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Adventure Travel, Far East: Inspired by Rick Steves, Lonely Planet, National Geographic

Far East Adventure Travel. Inspiring, entertaining. Let John Saboe take you on journeys filled with spiritual celebrations and rituals, ancient festivals, wildlife safaris, trekking and climbing quests and vast array of food cultures. Learn about village life, cultural differences, urban exploration, street food, history and architecture. Visit Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, India, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, and Korea. Stories and advice from one of the most exciting destinations on the planet-Asia.
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Now displaying: April, 2016
Apr 27, 2016

Patan's Durbar Square was closed for several weeks following the earthquakes of 2015. It is currently open to the public.
Patan is one of three royal cities in Nepal's Kathmandu Valley, the other two are Kathmandu and Bhaktapur. All three former kingdoms feature a Durbar(royal) Square that are made up of temples, idles, shrines, and a former palace where each royal family lived.

When I visited Patan in May 2015 I was saddened by the temporary closure, due to the recent earthquakes, of the beautiful square with it’s intricate carvings, glimmering deity statues and wonderfully restored Newari buildings. I was relieved however to see that many of the structures of the square were miraculously still in tact and overall although there was noticeable damage, it didn’t look as bleak as the first media reports of a tourism industry in ruins.

Patan’s official name is Lalitpur along with a number of small communities it’s included in Lalitpur District.

It could be argued that it’s Durbar Square is the prettiest of the three in the Kathmandu Valley. It was in the opening scene of the 1992 documentary “Baraka”, that featured scenes of religious and human life from around the world.

There is a refinement to the square, it’s fixtures, and buildings unlike the other two Durbar Squares. Perhaps that could be attributed to the community of artisans, and crafts people that have been based there for centuries.

Patan is one of my favorite places to visit in the valley. A 15 minute taxi ride from Kathmandu's Thamel section makes it a convenient morning, afternoon, or day trip.

Currently Patan's Durbar Square has been undergoing restoration and reconstruction and is open to the public. It's estimated it will take several years for the square to be fully restored to it's pre-earthquake state.

As part of the My Beloved Nepal Earthquake Stories series on Far East Adventure Travel part 2, a look at Patan’s Durbar Square, shortly seen after the last massive earthquake on May 12, 2015.

The post My Beloved Nepal-Earthquake Stories Part 2-Patan’s Durbar Square appeared first on Far East Adventure Travel.

Apr 26, 2016

Balaju, one of the worst hit sections of Kathmandu saw many of it's buildings like these completely destroyed by the earthquakes of 2015

For Nepal 2015 will go down as one of the worst years on record, for disasters, politics, everything!

On April 25 at 11:56am an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 shook the country from it's epicenter at Lamjung District at Barpak, Gorkha.

In the weeks to follow hundreds of aftershocks would be felt. In the end over 9000 were killed at least 21,000 injured and hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes either temporarily or permanently.

I decided to follow up on the state of the country shortly after most of the international media had left. My intention was to document the effects of the earthquakes and aftershocks and assess the conditions for travellers.

Nepal relies heavily on tourism to support the economy, in fact it is normally 10% of the GDP, gross domestic product. Many rely on tourism to support their families, in some cases the only alternative to working abroad, something that over 1 million Nepalis do.

Having made friends in Nepal's tourism industry I had deep concerns for their welfare. Some international media were reporting that this would be the end of tourism for Nepal, devastating words almost as strong as an earthquake itself.

I knew that some sites were completely destroyed including many temples in the Durbar Squares of the Kathmandu Valley. But I also knew that many had either suffered some minor damage or none at all. Was the industry really in ruins?

So I set off for Nepal, with a scheduled arrival for 1pm at Tribhuvan Airport in Kathmandu. My adventure started just before we were about to land with an announcement from the pilot that another earthquake had struck the country. Our descent would be delayed so crews could check for any damage to the runways. Ninety minutes later we touched down to a country shaken into another level of fear with a 7.3 aftershock with an epicenter 18km southeast of Kodari near the border of China. The epicenter was on the border of Dolakha and Sindhupalchowk.

