stop rather than an overnight stay and move a little further up the valley to Danaqyu village where we’d spend the night. This an important crossroads where the Manaslu trail meets up with the Annapurna Circuit
. The Mansalu area was affected by the earthquakes of 2015 but things have since normalized. The Nepalese army along with help from locals and NGO’s have cleared away the fallen rocks from the trails over the past year. Prince Harry was even seen in this region in 2016 trekking and pitching in to help rebuild a school that had been damaged. Horses and goats on the side of the road and crossing paths with other herd animals was a sign we were nearing our stop for the night-Danaqyu. Dhranapani is a major crossroads for trekkers on the Annapurna Circuit and the Mansalu trail so it’s nice to kick back in a little village that has less traffic. Because there so many spots like Danaqyu on the Annapurna Circuit with great lodges you could trek this trail a few times and have a completely experience. This season following the devastating earthquakes was quiet to begin with. It would be another night in a lodge as the only guests. The next day’s destination was Chame, the administration center of Manang District. We had some climbing to tackle as our first challenge of the day, over 450 meters up to Timang. The promise of views of Manaslu and Annapurna II was motivating and helpful on a climb first thing in the morning. More bridges to cross, and animals like big yaks to yield to. It’s hit or miss whether you’ll see any of the Manaslu massif. On this day we missed. Mansalu is the 8th highest mountain in the world, first summited by Japanese mountaineers in 1956. Just as the British have claimed Everest as their mountain, the Japanese consider Mansalu a Japanese mountain. But just before our lunch stop at Koto on the way to Chame we caught the first glimpse of Annapurna II, at 7937 meters, the second highest peak in the 6 mountain range. It was a magnificent site and a wonderful welcome to this part of the region. The Annapurna translation from Sanskrit means “full of food” which makes sense as the normal translation is Goddess of the Harvests or the kitchen Goddess, the mother who feeds. Chame is the headquarters of Manang District, which is the least populated district in all of Nepal, with a total count of over 6500. Many Manangies are also traders having been given special permission by King Mahendra in the 1970’s to trade in Southeast Asia. Customs duties were waived and many now reside mostly in the Kathmandu Valley. They import electronics, watches, and other items and are allowed to export goods like precious stones, metals, and herbs among other things. The largest ethnic group in Manang District are the Gurung people, who over centuries have adopted Tibetan Buddhism, the signs of this are evident in the village with Buddhist stupas that hold relics and the remains sometimes of lamas, and mani walls for prayer. The next day we left with Lower Pisang village as our next destination. Not far outside of Chame we came across what I had been observing especially in this part of Nepal-signs of a new era of tourism, with young Nepali entrepreneurs bringing new ideas from the outside. Like this Apple Orchard using the latest strains in apple production. I spoke with the owner of this large orchard, Samraj Gurung about his inspiration for this new breed of apple orchard. After a tea and some fresh crisp golden delicious apples from Samraj’s orchard we were back on the trail. Hari my guide, who is Gurung himself joins in with a local senior for a mid-morning Buddhist chant. We’re now at Dhukurpokhary, home of the Paunga Danda rock wall, or gateway to heaven. A massive mountain of stone thatt literally looks like a giant wall reaching towards the sky. Locals believe that all souls of the deceased must ascend Paunga Danda after leaving their bodies. Our stop for the night Pisang. The area consists of a lower village at 3200 meters and an upper more traditional old Tibetan style walled village at 3300 meters. The lower village has more lodge choices and shops so we opted for a night there. Mani walls, the stone walls made of tablets with the inscription om mani padme hum, meaning “jewel in the lotus” are found everywhere here. Pisang reminds me of Nepal’s Upper Mustang Tibetan/Buddhist region and Tibet itself, environmentally and culturally. Many residents leave for the Kathmandu Valley or other places during the winter months but we’re still able to see some traditional village life, spinning prayer wheels, and the smell of juniper burning as Buddhist offerings. Next time on Far East Adventure Travel Trekking The Great Annapurna Circuit
, Nepal continues.
