Monthly Archives: January 2009

Ha Long Bay

Posted by on January 31, 2009

UNESCO World Heritage Site #49: Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay: My 49th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for Ha Long Bay:

Ha Long Bay, located in the Gulf of Tonkin, within Quang Ninh Province, in the northeast of Vietnam, is165 km from the capital of Ha Noi. Covering an area of 43,400 ha and including over 1600 islands and islets, most of which are uninhabited and unaffected by humans, it forms a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars and is an ideal model of a mature Karst landscape developed during a warm and wet tropical climate. The property’s exceptional scenic beauty is complemented by its great biological interest.

The outstanding value of the property is centered around the drowned limestone karst landforms, displaying spectacular pillars with a variety of coastal erosional features such as arches and caves which form a majestic natural scenery. The repeated regression and transgression of the sea on the limestone karst over geological time has produced a mature landscape of clusters of conical peaks and isolated towers which were modified by sea invasion, adding an extra element to the process of lateral undercutting of the limestone towers and islands.

Ha Long BayHa Long Bay might be the best natural heritage site in SE Asia (excluding Borneo).

They typical Ha Long Bay excursion will be a 3-4 hour bus ride from Hanoi and a 1 or 2-night stay on a junk in Ha Long Bay. There are also options to stay in nearby Cat Ba National Park.

One of the unique features of Ha Long Bay are the women who sell snacks and drinks from their boats. They will row up to the anchored junks to sell things to tourists. The woman in the above photo had a boat full of soft drinks, potato chips, and candy.

Overview

Ha Long Bay is located in Northern Vietnam and is one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. Aside from being popular with tourists, it is also a culturally recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site. The bay is well known for its scenic karst topography, which is a subject of many popular photos of Vietnam.

The term “Ha Long Bay” literally translates to “Bay of Descending Dragons”. However, it was not until in the 19th century when this name was officially designated. It was known in ancient times as simply Luc Thuy or An Bang. This natural heritage site was inscribed into the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Vietnam list in 1994; there were extensions to the property that were added in 2000.

About Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay is made up of a dense cluster of more than 1,600 monolithic limestone islands. Each of these limestone islands are topped with thick vegetation that rise from the ocean. Some of these monolithic island are hollow though; there are enormous caves within that can be explored (while others remain unexplored). The largest grotto within Ha Long Bay is the Hang Dau Go, also known as the Wooden Stakes cave. In the end of the 19th century, French tourists visited the cave and named it Grottes des Merveilles. It is made up of three large chambers with plenty of stalactites and stalagmites.

Within the Ha Long Bay are two bigger islands: Cat Ba and Tuan Chau. These islands have permanent human inhabitants and tourist facilities (such as beaches and hotels). You can also find several other gorgeous beaches in many smaller islands within the bay.

Currently, there are four fishing villages within Ha Long Bay. All of these villages combine to have around 1,600 people living in them. The communities are made up of floating houses that get their sustenance through fishing and marine aquaculture.

Aside from the monolithic islands, caves and beaches, lakes are important features of Ha Long Bay too. There are plenty of them inside the limestone islands.

How to Get Here

Ha Long Bay

The best way to get to Ha Long Bay is to book a cruise tour. There are several tour companies in Vietnam that provide a cruise on the Ha Long Bay for one day or several days – you can choose your desired package. Either way, this tour will include transfers to and from the bay. It is also a good way to immerse into the way the locals live in the floating communities.

If you are traveling to Ha Long Bay on your own, you can go to Halong City or Bai Chay. You must then go to Bai Chay Tourist Wharf to book a boat trip that will take you to Ha Long Bay.

What to Know

Before you visit Ha Long Bay, these tips can come in handy:

  • The best time to visit Ha Long Bay is from October to December. This is when the temperature are not too high or too low.
  • If you want to avoid the peak season, do not travel from late May to early August.
  • If you go from May to September, expect a lot of tropical storms. This means that tourist boats are not allowed to cruise the bay when there are storms.
  • When you visit in January to March, that is when the temperature is at its lowest. There is also a lot of fog that could make the visibility level low.

View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Vietnam.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Apr 13, 2017 @ 12:21 am

Q&A #1

Posted by on January 30, 2009

I sent the word out on Twitter to see if people had any questions for me about my travels. Here are the first batch. I’ll be doing this every so often, so make sure to follow me on Twitter if you’d like me to answer a question.

@feureau If you could pick one place to live in for the rest of your life from all the places you’ve been to, which one will it be?

@Traveling_Man Yo Traveling Man, Just curious of all the places you been to, where would you consider rooting down for awhile?

That’s a hard question to answer. I’d want a place with good internet connectivity. That rules out many of the countries in the Pacific, even though I really enjoyed those places. Japan and Korea get cold, so those are out. I like Melbourne, but it can get sort of cold in the winter as well and Australian internet always bothered me. Noumea, New Caledonia is nice but expensive. Too much air pollution in Manila. Kuala Lumpur is nice, but sort of boring. Dubai I’ll explain in an upcoming post.

