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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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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...
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.
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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...
It has been an incredible two years of traveling through Asia meeting interesting people, discovering new cultures and experiencing some of the most thrilling adventures in this part of the world. It has been an absolute pleasure sharing all of these stories with you.
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Cochin, or Kochi is the second largest Westcoast Indian city after Mumbai with a total population of just over 2 million. Ernakulum District encompassing the townships and total urban area has the highest percentage of Christians in all of India. It’s not surprising to see so many churches and a strong Christian local culture and why it’s so busy in the village of Fort Cochin on a Sunday.
Syrian Orthodoxy originally made up the Christian community before Europeans arrived in the 15th century. Historically Cochin had a large Jewish community arriving here as early as 7th century BC with spice traders. Hindus still make up the largest portion of the population. After Christians, Muslims are the third biggest group in Cochin, many living in Matancherry township.
With the diverse mix of beliefs, spirituality and cultures Cochin is also known as a very tolerant community with harmony like nowhere else in India.
Fort Kochi was a simple fishing village before the Portuguese were handed over control in 1503. It was named after the fort built by the Portuguese later to be destroyed by the Dutch who in 1683 captured the territory. Today the town is literally a history book of architecture. A mix of Dutch, Portuguese and British buildings make this one of the most unique communities in India.
Matancherry right next door to Fort Cochin is a tourist center for the curious interested in visiting historic Jew Town. Antique and rug shops line the streets but you can still find atmospheric lanes with a rich history of spice trade. It was here that the first trade link for pepper and tumeric was established.
To dive deeper into the rich history and culture of Fort Cochin I spoke with Benson, a native Kochiite and the owner of Costa Gama Homestay.
Spend enough time in Cochin and you’ll soon be charmed by the warmth, friendliness and kindness of it’s people. From the fisherman who ply the waters of the port to the hard working laborers of Matancherry.
For Far East Adventure Travel this is John Saboe
Music Contribution by Deep Singh and Ikhlaq Hussain Khan (http://www.ragasitar.com/)
The post Cochin-Kerala, India-Global Masala Mix Of Cultures appeared first on Far East Adventure Travel.
When asked when's the best time to visit Taiwan I usually say almost anytime but festivals, especially Lunar New Year celebrations are when the island's culture and spirit are at it's peak.
In this episode I take a tour around the capital, Taipei, on the first day of the Lunar New Year to some of the city's most popular temples.
Most Taiwanese will pay a visit to their regular temple of worship or one of the more prominent or historic temples on the first day of the New Year to ensure they start the year off with new wishes, and of course prayers for prosperity and good health for their family.
The Longshan Temple in Wunhua District is one of the most popular temples to visit anytime of year but especially on New Year's Day. This temple has gone through many renovations as a result of fires, earthquakes, and Allied Forces bombings during World War II.
Tianhou Temple in Ximending District is the smallest out of all the temples on this visit but one of the oldest, first constructed in 1746 it's also know as the Ximending Matsu Temple, as Matsu, the Goddess of the sea is the main deity.
Guandu Temple is the furthest away from Taipei City, about a 35 minute MRT ride and 15 minute walk from the station named after the temple. It is the largest complex out of all the temples on this visit.
The final stop is the beautiful Baoan Temple in Dalongdong. This is a very historic part of Taipei with a Confucius Temple and some of the oldest buildings in the city. It's a wonderful neighborhood for strolling.
I hope you enjoy this edition of Far East Adventure Travel on a glorious day of hope and renewal at some of the most vibrant temples in all of Taipei, Taiwan.
Lunar New Year, or Chinese New Year is the most important celebration in Taiwan and throughout most of the Chinese speaking countries and communities of East Asia, Southeast Asia and the rest of the world.
Families will get together all over Taiwan with New Year's eve and the reunion dinner being the most important meal of the holidays. Many will spend extra money and serve more expensive ingredients, snacks, and treats for the celebration.
In Taipei many will head to Dihua Street, or "Grocery Street", it's nickname for stocking up on special ingredients and goodies.
Since the 19th century Dihua Street has been an important center of commerce with Chinese traditional medicine shops, fabric stores, incense materials, and the post-processing of Taiwanese tea taking up a majority of the shop space in the district.
Every year for a about two weeks before the Lunar New year sellers of traditional Taiwanese snacks, treats, and candies set up stalls all along Dihua Street handing out samples and marketing their products to eager customers.
In this episode of Far East Adventure Travel I take a walk through the market area just a few days before the New Year when the shopping frenzy is at it's peak.
