Thailand and South East Asia Information

All you need to know about traveling and living in Thailand and Southeast Asia

Mainland Southeast Asia – including Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar ( ex Burma)  and peninsular Malaysia- offers some of the safest and friendliest semi-exotic travel around for people of all budgets and ages.

For new and seasoned travelers alike, this region offers heaps of cultural and visual stimuli, a developed tourist infrastructure, endless activities, safety, and incredible food. And best of all, it’s relatively cheap. All of these countries are easy to reach from Thailand and visiting them, even for a few days. It is a great way to explore and become familiar with Thailand ‘s neighbours.

This section will give you some idea of what awaits you if you decide to explore. As we think that it is very useful to know in advance the basic of each place ahead of our visits, we have included  a brief description of the countries, their history and culture as well as highlighting some of their main attractions.

Please note that Thailand, being our host country, will appear in a separate page.

Exploring Thailand’s neighbours

We will head north to visit Burma, continuing our tour southeast clockwise, so Laos will be our next stop, Cambodia and Vietnam will follow, ending in Malaysia, Thailand’s southernmost neighbour. Enjoy the tour…

Myanmar

 

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Buddha image , Mandalay, Maynamar. Photo Credit: Denise Del Barto

 

Myanmar or Burma?

The name Burma was adopted during the English period, but the country knew itself as Myanmar, or really with many variations on this spelling. The name was changed back from Burma to Myanmar only in 1989 but is still known as Burma to many abroad. In addition, the regime’s decision to revert to the former name has been never entirely accepted. This explains why Burmese opposition groups deliberately employ the name Burma but not Myanmar.

Getting to know Myanmar…or Burma

Until the mid 1990s, when modern hotels began punctuating the skyline, Burma’s capital of Rangoon ( today Yangoon) seemed a place lost in time. The people haven’t  changed, but the city’s momentum had long ago evaporated.

To the north of Yangoon, Mandalay,  has sounded as a sweet invitation  to the Western ears, ever since Rudyard Kipling wrote of its music.

“ By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ eastward to the sea,
There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
“Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!”
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!
……………………….
Read the whole poem Mandalay, by Rudyard Kipling in our Section Voices from Pattaya   

Myanmar is visually spectacular, but the spirit of its people is what takes the prize. Virtually every visitor to Myanmar  feels and shares the same sentiment, although its infrastructure is a bit less developed that its neighbours, which  may provide a challenge for first-time travelers, but if you’re up to it, it is really worth the visit.

Following the lifting of Western sanctions,  Myanmar  has become a magnet for tourists. It has some really wonderful  sights:  Myanmar’s three most Sacred Sites: Shwedagon pagoda,, the Golden Rock and the Mahamuni Temple; a thousand temples scattered across the countryside in Bagan, a city literally frozen in time ; the leg-rowers and floating gardens of Inle Lake, and majestic rivers – the Ayeyarwady and the Chindwin – navigable into the furthest reaches of the country.

But the big draw is the chance to see a country where the 21st-century world has barely intruded. This is nowadays quickly changing,  but there is still a strong sense of the old Orient here. It’s a place where Buddhism is still a way of life and  you feel it.

 

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A great way of knowing another culture is just meeting its people. In this case, staying in a hotel on Inle lake and going early in the morning, to see fishermen getting their catch using the old traditional ways . Inle Lake, Myanmar. Foto Credit: Denise del Barto

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If you are interested in meeting local people and getting immersed in a different culture, well, when in Bagan, just go to Ananda market, easy to recognise with Ananda temple in the background, and get lost amid its colours, smells, flavours and sounds. Ananda market, Bagan, a city lost in time. Myanmar.  Foto Credit: Denise del Barto

 

An Interesting Note:

Burma’s Most Sacred Sites

” Three sites rise easily to the top as the most sacred in Burma- the Shwedagon pagoda, the Golden Rock and the Mahamuni Temple. Linked together in the popular imagination, the three form a solid triumvirate, reinforced by countless religious souvenirs throughout the land.

The most striking feature, however, is not their similarity but their diversity. For example, the Shwedagon pagoda is a traditional reliquary monument, or stupa, now within an urban area, while the Golden rock is a granite boulder on the outskirts of nowhere. And the revered Mahamuni bronze in Mandalay was snatched in 1785 after a military campaign in Western Burma, or Rakhine. The three most sacred sites in Burma could therefore, not be more different, at least at first glance.

No less surprising features emerge. All three, for example, are of rather recent origin, developed centuries after the celebrated Pagan period ( 11th-13th centuries). The Golden Rock became widely popular only in the 19th century and the Mahamuni rose to national significance only after it seizure in 1785. The Shwedagon is the oldest, but the monument’s prominence is no earlier than the 14th century.

The country’s top sacred sites therefore came to be venerated in rather recent times, proving that antiquity per se is not a requirement for membership in the most sacred ranking.

Even more unexpected paradox is that none of these shrines owe their origins to the now dominant Burmese community. The Shwedagon and the Golden Rock are linked to the Mon, while the sacred matrix of the Mahumini Buddha lies in distant Rakhine, on Burma’s periphery.. Groups outside the mainstream of Burmese society have been the very ones most responsible for the nation’s top shrines…*
* We found this interesting note while reading Sacred Sites of Burma, by Donald M.Stadtner )

 

Ananda Paagoda

Ananda pagoda, one of the four surveiving temples in Bagan, houses four standing – adorned with gold leaves Buddhas, each one facing one of the four cardinal directions, stated to represent different stages of Buddha’s attainment of nirvana . In this image we can see the original South – facing Buddha, called the Kassapa, which has a unique architectural display, and one that when given a close view has a sad look, but when viewed from a larger distance, gives an amazing expression of mirthfulness. Ananda Pagoda, Bagan, Maynamar. Photo Credit: Denise del Barto

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Bagan, former Pagan, is an ancient city located in the Mandalay Region of Myanmar. From the 9th to the 13th centuries, the city was capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, the first kingdom to unify the regions that would later constitute Burma, today, Myanamar. During the kingdom’s height , between the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 Buddhist temples , pagodas and monasteries were constructed in the Bagan plains alone, of which the remains of over 2,200 temples and pagodas still survive to the present day. Especially stunning is to see them at the sunset. Amazing, unforgeable late afternoon in Bagan. Myanmar. Photo Credit: Denise del Barto

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Detail of a corner of a temple in Bagan, Myanmar. Photo Credit: Denise del Barto

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A visit to Burma is not complete if you don’t go to visit the most sacred and impressive Buddhist site for the people of Myanmar: the 2,500 years old – and nearly 110 metres high Shwedagon Pagoda, that enshrines strands of Buddha’s hair and other holy relics. Located on the west of the royal lake, on the Singutara Hill, dominating in this way, Yangon’s skyline. Shwedagon pagoda is covered with hundreds of gold plates and the top of the stupa is encrusted with 4,531 diamonds. Impossible not to go. Yangon, Myanmar. Photo Credit: Denise del Barto

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The Shwedagon Pagoda consists of  hundreds of colourful temples, stupas, statues that reflect this wonderful archicectural era. Be prepared to admire this jewel of Burma’s history and religious expression. Just amazing. Yangon, Myanmar. Photo Credit: Denise del Barto

Interesting details about Myanmar

Myanmar, known officially as the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, has its capital in the newly built city of Naypydaw, while Yangoon ( Rangoon, formerly the country’s capital), remains being the largest city in the country.

To have an idea of where this country is located, lets know that Myanmar is bordered by Bangladesh, India, China and Thailand, is slightly bigger than Thailand, but it is 14 times smaller than its powerful neighbour, China.

The population of Burma, 54 million according to 2016 census, is unquestionably a collection of diverse people, who speak nearly 50 separate languages and dialects and which has its origins in the cultures of ancient China .The old name Union of Burma implied that the nation was, and still is, a federation of many peoples.

But it is an uneasy federation .. … “Burma Proper” , as it was called by the British, was the chief settlement area of the Bamar ( Burman) majority, is encircled by “Outer Burma”,according to the British’s social division, separating minority states of the Chin, kachin,Sahn, Kayin or Karen, Kayah ( Red Karen), Mons and Rakhines ( Arakanese).

Through the centuries, there have been mistrust, antagonism and frequent wars among the various groups, and the situation is not different today. Not less than 67 separate indigenous racial groups have been identified in Burma, not including the various Indians, Chinese.

The dominance of the largest ethnic group, the Burman or Bamar people, over the country’s many minorities has been fueling a series of long-running rebellions, although a gradual peace process yielded a draft ceasefire deal in 2015.

 

Looking into Myanmar’s history

Early civilizations in Myanmar included the Tibeto – Burman speaking who set up Pyy city states in Upper Burma and the Mon kingdoms in Lower Burma. In the 9th century, the Bamar people , who speak a Sino – Tibetan language entered the upper Irrawaddy valley migrating from the north of China-India borderlands settling in Pagan (today Bagan). Over the last millennium, they have largely replaced or absorbed the Mon and Burman– Tibetan speaking people of the Pyu city states.

