Monthly Archives: December 2008

UNESCO World Heritage Site #19: Gyeongju Historica Area

Posted by on December 31, 2008

World Heritage Site #19: Gyeongju Historica Area

World Heritage Site #19: Gyeongju Historic Area

From the World Heritage inscription:

The Gyeongju Historic Areas contain a remarkable concentration of outstanding examples of Korean Buddhist art, in the form of sculptures, reliefs, pagodas, and the remains of temples and palaces from the flowering, in particular between the 7th and 10th centuries, of this form of unique artistic expression.

Historically, Gyeongju should be on a par with Kyoto or Nara. Gyeongju was a formal capital of Korea. Unfortunately, time hasn’t been so kind to the temples and palaces of Gyeongju as it has been to the former capitals of Japan. Centuries of war have left few intact historic structures.

In addition to a top notch museum of Korean history (one of the best I’ve seen on my trip) the most significant features in the city are the burial mounds. You can find them all over town, including the burial mounds of kings of the Silla Dynasty.

Also within short driving distance of Gyeongju is the Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple World Heritage Site.

Shorty Awards

Posted by on December 31, 2008

This will be quick. If you are on Twitter, before Midnight December 31 just send a tweet with the following information:

@ShortyAwards @everywheretrip #Travel

You can just cut and paste the above text and send it in Twitter. That’s all there is to it!

I’ll be posting the winners of the contest tomorrow. I’m still waiting for two people to get back to me with their addresses. If they don’t reply soon, I’ll have to take the next two people on the list.

2008 Travel Year in Review: Part 1

Posted by on December 31, 2008

2008 marked the first calendar year I did not step foot inside the United States or its territories.

What is amazing about traveling is how much you remember. Before I left on my trip, one day would sort of blur into the next. You develop a routine every day and it becomes hard to remember what happened on what date, or sometimes even what year.

I can remember pretty much everything since I’ve started traveling. It’s sort of spooky. All the rooms I’ve stayed in, people I’ve met, and places I’ve visited. For those of you who haven’t been following along for that long, here is the summary of the last 12 months:

January

Me at Mount Bromo, Indonesia

Me at Mount Bromo, Indonesia

I rang in 2008 in Bandar Seri Begwan in Brunei. As the country is Muslim, and hence doesn’t serve alcohol, it probably isn’t high on the places you want to party on New Year’s Eve. From Brunei I went south by bus to Miri in Sarawka, Malaysia. The bus ride was the first border crossing by land I had on my trip (everything had been island jumping up to that point). I stayed at a longhouse outside of Miri for a few days before flying to Mulu National Park, the place I rated the #1 natural World Heritage site I’ve visited so far.

From Mulu I flew to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia, which requires a totally different passport stamp than Sarawak. The goal there was to climb Mount Kinabalu, but that got nixed due to rain on the mountain. The mountain was stunning and I wish I had better weather to explore.

From Kota Kinabalu I flew to Jakarta and then to Yogjakarta where I visited Borobudur and Prambanan. The volcano which overlooks Yogjakarta, Mount Merapi, was covered in clouds and I was only able to see the summit when I was leaving town. While I was in Indonesia, the long time dictator Sukharto died, and my bus drove through his funeral procession in Solo.

Me and some English students at Prambanan, Indonesia

Me and some English students at Prambanan, Indonesia

On the way to Bali I stopped in Problinggo and visited Mount Bromo, where I took one of my favorite photos: Mount Bromo as Mount Doom. I arrived in Bali at the end of the month and hung out there for about two weeks. The bungalow I had was great and was picked for me by a cab driver to took picked me up at the bus station.

February

I met Dave from GoBackpacking.com in Bali and did the standard tour of the island. Bali is great and I’d never miss an opportunity to go back.