The post Taipei, Taiwan’s Dihua Street-Stocking Up For Lunar New Year appeared first on Far East Adventure Travel.
It’s called shitamachi, the old town ambience of Tokyo’s past that has survived and in fact flourishes today in the Yanaka neighborhood, within walking distance of Tokyo’s expansive Ueno Park. You’ll find streets and alleys lined with old style merchant housing. Typically a shop on the ground floor with a living space above.
This neighborhood was virtually unaffected by World War ll bombings and the devastating earthquake of 1923 so unlike many places in Tokyo, some buildings here date back hundreds of years.
Yanaka is included in a trio of neighborhoods called Yanesen, Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi. It was developed as a temple town during the Edo Period from 1603-1867. People from all over Edo, the former name of Tokyo, would visit Yanaka for sightseeing and worship. If you’re interested in visiting inside the temples arrive well before the closing time of 5pm. There’s also a traditional cemetery where the remains of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last shogun of Japan lay.
Don’t be surprised if you bump into a few wild cats on your stroll through the neighorhood. Yanaka is famous for it’s population of stray cats and there are signs of this pride all over with cat cafes, souvenirs and feline references everywhere you look.
Visit the Yanaka Ginza shopping area close by the Nippori station of the JR Yamanote line and you’ll see further evidence of the love for cats. There’s even bean filled taiyaki cakes in the shape of cats instead of the traditional fish form.
Rice crackers, old style fish and butcher shops, traditional wooden and straw rope sandal makers are all around Yanaka Ginza.
It will feel like a time capsule when you leave Yanaka for a district like Akihabara. Otherwise known as Akihabara Electric Town famous world-wide as the center for otaku, people obsessed with anime, manga and gaming. But Akihabara’s history as an electronics shopping district goes back to post World War ll when it was known as the place to buy household electronic items.
Today you’ll see lots of maid cafes in the neighborhood. What’s a maid cafe? I’m glad you asked. It’s a place you can buy a meal and yes a coffee while a young woman in a french maid style costume acts as a servant and treats you like her master. Mainly appealing to fans of anime, manga and video games the first maid cafe not suprisingly opened right here in Akihabara in 2001. Today they are everywhere and attract a wide range of people including otaku, tourists, couples, women and politicians.
As the popularity and futuristic appeal of household items faded in the 1980’s Akihabara shifted it’s focus to computers at a time when they appealed only to hobbyists. These otaku were also interested in anime and manga thus the center of the world for this unique culture was born and thrives today.
If you just want a deal on some electronics accessories or cables it’s a good place to shop. You may get lucky and bump into a robot, maybe even one of the cat persuasion. No getting away from those cats in Tokyo.
Japanese pop culture is famous world-wide and much of it’s fashion is born in Harajuku. There are many familiar international brands here but you visit more for the people watching, the dining and cafes and to observe the interesting way of retailing and marketing. If you’re into street fashion and culture it’s one of the best places in Tokyo to visit. It’s also home to Yoyogi national stadium, site of the 1964 Olympic swimming and diving events and the beautiful Meiji Shrine.
One stop away on the JR Yamanote line is Shibuya station, one of the busiest trains stations in the world and right at it’s door the famous Shibuya crossing or scramble.
This could be the busiest intersection in the world where the lights on all corners turn red and pedestrians dash in all directions sometimes more than three thousand in one light. I would describe it as a controlled frenzy.
Pokhara is the second largest city in Nepal. Situated on Phewa Lake it’s close proximity to the Annapurna range of the Himalaya makes it a trekking center for the world-famous Annapurna Circuit.
To get some advice on things to see and do in Pokhara, especially if time is limited, I spoke with Rajendra Dhakal, Pokhareli native, community leader and managing director of the Hotel Glacier Pokhara.
Back to Phewa Lake en route to a hike to the World Peace Pagoda in Pokhara. This is not the only approach to the trail that leads to the Pagoda but it’s one of the quickest ways to a trail head. Picking up a boat for hire gets you to the start in less than 30 minutes. You can choose a one way trip and walk down the other side of the hill to return to the town or you can have your boatman wait for you while you hike up to the Peace Pagoda and back down the same trail. About 2 hours or so in total.
You can also incorporate a stop at Bahari Temple on the little island you pass by. This is a Hindu temple dedicated to the Goddess Durga and is also a place of worship for Buddhists. It’s especially busy there during Nepal’s biggest festival, Dushain.