 

If Only I’d known…  

The Barman people are often imprecisely called ” Burmese”, though this term in contemporary usage can refer to any citizen of Myanmar, regardless of ethnicity .

 

The Burmese language, culture and Theravada Buddhism slowly became dominant in the country. The Pagan kingdom fell due to the mongol invasions and several warring states emerged. In the 16th century, reunified by the Taungoo Dynasty, the country was for a brief period the largest empire in the history of southeast Asia.

The British conquered Burma after three Anglo- Burmese wars in the 19th century and the country became a British colony. Burma became independent in 1948, initially as a democratic nation, and then, following a coup d’etat in 1962, a military dictatorship.

As a consequence, Myanmar was long considered a pariah state while under the rule of oppressive military Junta until 2011. The generals who ran the country suppressed almost all dissent – symbolized by the 15 years house arrest of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi- and stood accused of gross human rights abuses, prompting international condemnation and sanctions.

A gradual liberalisation process has been under way since 2010. The country now is expected to see a major shift, after November 2015 when the National league for Democracy ( NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won by landslide Myanmar’s first openly contested election in 25 years. The win came 5 years to the day since she was released of her 15 years house arrest, but she can’t be elected president of Myanmar due to a constitutional ban ( her sons were born out of Burma, as well as her late husband).

On March 2016, Myanmar’s parliament elected Htin Kyaw, as the first civilian president, an historical moment that ushered the longtime opposition party of Aung San Suu Kyi into government after 54 years of direct or indirect military rule.

 

Now, we would like to share with you some images of this amazing country…Enjoy the trip…

 

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar. Photo Credit: Denise del Barto

Shwedagon pagoda is not only an active temple, but the focus of religious and community activities. So you will be able to understand this monumental work of art, architecture and beliefs, experiencing an insider’s view of this magnificient symbol of Buddhism, with only observing the bustling of devotees and monks whashing the statues, offering flowers, whorshipping and meditating. Incredible.  Yangon, Myanmar. Photo Credit: Denise del Barto

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar.photo Credit: Denise del Barto

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar.Photo Credit: Denise del Barto

local vendors used this stones to anchor their sand paintings and art work for daily display. Bagan, Myanmar. Photo Credit: Denise del Barto

Local vendors use this stones to anchor their sand paintings and art work for daily display. The simplicity of Burma’s people. Bagan, a city lost in time. Myanmar. Photo Credit: Denise del Barto

Removal of shoes was required before entering all Denise Temples in in Began there usually was just an accumulation of everyone's footwear waiting for the owner to return. Photo Credit: Denise Del Barto

Removal of shoes was required before entering all temples. In Bagan there usually was just an accumulation of everyone’s footwear waiting for the owner to return.  Myanmar. Photo Credit: Denise Del Barto

larges temples in Began had a different Buddha image in each of their four entrances. Often the walls were covered in old faded paintings. Bagan, Myanmar. photo Credit: Denise del Barto

Larges temples in Bagan have a different Buddha image in each of their four entrances. Often the walls aere covered in old faded paintings. Bagan, Myanmar. Photo Credit: Denise del Barto

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Bagan, city of temples…city lost in time. Burma. Photo Credit: Denise del Barto

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Farming and fishing, on Inle Lake. Living on the water… incredible experience.  Myanmar. Photo Credit: Denise del Barto

Laos and Cambodia

 

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Getting into Wat Sisaket main chapel for his morning prayers. Vientiane, Laos. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Luang Prabang is renowed for Buddhist temples of oustanding beauty with Wat Xieng Thong being a classic example. Symbol of great historic importance, this magnificent masterpiece is characteristc of the Luang Prabang style. Going early in the morning, brings out  the best of Wat Xieng Thong’s magic. Luang Prabang, Laos. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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If you wish to explore around Luang Prabang, just take a two -hour – long tail boat tour and make the 25 km journey up the river from the city until the confluence of the Mekong and the Nam Ou rivers. Just opposite the mouth of the latest , in the side of a limestone cliff the Oak Ou caves are waiting for you.These caves are full of Buddha’s images, some of them of venerable age, and it is said that it was King Settharitat who discovered these two caves in the 16th century and that  they have been venerated since then. It just incredible. Luang Prabang, Laos. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Sunrise at Angor Wat .No words are needed here. Sian Reap,Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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The Bayon, state temple in the core of Angkor Thom, ancient capital of the Angkor empire, during Jayavarman VII’s reign. Angkor. Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Preah Khan temple, outside Angkor Thom. Siean Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

An Interesting note:

“Laos and Cambodia form the little-known hinterlands of Indochina. In the colonial period they were considered backwaters by the French, who concentrated on exploiting the resources of Vietnam, the third and dominant country in French Indochina. During the long years of warfare that followed independence, they were once again considered backwaters, and this view of them continued, though they were hardly forgotten by the military strategists of both sides. Communist Vietnam used the HocHi Minh trail trough Laos to re-supply its forces in the south, while the United States waged a viciously destructive “Secret war” against the North Vietnamese Army and its Lao allies, The Pathet Lao.

Meanwhile, the sleepy Cambodia was similarly sucked into the quagmire. Used as a base sanctuary by the vietnamese Communists, it was secretly and illegally, carpet bombed by the USA Air Force.

The consequences of communist victory in 1975 were far more terrible for the Cambodians, “liberated” by the auto-genocidal Khmer Rouge, than for the Lao people. Nevertheless, for almost the next two decades, both countries experienced impoverishment and insolation from the outside world.

All this has changed fast. Both Laos and Cambodia have opened theirs doors to the international community, and in particular, to overseas visitors. The government in both Vientiane an Phnom Penh see tourism as a way to accelerate national development and to assure a more prosperous future.

There are other good reasons for linking Laos and Cambodia…. Both countries, share a long tradition of Indic culture as well as being culturally related through Theravada Buddhism and long years of interaction with neigbouring Thailand. Each is startlingly beautiful, populated by generous and friendly people, and both have benefited from the French culinary tradition. As people says that Cambodian’s king Sihanouk once cynically put it: “ I’am an anti- colonist, but if one must be colonised, it is better to be colonised by gourmets”.

Today Laos and Cambodia are free, independent members of ASEAN and stand on the verge of development and prosperity. There has been never a better time to visit them…” *
* We found this interesting note while reading the book : South Asia, Insight Guide, by Discovery Channel 

Laos

 

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Very early ,every morning, you can witness the traditional monks’  alms round when more than three hundred monks walk along streets of old town of Luang Prabang, the ancient royal city. In the background is Villa Santi, now a boutique hotel, but  in the past was the princess’s house. Luang Prabang, Laos. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

An Interesting Note:

Getting to know Laos

“At 4:30 a.m., the ring of my alarm clock stirred me awake. Though I had spent the previous night indulging in Laotian specialties like larb gai (spicy chopped chicken), I rose effortlessly, eager to participate in a time-honored tradition: the local Buddhist monks’ daily collection of food for the poor.

Over the past decade, Luang Prabang has experienced an influx of investment (which is good or bad depending on who you ask)–along with strict regulations stemming from its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The combination has helped the former royal capital of Laos maintain its status as one of Asia’s best-preserved cities, with original stone temples and French colonial architecture reflecting its complex heritage.

I carried a bamboo basket laden with steaming sticky rice to the gates at one of Luang Prabang’s many wats (temples) and joined a row of locals and visitors who were sitting cross-legged on blankets. As the sun began to creep over the horizon, I could see a line of monks, old and young, approaching, a basket hanging from a long strap on each of their shoulders.

As they got nearer, I concentrated on the task at hand: rolling the still-hot rice into small balls that I could toss into their waiting vessels. Their faces remained stoic as they passed, although one young monk offered a wide smile when I lobbed the rice ball, only to miss his basket (a hoops star, I am not)!

At this point in my life and career, visiting world-class museums, historical sites, and distinctive hotels has become a matter of course, but this small city presented one delightful surprise after another–and taking part in the almsgiving certainly stood out as a highlight.

Here are some tips on how to home in on the authentic and unexpected in Luang Prabang:
My memories of Laos will always be cloaked in the mystical fog that blankets the city each morning. Every day, I made sure to wake early at my hotel to watch the city stir to life as though through a veil….

You could read the full   article :The Mystic Riches of Luang Praban, by Annie Fitzsimmons visiting this website: 

www.intelligenttravel.nationalgeographic.com/2014/02/11/the-mystical-riches-of-luang-prabang-afitz/

 

A trip to Laos is a journey through time, is a journey to the past. Walking Luang Prabang’s streets, wrapped in the magic of the city’s early morning mist, is living in the past…

Luang Prabang , capital of Laos and seat of the monarchy until 16th century, combines its royal legacy, though a story of decline,with its splendid natural setting at the confluence of the Mekong and the Nam Khan to create one of the most intriguing and magical cities in Asia, and which temples and culture have been so well preserved that the whole city is now a World Heritage Site.