I suppose my short list based on places I’ve been so far would be: Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, Auckland, Honolulu, Taipei, Cairns and Brisbane.

@HomeBiss Yes, I have a question. Can people use your travel photos?

It depends on what you want to use them for. If you want to sell prints, the answer is no. If you want to use it for a blog post, you usually just need to send me an email telling me you want to use it and provide a link to my site. I will usually want something in return. It doesn’t have to be money, it could just be a link back to my site.

Your best bet is to send me an email (gary at everything-everywhere.com) and just ask.

@Neil_Duckett How much have you spent? More or less than you’d budgeted and hoped?

I’ve probably spent about $60,000 over the last two years not including the purchase of my electronics. That amount isn’t evenly distributed. I spent way more in Australia and the Pacific than I did in SE Asia. I have tried to keep a mental budget of about $100/day. I tend to avoid dorm rooms in hostels and use the internet more than most people do, and I never cook my own meals, so I’m sure I could reduce my costs even more if I had to. I also travel alone, so any time I could share costs with someone, I am not able to. Here in Dubai I’ve spent more than $100/day just because hotel rooms are expensive.

$60,000 sounds like a lot (and it is), but if you consider how much it costs to live in a western country for two years (rent/mortgage, car payments, fuel, food, utilities, etc) you are probably looking at a sum very similar. $60,000 works out to about $82/day. Just like with travel, you could spend less or more depending on your lifestyle. If I hadn’t visited some of the more obscure places and did more things to limit my expenses, I’m sure I could have spent about 1/3 less than what I have.

@gtowna Is life on an isolated atoll in the middle of the Pacific all it’s cracked up to be — would you spend the rest of your days there?

No way in hell. People have these island fantasies because they see a pretty photo with a white sand beach and a palm tree. Atolls are nothing but long stretches of calcium carbonate (coral). It is very hard to grow anything, there is little in the way of materials to build anything, they are difficult to get to because you have to get across a reef, and you have no fresh water. All the water you have to drink has to come from catching rain water. Because you are only a foot above sea level, you are subject to getting washed away with every storm that hits.

There are three countries in the Pacific which are nothing abut atolls: Marhsall Islands, Kiribati, and Tuvalu. All are dirt poor and people are leaving in droves. Atolls are places where people washed ashore and survived, not places that people migrated to, to thrive.

A more idyllic island would be one with a mountain in the middle of the island. It has more vegetation, probably has streams or maybe a spring for water, you have a place to go in the event of a storm or tsunami, and just more land. Samoa, Fiji or Rarotonga better fit the bill.

Complex of Hué Monuments

Posted by on January 30, 2009

World Heritage Site #48: Complex of Hué Monuments From the World Heritage inscription for the Complex of Hué Monuments:

The Complex of Hue Monuments is located in and around Hue City in Thua Thien-Hue Province in the geographical center of Vietnam and with easy access to the sea. Established as the capital of unified Vietnam in 1802 CE, Hue was not only the political but also the cultural and religious center under the Nguyen Dynasty, the last royal dynasty of Vietnamese history, from 1802 to 1945 CE.

The plan of the new capital is in accordance with an ancient oriental philosophy and respected the physical conditions of the site.
The Ngu Binh Mountain (known as the Royal Screen) and the Perfume River, which runs through the city, give this unique feudal capital an entire setting of great natural beauty as well defining its symbolic importance. The site was chosen for a combination of natural features – hills representing a protective screen in front of the monuments or taking the role of “a blue dragon” to the left and “a white tiger” to the right – which shielded the main entrance and prevented the entry of malevolent spirits. Within this landscape, the main features of the city are laid out.

The structures of the Complex of Hue Monuments are carefully placed within the natural setting of the site and aligned cosmologically with the Five Cardinal Points (centre, west, east, north, south), the Five Elements (earth, metal, wood, water, fire), and the Five Colours (yellow, white, blue, black, red).
The central structure is the Hue Citadel area which was the administrative center of southern Viet Nam during the 17th and 18th centuries CE. Within the Hue Citadel were located not only administrative and military functions of the Empire but also the Imperial Residence, the Hoang Thanh (Imperial City), the Tu Cam Thanh (Forbidden Purple City) and related royal palaces.

Tran Binh Dai, an additional defensive work in the north-east corner of the Capital City, was designed to control movement on the river. Another fortress, Tran Hai Thanh, was constructed a little later to protect the capital against assault from the sea.

Complex of Hué MonumentsHue is analogous to other Asian cities such as Kyoto, Gyeongju, and Nanjing in that it is a former imperial city. Unlike the other cities, the history doesn’t date back nearly as far. The current structures only date back to the early 19th century.