On the way to Australia I flew to East Timor, where I was there for a few days. There isn’t a whole lot to see in East Timor and the country is really in a sad state from so many years of fighting. The morning I left Dili to go to Darwin, there was an assassination attempt on the President and Prime Minister. I didn’t know what was going on at the time, but there was a lot of activity that morning at the airport. When I got to Darwin, a police officer met us on the runway to tell us what happened and if we knew anything, we should contact them.

The rest of the month I spent in Melbourne waiting for my passport to get renewed and for a new bank card to arrive from the US. Melbourne is probably my favorite city in Australia, and one of my favorite in the whole world. I was there at a great time of year, I was a block away from the botanical gardens, and it was overall just swell. That was the longest stretch I stayed in one spot in my entire trip.

March

Climbing the Harbor Bridge, Sydney

Climbing the Harbor Bridge, Sydney

Eventually I left the womb which had become Melbourne and hit the road. I rented a car and drove down the Great Ocean Road and up to Mildura in the outback of Victoria. From there I visited Mungo National Park, which was a very pleasant surprise, and a place I highly recommend.

From Mungo I drove across country Victoria to New South Wales and the Snowy Mountains where I climbed (walked) up Mount Kosciuszko, the highest point in Australia. It sounds much more impressive than it really is. Most of the vertical distance is covered by ski lift.

From there I visited Canberra and the Australian Parliament building and the Australian War Museum, which is actually a very good museum. After Canberra I drove to Sydney where I did my now habitual “stay-too-long-in-a-big-city” routine. I did most of the tourist things there is to do including the Harbor Bridge climb and took my iconic photos of the Sydney Opera house.

At the end of the month I flew to Tasmania where I stayed on Hobart and did some day tours on the island. I froze my butt off there and probably experienced the coldest conditions of my trip. I’d love to go back to Tasmania for a longer stay and be there for warmer weather.

April

Me and a Giant Wrasse on the Great Barrier Reef

Me and a Giant Wrasse on the Great Barrier Reef

April took me back to Sydney for more sitting around, and eventually my trip up the coast to Cairns. The Sydney to Cairns run is probably the most popular trip for people who are exploring Australia. The east coast is the most lush part of the country and in Queensland there are significant tracts of rainforest. I made several stops along the way including Brisbane, Arilie Beach, and Townsville. I was able to visit four World Heritage sites during this stretch: Fraser Island, Great Barrier Reef, Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, and the Wet Tropics of Queensland . My time on Fraser Island was rainy for most of the day, but I did manage to sneak in a short 15 min plane flight over the island where I was able to take some great photos.

In Cairns I once again hung around too long enjoying the weather, but also got to be an underwater photographer for a day with Peter Mooney, a local underwater photographer in Cairns. Most of my good underwater photos are from that day on the reef.

May

My Australian visa was going to expire, so I had to do a visa run. That is easier said than done when you are on an island with no close neighbors. The closest country to Cairns was Papua New Guinea, and I wanted to visit there anyhow, so I decided to go diving in Kimbe Bay on the island of New Britain. I was a bit apprehensive about visiting PNG, but in the end it turned out to be just fine. I stayed at the wonderful Walindi Dive Resort and saw tress full of fireflies, a sunken Japanese Zero, and tons of coral in the warmest water I’ve ever dove in.

The end of May saw me back in Darwin where I visited Kakadu National Park and began my three week voyage across the Outback to Perth.

June

Tropic of Capricorn Sign, Western Australia

Tropic of Capricorn Sign, Western Australia

The trip across Western Australia was one to remember. It is hard to grasp just how big Australia is until you have had to cross it by land. The drive took me to the Bungle Bungles where I saw the bee hive domes, Exmouth where I swam with whale sharks, Shark Bay where I gazed upon the stromatolites, and the oddly colored sand of the Pinnacle Desert north of Perth. I spent about two weeks in Perth (not the best time of year to visit I have to admit) and later went south to spend a week in the Margaret River wine region.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #18: Shrines and Temples of Nikko

Posted by on December 30, 2008

UNESCO World Heritage Site #18: Shrines and Temples of Nikko

UNESCO World Heritage Site #18: Shrines and Temples of Nikko

From the World Heritage inscription:

The shrines and temples of Nikko, together with their natural surroundings, have for centuries been a sacred site known for its architectural and decorative masterpieces. They are closely associated with the history of the Tokugawa Shoguns.