 

An Interesting Note:      

“..Despite having been long sheltered from Southeast Asia’s tourist circuit, Luang Prabang, equal parts Lao royal city and French colonial hangout, that, in a few short years, moved from beyond being a backpacker’s mecca and into the role that it always seemed destined to play-diamond in the rough.

A day’s drive north of Vientiane into the heart of rural Laos, Luang Prabang rest on a tiny, coconut- groved peninsula that presses into the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. Its wide boulevards, walked upon by Lan Xang royalty on and off over 600 years, are now packed with a seamless fusion of precolonial wats and French colonial residences.

The French influence began in 1893 when several hundreds “fonctionaries” severed Laos from Siam along the Mekong river.The French “joie de vivre” melded easily with the lavish royal court and the general Lao easy living. Luxury beget luxury, and it has never has left. The desire to while away the afternoon in a cafe and enjoy a fresh-baked croissant sits well here, where there is little to do besides watch the Mekong languidly float south and where the people are relaxed enough to, as the French said, ” listen to the rice grow”….

* taken from a  Matthew Cordell’s report

 

And then, Vientiane, Laos’ capital city, house of That Luang, or Great Stupa, symbol of Laos, is a crescent- shaped city, lethargic in comparison with other frenetic Asian capitals and with an air of decaying grandeur that adds to its relaxed charm.

Although you could go first to Luang Prabgang and then, travel south toward Vientiane, or vice-versa starting your trip in Vientiane and going north toward Luang Prabang, it would be a great idea to do the journey  by land to enjoy the amazingly beautiful landscape that you miss when flying, and doing so, you’ll be able to stop in Vang Vieng.

Van Vieng, a  small town that crouches low over the Nam Song River with a surprising and stunning background of serene karts formations ( limestone cliffs) and a tapestry of vivid green paddy fields that will make you remember a rural scene taken from an Old Asian silk painting. Just spectacular.

Here , depending of your time, you might rent a scooter, take a motorcycle tour, go tubbing or trekking , there are mysterious caves to explore, lagoons of turquoise water to dive into and sheer cliffs to climb. Stay one or two days and enjoy one of Laos’ most  picturesque spots. Imperdible .

There are much more in Laos to see and admire, but when you think in visiting this country, these places are the first to come into mind…there could be more trips to visit other Laos’ areas, it is easy to get from Thailand, Laos’ southern neighbour.

 

We invite you to a short tour through the old royal capital of the Lan Xang kingdom, Luang Prabang. enjoy  its  magical streets, and temples…

 

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Luang Prabang, the  proud old royal capital, which were later under the French Protectorate, now enjoys the protection of the UNESCO. If you are in Southeast Asia, on holidays or living, save theree or four days for Luang Prabang, you won’t regret it. Laos.  Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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The monk’s alms round is one of, if not the most known, tourist attraction of Luang Prabang. It starts before the sunrise, every morning , all the year. You can’t leave Luang Prang without getting up before the sun rises, at least once, to silently enjoy  on the side, respecting the monks’ long procession . If you wish to take a photograph, please, do it without using the flash .Think that this is not a circus function, but it is part of the people’s beliefs and Buddhist life of Luang Prabang. Laos.  Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Incredible view of Wat Xieng Thong….One local vendor walking out the temple after her prayers and only one tourist…Early morning life at Wat Xieng Thong, the best time to go and  to be able to enjoy its calmness and magic. Luang Prabang, laos.  Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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The raising sun iluminating the entrance of the Red chapel, just behind Wat Xieng Thong main chapel. Magical image of pure nostalgia and spirituality. Luang Prabang, Laos. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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You will see this characteristic detail of the Lao’s religious  architectural style, set on the middle of the length  of every single temple’s main chapel roof. Their design vary, indicating the importance of the temple. Art and beliefs. Impressive. Luang Prabang, Laos.  Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Just after the alms round has finished, all monks has gone back to their own monasteries. Touching. Wat Nong Sikhoun Muang, Luang Prabang, Laos.  Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

How many times, while organising your trip to Laos, have you wondered how would you travel from Luang Prabang to Vientiane, or vice versa? If you started your stay in Laos in Luang Prabang,  we will  propose you to give a try  and travel south by land, toward Laos’  actual capital enjoying the landscape, having a rest in Van Vieng…enjoy the trip…

 

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To get Vientiane coming down from Luang Prabang, you will  have to cross the range of mountains, which  landscape is just stunning , although there are some times when you , probably, will ask yourself what are you doing there ,especially where  parts of the road are  poorly built or just inexistent. Near the top, nearly touching the clouds. Laos. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Going down, with  the top of the mountains left behind , as well those deep cliffs… Laos. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Arriving to Van Vieng, a small town that crouches low over the Nam Song River with a surprising and stunning background of serene karts formations…the ones that you  have  just been  travelling through just hours before…  Laos. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Long boats on the coast of the Nam Song river waiting for visitors looking for  adventurers… Van Vieng, Laos. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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A small spirit house in one of the resorts’ ground, with the imposing view of limestones formations that seems to guard and protect Van Vieng.  Laos.Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

 

After enjoying a time in Van Vieng, we continue going south, until reaching  Vientiane, Laos’ capital…Now, enjoy the tour..

 

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That Luang, or the Great Stupa, in Vientiane, is Laos’  most sacred monument  as well as the national symbol ,  and its image is on Laos’ official seal. From the outside, That Luang looks more like a fortress surrounded by high walls, but when passing through the entrance gate, you find yourself in front of an impossing golden stupa. Vientiane, Laos. Photo Credit: Sivia Muda

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That Luang is a multilevel stupa that represents the different stages in Buddhism enlightenment. Thus, its lowest level represents the material world, the middle level the world of appearances, while the highest level the world of nothingness.Vientiane, Laos.  Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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The beautiful architecture of That Luang, the Great Stupa, is a clear example of   Lao style, influenced by Buddhist beliefs. You can observe this fact in  the finely -gilded, pointed lesser stupas, and its many Buddha images. This 148 feet tall stupa is totally covered in gold leafs. It is just amizing. Vientiane, Laos. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Wat Si Saket, built in early Bangkok style by Chao Anuvong, when Laos was Siam’s vassal , what makes it to be the oldest temple in Vientiane and one of the few that survived the 1828 Siamese invasion. Standing outside the temple, we can see , appearing over the surrounding wall , some of the many little stupas that keep the ashes of donors to the temple.Vientiane, Laos. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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The interior walls of the cloister surrounding the central sim, or  main chapel, are painstakingly filled with small niches containing more than 2000 miniature silver and ceramic Buddha images, most of them made between the 16th and 19th centuries CE. Wat Si Saket, Vientiane, Laos. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Interesting details about Laos

Laos, known officially as the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (LPDR) is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordered by Burma and the people’s Republic of China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south and Thailand to the west.

Laos is, comparatively, small in size being  less than half of Thailand’s but 40 times smaller that its powerful neighbour, China. Since 1975, Laos is a single-party socialist republic, and it has been ruled by a marxist and Communist government since then.

Its population is estimated to be around 7 million, according to 2016 reports. Laos is a multi-ethnic country with the political and culturally dominant Lao people, the lowland, wet-rice growing Buddhists closely related with theThais, making up approximately 60% of the population. Mon – Khmer groups, the Hmong and other indigenous hill tribes, accounting for 40 % of the population, live in the foothills and mountains each with its own distinctive and colourful traditions, clothing and own world and life’s view.

Looking into Laos’ History

Laos is an ancient country with a surprisingly sophisticated culture; at the same time, it is simple and easy-going. From the 14th to the 16th century, when the kingdom of Lan Xang or “One Million of Elephants” was at its peak, Laos was one of the most important states of Southeast Asia, and many  of the country’s religious and cultural traditions date from that period.

When Lan Xang went into decline in 18th century, the Lao people saw themselves dominated by their more powerful neighbours, most notably Siam and Vietnam, and was split into three kingdoms : Luang Phrabang, Vientiane and Champasak.

In 1893, the three kingdoms were united to form what is now known as Laos and it became the French Indochina, along with Cambodia and Vietnam. It briefly gained independence in 1945 after the Japanese occupation, but returned to the French rule until it was granted autonomy in 1949.

Laos became independent in 1953, with a constitutional monarchy under Sisavang Vong. Shortly after independence, a long civil war ended the monarchy when the communist Pathet Lao movement came to power in 1975.