It’s not long before you can catch a glimpse of the gleaming white stupa at the top of the hill you’ll hike. About 45 minutes from the boat launch to the top.
I’m dropped off on the shore at the trailhead with about 2 to 2.5 hours to hike up, spend some time at the stupa and hike back down.
This is one of the easiest return trips. You can walk and hike from Pokhara up the other side of the hill but this will take you at least 2-3 hours each way. Or you can split the trip by boating one way and hiking back. Either way, the boat trip cost is the same.
My visit to Pokhara was in the fall coinciding with a trek of the Annapurna Circuit so it was still quiet warm. You might find a morning hike more comfortable.
It’s not a strenuous hike but it helps to be fit. Much of the trail is made up of stone stairs with plenty of signs and little altars along the way to keep you in the right direction.
As you gain altitude you’ll start to see the broad view of Phewa, the largest lake in Nepal surrounding the expanse of the town below. There was a haze and a few clouds hanging over one of the best views of the Himalaya in Pokhara that day hiding the Annapurna range and some of the highest mountains in the world.
Pokhara is located in the Northwest corner of the Pokhara Valley where there’s a quick gain in elevation. At a distance of 30 kilometers the mountains rise from 1000 meters to over 7500 giving the region one of the highest rates of precipitation in the country. Don’t be surprised by an afternoon shower and clouds covering the Himalaya, sometimes for days.
It’s not long before you can catch a glimpse of the gleaming white stupa at the top of the hill you’ll hike. About 45 minutes from the boat launch to the top.
Pokhara lies on an important ancient trade route from China to India and was still used up until the occupation of China in Tibet and the Indo-China war of 1962. It was originally apart of the Kaski Kingdom, one of the 24 kingdoms of Nepal. There are still ruins from this time in the hills surrounding Pokhara.
The World Peace Pagoda is one of the top sites visited in Nepal. It is one of two important viewing points in Pokhara for the Himalaya. The other is Sarankot across the lake and higher at 1600 meters. Ananda Hill the site of the World Peace Pagoda is 1100 meters in elevation.
After about 40 minutes of hiking the World Peace Pagoda comes into view from above.
The World Peace Pagoda or Shanti Stupa was established in 1973 by Nichidatsu Fujji, a Buddhist monk and the founder of Nipponzan-Myohoji, the Japanese Buddhist religious organization that helped build this and 79 other peace pagodas around the world. Two of the stupas are located in Nepal. One in Lumbini,
The Petronas towers or Petronas twin towers are located in the center of Kaula Lumpur, Malaysia. They were the highest buildings in the world from 1998-2004 until Taipei 101 in Taiwan took the reigns of the top spot. They are still currently the highest twin towers in the world.
A limited number of tickets are sold each day for the strictly guided tour of the buildings. Your ticket comes with a set tour time, that’s why I was in such a hurry.
After the initial elevator ride we arrived at the skybridge that connects the twin towers on the 41st and 42nd levels made famous by the 1999 Sean Connery Catherine Zeta-Jones movie “Entrapment”.
The skybridge weighs 750 tonnes and is not actually attached to the towers instead it slides in and out so it can sway during high winds and maintain structural integrity. Even though you’re not at the highest viewing floor it’s position makes it a pretty cool spot. This was one of my favorite parts of the tour.
We’re given about 10 minutes to wander around the deck before our color coded group is called to move up to the 86th floor.
Back in the elevator, for some small talk, or maybe not. This appears to be a glass elevator but this is actually a virtual view. Just a ride made interesting with a fake outside video, because whoever designed this was very smart and knew how hard it is to make eye contact and small talk in an elevator, especially if you’ve got a long ride. It’s a pretty realistic video with movement that seemed to match the speed of the elevator but the visibility didn’t mirror the current environmental conditions.
Arriving on the 83rd floor we are escorted to another elevator that took us to the final stop, the 86th floor and the dizzying views of Kuala Lumpur.
On the day of the visit the smoke created from the slash and burn fires of Indonesia was hampering the views but seeing the other tower at this height and this close was absolutely spectacular.
The towers were designed by Argentine architect César Pelli. Incorporating Islamic geometric patterns in the shape of eight pointed stars they symbolize the principle of "unity within unity, harmony, stability and rationality”. Anyone who appreciates design and architecture will get a real thrill out of this tour.
The haze was the result of illegal slash and burning of fields mainly for Palm oil production on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, Borneo.
