Off to Chiang Mai

My short stint in Udon Thani is over. It was interesting for no other reason than Udon Thani isn’t on the normal tourist route. I did manage to sneak in a trip to World Heritage site #51 yesterday, the Ban Chaing Archeological Area. It was a nice museum, but like the other archeology site I visited at Sangiran, Indonesia, it wasn’t much to look at.

There are definately more cars here than what I’ve gotten used to in Vietnam. More than what I saw in Bangkok or Phuket earlier. Last evening I had a real American night out: dinner at the Sizzler and a movie….yes, they actually have a Sizzler in Udon Thani….and a DQ…..and a KFC.

I’m looking forward to Chiang Mai. This 12 hour bus trip should be my last really long one for quite a while. Chaing Mai has lots of adventure type things to do, the women with the really long necks, and good food. From there to Bangkok there are a few other places I’ll be stopping at, but they should be short hops.

It is looking like I will be in Bangkok for Christmas. Last year I was in Hong Kong and Macau for Christmas. Not being home for Christmas does suck, but so does freezing your ass off, so I guess there is a bit of a trade off.

I’m looking forward to reaching Bangkok. It is going to mark an end for this part of my trip. I’m looking forward to going to the Middle East.

Baroque Churches of the Philippines

World Heritage Site Baroque Churches of the Philippines
Baroque Churches of the Philippines: My 6th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines:

This group of churches established a style of building and design that was adapted to the physical conditions in the Philippines and had an important influence on later church architecture in the region. The four churches are outstanding examples of the Philippine interpretation of the Baroque style and represent the fusion of European church design and construction with local materials and decorative motifs to form a new church-building tradition.

The Church of San Agustin in Manila is the principal property of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines World Heritage Site. San Agustin is the oldest church in the Philippines. The current church dates back to 1607 but previous Spanish churches have existed on the spot going back to 1571. The church has survived several major earthquakes in Manila as well as both American and Japanese bombardment in WWII.

Overview of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines

There are four churches around the Philippines which are included on this site. The churches that were included in this UNESCO World Heritage Site property played a crucial role in the country’s colonial past and identity. Most of these churches were built during the 16th century at the time of the Spanish colonial rule of the country. The churches’ unique design features is the integration of the Spanish and Latin American architectural styles with that of the Philippine indigenous architecture. In fact, the prominence of these churches also provided a glimpse into the power that the Church had in ruling the state during the colonial history.

The Spaniards held a great deal of power during the 15th to 16th century wherein they went on an expedition and colonized many countries. The Philippines was one of those countries. When they landed on the Philippine islands in 1521, they were able to infiltrate the country and establish their rule by spreading Catholicism in the country. They ruled the Philippines for more than three centuries until the country eventually declared its independence from Spain. However, those three centuries of Spanish rule have influenced the way of life in the Philippines – from the language, religion, belief, and architecture, to name a few.

The four churches are:

Church of San Agustin in Manila

The San Agustin Church in Manila features a design that is derived from the Augustinian churches in Mexico. In fact, it bears a strong resemblance to Puebla Cathedral in Puebla, Mexico. It is located in Intramuros, which is in the southern district of Manila. It is the only church that had survived the bombardment during the Second World War.

Given its location in Manila, it is the most popular and visited of the four churches which comprise this world heritage site.

Church of La Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur

Located atop a hill, the Church of La Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion served as a citadel once that profess to how this architectural feat has served several purposes. The two huge columns at the facade of the church are among its most distinctive feature. Meanwhile, the reddish exterior and exposed brickwork define its unique style.

Church of San Agustin in Paoay, Ilocos Norte

Baroque Churches of the Philippines

This particular church was pointed out in the UNESCO listing as the most outstanding example of the Earthquake Baroque Architectural Style. Next to the Paoay Church is a coral stone bell tower. These two are one of the most recognizable landmarks in the country. The fact that the bell tower is detached from the main church building also makes it unique.

Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva in Iloilo

This church, also known as Miagao Church, is built on the highest point in the town of Miagao in Iloilo (to which the church was also named after). The towers of the church also served as a lookout for Muslim raiders. Meanwhile, both the church and its watchtowers were built with secret passages and thick walls to defend from the Muslim raids. It is considered the finest example of “Fortress Baroque”. The facade of the church exemplifies how Filipino churches have adapted Western decorative elements.

The Philippines is no doubt a haven for historical churches. Due to its colonial past and a rich Christian belief, it comes as no surprise how the church is an integral part of the system. In fact, the national government and both public and private sectors work together to safeguard these national treasures. The aim is to preserve and protect the historical and cultural heritage that are tied up with these baroque churches. In addition, they are also rapidly growing as top tourist destinations.


View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Philippines.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Last updated: Jul 28, 2017 @ 11:23 am

World Heritage Errata

Here are a few other lists I’ve compiled from the first 50 World Heritage Sites I’ve visited on my trip:

Most Disappointing

1) Royal Exhibition Building – Australia

Nice, but not that nice.
Nice, but not that nice.
Why this place is a world heritage site is beyond me. Having met people involved with UNESCO, much of what goes into making the list has to do with politics and putting together a good presentation. This really benefits rich western countries. The Royal Exhibition Building is an old building. The end. There are any number of buildings its age around the world, and even in Australia probably, which are as impressive. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice building, but it isn’t THAT nice.

2) Sangiran Early Man – Indonesia
Sangiran is the location of where the fossils of Java man was found. Many other fossils have been found in the area as well, making it a valuable resource for paleontologists. There was really nothing to see here, however. There is only a museum, and a poor one at that. You can’t see any of the actual humanoid fossils. You can’t visit a dig site. I recently visited the Ban Chiang site in Thailand which is also an archeological site, and at least it had a very nice museum.

3) Sydney Opera House – Australia

I think Australia is very good at writing proposals for World Heritage Sites
I think Australia is very good at writing proposals for World Heritage Sites
The Sydney Opera House is an iconic building, but there are lots of iconic buildings which are not on the World Heritage list. I think there should be some sort of age test for a property. If the Sydney Opera House can make it, why not other iconic new buildings like Skydome in Toronto or the Bird’s Nest in Beijing? The Opera House isn’t even that impressive as you get up close. The Harbor Bridge is more deserving than the Opera House. The tile on the building looks like the teeth of someone who has been smoking two packs a day for 20 years.

4) My Son Sanctuary – Vietnam
The Vietnamese have done well with what they have to work with, which isn’t much. My Son is like one of the minor outer temples in the Angkor complex which doesn’t get much tourist traffic. The site itself isn’t very big. Moreover, the condition of the temples is pretty bad as they have been around a lot longer. The ruins are truly ruined. That being said, the visitor center at My Son is nicer than anything you’ll see in Angkor, but that doesn’t change facts of the case.

5) Great Barrier Reef – Australia

The only way to really appreciate the reef is from the air. Preferably from space.
The only way to really appreciate the reef is from the air. Preferably from space.
How could I possibly put the Great Barrier Reef on this list??? The “greatness” of the reef can only be appreciated by looking at a map or from satellite photos. If you are on the coast of Queensland, you’d never know there was a reef because you can’t see it from land. It is an hour boat ride away (at least), and once you are there, it really isn’t different than most other reefs, and you can only appreciate and see the small part of it which is immediately around you. You can get a better reef experience in the Pacific where the reef is very close to the shore and there is a definite lagoon area. The Great Barrier Reef is much more interesting in theory than as a tourist destination. While it gets a lot of tourists because it is in Australia, I wouldn’t put it in the top diving locations I’ve been to. I’m not saying the Great Barrier Reef shouldn’t be a World Heritage Site, only that really isn’t much to see first hand.