Oct 16, 2016
Da Lat is located in the South Central Highlands of Vietnam. It was established by the French during their occupation as a hill town resort in 1907. It’s temperate climate at an elevation of 1500 meters provided French settlers with a cool retreat from the hot tropical climate below. The railway was established to provide daily transport for passengers from Saigon and the coastal town of Nha Trang, which would further connect travellers to the north. The Da Lat Railway Station was designed in 1932 and opened in 1938. It is a unique building in that it incorporates an art deco style with traditional native Cao Nguyen highland communal house elements. Considering the railway shut down during the Vietnam war years due to military activity it’s surprisingly in pretty good shape. The railway and the Da Lat station laid dormant for many years until it was finally resurrected as a tourist attraction in 1991. The 7km ride takes passengers to Trai Mat with a 40 minute stop before heading back to the station. There’s an original steam locomotive on display but these days the train is pulled by a diesel engine. Service runs 5 times a day with the first train at 7:45 and the last one at 4pm. A ticket costs about $5 for foreigners. When this was a full service railway operating from Saigon and Nha Trang there would be three cars for passengers and one for cargo. Look for the carriage with the padded seats for a little extra comfort. There’s just something about train travel that sets it apart with other forms of transportation. The sound of the engine and the wheels clicking on the tracks, the whistle from the conductor, it’s a true adventure ride. As the train pulls away from the station the landscape opens up to reveal the little enclaves and rural landscape along with the reminders of Da Lat’s colonial heritage. The tradition of flower and vegetable growing in Da Lat goes as far back as the 1930’s. The train takes you past today’s latest technology in agriculture including greenhouses and aquatic farming. After 20 minutes we arrived at Trai Mat and are given 40 minutes to wander around the village. Most head for the Linh Phuoc or Dragon Pagoda about a 10-15 walk from the train station. The most unique aspect of this pagoda is the building material used to construct it. Made up of debris of glass, porcelain, and pottery. The pillars at the front of the Buddhist temple are in the shape of dragons, all made from glass. Another dragon is found near a pond next to the temple. It’s total winding length measures 49 meters, with scales made completely from 12,000 empty glass bottles. Across from the pond and dragon sits the temple’s most prominent structure, a 37 meter high seven storey tower. The first floor houses a bell that weighs 8.5 tons. The building is adorned with ceramic mosaics of dragons and phoenixes. This stop before getting back on the train for the return to Da Lat is a great opportunity to get a few quiet moments in the countryside. Surrounding yourself with the greenhouses and fields completes your experience in the southern highlands. Then it’s back on the train for the 20 minute ride to Da Lat station. This is a unique train travel experience, very different from a ride on Vietnam’s regular service. The sounds of rail travel on the Da Lat line are louder, deeper. The rocking cars and overall motion and sensation of the train perhaps would be tiring and uncomfortable on a long journey, but for a short tourist ride, it’s a sensational window into the history of Vietnam’s early tourism days.
Oct 11, 2016
I was truly looking forward to live streaming much of my recent trek of the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. This of course is one of the most popular hiking trails in the world with stunning views of the Annapurna range of the Himalaya. An opportunity to walk through a subtropical region, forest, and the outer edges of the Tibetan Plateau. One of the most varied landscapes to trek in the world topped off with authentic true villages, not merely trekking enclaves, with a chance to experience Nepal's rich culture of Hinduism and Buddhism. Unfortunately due to lack of infrastructure and technology it may be still awhile before live streaming in most of the regions becomes a reality. Armed with two sim cards and knowledge of which areas would have the best opportunity to broadcast live from I was disappointed when I arrived to find out there was just not enough bandwidth needed to stream via cellular data in almost all of these villages. The opportunity to show others a place that makes my heart sing, like Nepal's Himalaya and the Annapurna Circuit will for now will remain mostly a dream. I am happy to share the few rare moments where it was possible to stream via Periscope. In this episode of Far East Adventure Travel some highlights from the last stop on my Annapurna Circuit Trek from the town of Jomsom, Nepal.