There actual city of Hue is pretty large; almost one million people. The history part of the city consists of the walled outer city and the walled inner city, which contains the royal residences. Most of the royal buildings are undergoing renovation/reconstruction and there currently isn’t much to see.

In addition to the walled city, the Thien Mu Pagoda (shown above) is also part of the World Heritage site and is located on the river several kilometers out of the city. You can easily get there via bicycle rickshaw.

Overview

The City of Hue in Vietnam is often referred to as the “Imperial City”. It is best known for the walled palace within the citadel, which is the Complex of Hué Monuments recognized by UNESCO as an important cultural site. This city also served as the former Imperial capital of Vietnam. It was built in the late 14th century (specifically in 1362) and was completed after 203 years. The building is considered an important symbol of wealth and power. This site was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Vietnam in 1993.

The layout of this monument can be broken down as follows: Imperial City gates, Purple Forbidden City main gates, outer court, temples and places of worship, inner court, gardens, and pavilions.

History: Complex of Hué Monuments

Complex of Hué Monuments

The city of Hue is located along the banks of Huong River (also known as the Perfume River), which is about 3 hours from Da Nang. The former imperial capital features several historic structures within the Complex of Hué Monuments. However, the most impressive of them all would have to be the Ngo Mon Gate. Once upon a time, this was available exclusively for the royal family and their servants only. Within this structure, you will also find the tombs of Emperor Minh Mang and Tu Duc. During the Nguyen Dynasty (the last royal dynasty in Vietnam), it served as the political, cultural and religious center.

Several of the structures within the Complex of Hué Monuments were built during the onset of the 19th century. They were modeled after the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. The citadel is surrounded by 6-meters high and 2-and-a-half kilometers long walls.

The Complex of Hué Monuments is known for the rich architectural details and the exquisite landscape features. However, the cultural and historical importance of the site should not be overlooked. The layout of the monuments and structures are also based on the cosmological alignment. Specifically, they represent the Five cardinal points (east, west, north, south and center) in relation to the Five elements of nature (earth, metal, wood, fire, and water).

Tips for Visiting

Here are some simple reminders when you plan to visit the Complex of Hué Monuments:

  • The site is open all year round. Hence, you can visit any time of the year.
  • The monsoon season is from October to December. You should avoid planning your visit during this time if you want to maximize your visit at the site.
  • The entire property measure at over 315 hectares in land area.

How to Get Here

Complex of Hué Monuments

To get to the Imperial City of Hue and see the historic monuments, there are several transportation options. For international visitors, you can take any flight to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh city. From there, you can take another flight to Hue’s Phu Bai Airport. There are currently three airline companies that service flights to this airport. Once you reach the airport, you must travel 15 kilometers to reach the city center.

Another option is to travel by train. You can travel from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City to Hue as there are several trips during the day. Other travel options include bus or car.

The Heritage Site Today

The Complex of Hué Monuments in Vietnam has been through 3 wars. Those wars have left an imprint on the state of the structures, such that some of the monuments and structures are nearing destruction. The modern development and human settlement near the area have also somewhat contributed to the decline of the monuments in terms of the integrity of the structure. Nonetheless, since the site had been named into the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Vietnam was able to preserve its condition. In fact, it was a key focus of the conservation team to preserve the key elements that were linked to the cultural value of the site such as the town planning and monumental arts.


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Vietnam.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Apr 13, 2017 @ 12:10 am

The Musandam Experience

Posted by on January 30, 2009

I am back from Oman and in Dubai for a few days before moving on. I am still having issues with finding a good internet connection anywhere in the Middle East. I still have photos from Thailand I have to upload. The hotel I’m at now in Dubai put a 120mb cap on bandwidth, which can easily be achieved without downloading any big files or watching video.

My trip to Musandam was interesting to say the least. The ferry which goes from Muscat to Musandam is perhaps the worst run business I have ever witnessed in my life. The ferry (of which there are two) is very expensive. I’ve read they cost US$60m each. They are high speed, diesel powered catamarans designed to carry 56 cars and 220 passengers from Muscat to Khasab, the largest city in Musandam. Because Musandam is separated from the rest of Oman, the ferry is designed to eliminate the need for two border crossings when you have to pass into the UAE.

Why is this a horrible business?