The ones I didn’t get to but wish I did

1) Lord Howe Island – Australia
The southernmost coral reef in the world and one of the favorite spots on Earth of the world’s most traveled man, Charles Veley. The photos I’ve seen of the place make me want to go there. It looks stunning. I also hope this show I’m not being too hard on Australia.

2) Komodo – Indonesia
Komodo dragons in the wild. C’mon.

3) Ujung Kulon National Park – Indonesia
This the location of Krakatoa which erupted in the 19th century. It was the largest volcanic explosion in recorded human history.

4) Shiretoko – Japan
Shiretoko is a peninsula on the tip of northern Hokkaido in Japan. It was December when I left Japan and the temperature was already cold in Hokkaido. I’d love to come back in the summer and visit.

5) Haeinsa Temple – South Korea
I also skipped this due to the cold snap in South Korea when i was there. Haeinsa Temple has a program where you can stay overnight with the monks. The temple itself is the home to some of the oldest Buddhist writings in the world.

Ones I wish I had spent more time at

1) Tongariro National Park – New Zealand
My stay in New Zealand was somewhat hurried because I had to book tickets out of the country before I got there. I would like to have gone hiking in the area.

2) Kinabalu National Park- Malaysia
Hiking to the summit of Kinabalu is doable for anyone in reasonable health. It is usually a two-day trip and you time it so you are at the peak at sunrise. Weather conditions on the mountain prevented me from making the attempt.

3) Shark Bay – Australia
I had spent a good amount of time and money in Exmouth diving and swimming with the whale sharks. Had not been so burned out from weeks of driving across Western Australia, I might have spent more time here. I did get to spend quality time with the stromatolites at least.

Places which should be World Heritage sites but aren’t

1) Nan Modal – Federated States of Micronesia

More people should know about Nan Modal
More people should know about Nan Modal
This site is on a par with Easter Island in my mind, yet it isn’t even one of the proposed sites on the Micronesia list. I think the property is privately owned, but I’m not positive. Nan Modal is reason enough to visit Micronesia, and there are a lot of other reasons. I always talk up Micronesia when people ask for suggestions for where to travel. It isn’t easy to get there from anywhere, but it is well worth the trip. This is an easy #1 in my mind.

2) Rock Islands/Jellyfish Lakes – Palau
The lagoon area around Koror is one of the most unique aquatic environments on Earth. The jellyfish lakes are one of a kind. Why this isn’t a World Heritage site is beyond me. If it were, it might have been #1 on my list of natural attractions. It is just that good. I highly recommend travel to Palau.

3) Temples of Bali – Indonesia
I bet most people assume that Bali would be on the list. It isn’t. If the list is about identifying and trying to protect important cultural sites, the Balinese culture is one of the most unique on Earth.

4) Gregory National Park – Australia
Home to Australian boab trees, it was a place that I was surprised to discover when I drove through it from Darwin to Purnululu.

5) Victoria Harbor – Hong Kong
The harbor of Hong Kong is more impressive than Sydney. I’d lump Victoria Peak on here and some of the classic buildings of the area. The feeling I had watching sunset on the harbor and watching the lights of Hong Kong turn on is one of my most memorable.

6) Blowholes of Savai’i – Samoa

You haven't lived till you've seen a man throw a coconut into a hole and then watch nature toss that coconut 100 feet into the air.
You haven't lived till you've seen a man throw a coconut into a hole and then watch nature toss that coconut 100 feet into the air.
Watching the blowholes on Savai’i was like watching the fountains of the Bellagio on steroids. An awesome display of nature and one of the most impressive and fun things I’ve seen during my travels. It isn’t even promoted as heavily in Samoa as some other attractions. I don’t think the Samoans are even considering this for inclusion. Tonga also has some impressive blowholes, but not quite as cool as Samoa. It is a trick even finding the blowholes. There is little in the way of signs or facilities when you get there. It is worth the trip if you are ever in Samoa.