Oct 10, 2016
I've have been very fortunate to have trekked some of the greatest trails in the world. Everest Base Camp in Nepal and Tibet, the once forbidden Upper Mustang region of Nepal, and India's Singalila Ridge trek among others. I finally decided last year that the Annapurna Circuit would be the next big trek I would attempt. It's the busiest trail in the world, even busier than the popular route to Everest Base Camp. It's also probably the most convenient trek as well with the highest concentration of guesthouses and facilities. Even flush toilets are found in most guesthouses throughout the region-with the exception of just before the Thorong La Pass, at 5416 meters the highest point on the trek. Sadly for the owners and operators of guesthouses and trekking companies, the Annapurna Circuit may have seen it's worse year ever in for visits in 2015 due to the drop off of tourism after the devastating earthquakes and the fuel crisis. The region also saw one of the worst trekking tragedies ever, with the death of 39 people following a freak storm in October 2014. One of the reasons why the Annapurna Circuit has been at the top of trekker's favorite trails is it's varied landscape and climate. You begin in Besisahar, a subtropical region filled with rice terraces, citrus and papaya trees. Gradually your lead into the high Himalaya and the far reaches of the Tibetan Plateau. The plethora of the country's best guesthouses and facilities has also contributed to the trail's popularity. Nicknamed the "apple pie" trek almost every guesthouse has a version of the dessert they serve. Hot showers abound as well as Western style flush toilets. In recent years due to the development of a road system in the region, some have even opted for a jeep drive through the lower valley skipping the first few days of foot travel to spend more time in the higher altitude and manage most of the trek with a shorter vacation. This trek would also be the first time I would attempt live streaming on Periscope. Following research of the potential for 3G connectivity I brought two sim cards from the country's cellular service providers, Nepal Telecom and N Cell. Even with the highest probability for live streaming out of any trekking region in Nepal disappointingly at best I was only able to connect in 3 locations. It was still exciting to be one of the first "scopers" to live stream from the Himalaya and one of the greatest trekking regions in the world. I hope you enjoy the best of Far East Adventure Travel "Live" from Nepal's Annapurna Circuit.
Oct 7, 2016
I always get asked when is the best time to visit Taiwan. I always respond with almost anytime if you don't mind hot weather, rain, or an occasional typhoon. For most the idea of spending their vacation in a place where typhoons regularly develop between May and November is a scary proposition. If you do ever find yourself traveling in Taiwan during those months, and I've met many people who have found themselves in that position, consider yourself lucky to be in one of the safest and most well equipped places in the world where typhoons, hurricanes, cyclones, all the same thing, occur. Because of the country's history and experience with typhoons they have become one of the best prepared nations in the world to minimize injury and fatalities. If you ask most Taiwanese about typhoons most will shrug them off as a regular occurrence that only requires staying put inside, watching TV or renting a karaoke room with friends and waiting until the typhoon is no longer a threat, usually only a few hours. So if you should ever find yourself in Taiwan when a typhoon warning has been announced, just make sure you have some extra food, snacks or water, something to keep you entertained in your hotel room, a flashlight and a battery pack for your phone, in case of a power outage, and a little patience to wait out the storm. Perhaps even an expectation that you might be delayed a day while transportation around the island gets back to normal. Unless you happen to be on one of the outer islands where tourists are often evacuated off of before a typhoon approaches the area, you'll at the most be inconvenienced. If you can carry the same attitude that Taiwanese do, you'll just sit back, appreciate the force of mother nature, and let the typhoon pass by. You'll also take away a unique travel experience and a story that you'll never get tired of telling. In this episode some highlights of my live streams and coverage of two recent typhoons in Taiwan, Meranti and Melakas.
Sep 27, 2016
In this episode of The Best Of Far East Adventure Travel "Live" highlights from two great spots to visit in Southern Vietnam. The hill station town of Dalat and Vietnam's largest beach resort, Nha Trang. Two completely different experiences both filled with adventure activities and beautiful scenery. Dalat is a wonderful break from the tropics, especially on an extended stay in the country. At 1500 meters elevation Dalat offers relief from the heat and humidity, but you'll need a sweater or jacket for the evening. It's Vietnam's honeymoon capital with lots of French colonial buildings and even a replica of the Eiffel Tower. I found the local people extremely outgoing and friendly. Dalat's streets reminded me of Nepal and hill stations in India. Nha Trang has a beautiful 6km beach overlooking picturesque outer islands, lots of restaurants, cafes, and day outing options including a huge amusement park with the world's longest over the ocean gondola. Nha Trang attracts Russian tour groups, evident with the language on many restaurant menus, and the speedo bathing suits patrolling the beach. It's obviously touristy but the mood of being "on vacation" is infectious. I hope you enjoy these highlights of what I believe are some must see destinations in Southern Vietnam.
