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 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.


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: Mar 20, 2017 @ 3:12 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.

Hue 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.


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: Mar 10, 2017 @ 1:48 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.

If 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.


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: Mar 10, 2017 @ 1:39 am

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 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.


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: Mar 10, 2017 @ 1:43 am

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.


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: Mar 10, 2017 @ 1:36 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.

I 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.


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: Mar 20, 2017 @ 3:10 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.

So, about that Musandam thing….

Posted by on January 25, 2009

There are certain assumption you make when you travel. They are usually pretty mundane things like “there is an airport in the capital city”, or “a major city will have hotels”. You usually don’t have to worry about the things you assume because they are always true.

Having read numerous articles about the ferry to Musandam I figured it would be as easy as taking a bus or a plane. All I needed to do was find out the schedule, get in a taxi and go to the ferry terminal at the right time.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way.

It seems that everyone I’ve talked to in Oman has heard of the ferry, but no one actually knows anything about it. I’ve spoken to five travel agents near my hotel. None of them offer ferry tickets nor know where to go to get tickets. No one in my hotel knows anything. None of the cab drivers know anything or where to take me to get a ticket. There is no website for the ferry company. All the searches you do bring up articles about the ferry, but no actual information on how to get tickets nor can I find links to a website from the articles. I have been told by one taxi driver you get tickets in Ruwi, but he didn’t know where that was. One Omani told me that they are only for government officials (which I have no idea if that is true).

This huge investment the government made in high speed, world class ferries is pretty much useless as no one knows how to take it, even if they wanted to. I can’t even verify that the ferry is currently operating. This is sort of another version of what I experienced in Nizwa. They have something great, but don’t bother to make any signs pointing to it.

I think I’ve reached the point where I have to cut my losses and take the bus back to Dubai. It sucks that I wont get to Musandam, but that’s life. So tomorrow, its back on the bus and a few days in Dubai before heading to Qatar.