7) Hawaiian Cultural Sites of the Big Island
There are three different locations in the National Park Service on the Big Island which celebrate Hawaiian culture. I think they should all be included as a unit. The only site dedicated to Pacific culture is Easter Island, and that really is more about the maoi than anything else.

8) City of Napier – New Zealand
Several cities I’ve visited have been given World Heritage status for the whole town. Napier is an art deco town, and I don’t think there are many of those in the world.

East Rennell

East Rennell: UNESCO World Heritage Site
East Rennell: UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription:

East Rennell makes up the southern third of Rennell Island, the southernmost island in the Solomon Island group in the western Pacific. Rennell, 86 km long x 15 km wide, is the largest raised coral atoll in the world. The site includes approximately 37,000 ha and a marine area extending 3 nautical miles to sea. A major feature of the island is Lake Tegano, which was the former lagoon on the atoll. The lake, the largest in the insular Pacific (15,500 ha), is brackish and contains many rugged limestone islands and endemic species. Rennell is mostly covered with dense forest, with a canopy averaging 20 m in height. Combined with the strong climatic effects of frequent cyclones, the site is a true natural laboratory for scientific study. The site is under customary land ownership and management.

East Rennell

The photo above is that of Lake Lake Te Nggano on the island of Rennell in the Solomon Islands. The lake is a brackish water lake which is about 100m above sea level. The lake is home to the widest diversity of birds in the Pacific. The World Heritage Site is unique for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is the only location which is owned by customary land ownership. The people of Rennell are Polynesian, where as the rest of the Solomons are Melanesian. The remoteness of the island, coupled with the 100m cliffs surrounding the island, and the customary land ownership has protected the island from logging and mining, whereas the rest of the Solomons has been severely deforested.

The large version of the panorama is an enormous photo, so it might take some time to load.

My trip to Rennell was one of the most memorable of my trip, if only for the difficulty and remoteness of the island. You can read my three part report on Rennell here: part 1, part 2, part 3.

Where is East Rennell Located?

East Rennell is located in the southern part of Solomon Islands’ Rennell Island. It is also the southernmost island in the Western Pacific. The entire property covered within this UNESCO listing is estimated to be about 37,000 hectares.

In order to get to East Rennell, you need to take a flight from Honiara to Rennell Island. From there, you have to drive through a rugged road that date back to World War II. It is one of the most difficult to visit World Heritage Sites listed by UNESCO. There are several villages that surround the lake and most of the island. The villagers use power boat as a means of transport and for fishing. The villagers lead a relatively remote and simple life.

How to Get to East Rennell

The only real way to get to the island of Rennell are flights on Solomon Airlines which fly from the capital of Honiara a few times a week. Once you are on Rennell, you have to travel by land to Lake Te Nggano. While only 20 miles, this part of the trip can be incredibly long. It is also the most expensive part of the trip, as getting cars and fuel on the island can be very expensive. Once you reach the lake you have to take a boat to one of the lodges which are on the other side of the lake. Expect the trip to take the better part of an entire day.

Natural Value of East Rennell

East Rennell

The World Heritage property of East Rennell comprises a third of the Rennell Island’s southernmost part and includes up to 3 km of marine area located offshore. Lake Tegano is one of the primary features of this property. It was the former lagoon of the atoll and is the largest lake in the Pacific region. The brackish water is a notable feature of the lake along with the rugged limestone islets that surround it.

The ecological and biological processes in East Rennell combine to offer it natural value enough to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition, it is the site of frequent cyclones and other similar climactic conditions making it the perfect place to study the effects of the climate on an island.

Finally, East Rennell is notable for providing a natural habitat for a high number of endemic avifauna species. There are also 10 endemic plant species in the island.

Threat to East Rennell

East Rennell

East Rennell is included among the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger. The threat of logging in Rennell Island continues to deplete the outstanding natural value of the island and its surrounding features.