Sep 12, 2016
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Views of the Saigon River and District 1 in the rapidly changing Ho Chi Minh City from the 49th floor of the city's tallest building, the Bitexco Financial Tower[/caption] Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam is a rapidly changing urban landscape. On my recent visit I was surprised to still find some iconic sites left over from the Vietnam war days despite all of the new construction including a underground metro system. The roof of the Pittman building located at 22 Ly Tu Trong was the scene of a helicopter evacuation of U.S. nationals including C.I.A. personnel on April 29, 1975, the day before the fall of Saigon. It was captured by a Dutch photographer Hubert Van Es and for years was mistaken for the U.S. Embassy, another evacuation site. Across the street from the historic building is the Vincom Shopping Center. A few blocks away the newly opened Saigon Shopping Center. It was amazing to still find the Pittman building and one of the locations of a burning image from the fall of Saigon amidst a changing city. There were still many traditional neighborhoods to discover including Cholon in District 5. This is considered the largest Chinatown in the world and it's massive Binh Tay Market is worth a trip to experience the trade and tradition of this mostly wholesale market. Visiting the rooftop bars that were once frequented by the international press, military and C.I.A. was another fantastic experience-for the history and the wonderful views over the heart of Saigon-District 1. The Saigon Deck located on the 49th floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower, Ho Chi Minh City's tallest building was also a wonderful experience, even with cloudy skies and heavy rains. I hope you enjoy these highlights from live broadcasts during my recent visit to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Watch out from brand new podcasts featuring exclusive footage from my recent 6 week visit to Vietnam on Far East Adventure Travel. I'm always live streaming from Asia on Periscope and Facebook. You can watch live broadcasts right from the Far East Adventure Travel website or Follow me at:https://www.periscope.tv/fareastadvtravl Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/FarEastAdventureTravel
Sep 5, 2016
The ancient Unesco World Heritage site of Hoi An, Vietnam is high on almost everyone's list of places to visit during their stay. So it goes that the place is crowded, actually over run with tourists, especially in the summer months! So how does one enjoy the quieter charms of this beautifully preserved town filled with wonderfully mixed architectural styles of Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, British and French colonial? Wake up early like I did, on my recent visit. At 6am it's still possible to feel like you are truly in an ancient port town with merchant houses and quiet streets. The t-shirt stalls and tailor shops are boarded up so it's easy to imagine a different time with gorgeous facades and historic buildings that can be viewed with a ancient town book of tickets starting as early as 7am. The temples are some of my favorite sites to visit this early in the morning with usually only local people worshipping before their work day begins. It's also wonderfully pleasurable to just stroll up and down the streets, without the calls of "please come in and buy something from me". You can visit the morning market where you'll find the most activity in town, with usually only local people shopping, including restaurants and cafes buying their supplies of herbs, vegetables, fruit, meat and fish for the day. By 8:30 the tour groups start to arrive to begin their cooking school class and introduction to the vast array of fresh produce and other ingredients that go into some of the best dishes of Vietnam. Please join me for an early morning walk in the wonderfully atmospheric town of Hoi An, Vietnam-the latest Far East Adventure Travel Best of "Live" Podcast.