Nikko is a day trip from Tokyo. About two hours away by train, half the trip is via shinkansen (bullet train) and the other half is via a smaller commuter train. Nikko is a small town located in the mountains and surrounded with cedar forests. Nikko is a collection of Shinto and Buddhist temples built from the 16th to 19th century.

You can walk from the train station to the temple area (I did it) but it will take about 30 minutes and the walk is mostly uphill. There are taxis and buses which can drive you to the temple site. Nikko is world famous for a small wood carving on one of the temples: the see no evil, hear no evil, and see no evil monkeys. While I was there, I saw everyone lined up to get their photos taken in front of the same building acting goofy. I had no idea what was going on. I saw the carving, and together with all the mentions of the monkeys in the stores in town, I figured it out.

Visiting Nikko from Tokyo takes a full day, but it is probably the best example of traditional shrines and temples you can see within easy traveling distance from the city.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #17: Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara

Posted by on December 29, 2008

UNESCO World Heritage Site #17: Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara

UNESCO World Heritage Site #17: Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara

From the World Heritage inscription:

Nara was the capital of Japan from 710 to 784. During this period the framework of national government was consolidated and Nara enjoyed great prosperity, emerging as the fountainhead of Japanese culture. The city’s historic monuments – Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and the excavated remains of the great Imperial Palace – provide a vivid picture of life in the Japanese capital in the 8th century, a period of profound political and cultural change.

While in Kyoto, a must day trip is a visit to Nara. In many respects, Nara can be thought of as the sister city to Kyoto. It was the capital of Japan before it was moved to Kyoto and also contains many historic shrines and temples.

The primary building in Nara is the Todaiji Temple (shown above) which is thought to be the largest wooden building in the world. The temple is home to the largest Buddha statue in Japan: The Daibutsu. The current building was finished in 1709 and replaced an even larger structure which was destroyed by fire.

One of the unique features of the city are the small red deer which roam around freely. If you go to the central park in the city, you can buy small packets of crackers to feed the deer, which are quite tame.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #16: Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area

Posted by on December 28, 2008

UNESCO World Heritage Site #16: Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area

UNESCO World Heritage Site #16: Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area

From the World Heritage Inscription:

There are around 48 Buddhist monuments in the Horyu-ji area, in Nara Prefecture. Several date from the late 7th or early 8th century, making them some of the oldest surviving wooden buildings in the world. These masterpieces of wooden architecture are important not only for the history of art, since they illustrate the adaptation of Chinese Buddhist architecture and layout to Japanese culture, but also for the history of religion, since their construction coincided with the introduction of Buddhism to Japan from China by way of the Korean peninsula.

If you are in Kyoto and making a day trip to Nara, make sure to stop in Horyu-ji on the way. Horyu-ji is only a 20 min train ride from Nara, but is the often overlooked by tourists. The main temple is walking distance from the train station and the route to the temple has plenty of signs.

The wooden buildings in Horyu-ji are the oldest wooden buildings in the world. Achieving this feat is really more a matter of luck than anything else. Most wooden buildings over time fall to lightening or cooking fires. The main palace in the Forbidden City in Beijing has been rebuilt several times as have most of the significant buildings in Kyoto and Nara. The buildings of Horyu-ji are believed to also not be original buildings, but having survived from the 8th century, are still the oldest on Earth.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Thailand Expats

Posted by on December 27, 2008

I had Christmas dinner with a group of American/Canadian expats who live in Bangkok. I was invited by Art who runs CrazyDogTravel.com and other websites. Most of the guys were involved in internet/web design so it was nice to be able to talk shop with some similar minded people; something I almost never get to do on the road. It was a buffet in an Indian restaurant which wasn’t bad. It was more than what you would pay for most meals in Bangkok, but it was Christmas so there isn’t really anything to complain about. I got my moneys worth and filled myself with seafood.

