Plan your trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand to fall on a weekend and you'll be rewarded with the opportunity to visit it's two major night markets or walking street markets.
The Saturday market locally known as the Waulai Market is smaller than it's Sunday counterpart, most likely due to the latter's location on the busy Ratchadamnoen Road in the heart of the Old City.
Waulai Market isn't that far away either, maybe a 15 minute walk but for some reason it's just not as busy. Many of the vendors have stalls at both markets so there's really nothing missing except perhaps a more convenient location if you're staying right in the heart of the Old City.
I recently attended both markets and found them interesting and entertaining with the Waulai market slightly more chilled, even with fairly crowded streets. The Sunday market is definitely busier and does offer more stalls, but how many t-shirts can you look at in one evening?
In this episode of Far East Adventure Travel a sample of what's in store with a visit to the Saturday Walking Street market in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
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No discussion on the food of Taiwan would be complete without a visit to Taipei’s Shilin Night Market. This is one of the largest night markets on the island with streets that wind around a section of the city filled with food stalls, restaurants, clothing and souvenir shops, and amusement games.
Huge slabs of breaded fried chicken, shui jian bao dumplings filled with your choice of cabbage, leaks, or pork. The quintessential night market snack, stinky tofu, soft or crunchy with an aroma close to an aged cheese. Deep fried shrimp, beach crabs, even Japanese snacks showing up like Takoyaki, a wheat batter fried with chopped up bits of octopus.
Shilin is jam-packed with people most nights. An eating and social atmosphere you must see if you are to understand the food culture of Taiwan.
Join me on a walk through Taipei's and maybe even Taiwan's most fabled night market.
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The Lantern Festival marks the 15th day of the Lunar New Year and traditionally ends festivities. In Taiwan it's just the start of a spectacular display of creativity with paper, lights and even more high- tech tools used to dazzle the large crowds that turn out across the island for the festivals.
Many stories have been associated with the first lantern festivals but the one that is the most likely is the declining darkness of winter belief and the ability to move through the night with man-made light.
Taoism also associates the birth of the Lantern Festival with the Taoist God Tianyuan, responsible for good fortune. Tianyuan enjoys all kinds of entertainment so followers prepare activities and pray for prosperity.
The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival is probably the most famous of all the Lantern Festivals in Taiwan. The sky lantern was first used as a warning signal that intruders were in the mountainous region of northern portion of the island. Today thousands descend in the little town to write their wishes on the lanterns and send them into the sky.
Stationary lantern festivals are incredibly popular drawing crowds in the millions every year.
I recently visited the Taoyuan Lantern Festival conveniently located outside the High Speed Rail Station of the district.
Incredibly impressive with several large themes including the giant 26 meter tall "Monkey King" as well as many lanterns based on Taoism, Buddhism, and even a Christian display. In this episode of Far East Adventure Travel, a visit to the Taoyuan Lantern Festival of Taiwan.
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Another beehive is finished. The palanquins are directed away from the middle of the street so oncoming emergency vehicles can pass through the crowds and the piles of fireworks remnants. Appearing to be cruising the area, when someone truly is in need of emergency care I’ve seen these vehicles swiftly moving through the streets of Yanshui with the help of volunteers.
Despite the elaborate fireworks displays, countless pao chengs, and international attention Yanshui District has never forgotten the reason for this festival. A desperate cry to the God, Gaun Di, or Gaun Gong, the God of War to save the region from the devasting plague that took many lives here in the latter part of the 19th century. Temples and shrines are buzzing with followers praying throughout the two days of the celebration.
Initiation in the festival starts very young for many with introductions through sparklers and non-explosive fireworks. Playful beginnings.
It’s tempting to just move from one beehive to another but the dark corners of streets and lanes of Yanshui District seem to tell so many stories, as intriguing as the open spaces that are taken over with the fire that lights up the sky.
This festival is so intense that time spent walking around the trafficless streets in between the beehive bombs is a relief. The mystery that’s enhanced by what you can’t see is intensified by the traditional music playing and explosions in the distance. But, it doesn’t last.
I find another smaller crowd down a lane that’s working little pao chengs, crate sized but still packed with power and energy to create a more intimate experience. No traffic controls needed for these little beehives. Carry the finished one away and bring another one out ready to go.
In front of another temple a series of random festival goers are pulled away from the crowds to be strung with hundreds of firecrackers. This is deadly serious festival going!
The largest Pao Cheng or artillery fortress of the two night festival is held on the grounds of the Yanshui Junior High School with 600,000 thousand rockets blasted into the biggest crowd of the night. It was my last Pao Cheng experience of the festival. Thousands ascend on the grounds, even more further away in the town. A light rain shower began over Yanshui District. It felt comforting like a safety net dropped from the sky.