  1. The car ferry has never transported a car. In the excitement to have the world’s fastest ferry, they never built a ferry terminal to support loading cars onto the boat. It only carries passengers right now. I have seen no activity towards building an actual terminal for cars.
  2. The flight to Khasab is 55 minutes versus 5 hours for the ferry. The cost is the same. An airplane can carry as many vehicles as the ferry right now: zero. You have to show up at the ticket office two hours before the ferry leaves to get on a bus to take you to the ferry.
  3. The operating costs of the ferry are enormous. It burns 18,000 liters of fuel each trip. Even though Oman is an oil producer, with subsidized fuel it is almost impossible to break even with a full boat. There were about 10 crew on board the ship that I could tell and there would probably be more if they had to load cars. The snack bar was open and everything was free. There were about 20 passengers on the boat when I took it.
  4. There is no website where you can buy tickets. There are no agents which you can buy tickets from. I’ve seen no marketing material of any sort except for a very nice full color brochure you get after you buy a ticket. There has been no advertising and no one in Muscat seems to know anything about the ferry other than it exists and it is the best in the world.
  5. Musandam, the destination for the ferries, has a total population of 30,000 people and three hotels. They probably couldn’t support a full boat of people if they had one.
  6. The ferries were not designed for long haul routes. They were designed for trips no greater than an hour. The engines are being used far more than they were designed for with 5 hour trips. As a result, mechanical problems and issues with spare parts will start creeping up over the next few months.

The ferry is sort of a microcosm of what you see in much of Oman: pretty cool looking, but sort of dysfunctional once you look behind the scenes.

Musandam itself is an interesting place. Khasab is totally surrounded by bone dry mountains and cliffs. It is difficult to see any vegetation anywhere. I took a mountain safari with two Austrians and had a guide take us up into the hills.

Life up in the mountains isn’t too different than what it was a few decades ago when people lived in holes in the mountainside. You can still see some of the dugouts if you look closely enough. You can also see many marine fossils in the mountains, which date back about 2-300 million years.

If you look at a map of Musandam, the tip of the peninsula is a giant tangle of fjords. In addition to driving up into the mountains, you can also take short dhow trips into the fjords.

There are no taxis in Khasab and no buses which run to Dubai. This makes getting around difficult, but there aren’t too many places to go, so it sort of evens out. There are usually vans which will shuttle people to Dubai every day, but it isn’t a regularly scheduled run.

It is really a stunning and beautiful place which doesn’t get much in the way of tourism. If you have a vehicle, it might be worth a one to two day trip from Dubai if you have some extra time.

My Son Sanctuary

Posted by on January 29, 2009

World Heritage Site #47: My Son Sanctuary

My Son Sanctuary: My 47th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for My Son Sanctuary:

During the 4th to 13th centuries there was a unique culture on the coast of contemporary Vietnam, owing its spiritual origins to the Hinduism of India. This is graphically illustrated by the remains of a series of impressive tower-temples in a dramatic site that was the religious and political capital of the Champa Kingdom for most of its existence.

My Son Sanctuary dates from the 4th to the 13th centuries CE. The property is located in the mountainous border Duy Xuyen District of Quang Nam Province, in central Viet Nam. It is situated within an elevated geological basin surrounded by a ring of mountains, which provides the watershed for the sacred Thu Bon river. The source of the Thu Bon river is here and it flows past the monuments, out of the basin, and through the historic heartland of the Champa Kingdom, draining into the South China Sea at its mouth near the ancient port city of Hoi An. The location gives the sites its strategic significance as it is also easily defensible.

The tower temples were constructed over ten centuries of continuous development in what was the heart of the ancestral homeland of the ruling Dua Clan which unified the Cham clans and established the kingdom of Champapura (Sanskrit for City of the Cham people) in 192 CE. During the 4th to 13th centuries CE this unique culture, on the coast of contemporary Viet Nam, owed its spiritual origins to the Hinduism of the Indian sub-continent. Under this influence, many temples were built to the Hindu divinities such as Krishna and Vishnu, but above all Shiva. Although Mahayana Buddhist penetrated the Cham culture, probably from the 4th century CE, and became strongly established in the north of the kingdom, Shivite Hinduism remained the established state religion.

The monuments of the My Son sanctuary are the most important constructions of the My Son civilization. The tower temples have a variety of architectural designs symbolizing the greatness and purity of Mount Meru, the mythical sacred mountain home of Hindu gods at the center of the universe, now symbolically reproduced on Earth in the mountainous homeland of the Cham people. They are constructed in fired brick with stone pillars and decorated with sandstone bas-reliefs depicting scenes from Hindu mythology. Their technological sophistication is evidence of Cham engineering skills while the elaborate iconography and symbolism of the tower-temples give insight into the content and evolution of Cham religious and political thought.

The My Son Sanctuary is a remarkable architectural ensemble that developed over a period of ten centuries. It presents a vivid picture of spiritual and political life in an important phase of the history of South-East Asia.

My Son SanctuaryIf you visit the smaller, more distant temples in Angkor, you’ll have an idea of what My Son is like. The architectural styles are very similar and both are of ancient Hindu origin.

My trip to My Son was rather disappointing. It is about an hour drive from Hoi An and is up in the hills. On the day I went it was raining heavily so what few photos I took had to be taken under an umbrella. It is also much smaller than I assumed it would be. Even in the rain, I was able to walk around the entire grounds in about an hour. While it is only a fraction of the size of Angkor, the visitor center and facilities are much better than anything you will see in Cambodia.