 

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Exterior view of the Presidential Palace, seat of the communist government of the Laos’ People Democratic Republic, Vientiane, Laos . Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Patuxai or Victory Gate, is Laos’ Arc de Triomphe. It was finished in 1969 in memory of the Lao killed in wars before the communist revolution took place. Whoever you  talk to , all will coincide in calling it ” the American or the vertical runaway” , because was built with cement paid by the Americans to be used as a new airport in Vientiane, capital city of Laos. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Although Patuxai has a clear French inspiration in its design, Buddhist imaginary is found in the Lao style mouldings and frescoes under the arches representing scenes of the Ramayana epic. Vientiane, Laos. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Going up along the narrow staircase, looking down through the small window, we can admire the beauty and fine lines of the Patuxai design, along with the balanced mix of western design with images found in Buddhist tales and beliefs. Vientiane, Laos. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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A worshiper walking three times around That Luang. Touching. Vientiane, Laos. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Stunning mosaic showing rural life in a Lao village. It was executed on the exterior wall of the Red Chapel, or La Chapelle Rouge, which, in turn, is located behind the main Sim of Wat Xien Thong, in 1950 in commemoration of the 2500 year anniversary of the Buddha’s attaining nirvana. Luang Prabang, Laos. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Early cool morning, two old friends chatting. Luang Prabang, Laos. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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We were walking along the main road in a village outside Luang Prabang, when we saw this senior monk meditating or just waiting for the right time to strike  the bell of the  temple. the “Whisky” Village , outskirts of Luang Prabang , Laos. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Free time for young monks from their studies. Wat Pha Phutthabaat, Luang Prabang, Laos. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Luang Prabang, the ancient royal city, the city of temples…and monks, of all ages. The youngest,  who go to school at temples, walk since early in the morning, after their alms round, under the rain, under the merciless sun along Luang Prabang’s streets, the city of old traditions.. Laos. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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The day duties have finished. Time for leaving the school temple…a common view in Luang Prabang’s streets. Laos. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Cambodia

 

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Sunrise at Angkor Wat, reflected on the calm waters of one of the ponds in front the Western gate. Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia .Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

Getting to know Cambodia

Cambodia’s historical anchorage lies in the impressive Angkor, representative of the great Khmer kingdom that long ruled the region, but Cambodia is much more than Angkor…

 

An Interesting Note:

“The monuments of Angkor, in the northwest of present-day Cambodia, have twice emerged from a period of darkness. The first time was in the middle of the 19th century when French explorers, and later archeologists, uncovered ruins overgrown for four centuries. The second time is now, when the temples have once more become accessible after two decades of civil war. The eclipse of the greatest city of Southeast Asia had ever known happened in 1432 after it had been captured and sacked by the Siamese. It was abandoned by its Khmer rules as indefensible for a new site further east. The stone and brick temples gradually collapsed as the forest took over; the wooden palaces and houses rotted away completely…”  *

* We found this note reading A Sourvenir of Angkor”, by Michael Freeman

 

Angkor the Empire, the city, the Temple

A visit to Cambodia is an unique experience. Simple like that. Once the greatest city in the world, with over one million inhabitants, Angkor Wat , cultural and spiritual heart of Cambodia, dominates the county’s past and present as it is in the centre of Cambodia’s  national flag. Angkor Wat is the ultimate expression of Khmer genius, an awe-inspiring temple that is stunning for both its grand scale and its incredible details.

Even after several visits, one struggles to come to terms with the immensity of its scale and meaning. Standing on the central path, after crossing the Western Gate, one has the first whole view of Angkor Wat, which turns to be  an imposing, humbling view. Angkor must be seen to be believed.

 

An Interesting Note:      

“A small cruciform terrace stands at the western end of the causeway crossing the moats. It is guarded by impressive lions and nagas, placed there to keep away demons and other evil spirits.

By walking up the flight of the  stairs leading to this terrace you will leave the world of mortals, to start a symbolic ascent of Mount Meru. From that moment, you will at all times remain above ground level and will keep going up, until you reach the third floor of the temple, whit its towers representing the five peaks of the mythical mountain, the abode of gods..
In Angkor times, this privilege was probably reserved to the highest priests and to the king. It is generally thought that common people could not go beyond the first floor, where they could contemplate, one would imagine in awe, the wonderful bas- reliefs meant to boot their spiritual development …and respect for their king.

The monument, hidden from view by its imposing western gate, it is not yet visible to visitors crossing the moats, but the gate’s three towers, flanked by galleries leading to two end pavilions, offers a representation of the temple’s silhouette. This initiatory approach prepares visitors to discover a temple that will only reveal itself after they have crossed the western gate and, by so doing, have reached the temple’s sacred grounds.” *

* We found this particularly interesting note reading : Focusing on the Angkor Temples, by Michael Petrotchenko

 

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The last minutes in this, the mortal world, with the moon as witness. The lion guard and the Naga, protecting  Angkor, stand on the cruciform terrace  that leads to  the bridge over the moat which will take you to the other world, into Mount Meru…Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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The sun has already risen over Angkor wat. The  small cruciform terrace stands at the western end of the causeway crossing the moats. It is guarded by impressive lions and nagas, placed there to keep away demons and other evil spirits. It is here, by walking up the flight of the stairs leading to this terrace  that you will leave the world of mortals and to start a symbolic ascent of Mount Meru. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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The west entrance gate is in front of you, it  is where the bridge between the mortal world and Mount Meru, the Gods’ abode, ends. The temple, hidden from view by its imposing western gate, it is not yet visible to visitors crossing the moats, but the gate’s three towers, flanked by galleries leading to two end pavilions, offers a representation of Angkor Wat’s silhouette. Impressive. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap,  Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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From the moment since you walk on the bridge, over the moat, , you will at all times remain above ground level and will keep going up, until you reach the third floor of the temple, which towers represent the five peaks of the mythical mountain, the abode of gods, Mount Meru. Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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The initial design and construction of Angkor Wat, as the king’s state temple, took place in the first half of the 12th century, during the reign of Suryavarman II . Unlike most Khmer temples, Angor Wat is oriented to the west rather than to the east. This has led to different interpretations, including that Suryavarman II intended it to serve as his funeray temple..or that Angkor Wat ‘s alignment was due to its dedication to Visnu, who was associated with the west. Regardelss to the reason , it is Visnu’s image that you will encounter when entering Angkor Wat through the souhtern tower of the west entrance gate… Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Masterfully done, the Khmers took the techniques from carpenterstry and applied them on sandtsone. The result is just stunning. One of the many windows of Angkor Wat. It is just admirable. Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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This is how the western gate is seen from the upper level of Angkor Wat. This is how the king and priests would have seen their people, the Khmers, coming in to venerate the king-god. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

The gateway to Angkor’s region is Siem Reap, a resort town with French colonial and Chinese- style architecture especially in the Old French Quarter and  the Old market, where buildings have been restored, and where a visitor can find most of restaurants and bars, ideal for ending the day after walking through Angkor’s temples. Siem Reap, due to its proximity with Angkor, which is just ten kilometers from town, became the most popular tourist destination of Cambodia.

 

We invite you to have a look to the Old French Quarter , in the old market area, of Siem Reap…enjoy the tour

 

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Enjoying a strong, black , French coffee in complete silence and calm in one of the many cafes of the French Quarter , after touring the temples of Angkor…would you ask for more? Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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At dinner time, just head toward the French Quarter, you will find difficult to get decided … not only because of the many cuisines of around the world , but also, for the beauty of the restaurants, the lively atmosphere. SienmReap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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The French Quarter in Siem Reap, a place to go for a coffee in the afternoon, a good dinner, and fun afterwords…we highly recommend to get a hotel in their area..or at least one that were at walking distance..Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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The French Quarter in Siem Reap is not only for finding cafes, restaurants or bars. You will find a huge range of souvenir shops…again, highly recommendable. Siem Reap, Cambodia.  Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

Yet, Angkor is much more than Angkor Wat. There are wonderful temples in Angkor Thom, the ancient capital of the Angkor empire, as well in the surrounding area. There are temples, which were rescued from the jungle, as The Bayon, with its iconic – enigmatic smiling faces and there is  Banteay Srei; there are temples partially rescued from the jungle, as Ta Phrom and Ta Nei and there are temples still buried in the forests, waiting to be discovered.

