First I better check the map to make sure I take the right turn off. OK I think I’m ready to go. Wait a minute, one more look at the map just to be sure. What was I thinking, maybe if I hold it this way I’ll remember? Well let’s just get going and figure out on the road.
Hmmm, this just somehow doesn’t look right. Better pull over and check the map again.
Finally on the right track to Wat Rong Khun or “The White Temple”. Even though people refer to it as a temple it’s not really that at all. More exhibit than temple the artist who created and funded it’s completion, Chalermchai Kositpipat, believes the white temple is an offering to Lord Buddha and we’ll ensure him an immortal life.
When you first enter the area where the main building or ubosot is located you are immediately confronted with the weakness of human desire, greed and temptation symbolized by hundreds of outreaching hands. Crossing the bridge over the small lake takes you to the gate of heaven where you are met by two creatures who decide the fate of the dead. Make it past there and the countless tourists with selfie sticks and you arrive at the ubosot made with fragments of glass in the style of a traditional Thai 3 tiered roof temple.
Photography is prohibited inside the main building which features murals with cultural icons like Michael Jackson, and fictitious characters including Freddy Kruger, Harry Potter and Hello Kitty. As well as scenes depicting nuclear war and terrorist attacks. If the intent is to highlight what’s wrong with the world the artist has made his point with this exhibit.
The gardens and surrounding grounds of Wat Rong Khun are filled with small white pagodas styled in the same theme. Allow yourself enough time to stroll through the many walkways but keep in mind they take a lunch break at the white temple and close off the site.
On May 5, 2014 an earthquake struck the northern province of Chiang Rai damaging the white temple. At the time Chalermchai Kositpipat figuring the temple complex was too damaged to be safe again vowed to demolish it and not rebuild. After a May 7th safety inspection deemed that all buildings were safe and structurally unharmed Kositpipat said he would restore the temple and continue his life work.
A structure you won’t miss within the Wat Rong Khun complex is the gold building where you’ll find the restrooms and other services. Gold which is used to decorate many temples and stupas in Thailand in this case represents the body and symbolizes how people focus on money and worldly possessions.
While the gold building is a place to relieve and refresh yourself it’s also meant as a reminder to make merit and not focus on material things and instead to place focus on the mind, as represented by the white building.
I like Chiang Rai! The slow pace of the north and plenty of little cafes and a backpacker vibe Chiang Rai usually manages to squeeze an extra couple of days or more out of a traveller’s itinerary.
When the town clock tower, albeit a gold one becomes one of the main nightly attractions with it’s beautiful light display you know you’ve arrived in a charming place. A wonderful town market that opens early in the morning and carries on the rest of the day and night with ready made meals, snacks, and lots of fresh cut fruit is super convenient and super tasty!
You can also visit the night bazaar where there’s more food and nightly traditional entertainment.
Back out on the road I visited another Chiang Rai attraction, Baan Dam, Black House, nicknamed “The Black Temple”.
If you thought the white temple was over the top then be prepared to be truly shocked by some of the sites and exhibits of Baan Dam. Another museum or artistic vision created by national artist Thawan Duchanee this place is filled with everything from beautiful Northern Thai buildings and structures to animal skins, bones,
Patuxai, one of Vientiane, Laos' most important landmarks is dedicated to those who fought for independence from France
Out of all of the capitals in Southeast Asia Vientiane takes the prize as the most laid back. You’d never believe it was the center of commerce, government and transportation.
It’s a testament to the attitude of the people of Laos. Not taking anything too seriously and having little or no sense of urgency. They do appreciate their leisure time and even though the Mekong River is the center of social activity in the evening it never felt too crowded there-the population of Vientiane is less than 800,000. Hell, there’s even enough room for paragliding.
Vientiane became the capital of Laos in 1563 and was the administrative capital during French rule. Vientiane has seen it’s share of adversity from being burned completely to the ground in 1827 by Siamese armies, Thailand is right across the river, to passing over to French rule in 1893, Japanese occupation in World War 2., back to reoccupation by the French in 1945 to being established as the center of power for the Lao People’s Democratic Republic in 1975. Laos, and it is properly pronounced without the s, is a communist country.
Vientiane is a mix of French colonial architecture, Buddhist temples and the odd leftover Soviet style building.
A great place to get started on your exploration of the city is a visit to one of the country’s most impressive Buddhist temples, Wat Ho Phra Keo, otherwise known as the temple of the Emerald Buddha. Once the royal family of Lao’s personal chapel it was here where the precious emerald buddha statue was reclaimed by the Thai army in 1778 after being snatched by the Laotian king. Today the Emerald Buddha resides at the Grand Palace’s Emerald Buddha chapel in Bangkok.
The temple is adorned with carved features, Khmer stone carvings and several Buddha statues. Wat Ho Phra Keo is no longer in service as a place of worship but acts as a museum and monument.
Wat Si Muang is also another worthwhile temple visit for the fact that it’s where the city pillar is located and the guardian spirit of Vientiane. Wat Si Muang is considered the mother temple of the city.