More nights of sleeping outdoors, shops and businesses staying closed, and stories floating around of more, stronger earthquakes on the way.

The first episode in a series on Far East Adventure Travel-the people, stories, and places effected by the Nepal earthquakes of 2015.

The post My Beloved Nepal-Earthquake Stories Part 1 appeared first on Far East Adventure Travel.

Apr 22, 2016

Kanyakumari India sits at the southern tip of the subcontinent. Technically it’s not the Republic of India’s extreme southern point, that title goes to Indira Point on Great Nicobar Island. It is however a popular tourist destination and important pilgrimage for many Indians.

My first look at the area was from it’s most visited sites, the Vivekananda Rock Memorial and Thiruvalluvar Statue, both located offshore on two rocks 500 meters from the mainland. Hundreds of people are ferried on boats everyday out to both the sites. It’s about 50 cents for the boat trip plus another small admission fee to the little island outcrops.

The first stop is the Vivekananda Rock Memorial that’s dedicated to Swami Vivekananda, an Indian Hindu monk who was key to the introduction of Indian philosophies to the Western world including yoga. He was also instrumental in raising the status of Hinduism to a major religion in the 19th century. It is said that the Swami Vivekananda attained enlightenment on the rock.

This is an incredibly spiritual moment for followers of Swami Vivekananda. You will feel it in their energy and enthusiasm. It’s a wonderful environment surrounded by the beauty of the Laccadive Sea. The rock is also a place where it’s said the Goddess Kumari performed austerity.

The buildings at the memorial consist of architectural styles from all over India. The Vivekananda Mandapam or main building houses a statue of Swami Vivekananda. Construction on the site was completed in 1970. There is also a meditation hall for visitors.

Just a short boat ride away is the rock where the Thiruvalluvar Statue, all 133 feet and 7 tons sits.

Thiruvalluvar was a Tamil poet and philosopher who wrote The Thirukkural, a book on ethics . It is revered as one of the most important works in the Tamil language. It’s thought that Thiruvalluvar lived sometime between the 1st and 3rd century B.C. The statue site was opened in 2000.

Back on the mainland it was time for some refreshments. Your choice of sugar cane juice or coconuts and lots of indian snacks and treats. The village is a vibrant spot with lots of people arriving before sunset.

The next stop was a walk to another important landmark of Kanyakumari, The Ghandi Monument. This site is where the ashes of the Mahatma were kept before their final immersion. In the form of Central Indian Hindu Temples it’s design allows the sun to hit the very spot his ashes were placed every October 2nd, his birthday .

Ghandi’s monument also allows views for a peak inside the Bhagavathy Amman Temple otherwise known as the The Temple of the Virgin Sea Goddess, the 3000 year old shrine is dedicated to the Goddess Kumari Amman and attracts followers from across India.

The town formerly known as Cape Comorin was named after the Goddess.

Much of Kanyakumari’s lure is the belief that it is the meeting place of three bodies of water, The Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean but technically it is surrounded by the Laccadive Sea to the south, southeast and southwest. Never the less it is a spectacular spot for sunrises and sunsets.

Close to sunset time pilgrims and tourists started gathering seaside, some, as part of their pilgrimage, take a dip beforehand.

It is an exotic experience knowing you’re standing on the last piece of earth of the subcontinent watching the sunset with other travellers, pilgrims and Indian tourists marvelling at the wonder of this very special spot of the planet.

Rain can somewhat dampen the mood as it did the next morning. Regardless of the wet weather hundreds still made their way past the shops still closed to the seaside, gathering around the red flag that marks the end of the subcontinent.

One last look at the Thiruvalluvar Statue and the Vivekananda Rock Memorial and a dip in the sea before more groups converge on the small town at India’s land’s end.