 

We are inviting you to a short tour into Angkor Thom, the ancient capital of  Angkor, the Khmer empire, during Jayavarman VII’s kingdom.Enjoy the tour…

 

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54 gods on the left, 54 demons on the right, flank the road that leads to the Southern Gate of Angkor Thom, the capital of Angkor empire, when Jayavarman VII was king. Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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The Leper king terrace , named after a statue found on the site, was built by Jayavarman VII in late 12th century, and it is believed, as a representation of Mount Meru, the center of the universe both in Buddhist and Hindu cosmoloy. The 25 meters long terrace is totally covered with sculptings in high relief  consisting of inner and outer walls. The inner walls were built first and so, became buried under the soil when the outer walls were constructed. For this reason, on the inner walls  you can appreciate several rows of very well preserved sculptings of demons, princesses and celestial beings. Terrace of the Leper King, Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Rows of armed guards, celestial beings, are carved on the inner walls of the Leper King terrace. Simply amazing. Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Angkor Thom, was built  with a square lay out, the sides of which run exactly north to south and east to west. Standing in the exact center, at the core, of the walled city,  is Bayon Temple, that  represents the intersection of Heaven and Earth. Dating from the 12th century, this Buddhist temple  which incorporated  also elements from Hindu cosmology, is the spectacular state temple of the ancient city of Angkor Thom, the capital city built by Jayavarman VII. Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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The Bayon was the last state temple to be built at Angkor, and the only  one  to be built primarly as a Mahayana Buddhist shrine dedicated to Buddha ; although a great number of minor and local deities were also encompassed as representatives of the various districts and cities of the kingdom.  In this image ,a Buddha image venerated in one of the small sanctuaries of the upper level; through the window, one of the iconic faces of the Bayon, and why not, of Angkor. The Bayon, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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The door in the first enclosure, or galleries, frames the the Central Sanctuary of the Bayon,, the state temple, the centre of the ancient capital city ,Angkor Thom, and the whole empire, duirng Jayavarman VII’s reign, . Impressive. The Bayon, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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There are 216 of these  gigantic faces on The Bayon’s towers. The identity of whom these faces represent has been for long a matter of discussion among scholars, but their similarity with others statues of the king had led many to the conclusion that the faces are representations of Jayavarman VII himself,… although others say that the faces belong to the bodhisattva of compassion Avalokisvara…but the two hypotehsis don’t need  to be regarded as mutually exclusive… Angkor scholar George Coedes has theorized that Jayavarman VII stood squarely in the tradition of the Khemer monarchs in thinking himself as a “devaraja” ( god-king). So, the important difference is that while his precedecessors were Hindus and regarded themselves as consubstancial with Shiva and his symbol the lingam, Jayavarman VII ,as a Mahayana Buddhist, identified himelf with the Buddha and the bodhisattva. While the discussion continues, those engmatic faces keep smiling at us… The Bayon, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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In every direction you look at, you will find and feel  protected by one of these mysterious, gigantic faces with their enigmatic smiles.. The Bayon, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Leaving the Bayon, walking down its narrow corridors, crossing imaginary doors…The Bayon, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

Now, lets go outside Angkor Thom, to visit Ta Nei and later, travel some 30 kilometres to visit Banteay Srei. Be prepared to go back in time, to see two of the most stunning  hidden jewels of Angkor, the Empire… 

 

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Ta Nei, a small temple located deep in the Cambodian jungle, to  the west of the East Baray, one of the reservoirs that fed water Angkor. It might  be not so easy to find, because is still not a popular tourist destination, which  it is a bless. The temple was built  in the  late 12th century, by king Jayavarman VII who  dedicated it to the principles of Buddhsim. Archeologists had left Ta Nei as it originally was, being only object of minimal reconstruction and clearing efforts..so you will an fortunate witness , while  wrapped in a dense silence, so uncommon in any Angkor temple, to see  how roots split open the temple stone, and the jungle sprawls across its grounds. Ta Nei, a truly “ruined” ruin. We really hope that it could stay in this state for the years to come. Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Ideal for going late in in the afternoon, after touring others temples in Angkor area, and you will  get the best of Ta Nei. Its quiet solitude is so overwhelming that makes you feel that you are  really entering in another dimension… Ta Nei, Sien Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Ta Nei, thought by many to have been built as a hospital, theory that might make sense when looking at these long and dark corridors; darkness only interrupted by the sunlight that came in through holes left by fallen pieces of the roof. Once , may be, a populated and busy place, but that is such a peaceful, magical setting today. A wonder. Ta Nei, Sien Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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We couldn’t wonder whether it is the magic of this place that keeps the whole structure supported by that only point…Ta Nei, Sien Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

From the magic of Ta Nei, lets go to the delicacy and beauty of Banteay Srei …

 

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Banteay Srei is a 10th century Khemer temple , located 25 km northeast of the main group of temples that once belonged to the capital city of Angkor Thom. It was the only temple at Angkor not built for a king, instead it was constructed by one of king Rajendravarma’s counsellors. The temple was primarly dedicated to Shiva, being the soutehrn buildings and the central tower devoted to him, but the northern ones, to Vishnu. What will call your attention,  is that the buildings themselves are miniature in scale, unusually so when messured by the standars of Angkorian construction, but the delicacy and beauty of its reliefs are what make this temple to be call the jewel of Angkor. With all justice. Banteay Srei, Sien Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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A close up of a unbelievably detailed carving on the red -sandstone walls  of the buildings and pediments of the libraries  that are part of this small but incredible beautiful temple, Banteay Srei. Stunning. Sien Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Banteay Srei means” Citadel of the Women” , and it is said that the reliefs on this temple are so delicated that they could only have been carved by the hand of a woman. Classic carvings include women with lotus flowers in hand and traditional skirts clearly visible, as well as breathtaking re-creations of scenes from the epic Ramayana , adorn the libraries pediments, but you will find that almost every square centimetre of this temple is covered by bas-reliefs. You won’t  believe it  until you find yourself staring at them. Banteay Srei, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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The central sanctuary, the most sacred place of the temple.The six stairways leading up to the platform are guarded by two kneeling statues of human figures with animal heads. Unfortunately, most of those now in place are replicas, the originals having been stolen or removed to museums. Banteay Srei, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

Although Cambodia’s historical anchorage lies in the impressive Angkor, representative of the great Khmer kingdom that long ruled the region, Cambodia is much more than Angkor…

Cambodia’s capital city,  Phnom Penh which  fortunes have risen and fallen with Cambodia’s turbulent history, which is visible in its streets and buildings which echo past glories and defeats. Once an exquisite hybrid of Cambodian and French architecture , despite the destruction of the war years and depopulation by the Khmer Rouge, Phnom Penh is destined to become so again. Like Laos, Cambodia has retained many of the beneficial aspects of French colonialism, as the French cuisine and architecture.

Finally there is the Cambodian coast, once the weekend retreat of French colonial officials and the Cambodian elite, but which suffered badly during the puritanical Khmer Rouge regime. Cambodia’s beaches are often neglected in favor of Thailand’s.

But slowly, surely, the country’s idyllic islands and shining white sands are becoming known to the world’s beach lovers, as Koh Rong, Koh Rong Saloem, Ream National Park ‘s Koh Thmei and the privately owned Sokha Beach, the best of Sihanoukville’s beaches, among many.

Interesting details about  Cambodia

The Kingdom of Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy with King Norodom Sihamoni, the son of former king Norodom Sihanouk, who abdicated because of poor health, as Head of State. Today, the monarch’s role is mainly ceremonial, while the head of government is the Prime Minister Hun Sen, one of the world’s longest-serving prime ministers, who has been in power in various coalitions since 1985.

But Cambodia’s kings once enjoyed a semi-divine status… 

An Interesting Note:

“One of the great historical surprises of Asia is that the Khmers ,and not the Indians, who took Hindu religious symbolism to its logical conclusion. This stemmed from a particularly Khmer’s practice of identifying the king with the principal god being worshipped.

From the founding of the capital in this area in the ninth century, until the building of Angkor in the 12th century , most of the temples were dedicated to the god Shiva. He was worshipped in a numbers of forms, but most often as a linga, derived from a phallus: tis was figuratively the essence of the god.

The Khmers developed the idea of the “devaraja,” the “god-who-is-king’, in which the ruler is associated with the god, and in fact is absorbed into the god when he dies. Because of this personal cult , it became essential for each king to build a temple designed to house an image of himself merged with the divinity.

During his lifetime, the prosperity of the kingdom depended of the magical link between ruler and god. The temple was the pivot of this connection. The image that embodied the essence of both the king and the god could be a statue, but was more often a golden linga…*

* We found this interesting note while reading: A Sourvenir of Angkor”, by Michael Freeman

 

Cambodia is located in the southern portion of the French Indochina peninsula in Southeast Asia. Its landmass is still smaller than Laos and only a 30% of Thailand’s size, bordered by Thailand to the northwest, Laos to the northeast, Vietnam to the east and the Gulf of Thailand to the southwest.

Ethnic Khmer make up more than 90 percent of Cambodia’s more than 15 million, according to 2016 records. The Khmer are a predominantly agricultural people, subsisting on a diet of rice and fish, and living in wooden stilted houses in villages . Although farming has been their main economic pursuit, other traditional crafts are weaving, pottery and metalworking.

In recent years, there has been a marked degree of urbanization as Khmers move to the main cities. Although the Khmer remain the dominant political and cultural section of Cambodia’s population, their economic influence is far less than that of ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese. Others ethnic minorities include the Chams and hill tribes.

The official religion is Theravada Buddhism, practiced by approximately 95 percent of the population, although Christianity made a small numbers of converts during the 20th century.

 

Looking into Cambodia’s History

Cambodia’s ancient name is “Kambuja”. In 802 CE, Jayavarman II declared himself “King” and marked the beginning of the Khmer Empire which flourish for over 600 years, allowing successive kings to dominate much of Southeast Asia and accumulate immense power and wealth.