Prior to the logging problems in East Rennell, the authorities have been able to curtail mining and commercial fishing, which also posed a huge threat to the integrity of this UNESCO site. The logging continues to be an issue and it could threaten the long-term survival of the endemic bird and other wildlife species that inhabit the ecosystem and forests in East Rennell and all of Rennell Island.


View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Solomon Islands.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Last updated: Jul 28, 2017 @ 10:57 am

UNESCO World Heritage Site #3 East Renell

UNESCO World Heritage Site #3 East Renell
UNESCO World Heritage Site #3 East Renell

From the World Heritage inscription:

East Rennell makes up the southern third of Rennell Island, the southernmost island in the Solomon Island group in the western Pacific. Rennell, 86 km long x 15 km wide, is the largest raised coral atoll in the world. The site includes approximately 37,000 ha and a marine area extending 3 nautical miles to sea. A major feature of the island is Lake Tegano, which was the former lagoon on the atoll. The lake, the largest in the insular Pacific (15,500 ha), is brackish and contains many rugged limestone islands and endemic species. Rennell is mostly covered with dense forest, with a canopy averaging 20 m in height. Combined with the strong climatic effects of frequent cyclones, the site is a true natural laboratory for scientific study. The site is under customary land ownership and management.

This is a photo of Lake Lake Te Nggano on the island of Rennell in the Solomon Islands. The lake is a brackish water lake which is about 100m above sea level. The lake is home to the widest diversity of birds in the Pacific. The World Heritage Site is unique for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is the only location which is owned by customary land ownership. The people of Rennell are Polynesian, where as the rest of the Solomons are Melanesian. The remoteness of the island, coupled with the 100m cliffs surrounding the island, and the customary land ownership has protected the island from logging and mining, whereas the rest of the Solomons has been severely deforested.

The large version of the panorama is an enormous photos, so it might take some time to load.

My trip to Rennell was one of the most memorable of my trip, if only for the difficulty and remoteness of the island. You can read my three part report on Rennell here: part 1, part 2, part 3.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Te Wahipounamu

Te Wahipounamu UNESCO World Heritage Site, New Zealand
Te Wahipounamu UNESCO World Heritage Site, New Zealand

From the World Heritage inscription for Te Wahipounamu:

The landscape in this park, situated in southwest New Zealand, has been shaped by successive glaciations into fjords, rocky coasts, towering cliffs, lakes, and waterfalls. Two-thirds of the park is covered with southern beech and podocarps, some of which are over 800 years old. The kea, the only alpine parrot in the world, lives in the park, as does the rare and endangered takahe, a large flightless bird.

Te Wahipounamu is the Maori name for the area which includes Milford Sound, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. I had the pleasure of going there after it had been raining for 24 hours straight. The rain created countless small waterfalls along the sides of the fjord.

Overview of Te Wahipounamu

https://photos.smugmug.com/Pacific/New-Zealand/Milford-Sound/i-NSVvFZw/0/XL/534185873_ccc05e56fc_o-XL.jpgThere are four key components that make up Te Wahipounamu: Fiordland (home of Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound), Westland, Mt. Cook and Mt. Aspiring. The entire area covered by the UNESCO property spans a total of 26,000 kilometers. This means that the park alone makes up for 1/10th of the size of New Zealand!

Therefore, describing Te Wahipounamu as massive is a bit of an understatement. Milford Sound is the most popular of the sites covered by this property. In fact, the area is welcoming a record number of tourists over the past few years.

This UNESCO World Heritage is also notable for containing the best modern representation of Gondwana’s flora and fauna species. In fact, this was one of the primary reasons why it was inscribed by UNESCO.

Landscape

The landscape formations of Te Wahipounamu are all about variety. When you see photos of the site, you will often find snow-capped mountains and valleys. These mountains and valleys no doubt dominate the landscape in the property. Within those mountains and valleys are deep lakes and rivers of ice. Meanwhile, there are also waterfalls of all shapes and sizes, together with fjords.

