Gyeongju Historic Area

World Heritage Site #19: Gyeongju Historica Area
Gyeongju Historic Area: My 19th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for the Gyeongju Historic Area:

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

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

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

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


The Gyeongju Historic Area was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. It is located in the Republic of Korea and was designated as a Cultural site.

This is a large property that encompasses a number of structures and buildings including temples and palace ruins, statuary, pagodas, and other cultural artifacts that are linked to the Silla Kingdom. It is also recognized as one of the world’s largest outdoor museum due to the rich array of historical and cultural artifacts.

Components of the Gyeongju Historic Area

Gyeongju Historic Area

The sites and properties included within the Gyeongju Historic Area are organized into five main belts. Each of these belts represents the different properties and structures that were listed under the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mount Namsan Belt: The Mount Namsan is the focal landmark within this area. This mountain is considered a sacred place for the people of the Silla Kingdom. In addition, there were also several artifacts and relics that relate to Shamanism that had been found in the area prior to the introduction of Buddhism in Korea. These artifacts include temples, stone statues, stone lanterns and stone pagodas. Other important sites within the Namsan Belt include the Namsan Mountain Fortress, Seochulji Pond, and the Poseokjeong Pavilion site.

Wolseong Belt: The ruins of Banwolseong, also known as the Half Moon Palace or Fortress, is the main feature within this portion of the Gyeongju Historic Area. This is also where you will find the famous Cheomseongdae Observatory. Other notable attractions within the Wolseong Belt are the Gyerim forest, Imhaejeon Palace ruins and the ruins of the pavilion with an overlooking view of the Anapji Pond.

Gyeongju Historic AreaTumuli Park Belt: The three groups of royal tombs are the highlight of this particular belt in Gyeongju Historic Area. The royal tombs, also known as tumuli, are shaped like domes or mounds on earth. When excavated, some of these tombs reveal wooden coffins with some consisting of gold, glass, and ceramics.

Hwangnyongsa Belt: This particular belt within the historic area of Gyeongju is centered on the ruins of Hwangnyongsa Temple and Bunhwangsa Temple. When the site was excavated and scientists uncovered foundation stones, it was revealed that the Hwangnyongsa was Korea’s largest temple. Meanwhile, what is left of the Bunhwagsa Temple today is only a fraction of its actual size.

Sanseong Belt: This is the final belt that comprises the Gyeongju Historic Area in South Korea. The property is hinged on the primary attraction, which is the ruins of the Myeonghwal mountain fortress also known as the Myeonghwal Sanseong. This fortress is located on a top Mount Myeonghwal.

View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in South Korea.

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

Last updated: Jul 28, 2017 @ 2:25 pm

2008 Travel Year in Review: Part 1

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

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

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


Me at Mount Bromo, Indonesia
Me at Mount Bromo, Indonesia

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

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

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

Me and some English students at Prambanan, Indonesia
Me and some English students at Prambanan, Indonesia

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


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

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

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


Climbing the Harbor Bridge, Sydney
Climbing the Harbor Bridge, Sydney

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

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

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

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


Me and a Giant Wrasse on the Great Barrier Reef
Me and a Giant Wrasse on the Great Barrier Reef

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

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


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

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


Tropic of Capricorn Sign, Western Australia
Tropic of Capricorn Sign, Western Australia

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

Shrines and Temples of Nikko

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

From the World Heritage inscription for the Shrines and Temples of Nikko:

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

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

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

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


Shrines and Temples of Nikko

The Shrines and Temples of Nikko comprise of the Toshogu and Futarasan-jinja Shrines. The Rinno-ji temple and the monuments in its surrounding are also included in this particular property under UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan.

Toshogu is the location of the enshrinement of Ieyasu Tokugawa who was the first shogun when the Edo Shogunate flourished in the 17th and 19th centuries. More than 127,000 craftsmen were called in to help build the shrine. The “Yomei-mon Gate” consists of two stories and over 500 sculptures, on top of other beautiful and colorful decorations.

There are 103 buildings and structures that were included in this property listing for UNESCO. Of the 103, 9 are National Treasures of Japan and the other 94 are all Important Cultural Properties. You can learn more about the shrines and temples of Nikko below.

How to Get Here

If you want to visit the shrines and temples of Nikko, you need to take the limited express train Spacia. Its jump off point is in Asakusa in downtown Tokyo. Your travel time to get to Nikko would be roughly 110 minutes.