Sep 5, 2016
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, or Saigon a name still used by many of it's residents is full of history, culture, amazing nightlife, and a city that's modernizing rapidly. On my most recent visit the skyline was noticeably filled with cranes atop new buildings and an underground subway under construction. With shopping malls everywhere including a brand new "Saigon Center" and a flagship Japanese department store as it's main tenant, you might conclude that the city is losing some of it's historic charm. Not the case at all. There are still plenty of beautiful French colonial buildings, palaces and historic sites to satisfy the fiercest culture vulture. Cholon in District 5, the largest "Chinatown" in the world is full of atmospheric pagodas, outdoor markets and old streets selling traditional Chinese medicine remedies. District 1 is where most of the historic and iconic landmarks and buildings that Ho Chi Minh City is famous for, including the General Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Opera House. In disrict 1 bordering District 3 you'll find one of the city's most treasured temples, The Jade Emperor Pagoda. In Taoism, the Jade Emperor is the God of Gods, the King of Heaven, or Ngoc Hoang. The pagoda is set on some very humble grounds, with a pool filled with carp or koi and a turtle pond. I made a trip to the Jade Emperor Pagoda on my most recent visit to Ho Chi Minh City and was thoroughly taken in by it's wonderful interior with sun rays casting beautiful light onto the many dieties worshipped by followers. Join me for a tour through HCMC's Jade Emperor Pagoda from a previous Far East Adventure Travel "live" broadcast. Getting there:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jade_Emperor_Pagoda
Sep 4, 2016
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Once the home to the kings of Siam and Thailand The Grand Palace is the number one tourist attraction in Bangkok[/caption] The Grand Palace is the busiest tourist attraction in Bangkok. It has been home to the Kings of Siam and Thailand since 1782. It is not one building as the name implies but a series of buildings, halls, and pavilions set around courtyards, open lawns, and gardens. On first approach to the complex you are literally assaulted by it’s stunning array of colors, shapes, textures and symmetry, overwhelming in it’s sense of beauty. The gold statues and chedis gleam in the intense sun and are almost a distraction from the massive crowds. Arrive early to see the top sight of the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew, the Chapel of the Emerald Buddha. Carved from a single piece of jade the Emerald Buddha has been on an interesting adventure in the past few centuries. Said to have been discovered by the Abbot of a monastery in Chiang Rai Northern Thailand in the 15 century, the emerald buddha has spend time in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Luang Prabang, Laos before moving to a shrine near Wat Arun in Thonburi before it’s final home at the Grand Palace. The Emerald Buddha is considered the palladium of the Kingdom of Thailand. Perhaps it’s for this reason that photographs are not allowed inside the chapel. The building is considered a personal chapel of the royal family and not a temple as monks do not reside there. The emerald Buddha statue is 19 inches wide and 26 inches high and is adorned with 3 gold seasonal costumes, one for the rainy season, summer, and cool season. They are exchanged by the King in a ceremony at the change of each season. A duplicate of the emerald Buddha can be seen a photographed in Chiang Rai. The Grand Palace is filled with adornments including the gold mythical Aponsi, half-woman, half lion, demon guardians supporting the gilded chedi and the Kinnon, half-human, half-bird. Phra Mondop, at the base of which sit stone carved Buddhas in the Javanese style. Sixteen twelve corner columns support the multi-tiered roof that houses the Buddhist Canon, or sacred texts. The gold gilded chedis are among the most striking structures of the Grand Palace especially on a bright day with a blue sky. The star creatures of the grounds are the giant Yaksha of the Thai Ramakian , Thailand’s version of the Ramayana, an epic Hindu poem. Many murals inside the walls of the Grand Palace feature images of the Thai Ramakian, the story of Rama, whose wife, Sita is abducted by Ravana, the King of Lanka, or Sri Lanka. The Ramayana or Thai Ramakan explores human values and the concept of dharma. On most days the Grand Palace will seem like the hottest place on the planet. So pace yourself. The extra clothing you will have to wear to cover your shoulders and legs as part of the dress code will add to the discomfort. Drink lots of water, wear a wide brimmed hat and do as the Asians do, use an umbrella as a barrier to the intense sun. At the east wall of the Wat Phra Kaew sits eight Phra Atsada Maha Chedis. Each chedi is decorated with a different shade of Chinese porcelain representing the eight elements of