If you are in Hoi An it is worth the trip, but if you are expecting anything like the temples you can see in Angkor you will be disappointed.

Overview

My Son Sanctuary is a cluster of Hindu temples that had been abandoned in the Quang Nam province of Vietnam. It is a cultural site that was recognized as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Vietnam in 1999. These temples were traced back to somewhere between the 4th to 14th century AD. They were constructed for by the kings of Champa and were built in dedication to the Hindu god, Shiva. They are known locally in a variety of names although it is best referred to locally as Bhadreshvara.

The temples of My Son Sanctuary are located in a valley near the village of Duy Phu. The valley measures at two kilometers wide with two mountain ranges surrounding it. It is believed that this temple and its ruins are the longest inhabited archaeological site within the IndoChina region. However, several parts of the temple were destroyed during the US bombing at the Vietnam War.

How to Get Here

My Son Sanctuary

If you want to visit My Son Sanctuary in Vietnam, there are plenty of transportation options available. First, you can travel by car from Hoi An. You can drive by Hung Vuong Street until you reach the town of Vinh Dien. The drive from Hoi An to My Son Sanctuary is about 1 hour. Hence, it is a popular day trip for those who are staying in Hoi An.

There are also several tour companies operating in Vietnam that offer tours to My Son Sanctuary. This is the most famous option for those who want to see the world heritage site. There are sunrise tours that enable you to reach the site very early in the morning. Meanwhile, there are also regular tours that are expected to arrive in the site by 8:30 AM.

You can also take a taxi to drive you to My Son Sanctary. You can pay your taxi driver $70 to drive you for a day to the site, return trip included.

Basic Facts

My Son SanctuaryHere are a few things you need to know about My Son Sanctuary before you visit:

  • It is open all year round.
  • If you must visit the My Son Sanctuary, do so in the early morning. That way, it is not too hot and you can avoid the crowd.
  • There were at least 68 temples and structures that were originally part of the complex. However, only about 20 of them had survived today.
  • This temple complex is relegated as one of the most important religious and intellectual centers of the Champa Kingdom. It was also a burial place for the Cham monarchs.
  • It were the French who discovered this ancient site in the late 19th century. Since then, the complex has been restored only to be devastated during the Vietnam War.

Culture and History of My Son Sanctuary

During the reign of the Kingdom of Champa, My Son Sanctuary served as the political and religious center. There were close to 70 structures that were built in honor of the Hindu god Shiva. Shiva was considered as the protector of the Champa’s kings, which is why they built this temple in honor of the Hindu god. The materials used for building the temples and other structures within the complex are red bricks and sandstone.

As with many other historic sites in the world, even UNESCO sites, this temple complex was destroyed by war and time. It was also neglected and abandoned for several centuries until the French discovery in the late 19th century (specifically in 1898). Unfortunately, the US war in Vietnam did not help in the conservation efforts at the site as the bombs placed by the US Army destroyed some of the surviving structures at My Son Sanctuary. The Viet Cong used the site as a hiding place assuming that the US would not bomb a historical site. They were mistaken and so the remaining structures at the site underwent more damage after the war is over.

Today, and especially after it has been named as a heritage site by UNESCO, My Son Sanctuary is slowly being re-built. There are also some reconstruction efforts being done in some parts of the site. Many visitors who get to see My Son Sanctuary are reminded of other Hindu temples in Asia, most notably the Angkor Wat in Cambodia.


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Vietnam.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Apr 11, 2017 @ 11:30 pm

Hoi An Ancient Town

Posted by on January 28, 2009

World Heritage Site #46: Hoi An Ancient Town

Hoi An Ancient Town: My 46th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for Hoi An Ancient Town:

Hoi An Ancient town is located in Viet Nam’s central Quang Nam Province, on the north bank near the mouth of the Thu Bon River. The inscribed property comprises 30 ha and it has a buffer zone of 280 ha. It is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a small-scale trading port active the 15th to 19th centuries which traded widely, both with the countries of Southeast and East Asia and with the rest of the world. Its decline in the later 19th century ensured that it has retained its traditional urban tissue to a remarkable degree.

The town reflects a fusion of indigenous and foreign cultures (principally Chinese and Japanese with later European influences) that combined to produce this unique survival.
The town comprises a well-preserved complex of 1,107 timber frame buildings, with brick or wooden walls, which include architectural monuments, commercial and domestic vernacular structures, notably an open market and a ferry quay, and religious buildings such as pagodas and family cult houses. The houses are tiled and the wooden components are carved with traditional motifs. They are arranged side-by-side in tight, unbroken rows along narrow pedestrian streets. There is also the fine wooden Japanese bridge, with a pagoda on it, dating from the 18th century. The original street plan, which developed as the town became a port, remains. It comprises a grid of streets with one axis parallel to the river and the other axis of streets and alleys set at right angles to it. Typically, the buildings front the streets for convenient customer access while the backs of the buildings open to the river allowing easy loading and off-loading of goods from boats.