The indianized kingdom built monumental temples including Angkor Wat, now a World Heritage Site. Its influence spread over much of Southeast Asia ,facilitating the diffusion of Hinduism first and Buddhism in later kingdoms. After the  decline  of Angkor  the capital of the empire moved to  Phom Phen , but without  political power and clout ,  was then ruled as a vassal between its neighbours.

Cambodia became part of French Indochina, along with Laos and Vietnam in 1863, and gained independence in 1953. The Vietnam war extended into Cambodia with the illegal American bombing from 1969 until 1973.

Following the Cambodian coup of 1970, the deposed king gave his support to his former enemy, the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge emerged as major power, taking Phnom Phen in 1975 initiating on of the most darkest period of Cambodia’s history, leaving behind a ruined economy, and millions of dead people and those who survived, starving.

The Khmer Rouge rule came to a sudden end in December 1978 when Vietnam sent forces seizing Phnom Penh and forcing the discredited DK ( Democratic Kampuchea) ‘s leadership take refuge in camps along the Thai border. The Vietnamese were accompanied by members of the Vietnamese-backed Cambodian Liberation army who had deserted the Khmer Rouge regime, including Hun Sen.

Then followed a cynical period of nine years when the regime established by Vietnam was made an international pariah, while the Khmer guerrillas received military and food aid from an unlikely collection of backers including… China, the USA, Britain and Thailand.

In 1989 Vietnam finally withdrew from Cambodia and following the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, Cambodia was governed briefly by a United Nations Mission ( 1992-1993). The UN withdrew after holding elections in which around 90 percent of the registered voted  and Cambodia was governed by a coalition between Prince Norodom Ranaridd and Hun Sen.

In 1993, a Constitutional Monarchy was  declared and  Norodom Sihanouk was restored as King of Cambodia, but all power was in the hands of the government who had won the elections.The stability reached following the conflict was shaken in 1997 by a coup d’ etat led by co- Prime Minister Hun Sen against the noncommunist parties in the government, staying in power as of 2016 .

 

An Interesting Note:

We would like to share with you an article that we found visiting The Guardian website:  www.theguardian.com  

“Hun Sen, Cambodia’s prime minister, marks 30 years of hardline rule…….
Since first taking up the job at age 33, becoming the world’s youngest premier in the process, Hun Sen has consolidated power with violence and intimidation of opponents that continues to draw criticism. But he could also take some credit for bringing modest economic growth and stability in a country devastated by the communist Khmer Rouge’s regime in the 1970s, a movement Hun Sen abandoned as they left some 1.7 million people dead from starvation, disease and executions.

On Wednesday, in a speech inaugurating a 2,200 metres (7,200ft) Mekong river bridge that is the country’s longest, Hun Sen, 62, defended his record, saying that only he had been daring enough to tackle the Khmer Rouge and help bring peace to Cambodia .

“If Hun Sen hadn’t been willing to enter the tigers’ den how could we have caught the tigers?” he said. He acknowledged some shortcomings but pleaded for observers to see the good as well as the bad in his leadership.
Born to a peasant family in east-central Cambodia, Hun Sen initially joined the Khmer Rouge against a pro-American government. He defected to Vietnam in 1977 and accompanied the Vietnamese invasion that toppled his former comrades in 1979.

The timely change of sides led to his being appointed foreign minister, then prime minister of the Vietnamese-supported regime in 1985. Since then he has never left the top post despite being forced to temporarily accept the title of “co-prime minister” after his party came in second behind that of Prince Norodom Ranariddh in a 1993 UN-supervised election. Four years later Hun Sen deposed his coalition partner in a bloody coup….”

You could read the full article at the Guardian website: 
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/14/hun-sen-cambodias-prime-minister-marks-30-years-of-hardline-rule

 

On October 2004 , king Norodom Sihamoni was selected by a special nine-member throne council, after the abdication of Norodom Sihanouk. Sihamoi’s selection was endorsed by Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly Speaker Prince Norodom Ranaridh ( the king’s half brother and current chief advisor), both members of the throne council. King Norodom Sihamoni was enthroned in Phnom Penh on 29 October 2004.

In recent years, reconstruction efforts have progressed and led to some political stability through a multiparty democracy under a constitutional monarchy. The country faces numerous challenges and sociopolitical issues, including widespread poverty, pervasive corruption, lack of political freedoms, low human development, and high rate of hunger.

While per capita income remains low compared to most neighbouring countries, Cambodia has one of the fastest growing economies in Asia. Cambodia has been an ASEAN member since 1999.

 

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Galleries of Angkor Wat, top to bottom, end to end bas-reliefs carvings… just to have an idea of the magnitude  not only in size , but in the importance  into the life of  the Khmers ,of this massive temple. Humbling. Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Memories of the attack to all Buddhist images,when Angkor went back to Hinduism, after Jayavarman VII’s reign . You will see this sad memory in all temples. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Once, the most sacred place of Angkor empire, today one of the most visited touristic places in Angkor. The Bayon, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Riding around The Bayon… Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Angkor’s wonderful bas-reliefs have no equivalent on the Angkor era, what led most experts to consider that Angkor Wat constituted the apogee of Khmer architecture. Siem Reap, Cambodia.Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Suryavarman II, the builder of Angkor Wat, being fanned and shaded by umbrellas. Galleries of Angkor Wat, Sien Reap, Cambodia

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Leaving Preah Khan . Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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The sun had risen behind Angkor Wat, the city awakes, business start. Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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A brand new tuk-tuk looking for customers in the French Quarter, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Waiting at a traffic light in the Old Market area. Siem Reap, Cambodia

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Sharing candies at Banteay Srei. Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Vietnam

 

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The tomb of Khai is one of the most surprising among royal tombs of Hue. Emperor Khai Dinh came to the throne in 1916 and he chose the slope of Chau Chu mountain, also called Chau E, some 10 km from the city of Hue, as the location to build his tomb. In comparison with those of preceding emperors, khai Dinh’s tomb is much smaller but it is very elaborate, a delicate balance between European, Asian, ancient and modern architectural trends. Hue, Vietnam. Photo Credit: Yvonne Meijboom.

Getting to know Vietnam

Vietnam has the distinction of having been a divided country for much of its modern history. Travelers can’t help but be impressed by the distinctive atmosphere of each one of Vietnam’s cities and scenery, Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital may be not be the country’s most dynamic city, Ho Chi Minh leads by far, but retains an ambience in architecture and layout that recalls the earlier French years.

Ho Chi Minh City , the former Saigon, and still called so by many residents, and once capital of the former South Vietnam, is the entrepreneurial centre of Vietnam today. On the coast east of Hanoi, Ha Long Bay stuns  the visitor with its otherworldly scenery. Midway between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, Hue is a place where the artifacts of ancient kings still hold sway over senses…

 

An Interesting Note:    

“In the early 1400s, the Chinese invaded Vietnam, one of many such invasions over the centuries. The Chinese were soundly defeated by the vietnamese. Le Loi, emperor of Vietnam, might have had the Chinese prisoners killed. Ho chose otherwise.

Le Loi apologized to the Chinese court for defeating its army, made peace with China, and provided the defeated troops with horses and ships for their return north. Le Loi knew that, although momentarily defeated, China would never disappear.

Indeed, the presence of its leviathan neighbour to the north has, perhaps more than anything else, sculpted the nature of the Vietnamese mind. Centuries of fending off China’s invasions, while a the same time not making China too angry, has given the vietnamese a pragmatism, a patience, and a solid sense of national identity. Vietnamese are highly educate and literate (over 90 percent), and they have an open desire to learn fro others, and to admit mistakes…” *

* We found this interesting note while reading: Southeast Asia, Insight Guide, by Discovery Channel

 

About the size of Germany , Vietnam challenges the best of travelers. After decades of war, and with an economy that was subsequently throttled, the country’s infrastructure,in some areas, the lack of it, can test the most hardened visitor’s patience. But Vietnam is truly one of those destinations where the inconveniences pale beside the remarkable scenery, and where the beauty of its over 90 million people and culture seduce all.

North Vietnam is anchored by Hanoi, an ancient city established nearly 1,000 years ago as the country’s most important political center, eclipsed by Hue only for a period of time, after which served as the capital of French Indochina from 1902 to 1954. From then to 1976 was the capital of North Vietnam, and it became the capital of a reunified Vietnam in 1976, after the north’s victory in the Vietnam War.

The façades of the French colonial era give the city an ambience not found elsewhere in Asia. Hanoi’s streets are ablaze with activity, from women carrying fruits and goods on baskets over their shoulders to impromptu sidewalk restaurants outfitted with miniature plastic stools. Overwhelming to the senses, Hanoi is a photographer’s and foodie’s dream.