Apr 16, 2016

Experiencing the culture of Mumbai is as easy as hopping on a bus. Daily activities like riding the bus or local trains can be just as interesting and exciting as visiting an important landmark or museum.

Once you’re familiar with the numbers of the buses you’ll find they are frequent and easy to use with usually an English speaking ticket attendant on board.

The waters of Chowpatty Beach are heavily polluted so swimming is not recommended however a trip seaside is a lovely way to end the day as the sun sets over the Arabian Sea.

It’s India, so you’ll never know who’ll you bump into but it’s always guaranteed interesting.

Smile, say hello and you’ve got instant friends, like these men I met who were visiting from Rajasthan.

Chowpatty offers views overlooking Malabar Hill, the exclusive neighborhood of tycoons and movie stars. Malabar Hill has some of the world’s priciest residential real estate where apartments can go for $2000USD per square foot. It’s also where the world’s most expensive private home valued at over 1 billion dollars is located.

Chowpatty is where residents come at night to view the Queen’s Necklace, the nickname for the street lights that run along Marine Drive.

Another everyday chore has become a tourist attraction in it’s own right in Mumbai. The Dobi Ghats are touted as the largest outdoor laundromat in the world. The clothes you dropped off at your hotel lobby desk might end up here alongside the uniforms and denim of the city. Views are great from the overpass near the Mahalaxmi train station.

Jump on the train for more Mumbai culture. The Western and Central lines serve greater Mumbai. It’s better if you avoid traveling during rush hour unless you want to experience what’s called super-dense crush load.

The Gateway of India was built to commemorate the 1911 visit of King George V and Queen Mary to South Mumbai. The first stone of the foundation was placed on the site March 31st, 1911 with the completion of the monument in 1924.

Right next to the Gateway of India sits another Mumbai landmark, The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. The hotel first opened in 1903 and employs 1500 staff including 35 butlers. Many heads of state, celebrities and royalty including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have been hosted by the hotel.

On November 26, 2008 the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel was part of a series of horrific terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Hostages were taken with 167 people killed in the incident, 31 within the Taj complex. The billowing smoke coming from the building was one of the most iconic sites of the 2008 terrorist attacks.

I find Mumbai to be one of the great walking cities of South Asia especially the route from Colaba to the Churchgate and Fort neighborhoods, filled with British raj era architecture and interesting street life.

In an effort to placate local sentiments some buildings have been given new names the Prince of Wales Museum changed in 2000 to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya or just (CSMVS). Chhatrapati Shivaji was an Indian warrior king of the 17th century.

Kala Ghoda or “black horse” is one of my favorite places in Mumbai. Considered Bombay proper and the premier art district it’s loaded with galleries, educational institutions, heritage buildings and is simply a pleasant place to stroll.

Enjoy famous Mumbai street food while chatting with locals and soak up the atmosphere. It’s British architecture and pure Indian culture!

Every February Kala Ghoda hosts a world famous Arts Festival featuring visual arts, dance, music, theatre, cinema, and literature with multiple venues.

Fort as this whole area is known is the heart of the business district in Mumbai. This area gets it’s name from Fort George, the defensive area built by the British East India Company. It’s where the heavily secured Bombay Stock Exchange is located along with the Reserve Bank of India and other...

Apr 12, 2016

Beitou District is a short 20 minute MRT ride from Taipei, Taiwan but it feels like your in another world. Serene compared to the bustle of Taipei, the hot springs resort area of the district is situated right over the Tatun Volcano Group, making it a prime location for hot springs.

When Taiwan was a colony of Japan this area was first known as the entrance to the North Formosa Sulphur District where three sulphur extracting plants were located. Soon though the Japanese saw the value in creating a hot springs resort and the town was developed to include a complete spa experience adding aromatherapy, massage, and hydrotherapy along with an excellent choice of cuisine.