The surviving wooden structures and street plan are original and intact and together present a traditional townscape of the 17th and 18th centuries, the survival of which is unique in the region. The town continues to this day to be occupied and function as a trading port and center of commerce. The living heritage reflecting the diverse communities of the indigenous inhabitants of the town, as well as foreigners, has also been preserved and continues to be passed on. Hoi An Ancient Town remains an exceptionally well-preserved example of a Far Eastern port.

Hoi An Ancient TownHoi An is one of the stops on the typical tourist route from Saigon to Hanoi. A very small town near the sea, it was a trading port for hundreds of years. It has an architectural style unlike what you will find in the rest of Vietnam.

It isn’t the flashiest of sites, but it is a nice city and worthwhile place to visit if you are in central Vietnam.

Overview

Hoi An Ancient Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Quang Nam province of Vietnam. It was inscribed into the list in 1999. The city currently has about 120,000 in population. The historic district is one of the best preserved examples of the Southeast Asian trading ports from the 16th and 17th centuries. From the buildings to the street plans, the unique blend of indigenous and foreign influences is evident in Hoi An. The Japanese Bridge in the old town district of Hoi An is one of the most distinctive landmarks in the area. It was built in the 16th or 17th century.

Today, the trading activity had long moved elsewhere. However, the historical heritage of the Hoi An Ancient Town is strongly preserved.

The Old Town

Hoi An Ancient Town

The Old Town in Hoi An is where the highest concentration of preserved buildings and structures are during the time of the city being a major trading port. It is small enough to explore on foot. Plus, it is not as heavily populated so traffic is not an issue just like the bigger cities in Vietnam. There are some streets in the Old Town that only allow motorbikes and there are also those dedicated only for pedestrians. For this reason, a lot of tourists like to visit Hoi An as it provides a nice change of pace from Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City.

Several of the buildings and other structures within the Old Town in Hoi An were constructed more than a century ago. They also exhibit a strong Chinese influence particularly from the provinces of Guangzhou, Hainan and Fuijan. The buildings, especially those from merchants, bear the company names in a carved out board that depict Chinese characters. This is evidence of strong Chinese presence in Hoi An during the prosperous times of the Old Town.

As mentioned above, the Japanese Bridge is the most distinctive landmark within Hoi An Ancient Town. But there are several other notable tourist attractions such as the Guan Yin Temple and the Chinese assembly halls.

Know Before You Go

  • If you travel from May or June to end of August, you can expect a calm and mild weather in Hoi An. This is therefore the best time to go. For the rest of the year, the weather in Hoi An is intermittent and can go from wet and cold to hot and humid.
  • There are several ways to get around Hoi An and its Old Town. The most common options for tourists are bicycle, motorbikes, or motorboat.
  • Despite the many transportation options within Hoi An, it is highly pedestrianized. Hence, you can expect to be walking around a lot during your exploration.
  • The culinary landscape in Hoi An is influenced by the various cultures it had come into contact with during its long history. Hence, it is one of the most popular things for tourists to do while in Hoi An – to explore its many culinary offerings.

How to Get Here

There are many ways to travel to Hoi An Ancient Town. If you are coming from outside Vietnam, you can take a flight to Hanoi, Hue or Ho Chi Minh City. There are several flights to Vietnam from Bangkok, Siem Reap, Singapore, Cambodia, or Hong Kong. From the airport, you can take a metered taxi or the Hoi An airport transfer (which is recommended). There are also mini bus taxis that you can take. All forms of transportation take about 45 minutes to reach Hoi An.

You can also via train to Hoi An. However, the nearest train station is in Da Nang. There are several train routes traveling within a day to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, or Hue. You can book your train ticket to Da Nang via your hotel or travel agent. From the train station, you can take the bus to Hoi An.

Japanese Covered Bridge

Hoi An Ancient Town

The Japanese Covered Bridge is the most iconic landmark in Hoi An Ancient Town. The bridge is the best example of historical Japanese architecture in Vietnam. According to historians, it was built for by the Japanese in order to cross the Chinese quarters that was located on the other side of the town. The official opening of the bridge was in 1719; three Chinese symbols were also carved out above the door to the bridge to commemorate this momentous occasion.

Over the years, there have been restorations and renovations done to preserve the bridge. The most recent renovation was done in 1986. The bridge currently stands as a symbol of Hoi An.


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Vietnam.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Apr 11, 2017 @ 11:58 pm

Temple of Preah Vihear

Posted by on January 27, 2009

World Heritage Site #45: Temple of Preah Vihear From the World Heritage inscription for the Temple of Preah Vihear.