After about 15 minutes our time was up on the 86th floor and we were escorted to the elevator back down to the 83rd floor for a look from this level before exiting the tower.
In the hazy distance we could see the Menara Kuala Lumpur or KL Tower. Boasting the highest public viewing deck in Kuala Lumpur the KL Tower sits on Bukit Nanas or Pineapple Hill giving it a slight height advantage even though the Petronas Towers are structurally taller.
I don’t think you visit the Petronas Towers just for the view. Today’s visibility was very poor and disappointing but the experience of being inside this engineering marvel with a design right out of the 1927 Fritz Lang futuristic film Metropolis was rewarding and very memorable.
Back in the elevator with one last virtual view of Kuala Lumpur before ground level. There are a total 29 double decker high speed passenger lifts serving the towers not including service and executive lifts. They can travel between 3.5-6 meters a second.
On the ground level at the front entrance you can admire the large pool and fountains facing the towers. On the other side sits the 17 acre KLCC Park. Inside the lobby you can usually enjoy a display of some of the cars Petronas, the state-owned oil company sponsors in various motorsports events. Petronas takes up the offices of tower one while tower two hosts a number of multi-national companies.
Because the Malaysian government had a 6 year deadline to finish both towers they ...
Luang Prabang, Laos is one of the most picturesque towns in Southeast Asia. The name literally translates to Royal Buddha image. It’s rich history, beautiful architecture combined with a strong Buddhist monastic community makes it a place all too tempting to stay longer than planned. On my most recent trip to the former royal capital I was fortunate enough to be in time for the country’s most important holiday and festival, Pi Mai or Laos New Year.
Even if your visit is outside of festival time you will be enchanted by one of the most beautifully preserved towns in Indochina full of French colonial architecture.
One of the best places to start your exploration of the town is a walk up the 328 stairs of the highest hill in Luang Prabang-Mount Phou Si, where you can visit the Buddhist temple Wat Chom Si. Here you can see the whole town and the peninsula it sits on between the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers.
There are a few approaches to the top but I chose to start from the staircase across from the Royal Palace Museum and temple exiting on the other side to see Wat Tham Phou si.
Sunset is a popular viewing time so if you don't like the crowds, and it's a tight squeeze at the top, try a walk in the morning.
Phousi translates to sacred hill and is considered the spiritual center of the town. It's believed that the hill was once the home of a powerful naga serpent deity, lending more spiritual significance to the site.
As you near the top of the hill the golden spires of Wat Chom Si come into view. This temple was built in 1804 and has become a symbol to the significance of Luang Prabang's cultural importance to Laos.
The view is not only spectacular but a great way to orient yourself to the city. Seeing the city and it's peninsular feature between the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers I found allowed me to ensure I wouldn't miss any part of the town during my visit.
It’s tempting just to hang out in the old town with it’s amazing selection of cafes and restaurants. But venture out and you’ll see more of the real Laos.
On the way down take the stairs on the other side of the hill that lead to the Wat Phousi Shrine and get your fill of the Buddha in various states of contentment.
If you visit Luang Prabang during the dry season you'll have a chance to cross the Nam Khan River via the bamboo bridge. This iconic symbol of Luang Prabang gets washed away during the wet season and is rebuilt each year by a local family. The small fee to cross the bridge supports this family.
There are also a few atmospheric outdoor restaurants on the other side of the river that are easily reached from the bamboo bridge and some real authentic Luang Prabang neighborhoods.
It's a wonderful setting even more so if you're lucky enough to cross when the monks are leaving the monastery after the morning alms.
Watching Tak Bhat or the morning alms is one of the highlights of a visit to Luang Prabang. Many tourists like to take part in the morning offering of food to the monks but unless you are really familiar with Buddhist rituals and traditions out of respect opt for observing it. Tak Bhat is easily enjoyed from a distance. Getting to close and in the way of the monks is disrespectful and just downright unclassy.
You can easily OD on Buddhism and wats in Luang Prabang as it has the highest concentration of temples in the whole country. One you must visit because of it’s history as a temple of the royal family is Wat Xieng Thong, or Temple of The Golden City. It’s a celebration of art, culture, and the royal family making it one of the most significant temples in all of Laos.
Construction on the site began in 1559. There are over 20 buildings on the ground including shrines, pavilions and residences. Many of the entrances feature carved gilded doors depicting the life of the Buddha. This is not a museum so life, prayer and worship continue on here as it has fo...
