Monthly Archives: December 2008

UNESCO World Heritage Site #8: Historic City of Vigan

Posted by on December 18, 2008

UNESCO World Heritage Site #8: Historic City of Vigan

UNESCO World Heritage Site #8: Historic City of Vigan

From the World Heritage inscription:

Established in the 16th century, Vigan is the best-preserved example of a planned Spanish colonial town in Asia. Its architecture reflects the coming together of cultural elements from elsewhere in the Philippines, from China and from Europe, resulting in a culture and townscape that have no parallel anywhere in East and South-East Asia.

The above photo is of the Vigan Cathedral and the central plaza. The plaza area has small models of the wonders of the world as well as a map of the Philippines with models of the Filipino World Heritage sites on it.

Vigan is a very quaint city and you can tell it is different from most cities in the Philippines the moment you step off the bus. Many of the streets in the central area do not allow automobiles. Most of the old buildings have not be renovated so you get the feel of walking through a old Spanish city.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

UNESCO Word Heritage Site #7: Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras

Posted by on December 17, 2008

UNESCO Word Heritage Site #7: Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras

UNESCO Word Heritage Site #7: Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras

From the World Heritage inscription:

The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras is an outstanding example of an evolved, living cultural landscape that can be traced as far back as two millennia ago in the pre-colonial Philippines. The terraces are located in the remote areas of the Philippine Cordillera mountain range on the northern island of Luzon, Philippine archipelago. While the historic terraces cover an extensive area, the inscribed property consists of five clusters of the most intact and impressive terraces, located in four municipalities. They are all the product of the Ifugao ethnic group, a minority community that has occupied these mountains for thousands of years.

The Rice Terraces of Banaue are considered by many to the be the 8th Wonder of the World. The mountain sides of the area have been carved out to create terraces for rice farming over the last 2,000 years.

This photo is of a local Ifuago woman in traditional dress who let me take her photo for a few pesos. As I’ve seen other photos with her in it, I can only assume she makes money this way.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Off to Chiang Mai

Posted by on December 16, 2008

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.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #6 Baroque Churches of the Philippines

Posted by on December 16, 2008

World Heritage Site #5 Baroque Churches of the Philippines

UNESCO World Heritage Site #6 Baroque Churches of the Philippines

From the World Heritage inscription:

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 in 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.

The photo is a seven exposure high dynamic range photo taken from the choir loft of the church.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

World Heritage Errata

Posted by on December 15, 2008

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 cost 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 dive 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 southern most 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 pennisula on the tip of norther Hokkido in Japan. It was December when I left Japan and the temperature was already cold in Hokkido. 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 havent lived till youve 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.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #3 East Renell

Posted by on December 15, 2008

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.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #3 East Renell

Posted by on December 15, 2008

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.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #5: Te Wahipounamu

Posted by on December 14, 2008

UNESCO World Heritage Site #5: Te Wahipounamu

UNESCO World Heritage Site #5: Te Wahipounamu

From the World Heritage inscription:

The landscape in this park, situated in south-west 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.

Milford Sound is 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.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Top 10 Cultural World Heritage Sites

Posted by on December 13, 2008

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.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #4 – Tongariro National Park, New Zealand

Posted by on December 13, 2008

World Heritage Site #3: Tongariro National Park

World Heritage Site #4: Tongariro National Park

From the World Heritage inscription:

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 treking in New Zealand and is one of the highlight 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.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.