Te Wahipounamu

In the middle of the mountains and valleys tucked unbroken forests and grasslands. Not only do these forest and grasslands showcase the exceptional natural beauty, but they also serve as habitat for a wide range of wildlife species. Various plants and animal species can be found within the region.

Cultural Significance

The land covered by Te Wahipounamu is a sacred and culturally important site for Ngai Tahu. The mountains and valleys within the property are known as places of gods. The landscape in the area is an important cultural identifier for the Ngai Tahu and their ancestors. In Maori language, Te Wahipounamu translates to “Place of Greenstone”. Therefore, their ancestors claim to have settled in and thrived in these landscapes during the ancient times.


View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in New Zealand.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Last updated: Jul 28, 2017 @ 11:03 am

Top 10 Cultural World Heritage Sites

There are the top 10 World Heritage Sites of cultural significance I’ve visited so far on my trip, which Includes East Asia, the Pacific, SE Asia and Australia.

10) Temple Complex of Prambanan – Indonesia

The main temples of Prambanan
The main temples of Prambanan
Prambanan is only about 20km from Borobudur, but it is centuries apart. Prambanan is a Hindu temple dating back before the arrival of Buddhism. It was recently damaged in the earthquake of 2006, but still is an impressive early Javanese Hinduism. Some of the architectural styles you can find at ruins such as My Son or Angkor can also witnessed at Prambanan. The one/two punch of Prambanan and Borobudur make a trip to Yogjakarta a must-do if you are ever traveling to Bali or Jakarta.


9) Willandra Lakes Region – Australia
Ancient wombat bones sticking out of the ground in Mungo
Ancient wombat bones sticking out of the ground in Mungo
The center of the Willandra Lakes Region is Mungo National Park. Mungo could easily have been placed on the list of natural sites, but I placed it on the cultural list because it is the home of the earliest known modern human remains on Earth. Many archeological finds which generate attention claim to find human ancestors which date back millions of years. However, they are not homo sapian, they are just related to us. The bones discovered in Mungo are humans like you and me. Found on the shore of an ancient lake which formed during the last ice age, the remains at Mungo show humans engaged in cremation as well as the debris from their life on the shore of the lake. When i was there, the temperature was around 43C (110F).


8) Shrines and Temples of Nikko – Japan
Shrine with autum colors in Nikko
Shrine with autum colors in Nikko
Nikko is a small mountain village about 2 hours out of Tokyo by train. In the hills and amongst the pine trees you will find the temples of Nikko. Nikko is home to several Shinto and Buddhist shrines. The main temple area is about a 20 min walk (uphill) from the train station and you can easily spend several hours amongst the various temples. The most famous thing from Nikko are the hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil monkeys which are a carving on one of the temple buildings.


7) Gyeongju – South Korea
Cheomseongdae Observatory in Gyeongju
Cheomseongdae Observatory in Gyeongju
Gyeongju is to Korea what Kyoto is to Japan, a former royal capital. The big difference is that Korea has been the victim of many more wars over the years, so what is remaining is much less than what you will find in Japan. In addition to the many royal burial mounds, Gyeongju is home to the South Korean national museum, which has an excellent display of Korean artifacts and overview of Korean history. A very short trip from Gyeongju is another World Heritage site, the Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple.


6) Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara – Japan
Todaiji Temple in Nara is believed to be the largest wooden building in the world
Todaiji Temple in Nara is believed to be the largest wooden building in the world
Before Tokyo there was Kyoto, and before Kyoto there was Nara. Nara is smaller and doesn’t have quite as many temples as Kyoto, but in many respects is more impressive. The Todaiji Temple is the largest wooden building in the world and houses the largest Buddha statue in Japan: The Daibutsu. You will also find very tame red deer roaming around the city, which you can feed as well as many other smaller temples. Nara is a also a very short train ride from Horyuji Temple which is the home of the oldest wooden buildings on Earth.