When you walk through the crowds around Taipei 101, Taipei City Hall and the Xinyi Shopping District of Taipei, Taiwan on December 31st, New Years Eve, you might not believe that this is not the most important celebration of the year.
Annual attendance for the fireworks event that erupts from the 101 floor building of the once tallest skyscraper in the world is well over 1 million.
As much as Taiwan has adopted Gregorian calendar events to celebrate like New Years Eve as well as Christmas this country's roots are still deep in traditional Chinese culture with Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year holding the spot as the most important event of the year.
Believe it or not with an attendance of over 1 million this is quiet a peaceful event compared to similar celebrations in the West.
Main thoroughfares are shut down to traffic, additional police are on patrol and transportation like the reliable and efficient MRT,(subway) system of Taipei runs through the night to see that everyone arrives home safe.
In this edition of Far East Adventure Travel I walked through the crowds around Taipei 101 this past December 31st to hopefully give you a sense of the spirit and anticipation of Taipei 101's world-famous annual New Years Eve fireworks celebration.
The Batu Caves are a series of limestone caves and cave temples located in Selangor, Malaysia. So easy to get to it even has it’s own train stop.
I picked up the KTM Comuter train at KL Sentral in Kuala Lumpur which can be reached via the Kelana Jaya line if you’re staying near KLCC.
In less than 30 minutes the giant limestone outcrop was in view.
Leaving the train station you are immediately surrounded by Hindu shrines and temples including this giant statue of Hanuman, the Monkey God.
The Batu Caves gets it’s name from the Sangai Batu, the nearby Batu River, and it is also the tenth, Pattu in the Tamil language, limestone of Ampang Malaysia.
The Batu Caves are one of the most popular Hindu Shrines outside of India. Dedicated to Lord Murugan, God of war. He is the son of the Hindu dieties Shiva and Parvati.
The Murugan statue is the largest statue of a Hindu deity in Malaysia and the second tallest in the world coming second to the Kailashnath Mahadev Statue in Nepal.
This is the site of the annual Thaipusam Festival which draws over 1.5 million people every year to honor Lord Murugan. Devotees among other things carry containers of milk as an offering to Murugan.
The first steps to the cave were built in 1920 made of wood, since then they have been replaced by 272 concrete steps. There are several caves throughout the site but the Temple Cave or Catherdral Cave, which I was climbing up to is the most well-known and visited.
Another reason to keeps things inside your bag or backpack on your way up. This guy eventually got back his little pack minus a couple of things.
As it tend to rain often it’s a good idea to bring an umbrella and watch the steps. This Hindu priest heading up doesn’t seem to have an issue with either the climate or the stairs.
At the top of the steps an entrance full of colorful deities greets you in the same tradition of Hindu Temples in South India and Sri Lanka. Below the giant limestone opening to the caves another statue of Lord Murugan, a Hindu God tradtionally worshipped in areas of Tamil influence including South India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
Once inside there are a further set of stairs that lead to the giant Temple Cave. These caves were believed to be formed over 400 million years ago. Chinese settlers first started harvesting gauno from the caves as early as 1860 for fertilizing their vegetable gardens.
They didn’t become well-known until they were recorded by American naturalist William Hornaday in 1878. K. Thamboosamy Pillay a prominent Malaysian of Tamil origin lead the establishment of the Batu Caves as a place of worship for Hindus. The first Lord Murugan statue was placed inside the Temple cave in 1891.
There are several undeveloped caves located below the temple cave including the dark cave, a two kilometer network of caves rarely visited due to its restricted status by the Malaysian Nature Society. The caves feature stalactites hanging from the ceilings and stalagmites jutting from the floor with features such as cave curtains that took thousands of years to form.
Even though the Temple Cave is fully developed with floors, shrines and stairs it is incredibly impressive and quiet possibly one of the most unique places of worship in the world.
Thaipusam held during the full moon in January or February is probably the most spectacular time to see Hindus worship when some devotees through sacrifice and an offering pierce their skin, tongue or cheeks with skewers attached to a kavadi attam they pull. Others will simply carry a pot of milk on their head as an offering. Other celebrations, daily pujas or prayers take place most often the rest of the year.
The Batu Caves have also become a rock climbing destination in Malaysia over the last 10 years. There are more than 160 climbing routes with most crags starting from the ground.
Taiwan's most important holiday celebration is Lunar New Year, or Chinese New Year, as many know it. But for Taipei and the rest of the country they put on a pretty good show for Christmas, considering everyone works on the 25th.