It was interesting to be in such a large group of expats, many of which have been in Thailand for over a decade. Most of them have Thai wives or girlfriends and seem to have every intention of staying in Thailand forever.

I’ve probably met more expats in Thailand than anywhere else I’ve been on my trip. I was told by one American guy I met in Vietnam that Pattaya alone is the largest expat community in the world with over 100,000 westerners living there. As he described it, it is one of the only places outside of the western world where you can live without making any of the compromises you have to make in other places. There are tons of golf courses, big box stores, western supermarkets, lots of restaurants and a very low cost of living.

What I found fascinating about the guys I met on Christmas was that they were basically doing the same work they would otherwise have done back in the US. So long as you have an internet connection, you really do have the freedom to live anywhere in the world your want.

One thing I’ve noticed with many of the expats I’ve met in SE Asia (everywhere but Australia actually) is that they are almost always men. The women I meet are usually married to western men, but many of the men are married to local women. I’m curious to see if I see the opposite trend in other parts of the world: expat women marrying local men. If what you see on movies and television is true, you should expect to see more expat women in places like Italy and France.

The idea of moving away from the US is something which is very strange to people who haven’t done much international traveling. The more of the world I see, the more I can understand why people do it. Thailand is a very comfortable place to live and it is also very affordable. There are downsides, but there are plenty of upsides to living abroad. If they had a better connection to the internet, I could see living somewhere like Samoa or Micronesia.

If you are an expat who lives in any country away from your homeland, please leave a comment giving your experiences. I’d especially love to hear how expat experiences might differ between men and women.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #15: Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto

Posted by on December 27, 2008

UNESCO World Heritage Site #15: Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto

UNESCO World Heritage Site #15: Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto

From the World Heritage inscription:

Built in A.D. 794 on the model of the capitals of ancient China, Kyoto was the imperial capital of Japan from its foundation until the middle of the 19th century. As the centre of Japanese culture for more than 1,000 years, Kyoto illustrates the development of Japanese wooden architecture, particularly religious architecture, and the art of Japanese gardens, which has influenced landscape gardening the world over.

If you can only visit one place in Japan, the place to visit is Kyoto. The former imperial capital of Japan, there are seventeen different temples, shrines and buildings in the Kyoto area which are included in the World Heritage property, and that technically doesn’t include the former Imperial Palace (which is still owned and run by the Japanese royal family) or the Fushimi Inari Shrine.

I’d suggest spending at least three days in Kyoto as the attractions are rather spread out and Kyoto is a large city. There are many other, smaller buildings of historical note throughout the city which might be worth visiting. Kyoto has a subway, so getting around is pretty easy.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #14: Himeji-jo

Posted by on December 26, 2008

UNESCO World Heritage Site #14: Himeji-jo

UNESCO World Heritage Site #14: Himeji-jo

From the the World Heritage inscription:

Himeji-jo is the finest surviving example of early 17th-century Japanese castle architecture, comprising 83 buildings with highly developed systems of defence and ingenious protection devices dating from the beginning of the Shogun period. It is a masterpiece of construction in wood, combining function with aesthetic appeal, both in its elegant appearance unified by the white plastered earthen walls and in the subtlety of the relationships between the building masses and the multiple roof layers.

Himeji Castle is a must stop if you are traveling on the Shinkansen (bullet train) between Hiroshima and Kobe. You can stop at Himeji, put your luggage in one of the lockers at the train station and easily walk down the main street to the castle. Himiji-jo is located on a hill in the center of town and is easily visible from the train station.

The castle was built to confuse potential invaders so the interior of the keep is a maze of paths. The castle was never actually attacked, so the fortifications went untested. Unlike many similar castles in Japan (Osaka and Hiroshima), Himeji Castle is the original structure and is not reconstructed.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.