Foreign tourists who are traveling via this express train with a 2-Day pass or All Nikko Pass are entitled to get a discount of 20% on their express fare. About 80% of the tourists who visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Nikko are foreigners.

Futarasan Shrine

Shrines and Temples of Nikko

There are 23 structures listed under the Futarasan Shrine. All of these sites are registered as Important Cultural Properties in Japan. This is a Shinto shrine located in Nikko, Japan. There are three deities that are enshrined within this area: Okuninushi, Tagorihime, and Ajisukitakahikone. The Sacred Bridge is a popular attraction in the area and it is part of the Futarasan Shrine. This lacquered structure is one of Japan’s most beautiful bridges. The other sites included within the Futarasan Shrine are as follows:

  • Honden
  • Karamon
  • Wakimon
  • Sukibe
  • Haiden
  • Torii
  • Shinkyo
  • Betsugu Taki-no-o-jinja Honden
  • Betsugu Taki-no-o-jinja Karamon
  • Betsugu Taki-no-o-jinja Haiden
  • Betsugu Taki-no-o-jinja Romon
  • Betsugu Taki-no-o-jinja Torii
  • Betsugu Hongu-jinja Honden
  • Betsugu Hongu-jinja Karamon
  • Betsugu Hongu-jinja Sukibe
  • Betsugu Hongu-jinja Haiden
  • Betsugu Hongu-jinja Torii
  • Shin-yosha
  • Daikokuden
  • Massha Mitomo-jinja Honden
  • Massha Hie-jinja Honden


Shrines and Temples of NikkoThis is another Shinto shrine named as one of the shrines and temples of Nikko by UNESCO. This is where Ieyasu Tokugawa was enshrined in. There are several Tosho-gu shrines in Japan but the one in Nikko is the most famous one. During the Edo period, there are 500 shrines that makeup the Tosho-gu shrines. But after some of them had been destroyed and abandoned, the total number is now down to 130.


This complex consists of 15 Buddhist temples within the city of Nikko. The site was founded by a Buddhist monk in the late 8th century. The temple complex is located deep in the mountains and it helped for the site to flourish as it attracted other Buddhist monks looking for a place of solitude. The most famous building in this complex is the Sanbutsudo or Three Buddha Hall. You can also find the Shoyo-en Garden and Treasure House of Rinno-Ji within the same complex.

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

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

Last updated: Jul 28, 2017 @ 2:21 pm

Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara

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

From the World Heritage inscription for Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara:

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

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

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

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

Overview of Ancient Nara

During the early to late 8th century, Nara was the capital of Japan. The framework of the government was still consolidated during this time and it brought about prosperity in Nara. It also earned the status as the focal center of Japanese culture. The historic monuments that were built in Nara including the Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples and the great Imperial Palace were reminiscent of how life in Nara flourished during the 8th century. It experienced a fusion of the political change and cultural landscape that was taking shape.

For this reason, the historic monuments of ancient Nara were named as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan. It bore witness to the evolution of Japan’s architecture and art as a result of its cultural links with other countries such as China and Korea. The architectural heritage within the city also showcase how Nara developed by the time it was the capital of Japan.

List of Historic Monuments

To learn more about the historic monuments of Ancient Nara, you can read a detailed description on each site listed here:

Todai-ji: Also known as the Eastern Great Temple, Todai-ji Temple is the most iconic monument in this collective property on the UNESCO World Heritage Site listing. It is a Buddhist temple that was built in the early 8th century in Japan. It is under the Kegon Buddhism affiliation and is considered a National Treasure. Within the temple’s Great Buddha Hall you will find the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world.

Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara

Kofuku-ji: This is another Buddhist temple recognized within the historic monuments of ancient Nara. It is also among the Seven Great Temples within Nara, Japan. The temple serves as the headquarters for the Hossu branch of Buddhism in Japan. This temple was built in mid-7th century by Emperor Tenji.

Kasuga Shrine: This shrine was founded in the 8th century by the powerful Fujiwara clan. It is also the most celebrated shrine in Nara since it was built in dedication to the deity that they believe protects the city. There are several bronze lanterns hanging all over this shrine, of which it became famous for. The main hall of the shrine is also considered a National Treasure.

Gango-ji: This Buddhist temple is one of the oldest in Japan since it was constructed in the late 6th century. It is also one of the Seven Great Temples of Nara. The original architecture was massive as it contained seven halls and pagodas; however, it underwent many renovations after being destructed by fires.

