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.