Less than 5% of the population of Taiwan is Christian but many do recognize the Christmas season with a party, family dinner, or the occasional gift.
Retail certainly acknowledges the occasion, with decorations, holiday music, and any other device that helps to put one in the spirit of gift giving.
Gifts might be a tradition for some but a Christmas tree in the Taiwan home is not regularly seen like in most households in Western countries. Instead people enjoy going out with family and friends to see the many Christmas trees in shopping malls or outside hotels that are usually sponsored by a luxury brand, movie, or the hotel. Celebrating the spirit of the season with a picture in front of the tree is a common tradition.
In this podcast I visited a couple of the shopping areas of Taipei, New Taipei City, and Fu Jen Catholic University for a look at Taiwan's celebration of the Christmas season.
"Christmas On An Island" by junior85 (www.tonyhiggins.org)
"Carol of the Bells" by Live Action Fezz (http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Live_Action_Fezz/A_Very_Badgerland_Christmas_2011/Live_Action_Fezz_-_A_Very_Badgerland_Christmas_2011_-_15_Carol_of_the_Bells)
"We Three Kings" by R.Tists for Christmas (http://rtistsforchristmas.bandcamp.com/)
East Asia is such a super friendly place for foreigners with efficient subway or MRT lines throughout all major cities including Seoul, South Korea. All stations have English signs and all stops are announced in English.
Namsan mountain is the most well-known of the four guardian mountains of Seoul with the famous landmark, Seoul N Tower topping the 262m peak. It’s not a challenging or particularly strenuous hike but it’s a nice break from the chaotic megalopolis below. It’s also a great way to join locals in their everyday activities and experience the fitness and hiking culture of the city.
If you start your hike from the gondola station it’s extremely easy to find your way with signs in English everywhere. This is more like a vigorous walk in a park than a mountain hike. No rough trails to deal with. Stairs everywhere and there’s even rubberized sections of the trail to lessen the impact of hiking on a hard surface.
When it comes to activities like this Koreans really know how to makes things comfortable. This may look like a road but it’s pedestrian only!
On the way you’ll see sites you can check out like Waryongmyo, a Buddhist/Daoist/Shamanist Shrine dedicated to Zhuge Liang, a Chinese statesman and general who lived from 181-234 AD.
As you meander up the trail you’ll start to get views of Seoul and the surrounding mountains. It’s a wonderful way to appreciated the city where half the population of the country lives. It’s easy to enjoy the serene atmosphere of the walk up Namsan.
You’ll also have views of N Seoul Tower. The N stands for Namsan, nature and New look from a 2005 15 billion won remodelling project.
Namsan is a popular place for Seoulites to visit on the weekend with many spots available for picnics and other outdoor activities. Namsan is considered Seoul’s principal park. It averages 23,000 visits a day.
Every April a Cherry blossom festival takes place across Seoul with the longest avenue of Cherry trees anywhere in the city at Namsan mountain.
There was a haze and clouds over the surrounding mountains of Seoul on the day I visited Namsan. There are 37 mountains in the greater Seoul area, many easily accessed by subway or bus.
One of the most fascinating things I saw along the hike was Sukhojung, an archery field that dates back to 1630, still in operation today. Archery had played a prominent role in the defence of the country, particularly on Namsan mountain, one of the sites of The Fortress Wall of Seoul, the shield that protected the city from invaders.
This outdoor gym was a sign I was getting closer to the direct stairs to the top of the mountain.
As you get higher each step has a built in rubber cushion making it a little easier on the knees and joints. Koreans are real outdoor enthusiasts that also appreciate making the activity comfortable and convenient with covered rest areas, washrooms, and these wonderfully comfortable stairs.
As I was on final approach to the top, with the tower now in direct sight, the views opened up to show even though this is one of the most densely populated places in the world there are still large visible green spaces in greater Seoul.
Follow Namsan’s portion of the Fortress Wall of Seoul, first constructed in 1396, and you’ll understand the strategic importance of the four guardian mountains and this wall that protected the city during the Joeson Dynasty.
When I reached the top I was just in time for the patrolling and lighting ceremony reenactment of Namsan Bongsudae. There were 5 Bondsudae stations on Namsan during the Joeson Dynasty used to communicate political and military information to the king with beacons.
Bongsu is the combination of the words bong, meaning torchlight, and su, meaning smoke. At the peak of the Joeson Dynasty there were 673 beacons located throughout the Korean peninsula. This Bongsudae on Namsan was reconstructed in 1993.