Historic Monuments of Ancient NaraYakushi-ji: This is another 7th century temple among the historic monuments of ancient Nara. It was Emperor Temmu who commissioned the building of the temple as a prayer for his wife’s healing. Eventually, it became one of the Seven Great Temples of Ancient Nara. The name for the temple was derived from the Medicine Buddha, Yakushi Nyorai. The East Pagoda and East Hall of the temple are considered National Treasures.

Toshodai-ji: This mid-8th-century temple is best known for its Golden Hall, which is also a National Treasure. The classic architectural detail of the hall is considered by many as the archetype of classic Japanese architecture.

Heijo Palace: This is the Imperial Palace and residence of the Emperor at a time when Nara was the ancient capital. The palace features many walled enclosures that contained the government ministries, administrative buildings, and ceremonial sites.

Kasugayama Primeval Forest: This forest is located near the Kasuga Grand Shrine in Nara. It is an old-growth forest that measures at approximately 250 hectares. Since the forest is connected with the shrine, it is considered sacred and has not been altered or touched since the 6th century. There are 175 different kinds of trees and various species of birds and insects that thrive within this forest.

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

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

Last updated: Aug 1, 2017 @ 8:17 pm

Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area

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

From the World Heritage Inscription of the Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area:

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

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

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


The Horyu-ji Area of Nara Prefecture in Japan contains one of the most concentrated collection of Buddhist monuments in Japan. There are 48 Buddhist monuments in total that are located within this particular property that was inscribed into the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list in 1993. These monuments were built at different times although majority of them were constructed during the 7th and 8th centuries. Hence, these monuments belong to the oldest surviving wooden structures in the world.

The monuments depict more than just the history of wooden architecture but also the blend of Japanese culture with Chinese Buddhist architecture. This is one of the most unique areas in Japan as it exemplifies the fusion of architecture and religion.

Horyu-ji Temple

When the Horyu-ji Temple was one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites listed in Japan. Eventually, Hoki-ji Temple was listed too and it became a collective property that features Buddhist monuments and old wooden architecture in Nara Prefecture.

Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area

However, it is undeniable that the Horyu-ji Temple is one of the most prominent features of this UNESCO site, along with the Buddhist monuments in the Horyu-ji Area. The temple was built in the early 7th century by Shotoku Taishi. The temple contains 38 national treasures and 151 cultural assets. In addition, it is also home to some of the best Japanese art.

Within the temple complex is Goju-no-tou, which at over 32 meters high is the oldest wooden tower in the world. The word “tou” refers to a tomb, which is represented by a tomb wherein a relic of Buddha is placed.


This temple belongs to the site encompassed within the Buddhist monuments in the Horyu-ji area. It is also known as the Temple of the Arising Dharma. This temple was built in the early 7th century in the town of Ikaruga. This town served as the focal point of Buddhism in Japan and there are several other smaller Buddhist temples within the area as well.

The Hokk-ji Temple was constructed in honor of Avalokitesvara. The 11-faced statue within the temple became the object of worship for those who visit the temples to practice Buddhism.

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

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

Last updated: Aug 1, 2017 @ 8:14 pm

Thailand Expats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto

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

From the World Heritage inscription for the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto:

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

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

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

Overview of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto

The ancient monuments of Kyoto are popular worldwide as tourist attractions. In fact, these monuments are among some of Japan’s top tourist destinations. There are plenty of sightseeing spots in Kyoto with the many structures and temples within this property that was also inscribed into the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list.

The ancient monuments included in this listing consist of 13 temples, 3 shrines, and 2 castles. Aside from the architectural masterpieces like the temples and castles, the garden scenery and the stone garden are also included within the UNESCO property. Both the architecture and the garden design represent the culture of the Japanese tradition through architecture and art form.

List of Properties

Below is a list of all of the properties that were encompassed within the list of historic monuments in ancient Kyoto:

Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto

Kamowakeikazuchi Shrine: This Shinto sanctuary was founded in the 7th century along the banks of the Kamo River in northern Kyoto. It is one of Japan’s oldest Shinto shrines and was built in dedication for the veneration of Kamo Wake-ikazuchi. It served as the object of imperial patronage during the Heian period.

Kamomioya Shrine: This is another Shinto shrine that was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site properly listing in ancient Kyoto. This is the term of a significant Shinto sanctuary within the Shimogamo district of Kyoto. It was built in the 6th century to protect Kyoto from malign influences.