Buddhism, Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Concentration and Right Mindfulness. The porcelain creates a glowing effect fitting for their significance. There are still many buildings to admire and visit outside the walls of the Chapel of the Emerald Buddha including the Central Court. Here is where the king resided and where all state business was conducted. The Phra Maha Monthien Group are a series of buildings near the eastern edge of the central court that were the main residence and audience hall for the king. During the week you can visit inside and see the gilded thrones used by the kings. Next to the Dusit Group is the Chakra Maha Prasat, nicknamed the westerner with the Thai hat due to it’s mixed styles of architecture. Today Chakra Maha Prasat is mainly used for state banquets and receptions for foreign ambassadors. It’s closed to the public but there is a weapons collection on the ground level that can be viewed on weekdays. The base of the Chakra Maha Prasat houses the royal guards who you can see standing at attention throughout the day in front of it’s VIP main entrance. And yes you can take pictures with them, just don’t expect any conversation or engagement as they are on duty. Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall is the only building that is open to the public within it’s group. No photographs are permitted inside but you can enjoy the features including a mother of pearl throne and a large mother of pearl throne bed which was used by the king for relaxing between audiences. Today the throne hall is used for lying in state for kings, queens, and favored members of the royal family. Thai kings stopped living in the palace full time at around the beginning of the 20th century but the Grand Palace is still considered the spiritual center of the Thai Kingdom. The inner court where the Thai kings resided and their royal consorts and daughters lived is no longer used but is still closed off to the public. Most of the important sites of the Grand Palace can be seen in one visit. This is probably not a full day trip as the heat and crowds can be overwhelming to most and the exhibits that can be viewed and open to the public are easily seen during a morning or afternoon . If you arrive at the main entrance gate by the 8:30 opening you have plenty of time to see The Chapel of The Emerald Buddha and the buildings of the Central Court with time for breaks in the shade and be finished before lunch. You might be able to squeeze in a visit to one of the on sight museums as well. Like the Taj Mahal and Angkor Wat the Grand Palace is a tourist bus magnet. Though worth every bit of patience to quickly immerse yourself in the history of Siam and Thailand and understand the importance of the King, the royal family, and Buddhism to the Thai people.
Sep 4, 2016
Bangkok, Thailand is full of history, exciting street life, notorious red-light districts, fantastic food and enough stimulation to call it one of the most exciting cities to visit on the planet! It's actually the second most visited city in the world following by London as the top spot and preceding Paris in third place. On my most recent whirlwind visit through the city I took in the top sites including The Grand Palace where Thailand's palladium, the Emerald Buddha, can be found as well as Wat Arun, and Wat Pho, two other top temples that shouldn't be missed on a stay in Bangkok. Because I'm a travel broadcaster it's hard to overlook a backpacking center like the legendary Khao San Road, even if just for watching the street entertainment of joyous travellers pushing the partying limit. Check out the latest Far East Adventure Travel Podcast for highlights of live streams this year from Bangkok, Thailand.
Aug 26, 2016
Chiang Rai, Thailand is one of the those places you end up staying longer than planned. Even though it's the largest city in the most northern part of the country there is a wonderful "chill vibe", evident in the slow place, the numerous cafes, wonderful Buddhist temples, including the original home of the Emerald Buddha. It's so easy to settle in to the slow place over coffees, beers, and lazy walks to the day market, the "Gold Clock Tower", and the walking streets that take place on Saturday and Sunday. There's lots of tasty local dishes to try, you may even sample your first cricket like I did at one of the "walking street" markets. If you get the urge to venture a little ways out of town you can visit Chiang Rai's two top attractions, The "White Temple" and "Black Temple", more art exhibits and artistic interpretations of Buddhism, then true temples, they are usually swarmed by tourist buses loaded with travellers and their selfie sticks. Go early in the day and you'll have more room to wander and enjoy the settings, especially at the "Black Temple". I definitely plan to spend more time in Chiang Rai on my next visit, and like my last stay, I'll probably end up extending it by a few more days. Check out the latest Far East Adventure Travel "Live" and highlights of my recent trip to Chiang Rai, Thailand.