After the obligatory introductions the biggest blast in East Asia begins!
The Pao Cheng starts slow, like a symphony performing a crescendo soon erupting into a volcano. Further away from any wall I’ve visited throughout the festival it feels just as intense and nerve racking, with numerous rockets exploding and striking me. Even hundreds of feet from the stage people still nervously dance as the rockets hit the ground.
A rocket bounces right off of me back into the crowd.
Lights from the sky appear as dancing reflections in the helmets that attendees wear, a massive cloud of smoke forms over the school grounds with a mix of rain and showers of rockets, the two elements competing for space.
Finally after several minutes the biggest Pao Cheng of the festival ends. But the fireworks continue along with more pao chengs through the streets of Yanshui District.
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We get the signal, they're ready to go. The men at the front of the palanquins quickly turn their backs to the wall, and brace for the barrage of piercing rockets.
And the cacophony of the beehive began with roaring tides of bottle rocket streaks fired off in all directions. Exploding in mid air, sometimes right in front of my mask and tiny explosions at my feet.
The giant God overseeing it soon disappeared behind the thick cloud of pyrotechnics smoke. Most of the gatherers near the Pao Cheng were facing the opposite direction, an extra layer of canvas protecting their backs from the bruise inducing rockets.
Almost everyone is performing a funny shuffle with their feet to prevent bottle rockets from exploding up their legs. It’s a nervous dance I found myself instinctively doing out of fear as well. The palanquin attendants continued to shake the Gods for good chi.
The final wave of rockets is super intense, emitting a glow behind the giant War God. Although I’m startled by the occasional rocket blowing up in front of my face or hitting me, the energy is intoxicating, the rush is addictive, I was loving the experience.
The final rockets launched are like guided missiles directed right at the crowd, the last bit of torture before the pao cheng is put to rest.
After the beehive was finished the crowd quickly scattered into the streets to immediately search for more Pao Chengs. It's addictive.
It seemed that every direction you look fireworks filled the sky in the distance. With always chance of something going off right at your feet.
A few of the followers at the close-by temple began tossing strings of firecrackers onto the streets. Sometimes not even bothering to spread them out. Little piles of explosions littered in front of us.
More dancing, more fire, smoke and good luck.
The smoke and haze hasn’t cleared before more strings of firecrackers are tossed onto the street. Fresh boxes are opened and once again piles of firecrackers are left heaped in small mounds.
The next dance through the firecrackers is delayed by a fire that broke out behind a small building on the street. The fire is doused and street explosions continued. Some running into the smoke chasing the strings of freshly exploding firecrackers and the space that’s been cleared of evil spirits.
The fireworks continued to streak the sky and the explosions echoed through the streets that are all shut off to traffic during the festival.
I approached a beehive already in full force, the air painted with the bright orange streaks and rockets bouncing and exploding off the ground.
The rockets of the wall had finished their work and the final fireworks were lit, shooting straight up into the sky. The crowd’s dancing stopped, mesmerized by the final moments of this display of fire, like a dragon on it’s last few breaths.
A slight contrast to the alternative entertainment on offer. If it wasn’t for the sounds of explosions and fireworks lighting up the sky it would have felt like any other of the hundreds of Taiwan night markets across the island.
I made my way through the street lined with stalls where the smells of food frying, steaming, and braising were competing with the wafts of fireworks smoke that lingered over Yanshui District. I wondered what people who lived here thought about the festival and the crowds that descend on their hamlet every year. I spoke with local resident Yu Chin Wun.
In the streets, walls or pao chengs are repositioned. Palanquins are delivered to new spots and crowds knowing another beehive is about to start, begin to gather.
Next time on Far East Adventure Travel, the grand finale and the conclusion to Gods, Rockets, And Warriors.
The post Gods, Rockets,
The Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival is held every year in Yanshui District in Southern Taiwan. Locally known as the Feng Pao it is considered one of the most dangerous festivals in the world as well as being the third largest folk celebration. Why do they blow off millions of bottle rockets and firecrackers you ask?
It all started with a cholera epidemic in the late 19th century. Due to the underdeveloped state of medicine victims multiplied daily and the people of the district lived in fear.
On the day of the Lantern Festival, 15 days after the 1st day of the Lunar New Year, town folk paraded Gaun Di, the God of War on a palanquin around the streets. Firecrackers were lit until dawn. In one night the people of Yanshui rid their district of the plague and the festival has been carried on ever since.