At the end of WW2 when Japan handed Taiwan over to The Republic of China Beitou eventually lost it's shimmer as an exclusive hot springs district and became one of the largest illegal red light districts in the country.

The red light district was eventually shut down and when Taipei's MRT line expanded in the 1990's to Beitou there was renewed interest in the district. Heritage buildings were restored and many of the old characterless concrete buildings were either torn down or renovated into luxury hot springs resorts.

Highlights:

Plum Garden was built towards the end of the 1930’s as a retreat and villa for Mr. Youren Yu, a calligraphy master who would vacation here in the summer. Plum Garden was rated as a historical site by the Taipei City government in 2006. It is a traditional Japanese style residential building equipped with an air raid shelter. The home showcases the artistry of Mr. Youren Yu.

The Beitou Hot Springs Museum was built in 1913 as the Beitou Public Bathouse at the time the largest bathhouse in East Asia. But by World War ll the building had been abandoned. While on a field trip in 1994 a group of teachers and students from the Beitou Elementary School discovered that the bathouse was still abandoned and petitioned for the conversation of the site. By 1998 the bathouse had been restored and opened to the public as the Beitou Hot Springs Museum.

Thermal Valley Hot Springs, the reason why the area was nicknamed "Hell Valley". Steaming springs with temperatures rising up to 100 degrees celsius. Unsuitable for bathing locals used to boil eggs in the springs.

You can reach Beitou by Taipei's Tamsui(red) MRT line and the short Xinbeitou one station branch line.

The post Cinemascope Edition-Atmospheric Hot Springs Village-Beitou-Taipei, Taiwan appeared first on Far East Adventure Travel.

Apr 8, 2016

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...

Apr 4, 2016

In Northern Thailand 15km away from the border of Myanmar lies Santikhiri, otherwise known as Mae Salong. It’s history was in part formed by the opium trade as part of the Golden Triangle. More recently it was settled by members of the 93rd division of the Chinese Nationalist Army who refused to surrender to communist China when they were defeated by Mao’s army in 1949.

At first their force of 12,000 from Yunnan province fought from Burma. Later Mae Salong was settled. It was to be a base for an eventual counter-attack against Communist China, supported by Taiwan where most of the Kuomintang Nationalists had fled, and the United States.

When diplomatic ties between Communist China and Burma changed, along with less interest on the part of the U.S. to support the Nationalist fighters the soldiers that settled in Mae Salong turned to opium production to fund arms.

By the 1970’s the Thai government struck a deal with the nationalist soldiers. In return for helping the government fight off their own communist insurgents they would receive Thai citizenship. Their deal would eventually include giving up their opium ties for a legitimate business, Oolong tea production, today Mae Salong’s number one business. The first bushes were imported from Taiwan.

The Martyr’s Memorial Hall or Shrine in Mae Salong pays tribute to the Kuomintang settlers who fought battles against the People’s Republic of China, and helped the Thai government defeat communist insurgents in Northern Thailand. All of the division KMT soldiers killed in battle are listed in the memorial.

Mae Salong is also home to hill tribes, mainly the Akha, who follow animist beliefs and rituals. The Akha came to Thailand in the early 20th century after suffering persecution in Burma. Today, Akha and other hill tribes people can still be seen wearing their traditional clothing in the village while selling their wares or produce. Mostly now the colorful clothing and headdress is only worn during festivals and celebrations.

Although many of the KMT’s descendants have adopted a Thai identity, Yunnanese or Mandarin is still the main language spoken in the town. Restaurants and guesthouses feature noodle dishes and other Yunnan specialities, and the aroma of tea is everywhere.

On the surface a simple looking Thai village in the far northern reaches of the country. Open up it’s past and the culture, history and people of Mae Salong and their struggle to build a new life are only then truly appreciated. For Far East Adventure Travel, I’m John Saboe.

The post Cinemascope Edition-Wars, Opium, And Tea-Mae Salong, Thailand appeared first on Far East Adventure Travel.

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