Aug 20, 2016
2015 will go down as one of the most challenging if not the most disastrous year ever for Nepal. From the worst earthquakes in over 80 years to a fuel crisis that literally turned the country upside down with line-ups at the pump that lasted for days to a lack of basic cooking and heating fuel for the majority of the population. I visited the country twice in 2015. The first time was just after the devastating earthquakes and tremors that started April 25th. My flight was actually denied clearance for landing for over 90 minutes on May 12 while crews checked the runway for safety after the second biggest earthquake struck the country that day. My second visit was in October and November when I returned to trek the Annapurna Circuit and check up on the conditions of recovery from the earthquakes. As I had heard reports before I arrived that virtually no reconstruction had begun I was not shocked to see things, especially in the Kathmandu Valley, had not changed other then some rubble had been cleared away. The fuel crisis had created food shortages and delayed plans for rebuilding. From a tourist's point of view this could be easily seen by shortened menus in popular restaurants to some establishments even closing their doors frustrated by the lack of ingredients available and the extreme costs and shortages of cooking fuel. As well as some landmarks and monument still noticeably in need of repair or reconstruction. Nepalis were frustrated with their festival plans either from the lack of reliable transportation getting to a from their home village to the shortage of special food for celebrations cooking fuel. Still despite the politics that created the fuel crisis, an unofficial Indian embargo as a result from a new constitution which did not favour ethnic groups in the south, Nepalis seemed to carry on as they usually do through adversity. After spending a few days in Pokhara following my trek of the Annapurna Circuit I returned to Nepal in time for the Tihar Festival, otherwise called "the festival of lights". In other South Asian countries and communities around the world it's known as Diwali. It's one of the most exciting times to visit Kathmandu. Marigold garlands are available everywhere to help celebrate the festival and everyone is in a joyous mood. It's also a unique introduction for many into the Hindu religion and culture. To see the various days celebrated in the festival including Kukhar Tihar, the day of the dog, when dogs are decorated with garlands and tikas is enlightening. It's part of the lead up to the most important day of the festival Lakshmi Puja. Lakshmi is the Goddess of wealth and prosperity and it's believed she will visit your home or business on this night and you will be blessed with a prosperous year-if it's cleaned and decorated with flowers, lights, and rangoli art, the street or courtyard designs made of colored sand, flower petals and dry flour. I hope you enjoy the latest episode of Far East Adventure Travel "Live" Best of Nepal 2015 and the exciting days of Kathmandu's Tihar Festival.
Aug 11, 2016
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Kathmandu is at it's most colorful with the lead up to Tihar, the festival of lights-marigold garlands are available everywhere for worship and celebration.[/caption] 2015 will go down as one of the most challenging if not the most disastrous year ever for Nepal. From the worst earthquakes in over 80 years to a fuel crisis that literally turned the country upside down with line-ups at the pump that lasted for days to a lack of basic cooking and heating fuel for the majority of the population. I visited the country twice in 2015. The first time was just after the devastating earthquakes and tremors that started April 25th. My flight was actually denied clearance for landing for over 90 minutes on May 12 while crews checked the runway for safety after the second biggest earthquake struck the country that day. My second visit was in October and November when I returned to trek the Annapurna Circuit and check up on the conditions of recovery from the earthquakes. As I had heard reports before I arrived that virtually no reconstruction had begun I was not shocked to see things, especially in the Kathmandu Valley, had not changed other then some rubble had been cleared away. The fuel crisis had created food shortages and delayed plans for rebuilding. From a tourist's point of view this could be easily seen by shortened menus in popular restaurants to some establishments even closing their doors frustrated by the lack of ingredients available and the extreme costs and shortages of cooking fuel. As well as some landmarks and monument still noticeably in need of repair or reconstruction. Nepalis were frustrated with their festival plans either from the lack of reliable transportation getting to a from their home village to the shortage of special food for celebrations cooking fuel. Still despite the politics that created the fuel crisis, an unofficial Indian embargo as a result from a new constitution which did not favour ethnic groups in the south, Nepalis seemed to carry on as they usually do through adversity. I spent time in Pokhara after my trek through Annapurna visiting the beautiful World Peace Pagoda as well as enjoying the celebrations of Tihar, the festival of lights in Kathmandu. In the latest episode of Far East Adventure Travel join me for "live" highlights from last November in Nepal.
