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.