 

An Interesting Note:    

“Although the French colonial period came to an end a long time ago, much of the French arts and deco style are still imprinted in the architecture of Hanoi. One hundred years under colonization of French, Vietnam did not loose its traditional color, but it also absorbs new perspectives from a modern France. Along the history of Hanoi city, it is not overstated to claim that ancient French architecture has contributed significantly in creating a unique, magnetic and charming Hanoi with its elegance and nobility…

However, it was not until 1875 when the Concession Area was generated, the construction with ancient French style has been built in larger number and also larger area in Hanoi with various designs that were Western-like for most public constructions. Art Deco Style, which is designed with simple shapes, Neo-Gothic Style for churches and Rural style for villas with memory of French of their homeland. The combination of French format with other architectural culture of Vietnam and China was also encouraged.

At that time, French colonial architecture played a crucial role in transforming Hanoi from an obsolescent city with old Eastern constructions to a fresh modern and allured city with Western features. Nevertheless, the transformation did not totally eliminate all elements of Vietnamese architectural culture, but merged them with appropriate characteristics of French construction to invent new style of architecture name Dong Duong (Indochina) style which is distinctive, harmonious and charming. It is said that among those colonial areas of French Empire all over the world, Hanoi in particular and Vietnam in general possess the most wonderful ancient French constructions….”  *

* Read more of this article visiting this website:  www.vietnamonline.com/culture/colonial-french-architecture-in-hanoi-memory-of-old-hanoi.html

 

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We can clearly see the legacy of the French , in the Gothic style of this catholic church. Saint Mary Church, Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo Credit: Yvonne Meijboom

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Some worshipers find time between their daily duties for praying to the Holy mother, Saint Mary. Saint Mary church, Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo Credit: Yvonne Meijboom.

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Built by the French Colonialist Goverment during the early years of the 20th century, in 1911, and  being renovated in the late 1990s. Hanoi Opera House architectural style is clerly colonial French, a fact that we can see just looking at its facade, with its hugh pillars and balconies ovelooking the city center. Hanoi Opera House has  not only an architectural  but also a great value in  Vietnam’s history being a strong evidence of Vietnamese social and cultural development under the French rule. The theatre has seen many significant historical events associated to the August Revolution and the early years of Vietnam Democratic Republic. Hanoi, Vietnam.  Photo Credit: Yvonne Meijboom

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Leyend says that in the mid-15th cenrtury Heaven sent Emperor Ly Thai To a magical sword, which he used to drive the Chinese from Vietnam. After the war, a giant golden turtle grabbed the sword and dissapeared into the depths of this lake to restore the sword to its divine owners, inspiring the name Ho Hoan Kiem , or lake of the Restored Sword. Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo Credit: Yvonne Meijboom.

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Walking down Hanoi’s streets, you will see first hand how life in Hanoi is. Vietnam. Photo Credit: Yvonne Meijboom

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Waiting for customers, in Hanoi’s streets. Vietnam. Photo Credit: Yvonne Meijboom

 

Southward, following the historical movement of the Viet people, the traveller finds a chain of coastal provinces washed by the South China Sea. Along Vietnam’s Pacific coast are some of South east Asia’s most spectacular cultural and geographical wonders, including the mystical Halong Bay, the ancient city of Hue and the ancient and peaceful Hôi An, which old town were declared National Cultural Heritage Site in 1885, and included into World Heritage List, by UNESCO  in 1999.

 

From Hai Phong, ferries travel to peaceful Halong Bay, the Bay of the Descending Dragon, whose arrangement of 2,000of limestone islands have earned it iconic status. After Hanoi, Halong Bay is pure relaxation.

 

Interesting Note:

“The dragon, sent by the Jade Emperor, descended from heaven into the sea, and sprayed a thousand pearls from its mouth. From these cascading pearls, the 1,600 shaggy limestone stacks of Halong Bay emerged, a huge curvature of jumbled karst fortress designed to protect Vietnam from invaders in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Most visitors to Vietnam sail past the rocky outcrops – some soaring 100m high – on boat cruises, but last month Vietnam’s first tourism seaplane launched, flying visitors over the Unesco world heritage site and giving them spectacular dragon-eye views…

..The towering outcrops of Halong Bay, which means ‘where the dragon descends to the sea’, dwarfed the pleasure boats on their overnight cruises and from the air the forested boulders now looked like mossy lumps and bumps – the stepping stones of a giant, plopped on an emerald green pond….” *

* Read more of Claire Boobbyiers’ note visiting this website: www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/asia/vietnam/articles/Halong-Bay-Vietnam-the-best-way-to-visit/

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Ready for cruising Ha Long Bay…this bay is famous for its scenic ocean karst formations and it is often included in lists of natural wonders of the world. “Ha Long” means “Bay of Descending Dragons”…Vietnam. Photo Credit: Yvonne Meijboom

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Cruising Ha Long Bay, letting be lost in this fantastic scenary of limestone formations that come out from the emerald waters of the golf, islands named for their shapes, including Stone Dog and Teapot islets. Just wonderful. Vietnam. Photo Credit: Yvonne Meijboom

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Towering limestone pillars and tiny islets topped by forest rise from the emerald waters of the Gulf og Tonkin. Designated a World Heritage site in 1994, Halong Bay’s spectacular scatter of islands is a vision of etheral beauty.  Amazing, even when clouded.Vietnam. Photo Credit: Yvonne Meijboom

 

In the old imperial city of Hue, an overwhelming sense of the past pervades its old streets. The antiquities don’t end here. In the lands of ancient kingdom of Champa are decaying sanctuaries, temples , witness of the conquest by the Viet people from the north.

 

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The Imperial City at Hue is the best-preserved renmant of a vast citidel and royal quarters that once existed on the site. In the early 19th century the Emperor Gia Long consulted geomancers to find the best place to build a new palace citadel, and they chose the present site at Hue. The Emperor wished to recreate, in abbreviate form, a replica of the Forbidden City in Peking… Hue, Vietnam. Photo Credit: Yvonne Meijboom

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The citadel faced east, due to the topography of the site, toward the Perfume river ( unlike the Forbidden City in Pekin, that faced south). The Emperor decided to locate his own palace within the perimetre marked by the two-metres-thick stone walls, along the east side nearest the river. A second, smaller set of walls and moat defined the area of the “Purple Forbidden City”, where the Emperor built a network of palaces, gates and courtyrads that served as his home and the administrative core of the Empire. By the time the last Emperor of Vietnam stepped down in the mid 20th century, the Purple Forbidden City had adquired many dozens of pavillions and hundreds of rooms. Although improperly maintained the citadel nevertheless remained an imposing spectacle. All that changed in 1968 when American military forces in Vietnam, reacting to the communist takeover of Hue, ordered the city retaken. Then, American bombs blasted the majority of the city into rubble, sparing only a handful of buildings… Imperial City of Hue, Vietnam. Photo Credit: Yvonne Meijboom

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Nowadays the city has been declared a UNESCO site, and the remaining buildings have been lovely restored. But, much of the site was so badly damaged that it has been given over to vast rice fields that cover most of the Purple Forfidden City. Even so, the remaining buildings are sufficient to give the visitor a sense of how the Vietnamese interpreted Chinese Imperial architecture and adapted it to their culture. Imperial City, Hue, Vietnam. Photo Credit: Ivonne Meijboom

 

On  Vietnam’s central coast, near the mouth of the Thu Bon River, is  Hôi An, one of the most popular destinations in Vietnam that caters to travellers of all tastes and across the continents.

Hội An is known for its well-preserved Ancient Town, cut through with canals. The former port city’s melting-pot history is reflected in its architecture, a mix of eras and styles from wooden Chinese shophouses and temples to colorful French colonial buildings, ornate Vietnamese tube houses and the iconic Japanese Covered Bridge with its pagoda. A slow stroll through town and you will see its most sacred treasure: the centuries -old architecture.

Hôi An Ancient Town was classified as a National Cultural Heritage Site in 1985 and included into the World Heritage List , UNESCO, in 1999. Unforgettable.

 

Hoi An, Museum of Trade Ceramics.Phto Credit Yvone Meijboom 1

When in Hôi An, it is worth a visit to the Museum of Trade Ceramics , just to see the beautifuly restored house in wich the museum resides. The museum is located in Hoi An’s old quarter and offers a cultural insight into the history of the town as a vital trade port as well its foreign relashionships with Asian counterparts including Japan, China and India. There are a wide number of pieces exhibited including some from a ship wrecked in nearby waters in 1733 as well as pottery from the Chinese Tang Dynasty dating from the 7th to the 10th centuries. Hoi An, Vietnam. Photo Credit: Yvonne Meijboom

Danang, Museum of Cham Sculpture. Photo Credit Yvone Meijboom2

With their roots dating back as far as 192 AD, Vietnam’s indigenous Cham people lived an Indian life in both culture and language. The Cham Museum in Danang is dedicated to this period and the Champa existence that began predominantly in the coastal areas of Vietnam. This fine, small museum has the world’s largest collection of Cham artefacts, housed in buildings marrying French-Colonial architecture with Cham elements. Founded in 1915 by the Ecole Francaise d’extreme Orient, it displays more than 300 pieces including altars, lingas, garudas, apsaras, Ganeshes and images of Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu, all dating from the 5th century. Danang, Vietnam. Photo Credit: Yvonne Meijboom

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Many of the artefacts exhibited in the Cham Museum in Danag are considered masterpieces of their field and are showcased according to the region in which they were found , counting for this, ten separate interior exhibition rooms. All the scuptures on display fall into one of the following sections: icon, pedestal, pediment or fragment. Danag, Vietnam. Photo Credit: Yvonne Meijboom

 

Then, there is Ho Chi Minh City. Often still called Saigon, under this name was the capital of the French colony of Conchinchina and later of the independent Republic of South Vietnam , from 1955 to 1975. In July ,1976 , Saigon merged with the surrounding area and was officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City, after the revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh.