Round out a temple run with a look in at Wat Si Saket believed to be the oldest Buddhist temple in Vientiane still standing after the sacking of the city by Siam in 1827. It’s also believed because the temple was built in the Siamese style rather than Laoation style it was spared by the army who used it as their headquarters and compound. You can check out more than 2000 silver and ceramic Buddhist images, there’s also a museum on site.
Take a break at one of the many cafes or French bakeries in town. This is really one of the highlights of a visit to Vientiane. A coffee, French pastry, and relaxing to the slow groove of this unique capital experience.
There’s tons of dining options in Vientiane as well. I love sticky rice and fish larb, a mix of fish, greens and herbs, there’s also meat and veg versions. But it’s nice to know there’s lots of options out there like sushi, western, I really do love sticky rice though.
Afterwards grab a bike from your hotel or guesthouse and head out for ride around the town, enjoying the buddhist temples, quieter charming tree-lined streets and their French colonial homes. Enjoy the slow pace, that’s what it’s all about in Vientiane.
OK, so that was too slow for you? Grab a motorbike then. I personally wouldn’t attempt this in most major cities in Southeast Asia but the streets of Vientiane are pretty quiet, even in the midday and you can cover alot of ground and sites in a short period of time. It gets pretty hot depending on the time of year pedalling around here so a motorbike is a good option if you’re comfortable driving a two wheeler.
After that it’s back to the cafe culture of Vientiane. Coffee is Laos’ 5th biggest export.
The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival is one of the most popular Lunar New Year Celebrations in Taiwan. People will travel from all over the island just for this event which starts about two weeks before the end of Lunar New Year festivities.
A few years ago The Discovery Channel called it the second best New Year’s festival in the world. It’s caught on so it’s no surprise when I visit to see more Westerners here than anywhere else at any time of year in Taiwan.
I’m checking out one of the first sky lantern releases of the season which is held in the town of Pingxi, less than an hour by car or bus east of the capital of Taipei.
People visit Pingxi and the neighbouring town of Shifin year round to release lanterns but Lunar New Year is the most popular time to come. Each person writes on one of the four sides of the lantern with their own new year’s prayers. You do the customary pose for pictures then release the lantern into the sky.
The first lanterns were used from 220-280 A.D. as a communication tool during war times in China. When the Hans people immigrated from China to Taiwan between 1820-50 the lantern was used to signal to family members that it was safe to return home. Robberies were common at the time in the mountain town of Pingxi.
Every year the festival is held here. The main releases take place on one of the local school grounds.
Pingxi is a beautiful little town and should be visited on a separate trip just to savour some of it’s authentic Taiwanese heritage. Many of the buildings were constructed in the 1930’s and 40’s along with wooden houses built during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan. There’s lots of shops selling traditional crafts and gifts. Some of the most beautifully crafted silk lanterns are produced in Pingxi. Of course because it’s Taiwan, there’s lots of food, including local snacks.
If you have time it’s always fun to take a northbound train to Ruifang, then catch the tourist train to Pingxi. Along the way you can also stop in Shifin and walk to Shifin waterfall which some believe is the nicest one in all of Taiwan.
It is definitely a celebratory atmosphere here in Pingxi with everyone getting in on the new year’s fun. Many people release lanterns with their prayers and wishes from the train tracks which run right through the village.
There’s also a really cool film on the lantern traditions of Pingxi that plays through this lantern shape building throughout the day. OK I’m getting the gong so it’s time to head back to the school grounds and get ready for the first release of the night.
I wasn’t kidding when I said the PIngxi Sky Lantern Festival is a big deal, drawing dignitaries, celebrities and T.V. crews from around the island and the world. And guess what, it didn’t rain afterall-just a little mountain mist.
There’s introductions-then the first group hits the school grounds to get ready for the first sky lantern release of the night. But first, a little musical interlude…Then finally the spotlights are dimmed and the first release of the Lunar New Year begins.
Fodor’s Travel Guides named it one of 14 festivals a person must see in their lifetime. History, tradition and a joyful unique celebration in the hills of Northeastern Taiwan. I would agree this is a remarkable event one must see to complete their experience of Taiwan’s Lunar New Year celebrations! Xin Nian Kaui Le, Happy New Year from the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival in Taiwan.
Tibet changed my life. I have never looked at the world the same since. If you want to touch the deepest part of your soul, visit this land. The roots of spirituality are here. The sites and landscape are breathtaking.
When I came many things were on my list to see. The temples and palaces of Lhasa, the once forbidden city. And a less travelled trek to Everest Base Camp to see the spectacular North Face of the highest mountain in the world.
We left Lhasa to travel to Old Tingri in Southern Tibet, where we would start the trek. Traveling through high passes, and the towns of Gyantse and Shigatse. Getting a real feel for the remoteness of this place. And the spiritual energy from its people.