Kyoogokoku-ji: This Buddhist temple is one of the important monuments in Kyoto that was once built as a temple to protect its residents. It was established during the early Heian period. It was only of only three Buddhist temples that existed in the capital at that time.

Kiyomizu-dera: Located in eastern Kyoto, this is an independent Buddhist temple. It was also included in the list of finalists of the New7Wonders of the World. This temple was also founded during the early Heian period, just like many other monuments in the list.

Enryaku-ji: This Tendai Buddhist temple was founded in the 8th century by Saicho. It is built on Mount Hiei in Otsu, Japan with an overlooking view of Kyoto. It was Saicho who introduced the Tendai sect to Japan from Chin. Eventually, this monastery became one of Japan’s most significant monasteries.

Daigo-ji: This Shingon Buddhist temple is located in Fushimi-ku in Kyoto, Japan. It was founded in late 9th century in devotion to Yakushi. The temple itself consists of 18 structures that are also designated National Treasures of Japan.

Ninna-ji: This is the head temple of the Omuro School for the Shingon sect of Buddhism. It was founded by Emperor Uda in the 9th century. Emperor Koko first ordered the construction of this temple as he wanted to use it to propagate Buddhist teachings. However, he died before it was completed so Emperor Uda saw through the completion of the temple.

Byodo-in: This Buddhist temple is located in Kyoto Prefecture that was constructed during the late Heian period. This temple is a joint use for the Tendai-shu and Jodo-shu sects. The temple was completed in 1052. An admission fee of 600 yen is required to gain access to the complex grounds that include the main temple building, gardens and museum.

Ujigami Shrine: This Shinto shrine was built to serve as a guardian shrine for Byodo-in, which is located nearby. It was founded in the 11th century in dedication to Emperor Ojin, as well as his sons Uji no Wakiiratsuko, and Emperor Nintoku. Using digital dendrochronology, researchers were able to determine that this is the oldest Shinto shrine in Japan.

Kozan-ji: This is another Buddhist temple from the Omuro sect in Kyoto. It was Shingon scholar and monk Myoe who founded this temple. Today, it is renowned as an important cultural site and its national treasures. In fact, you will find Choju-jinbutsu-giga, which is a group of ink paintings that were made during the 12th and 13th centuries, within the temple. These paintings are considered as important national treasures of Japan.

Historic Monuments of Ancient KyotoSaiho-ji: This Rinzai Zen Buddhist temple is located in the Nishikyo Ward of Kyoto, Japan. The temple is known for its moss garden that is commonly known as Koke-dera, which literally translates to “moss temple”. The temple was initially constructed to honor Amitabha and was completed sometime between 729 to 749.

Tenryu-ji: This temple is the main temple of the Tenryu branch of the Rinzai Zen Buddhism in Kyoto. In 1339, Ashikaga Takauji founded this temple to venerate Gautama Buddha and the first chief priest, Muso Soseki. Six years later, the temple was completed and has been held in high esteem throughout its existence. It is also the top site within Kyoto’s Five Mountain System.

Rokuon-ji: This Zen Buddhist temple is one of Japan’s most iconic buildings. In fact, several tourists visit this temple annually. Aside from being one of the historic monuments inscribed into the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list in Kyoto, it is also designated as both National Special Historic Site and National Special Landscape.

Jisho-ji: Also known as the “Temple of Shining Mercy”, this Zen temple best represents the Higashiyama culture during the Muromachi period in Kyoto, Japan. The temple was completed in 1490 through the initiative of its founder, Ashikaga Yoshimasa. The main temple structure consists of two story and the overall design aims to emulate the golden Kinkaku-ji.

Ryoan-Ji: This is another temple in Kyoto that was created for the Rinzai Zen Buddhism. Aside from the Temple of the Dragon at Peace, the Ryoan-ji Garden is another important feature on the site. The garden design exhibits a refined Japanese style garden with distinctive large rock formations arranged with a sweep of small pebbles. This design is believed to facilitate meditation.

Nishi Hongan-ji: This is one of two temple complexes of Jodo Shinshu. It is the Western Temple of the Original Vow. The other one is Eastern Temple of the Original Vow (Higashi Honganji). It once served as the school of Pure Land Buddhism; today, this part of the temple complex is used by the Jodo Shinshu as its head temple.

Nijo Castle: This flatland castle in Kyoto is composed of various other important structures around it. These structures include two concentric rings of fortifications, Honmaru Palace ruins, the Ninomaru Palace and a few other supporting buildings. There are also several gardens around this castle. The entire area covered by the castle measures at 275,000 square meters.