The Temple of Preah Vihear, a unique architectural complex of a series of sanctuaries linked by a system of pavements and staircases on an 800 metre long axis, is an outstanding masterpiece of Khmer architecture, in terms of plan, decoration and relationship to the spectacular landscape environment.

Preah Vihear is an outstanding masterpiece of Khmer architecture. It is very ‘pure’ both in plan and in the detail of its decoration.

Authenticity, in terms of the way the buildings and their materials express well the values of the property, has been established. The attributes of the property comprise the temple complex; the integrity of the property has to a degree been compromised by the absence of part of the promontory from the perimeter of the property. The protective measures for the Temple, in terms of legal protection are adequate; the progress made in defining the parameters of the Management Plan needs to be consolidated into an approved, full Management Plan.

You can read about my trip to Preah Vihear: Part 1, part 2, and part 3.

I can’t recommend visiting the Preah Vihear Temple until the tensions between Cambodia and Thailand cool down. Even then, the best route is to visit via Thailand, not from Cambodia, even though it technically lies in Cambodia. There are no paved roads on the Cambodian side of the border, but on the Thai side, there is very easy access and tour buses which frequent the temple.

I hope that one day there is enough development in Cambodia that visitors to Angkor in Sieam Reap will be able to easily visit Preah Vihear. Currently, it isn’t worth the effort.

Overview

Temple of Preah VihearThe Temple of Preah Vihear is another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Cambodia. It was inscribed into the list in 2008 and covers more than 154 hectares. It has a buffer zone of over 2,642 hectares. This temple is located on the edge of a plateau that dominates the Cambodian plain. This temple was built in dedication to Hindu god, Shiva.

The temple consists of a series of sanctuaries that were built as a system made up of staircases and pavements. The temple dates back to the 11th century AD but some records indicate that it has been around since the 9th century. The remote location of the temples is considered as one of the reasons why it is well-preserved. For this reason, the Temple of Preah Vihear is deemed of exceptional architectural quality. It blends in with the natural environment and plays a vital role to the history of the land as a religious structure.

Basic Facts: The Temple of Preah Vihear

  • It is located on a cliff in Dangrek Mountains within the province of Preah Vihear in Cambodia.
  • It was the subject of dispute between Thailand and Cambodia since 1962. The International Court of Justice ruled out that the temple belongs to Cambodia.
  • The Temple of Preah Vihear offers the most spectacular setting out of all the temples built during the Khmer Empire’s rule in Cambodia.
  • The official name of the temple is Prasat Preah Vihear.
  • The temple was primarily constructed as a Hindu religious structure. However, the decline of Hinduism in the region has converted the site into Buddhist use, just like the Angkor Wat temples.

How to Get Here

Temple of Preah Vihear

If you want to visit the Temple of Preah Vihear in Cambodia, you must travel either via Tbeng Meanchey in Preah Vihear province or via Anlong Veng in Siem Reap province. The road from Siem Reap is paved. However, once you approach the Dangrek escarpment, you can drive through occasional graded gravel roads.

As of 2015, you cannot travel to Preah Vihear from Thailand.

Universal Value of Preah Vihear Temple

The Temple of Preah Vihear is considered of important cultural value to Cambodia, and its history. This unique architectural complex of temples exhibit one of the best examples of Khmer architecture, along with that of Angkor Wat. From its plan to the decoration, as well as integration with the natural environment that surrounds it, all of these elements are true to the principles of Khmer architecture.

Due to its value, it has been the subject of dispute between Thailand and Cambodia. This dispute resulted in outbreaks of violence on a periodic basis. In fact, there was a military clash in the area in 2008. In 2009, it was reported that 66 stones on the temple were damaged due to gunfire from Thai soldiers at the border. This long dispute ended in 2013 wherein Cambodia was named as the sole owner of the region, forcing the Thai troops to leave the area.


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Cambodia.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Apr 10, 2017 @ 9:20 am

Angkor

Posted by on January 26, 2009

World Heritage Site #44: Angkor

Angkor: My 44th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for Angkor:

Angkor, in Cambodia’s northern province of Siem Reap, is one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia. It extends over approximately 400 square kilometers and consists of scores of temples, hydraulic structures (basins, dikes, reservoirs, canals) as well as communication routes. For several centuries Angkor was the center of the Khmer Kingdom. With impressive monuments, several different ancient urban plans, and large water reservoirs, the site is a unique concentration of features testifying to an exceptional civilization. Temples such as Angkor Wat, the Bayon, Preah Khan and Ta Prohm, exemplars of Khmer architecture, are closely linked to their geographical context as well as being imbued with symbolic significance. The architecture and layout of the successive capitals bear witness to a high level of social order and ranking within the Khmer Empire. Angkor is, therefore, a major site exemplifying cultural, religious and symbolic values, as well as containing high architectural, archaeological and artistic significance.