The trek takes an average of four days from Old Tingri to Everest Base Camp. We were on a tight schedule with an overland trip to Western Tibet for the Saga Dawa Festival at Mt. Kailash afterwards. We would complete the trek in 3 and half days. Long, long days of walking on the roof of the world.
This is not like a trek to Everest Base Camp in the Khumbu Valley of Nepal. No rhodendrum forests, great lodges or hot showers. This is the high desert. A daily average altitude of 4500 meters. Little vegetation, and very few people. Some wildlife, which we had no luck spotting.
But it’s beautiful. So quiet and peaceful. I think it’s still the quietest place I’ve ever been.
You can image being a Tibetan in another time. Crossing this plain with your goats, sheep or maybe yak. On a pilgrimage to Lhasa in hopes of seeing the Dalai Lama. Maybe running into a sheep herder or nomad camp like we did.
The road not paved at the time of filming continues right to base camp. You’ll see a motorcycle, supply truck or tour bus pass you by every so often. Sometimes a Chinese Army jeep.
After 3 days the first sighting of Everest. British explorer George Mallory attempted to reach the top in 1924. His body still remains near there at 8200 meters. His climbing partner Sandy Irvine was never found.
The north face. It’s the grandest view of Everest. And the last time I would see it.
Everest Base Camp Tibet, China. Originally established by the British for their expeditions in the 1920’s including Mallory’s last one. This is the non-climbers portion of the camp. Beyond the hill you see is reserved for Everest climbers with special permits.
Despite the snow this was an amazing adventure. Maybe because of the snow I have an even richer experience.
My favourite George Mallory quote about Mt. Everest is so appropriate to any dream of adventure and travel.
“So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for.”
The post The North Face-Trekking To Everest Base Camp-Tibet appeared first on Far East Adventure Travel.
The waiting room for the most exclusive tuna auction in the world-At Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan
Tsukiji Market-Tokyo, Japan. Home to the world famous tuna auction where wholesalers bid on blue fin tuna worth tens of thousands of dollars almost everyday. For the lucky few who brave the early morning hour like myself recently it’s a chance to get up close to this unique arena of high stakes bidding on the most prized fish in the world.
The lucky few? 120 to be exact. Some of the guidebooks and online blogs say to get to the information office at Tsukiji markets Kachidoki Bridge gate entrance by 4am. Well things have changed and now I wouldn’t recommend arriving any later than 3:30 to get a spot, I got there at 3:35 and I was one of the last few admitted.
Once in you’re given a map with instructions on conduct in the market and a colored vest to wear identifying you as a guest of one of two groups of 60. I was in the blue vest group, the last to visit the tuna auction that morning. The room is divided into two for each group. The first is led into the auction area at 5:25 and is allowed to watch for 25 minutes. My team, the blue group goes in last at 5:50.
OK, now the wait. For the blue team, almost 2 hours! Bring something to read or listen to because there’s not much to look at in this room.
The green team gets the signal to move to the auction area and my team is less than 30 minutes away from our visit.
The blue fin tuna is the star of Tsukiji but it’s only one of over 400 species of fish and seafood including seaweed, expensive caviar and controversial whale species sold at the market. Almost 3000 tons of seafood is processed everyday-making Tsukiji the largest fish market in the world.
Finally after being in this holding tank for almost 2 hours we were escorted by Tokyo Metropolitan Government security to the auction room.
There is a planned move in 2017 of the market to a new site. Tsukiji has been operating in central Tokyo since 1935 after the original market was destroyed by the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. It’s an extremely hectic and busy place and we are warned by our escorts to be very careful as many forklifts and turret trucks are constantly on the move.
We pass by one tuna auction site before being lead into the public viewing area for our precious well-earned 25 minutes into this fascinating world of high stakes tuna. The first blue fin tuna auctioned at Tsukiji this year was sold to the highest bidder at over $37,000 US dollars. The same sushi restaurant chain owner who won this year’s bid paid over 1.76 million US for a slightly larger tuna in 2013.
Intermediate wholesalers are busy inspecting the tuna up for auction this morning. It’s a very tricky game, even with the knowledge these buyers accumulate over the years to always get the tuna your customers want for the right price. The best can spot a seemingly lower grade tuna and get essentially a high grade product at a bargain price. 80% of the global blue fin tuna catch is consumed in Japan.
Meanwhile in the rest of the Tsukiji Fish Market the other 400 species of fish and seafood, including processed blue fin tuna is being purchased by buyers from small restaurants to hotel chains. Many stalls specialize in one type of product like this shop which is busy processing live eels.
Anything you can think of that swims or lives in the sea is here including the star of the market, the blue fin tuna.
The outer market is where all of the retail shops and restaurants are located. Line-ups for some of these famous sushi restaurants start at 4:30am. It’s safe to say Tsukiji has Tokyo’s highest density of sushi restaurants all with their own unique personality.
Back at the tuna auction final notes and inspections are completed before the first bidding. The buyers are all seen wearing caps with their license allowing them to bid on the tuna up for auction.