5) Borobudur – Indonesia

Borobudur is so big, I couldnt fit it all in with the widest lens I have.
Borobudur is so big, I couldn't fit it all in with the widest lens I have.
Having been to Angkor, I have a much greater appreciation for Borobudur. The largest Buddhist temple in the world, Borobudur was lost to all but the local residents until the beginning of the 20th Century. It was buried under volcanic ash and forest overgrowth. It is still being restored by the Indonesian government. Borobudur is one of the most under appreciated monuments in the world and deserves to be on any list of top attractions in the world.


4) Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto – Japan
The orange gates of the Fushimi-inari Shrine in Kyoto
The orange gates of the Fushimi-inari Shrine in Kyoto
If you can visit only one place in Japan, it would have to be Kyoto. Kyoto is the former Imperial capital of Japan and probably has more history per square meter than anywhere else in Japan. It was well represented on my Seven Wonders of Japan list. There were several highlights for me including the Fushiri-Inari Shrine with its countless orange gates, the Golden Pavilion, and the Todai Temple. Kyoto has undergone many changes over the last several decades and many of the old houses have been destroyed to make way for modern buildings.


3) Rice Terraces of Banaue – Philippines
Ifugao Woman at Rice Terraces
Ifugao Woman at Rice Terraces
When you are at Banaue, you will find it hard to believe that people actually made this. All around you the entire mountain side has been sculpted into rice terraces over thousands of years. They are still being used by the same people for the same purpose today. In the promotional material they describe it the largest construction created without forced human labor (probably referring to the pyramids).The only downside the Banaue is that there are about 20,000 people who live there, all strung out along the road, most of whom live in shanties. The growth in the area is sort of an eye sore, but there are still plenty of areas where the terraces are as they were long ago. It is nail biting eight hour bus ride from Manila. There are other places in Asia where you will find hillsides with rice terraces, but nothing close to the scale you will find in Banaue.


2) Rapa Nui National Park – Easter Island, Chile
Moai on Easter Island
Moai on Easter Island
If you know what Easter Island is then it should come as no surprise that it is on the list. The most isolated island on Earth, Easter Island about 2,000km from the closest spec of land, and 2,500km from the nearest inhabited island. Nonetheless, people migrated here and created a civilization unlike any other. Much of the “mystery” surrounding Easter Island comes from the fact that the island’s population was destroyed by civil war, disease brought by Europeans, and enslavement by Peruvians. In addition to the famous stone maoi, there was also a bird man cult which developed on the island after the destruction of most of the maoi. The only flights to Easter Island are from Tahiti or Santiago, Chile.


1) Angkor – Cambodia
Ruin temple at Angkor
Ruin temple at Angkor
If you go look at Google Earth and zoom in to Cambodia, you will quickly find Angkor because many of the moats can be easily seen in the satellite photos. Look for the big rectangles. You could spend a week visiting temples and still not see everything there. Visiting Angkor gives you an appreciation for the size and scale of the Khmer Empire, something which is almost never mentioned in history as it is taught in the West. Angkor did not make the list of the New Seven Wonders I think, only because the list was determined by voting and Cambodia has fewer people than India, China or Brazil.

Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park
Tongariro National Park: My 4th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for Tongariro National Park:

In 1993 Tongariro became the first property to be inscribed on the World Heritage List under the revised criteria describing cultural landscapes. The mountains at the heart of the park have cultural and religious significance for the Maori people and symbolize the spiritual links between this community and its environment. The park has active and extinct volcanoes, a diverse range of ecosystems and some spectacular landscapes.

You have probably seen images from Tongariro National Park before without knowing it. Mt. Ngaruhoe which is inside the park was made famous as the fictional Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies. It is a popular location for skiing and trekking in New Zealand and is one of the highlights of the North Island. It is a day’s drive from Auckland and should be on your list of places to visit if you ever find yourself on the North Island.