The park is inhabited, and many villages, some of whom the ancestors are dating back to the Angkor period are scattered throughout the park. The population practices agriculture and more specifically rice cultivation.

AngkorI could spend a month here and fill every day taking photos. There were hundreds of photos I could have taken if I was only at a place at a different time of day.

Most people only think of Angkor Wat and assume that temple is all there is to see. The entire complex is enormous and encompasses many square kilometers, not including the many smaller temples on the outskirts of Siem Reap. People still live on the grounds of Angkor and make a living selling things to tourists (often annoyingly so).

I spent about four days exploring and I could go back today and see things I didn’t see my first time around.

Overview

Angkor is located within the province of Siem Reap in the midst of the deep jungles of Cambodia. This city is most famous for Angkor Wat, which is a temple complex with the name that literally translates to “The City of Temples”. The Angkor Wat temples are the largest religious monuments in the world. For this reason, it was recognized as an important cultural site by UNESCO in 1992.

The Angkor Wat temple complex spans a total land area of more than 162 hectares. When it was first built, it was constructed as a Hindu temple for god Vishnu during the reign of the Khmer Empire. By the end of the 12th century, it transformed into a Buddhist temple. The construction of the temple began in the early 12th century in present-day Angkor, which served as the capital of the Khmer Empire. It was commissioned for by King Suryavarman II to be the state temple and his eventual mausoleum.

The temple has been recognized as the best example of Khmer architectural style. It is also one of the most visited tourist attractions in Cambodia, which has eventually become an important symbol for the country. In fact, the Angkor Wat appears on the country’s official flag.

About the Angkor Wat Temples

Angkor

The Angkor Wat temples is just one of a hundred of temples and structures that have survived from the earlier centuries of the Khmer Empire rule in Cambodia. However, it is most revered because it depicts an important clue on how the prehistoric people lived in the region. If you examine the bas relief galleries on the walls of the temples, the tales of the legend and history of Cambodia can be seen and discovered.

There are two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture that was utilized in the construction of the Angkor Wat temple – temple-mountain and galleried temple. The design concept of the temple was believed to mimic the home of the Hindu mythology devas: Mount Meru. There is also a quincunx of towers placed within the center of the temple. All of these elements work together to form one of the grandest examples of ancient architecture in Asia. Aside from its grandeur and harmony, the level of detail of the devatas and bas reliefs that adorn its walls is something to be admired.

How to Get Here

AngkorTo travel to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, you can take a plane to Siem Reap. If you are from Phnom Penh, you can travel by bus or boat to Siem Reap. Once you are in Siem Reap, you have more transportation options to visit the temples of Angkor Wat. You can hire a private vehicle to drive you to Angkor Wat. From the main center of Siem Reap, you must drive approximately 30 minutes to get to Angkor Wat. You can also ride the tuk-tuk, which is a popular form of transportation in Cambodia.

Tips for Traveling to Angkor Wat

If this is your first time to travel to Angkor and the temples of Angkor Wat, here are some practical information you need to know:

  • The best time to visit is from the month of November to January. You can expect mild temperature and low humidity during this time of the year. However, this is also the most crowded time of the year in Cambodia.
  • The Siem Reap International Airport is the closest airport to Angkor Wat. You can therefore take flights to that airport if you plan on visiting Cambodia to see the Angkor Wat.
  • The rainy season in Cambodia is from May to June. Hence, you should avoid travel during this time of year as several parts of Siem Reap can be easily flooded.
  • When exploring the temples, you can hire a guide. There are guides available at the entrance. There is no need to hire a guide before you arrive at the temples.

Conservation Efforts

Angkor

It was in the 1990s when Angkor Wat became a major tourist destination in Cambodia. As of 1993, there was an average of nearly 8,000 visitors to the site. Over the years, the growth of tourists visiting the site grew exponentially such that by 2004 the average rose up to half a million tourists!

As of 2013, there is an average of 2 million tourists who visit the Angkor Wat. The revenue from the tourism on the site has helped to produce funds that can later be used for the conservation efforts at the site. The influx of tourists at the site has caused no significant issues so far in terms of damage to the site. However, ropes and wooden steps have been added to some parts of the temple in order to prevent tourists from coming into contact with delicate areas of the structure and for the tourists’ safety.


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Cambodia.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Apr 10, 2017 @ 9:15 am

So that thing about the thing….

Posted by on January 26, 2009

So…..now I am going to Musandam.

Arun, who lives in Oman and met me on Twitter, came through and figured out where I had to go.

The ferry company is in a very nondiscript building with a temporary sign out front behindsa tree

With all the money they spent on the boat, they forgot to budget money for a sign.

I’ll have more to say about this later, but I have an hour to pack and get back to the ferry office so I can get on the boat.