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

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

Last updated: Aug 1, 2017 @ 10:00 pm


UNESCO World Heritage Site #14: Himeji-jo
Himeji-jo: My 14th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the the World Heritage inscription for Himeji-jo:

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

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

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


Himeji-Jo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Japan that was inscribed in 1993. It is one of the finest surviving examples of Japanese architecture from the 17th century. The castle complex consists of 83 buildings that are known for their defense system and protection devices that were considered advanced during the Shogun period.

The main material used for constructing these buildings and structures was wood. Meanwhile, the aesthetic and architectural details of the castles and other buildings showcase how beauty combined with function. The buildings (most of them were painted in white) seem to unify with the plastered earthen walls that surrounded the entire complex and its buildings. The entire property measures at 107 hectares in land area.

How to Get to Himeji


Himeji is a city in Japan located in the southwestern portion of the country. It has a population of more than half a million and is a major location for transportation. The city is known for its natural and historical value. Its primary attraction is the Himeji Castle, which was inscribed into the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan in 1993.

To get to Himeji City, you must fly to Kansai Airport. From the airport, you can take a 2 and a half bus ride to Himeji. From Tokyo, it is a 3-hour drive. From Nagoya, it is 1 hour and 30 minutes away. Hence, it is very convenient to travel to Himeji from major cities in Japan. If you travel via the JR Himeji Station, the site is only 15 minutes from the station. In fact, the castle is visible from the station!

Himeji Castle

Himeji-joThe Himeji Castle is the primary landmark of this castle complex in Himeji, Hyogo, Japan. This structure was built as a fort and castle in one during the early 14th century. It has undergone several reconstruction works to preserve the integrity of the castle given its cultural value. It underwent its first expansion in 1581 and then another round of expansion project was executed in the early 17th century. The final reconstruction and expansion projects were conducted in 1618. The castle itself was in use from the time it was built in 1333 until 1868.

The castle was the work of different architects who took over the project of expanding the castle complex. The materials used for building the castle included wood, stone, tile and plaster. Indeed, it showcases a unique architectural style that exhibits the Japanese architectural style of which many people know of today.

The castle is commonly dubbed as the “White Heron Castle” or the “White Egret Castle”. This is primarily due to the white exterior of the main castle. It is likened to a white bird taking flight. The Himeji Castle is not only the largest castle in Japan, it is also the most visited. Himeji Castle joins Kumamoto and Matsumoto Castles as the three premier castles in Japan.

For over 400 years, majority of the castle has remained intact despite the 1995 earthquake and the bombing of the World War II. However, several reconstruction projects have undergone to preserve the look of the castle. It has also been re-painted few times in order to retain its brilliant white color that the castle is known for.

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

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

Last updated: Aug 1, 2017 @ 9:58 pm

Christmas in Asia

Growing up, you would always see articles/book/tv shows about how people celebrate Christmas around the world. The impression you get is that everyone, everywhere celebrates something this time of year, even if it isn’t Christmas.

I can say categorically that Thailand, and SE Asia in general, really doesn’t celebrate anything around Christmas. Save for a few hotels which cater to tourists, I have seen nothing Christmas related.

This really should come as no surprise. Thailand is not a Christian country nor was it ever colonized by Europeans. Outside of expats and tourists, there has never been an historical reason to celebrate Christmas. Also, given its latitude, the winter solstice isn’t as big of a deal as it might be farther north.

One year ago I was in Macau on Christmas day. Being a former Portuguese colony, you could see Christmas decorations in middle of town. You could even see some Christmas things in Hong Kong. Here however, it is a Christmas desert.

I just got finished talking to my family over Skype. They were doing their annual Christmas Eve celebration at my parents house this year. This is the second year in a row I wasn’t there. I had been there every year of my life prior to leaving on this trip.

Later today I’ll be meeting up with some blog readers and other expats who live in Bangkok for Christmas dinner.

I’m glad to be in Bangkok. This marks the end of my SE Asian adventure. I’ll be posting the contest results tomorrow or the day after and sending emails out to the winners. I have a bunch of stuff to ship home which should reduce the amount of crap I carry around significantly. I’ve been lugging my old laptop around since I was in Saigon. I have a lot to do in Bangkok before I leave, which I should do around New Year’s Day.

If anyone in Bangkok or Dubai would like to meet up, please send me an email or contact me on Twitter.

Merry Christmas!