How to Tongariro National Park

It is easy to get to Tongariro National Park. The starting point of your journey is in Tongariro Alpine Crossing wherein you will be traversing good quality and paved roads with a stunning scenery. Another starting point would be at Whakapapa ski area at Mt. Ruapehu. Both of these starting points require a travel time of 20 to 35 minutes in order to get to Tongariro National Park.

If you are starting off from Lake Taupo township, the travel time can be up to 1 hour and 35 minutes. All of these jump off points provide a unique view that you can enjoy along the way.

Basic Facts About Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park

  • The Tongariro National Park is the first national park in New Zealand (the fourth in the world). When it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it became one of few sites that held dual status as a national park and world heritage site. That is also when it gained international significance and attention.
  • The park showcases the importance of the Maori culture and spiritual associations in the region. Plus, it highlights the volcanic features in the area. It is therefore, a mixed site recognized for its natural and cultural value.
  • There are three volcanoes within the park: Mount Ruapehu (2,797 meters), Mount Ngauruhoe (2,291 meters) and Mount Tongariro (1,968 meters). The volcanic activity and eruptions contributed to the geological formations in this region of New Zealand.
  • The climate in the park is a temperate zone. It also gets a significant amount of rain fall. But temperatures can drastically change even within a day. The average temperature is 13 degree Celsius. In the summer, it can go up to 25 degree Celsius while winter temperature can average at -10 degree Celsius.
  • The Tongariro National Park is visited by approximately 1 million visitors annually.

Tourist Activities

The rich biodiversity in the national park offers plenty of tourist activities in the area. The most popular of these activities is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. More than 70,000 hikers go to this park each year to conquer and complete this hike. It is considered to be one of the best hiking trails in the world as it offers fine views of the Mount Taranaki and Lake Taupo.

In addition to hiking, tourists also love to ski in the park. There are several ski areas in Mount Ruapehu and tourists flock here during ski season that kicks off in July. For non-skiers, tubing and tobogganing are other popular activities.


View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in New Zealand.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Last updated: Jul 28, 2017 @ 11:01 am

Last Call for Lao

Tonight is my last night in Vientiane. While it is a very nice city, there isn’t a whole lot here and I really need to get moving. Tomorrow I’ll be taking a bus to Udon Thani, Thailand which is a 2 hour bus ride over the border. (Knowing my luck, it will turn into a 10 hour ride)

My only concern is that they are only giving out 15 day visas when you enter Thailand by land, as opposed to 30 day visas when you fly in. I don’t think I’ll need more than 15 days, but I’d like to be safe. I’d like to have a bit more breathing room than 2 weeks to do all I want to do in Northern Thailand.

The internet here is much worse than Luang Prabang which is surprising. It is one of the worst connections I’ve experienced on my trip. I am unable to upload any photos. If nothing else, I should (hope to) be able to do so in Thailand.

If I wasn’t trying to pick up the pace, I would like to have spent more time in Laos. There is a lot here to explore. While tourism is picking up, it is still vastly under appreciated compared to its neighbors.

I’ve eaten well since I’ve arrived in Vientiane. There are “restaurants” set up along ther Mekong. They aren’t much more than tarps and a BBQ, but the food they serve is cheap and good. I’ve had several fish cooked with lemongrass in their mouth and salt rubbed on the skin, frogs, excellent pork ribs, and very cheap Lao beer.

Today I took my camera and visited all the big Vientiane attractions, which isn’t a very long list.

I am reaching a point where I need to start thinking of where I am going to spend Christmas. The only reason is because it is a busy time for hotels and flights. Thailand tourism has been hurt because of the protests, so staying a bit longer in Bangkok might not be a bad idea at this point. I can catch up on all the movies I’ve missed over the last several months too.