I found my first Pao Cheng or artillery fortress with an impressive God statue, battle ready, and placed above the bottle rockets. The larger pyrotechnics stacks on top of the walls you’ll see are usually ignited at the end of the bottle rocket blast as a finale. Behind the God and first wall, more walls, thousands of bottle rockets that will be ignited as part of the first beehive of the night.
A little teaser before the first blast. Two Beehive festival goers wearing lots of protective gear are wrapped in firecrackers. Getting hit by a bottle rocket is considered good luck, this could be the ultimate New Year’s blessing.
Then the festival escort truck arrives followed by the Gods on their pallenquins carried by men armoured with heavy jackets, helmets, canvas and hundreds of meters of tape holding it all together. The air is already thick with smoke and now filled with nervous energy as everyone begins to crowd around the walls waiting for the first beehive to explode.
The Gods are moved right to the front of the massive walls of bottle rockets and the towering God overseeing it all. Just before the rockets are lit the attendants shake the palanquins for good chi, or energy.
Fireworks light up the sky, the electrical charges in the air are almost as thick as the anticipation of the Pao Cheng that’s ready to be lit.
Then we get the signal, their ready to go. The men at the front of the palanquins quickly turn their backs to the wall, and brace for the barrage of piercing rockets.
Next time on Far East Adventure Travel part two of Gods, Warriors, And Rockets-The Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival of Southern Taiwan.
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Phnom Penh has been the capital of Cambodia since French colonization. It is the country’s largest city with a population of over 2 million. It’s the center of commerce, the arts, cultural heritage and diplomacy. Once called “the pearl of Asia” it was one of the most beautiful French built cities in Southeast Asia. It’s riverside stretches along the Mekong River converging with the Tonle Sap.
Phnom Penh has had several terms throughout the centuries as the capital of Cambodia. Depending on which king was in power the center of control shifted to various cities but became the permanent capital under King Norodom l’s reign from 1866, where the royal palace was built and is still located today.
The monarchy operates in the same manner as the United Kingdom, in Cambodia a king that reigns but does not rule. The current King of Cambodia Norodom Sihamoni reportedly spends most of his time living in France.
During the Vietnam war Cambodia was used as a base by the North Vietnamese and Vietcong. As a result many refugees fled from Vietnam swelling the population of Phnom Penh to somewhere between 2 and 3 million by 1975. When the Khmer Rouge gained control of the country in 1975 and began their genocide of the population they forcibly evacuated the city with only officials of the party and army remaining. When the Vietnamese drove the Khmer Rouge out of Phnom Penh and power in 1979 people slowly returned to the city.
Riverside is a wonderful place to visit in the mornings when the streets are busy but the crowds are absent from the boardwalk. In the evening a stroll here before sunset is great way to segue the night into a happy hour visit to a bar overlooking the Mekong like the famous Foreign Correspondent’s Club.
Tuk Tuks are a cheap and easy way to get around the city. But beware of bag snatchers, who work in pairs on motorbikes often snatching bags and valuables as they pass by.
My first stop is the Russian Market, named for the many Russian expats who shopped there in the 80’s.
It is absolutely jam-packed with stuff. As Cambodia is a manufacturing center for many Western clothing brands you can find bargains on name brands but there’s also a lot of fake stuff here too so buyer beware. Browse through dark aisles full of cheap souvenirs to every size of a Buddha statue possible and lots of housewares too. I came hear because I heard of a very famous coffee bar run by someone who epitomizes the charming Khmer people. Mr. Bunnerath.
This was a real treat made by a locally owned company and featured some of the best flavors from the fresh fruit of Cambodia.
Kings of Cambodia have occupied the Royal Palace since it was build in 1866. A period of absence occurred during the Khmer Rouge reign from 1975-79.
The palace is open in the mornings and afternoons with a break from 11 to 2. Much of the grounds are closed to the public as this is still officially the residence of King Sihamoni. The main attractions are the throne hall used for coronations and ceremonies. As well as the shrines of King Norodom and King Ang Duong, a pavilion housing a huge footprint of the Buddha and the Silver Pagoda that houses a life size gold Buddha bejewelled with 2086 diamonds. If you want to image what some of the sites of the Angkor ruins were like decked out in their glory visit the Silver Pagoda.
One of the most unique buildings in all of Southeast Asia has to be Phnom Penh’s Central Market. An art deco dome constructed in 1937 with four arms that extend out from the center that house t-shirt stalls, jewellery, gold, housewares, just about anything you could image except for live animals. The neighborhood surrounding the market feels like the heartbeat of the city. Inside you can also find many foods stalls selling seafood and Khmer specialities.
Phnom Penh is filled with wonderful heritage buildings, culture, beautiful surroundings as well as a pulsing energy and he...