Jul 31, 2016
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An ancient Chinese fishing net and traditional fishing boats are still used to catch a variety of fish and creatures from the sea in Fort Cochin-Kerala, India[/caption] Kerala is one of my favorite states to travel through in India. It has an interesting history filled with some of the most varied culture and religion in all of the country. Fort Cochin at 35% has the highest per capital Christian population in India. Coupled with a smoothly assimilated remainder of mostly Hindu and Muslims, the feeling of harmony amongst the groups could be the highest than anywhere else in India. Kerala also boasts the highest literacy rate in the country, 93%, and the highest life expectancy, 77 years. Spices have been exported from the region since 3000 B.C. Walking through the streets and alleys of Matancherry next to Fort Cochin can still feel romantic and like a slice from another time with small warehouses piled high with sacks of nutmeg, mace, cumin and many other spices. Much of which is used in Ayurvedic medicine, one of the main reasons tourists visit the state. Ayurvedic clinics, yoga retreats, beach side resorts and backwater houseboat cruises are some of the most popular draws to Kerala. On my last visit to Kerala I spent a few weeks in the Fort Cochin area before traveling further south to the beach towns of Varkala and Kovalam, with stops in the capital, Thiruvananthapuram, or the older and easier name to pronounce, Trivandrum, as well as the backwater capital Alleppey. Join me in this episode of Far East Adventure Travel for live stream highlights of "God's Own Country"-Kerala, India.
Jul 27, 2016
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Mumbai's most famous landmark, The Gateway of India is one of the most visited sites in the country's largest city. One of the highlights of Far East Adventure Travel-Best of "Live"[/caption] Mumbai, India is one of the most exciting destinations in South Asia. Easily the richest city in the region, the most expensive private home in the world is located there, it's a roller coaster ride of experiences from visiting neighborhoods filled with British "Raj" architecture, holy sites, crazy markets, and yes even long stretches of beaches, just don't go in for a swim. On my most recent visit I spent two weeks wandering the city streets, traveling on local buses, taxis, even taking a boat ride to Elephanta Island. It can be an overwhelming experience for those especially not accustomed to such a huge population, over 22 million in the greater Mumbai area. On top of that there are areas with high security due to past terrorist attacks, photography prohibited in some places, seriously determined professional beggars working the streets, not just targeting tourists, and crazy traffic. Still it's a must visit if you consider yourself a serious traveler. This past year Lonely Planet named it one of their top 10 cities to visit in 2016. Join me in a Far East Adventure Travel Best of "Live" for moments on the streets of Mumbai. From the famous stretch of beach known as Chowpatty to one of the busiest train stations in the world, Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus. You'll see why they call Mumbai the "Maximum City".
Jul 25, 2016
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Views of the Taipei 101 skyscraper and surrounding area from Elephant Mountain, Xiangshan (象山)[/caption] For an island that stretches only 144 kilometers(90 miles) wide, and 394 kms(245 miles) north to south Taiwan packs alot of culture, life, along with a wide variety of activities into a compact area. Smaller than Switzerland, slightly larger than Belgium this past June and July I covered a few of the many activities and events one can enjoy on a vacation or family visit to the island. From hiking up Elephant Mountain, Xiangshan (象山) and checking out the views of Taipei and the developing skyline to the lovely hot springs district of Beitou, a 25 minute MRT ride from the center of the city. Many people ask me, "is it difficult to travel in Taiwan because of the language barrier"? My reply is always, not really. Most people, especially in the larger cities all have post-secondary education and have studied English for several years. Because of the shy nature of Taiwanese people though, some may be a little reluctant to speak. If you can learn a few words or a couple of simple phrases, it's always a helpful icebreaker. When people see that you're Chinese(mandarin)is no better than their English they will feel more comfortable speaking with you. Even in the smaller towns and villages you can get by with little or no mandarin skills. Calculators, for showing prices are readily used and with all of the various translation apps available now you won't find it difficult to communicate. If you are a seasoned travel you will find Taiwan a refreshing change from some of the more visited cities of East and Southeast Asia. You will see far less Western people in Taiwan than almost anywhere else in this part of the world. Modern in every way but still retaining it's ancient culture of Chinese folk religion, Buddhism, and Taoism, one of the best times to visit the country is during Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year festivities, usually in February or March. This is also a great time to visit if you don't travel well in the heat and humidity that lasts from April through to mid December. Here is just a small sample of what to expect on a visit to Taiwan from the best of my live streams from this June/July.