The architecture of Ho Chi Minh City is a mix of Vietnam’s historical heritage, from French colonial villas to modern steel and glass monuments. The top architectural sights for visitors date back to the time when Saigon, the “Pearl of Indochina” was the capital of French Indochina.

More has been added to the cultural heritage since then and there are interesting times lying ahead in terms of modern architecture. It is reviving its long – time image as a proverbial hustling and bustling city of people on the make and on the go. Where Hanoi is quiet, Ho Chi Minh screams. Where Hue is a subtle and refine and beauty, Ho Chi Minh is neon, all lit up in gaudy colours.  

 

An Interesting Note:

“ Over the past 15 years, as Vietnam finally left its long years of war behind, the former capital of South Vietnam—Saigon—became the country’s economic powerhouse. Until fairly recently, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) was a boomtown. Even before touching down at its busy international airport, I see new buildings rising up through the sprawling and tightly packed suburbs, splayed across the city’s surrounding delta landscape and muddy meandering rivers.

Off in the distance along the wide Saigon River, where the spires of the city’s French Colonial Roman Catholic cathedral once dominated downtown, an impressive silhouette of high-rises reach to the tropical sky. The city’s twenty first -century feel continues through its sweeping new terminal (designed by GWA) and then down a wide boulevard past contemporary office buildings and shops. Eventually I reach the intimate tree-lined streets of old Saigon,the residential quarter created by the French more than 150 years ago.

In the city I first knew in 1964—before large numbers of U.S. troops arrived and the war intensified —Saigon’s French Colonial buildings endured with a seedy and languid charm. Monsoon mildew crept up plastered walls no longer whitewashed every dry season. Huge fans whopped away overhead, stirring up a breeze and keeping the mosquitoes away. At day’s end, nothing beat sitting in rattan chairs for drinks on the vast open-air terrace of the Continental Hotel, nicknamed the Continental Shelf, or on the rooftop of the Majestic Hotel along the Saigon River, with the incongruous sounds of war booming in the distance.

In their colonial stay of fewer than 100 years in old Saigon, the French left behind a rich architectural heritage reflecting shifting trends from the Second Empire and Third Republic to, even later, art deco and Le Corbusier. With high ceilings and fans, louvered doors and windows the colonial buildings were ideally suited to Vietnam’s muggy climate. By the 1930s, the French had developed a unique Indo -Chinese architecture, fusing Western and Asian elements, a style reflected …. * *

* Read more of Carl Robinson’s interesting article visiting this website: www.metropolismag.com/September-2013/A-Time-Out/

 

Interesting details about Vietnam

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is the easternmost country on the French Indochina peninsula. Its landmass nearly doubles Cambodia’s, is nearly half of that Thailand’s and 34 times smaller than its powerful neighbour, China.
The name “Vietnam” translates as “Southern Viet”, firstly officially adopted in 1802 by emperor Gia Long, and was adopted again in 1945 with the founding of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh.

Like much of Southeast Asia’s population, the people of Vietnam are of diverse backgrounds, giving the country a colourful heritage that enchants today all and each visitor.

But, who are the people of Vietnam? Although the majority of the population it is the ethnicity Kinh, the accepted term for the native race, in reality most Vietnamese have evolved from a mixture of races and ethnicities over thousands of years. The mixture is quite naturally the result of repeated invasions from outside Vietnam, particularly from China, and continual migrations within Vietnam, commonly from north to south.

Out of an estimated 95 million inhabitants, according to 2016 records, the Viet, or Kinh form the majority, almost 90 percent. But there are dozens of distinct minority groups, including the Cham, the Khmer and the ethnic minorities that inhabitant the mountainous regions of the north and central Vietnam.

 

Looking into Vietnam’s History

Vietnam was part of Imperial China for over a millennium, from 111 BC to 939 CE. The Vietnamese became independent in 939, following they victory in the battle of Bach Dang River. Successive Vietnamese royal dynasties flourished as the nation expanded geographically and politically into Southeast Asia, until the Indochina peninsula was colonized by the French in the 1800s, along with Laos and Cambodia.

Following a Japanese occupation in the 1940s, the Vietnamese fought French rule in the  First Indochina War, eventually expelling the French in 1954. Thereafter, Vietnam was divided politically into two rival states, North and South Vietnam. Conflict between the two sides intensified, with heavy intervention from the United States, in what is known as the Vietnam War. The war ended with a North Vietnamese victory in 1975.

Vietnam was then unified under a communist government, but remained impoverished and politically isolated. In 1986, the government initiated a series of economic and political reforms which began Vietnam’s path toward integration into the world economy, joining ASEAN in July 1995.

By 2000, it had established diplomatic relations with all nations. Since then, Vietnam’s economic growth rate has been among the highest in the world and in 2011, it had the highest Global Growth generators Index among 11 major economies. Its successful economic reforms resulted in joining the World Trade Organization in 2007.

 

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Vietnam Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi is packed with information detailing traditional Vietnamese ways of life, from religious events to the symbolic rituals of all Vietname ethnic groups, providing a rich tapestry of the culture melting pot that exists in Vietnam. The exhibition hall features everyday objects representing each ethnic group, Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo Credit: Yvonne Meijboom

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Vietnam museum of Ethnology in Hanoi offers an inside into the 54 different ethnic groups of Vietnam in a effort to preserve cultural heritage and promote socio-cultural diversity within the country. Traditional costumes of one of the 54 ethnic groups of Vietnam. Museum of Ethnology, Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo Credit: Yvonne Meijboom

Malaysia

 

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Modern Malaysia. Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur. Photo Credit: Dcubillas

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Traditional Malaysia. Lek Lok Si Temple, Penang. Photo Credit: Denise del Barto

Getting to know Malaysia

Once the anchor of The British Empire in Southeast Asia, Malaysia has an especially independent identity….

Over the centuries, Malaysia has been open to millions of visitors from all over the globe, and its people have changed, absorbed and adapted customs and traditions from distant countries to suit the Malaysian way of life. Graced with a blend of colonial, Islamic and ultramodern architecture as only kuala Lumpur could offer.

Penang, an island off the western coast of Kuala Lumpur, has long lured Westerners with its mix of cluttered Chinese alleys and white-sand beaches, and for people who enjoys nature, well, Sarawak and Sabah in Malaysian Borneo island, is the place to go.

Malaysia, a federal constitutional monarchy located in the middle of Southeast Asia, consists of thirteen states and three federal territories. It has a landmass that is 65 percent of Thailand’s and it is separated by the South China Sea into two similarly sized regions, Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia ( Malaysian Borneo).

Peninsular Malaysia shares land and maritime border with Thailand and maritime borders with Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia. East Malaysia shares land and maritime borders with Brunei and Indonesia and only maritime borders with Philippines.

Malaysia’s capital city, is Kuala Lumpur, or KL as it is popularly known, while Putrajaya is the seat of the federal government. Kuala Lumpur, a mining outpost just a century ago, is a fascinating mixture of old and new, increasingly so with  the Petronas towers, the world’s tallest buildings in 1997, mosques of Moorish design, elaborate Chinese temples and crowed shophouses, Hindu temples with towering gates, and Indian restaurants and regal remnants of the British order, all set the colourful scene of multi-ethnic activity.

 

An Interesting Note:      

“When you look at Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers today, you see a technological marvel — once the world’s tallest buildings. But what isn’t obvious to the naked eye is that the 452-meter*(roughly 1,480-foot) buildings almost didn’t get off the ground.

The towers’ history is as dramatic as their outline. During the three years of their actual construction (1993–1996), numerous setbacks and challenges had Malaysians betting that the buildings would never rise.

The towering structures were the vision of a former Malaysian prime minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, and the project of the national oil company, Petronas. Determined to not only see them built but also create some competition and reduce costs, Dr. Mahathir awarded the building contract to two different companies from two different countries: Samsung Engineering & Construction from Korea and Hazama Corporation from Japan.

The companies entered a race against time — and each other — to see who could build the tower fastest. If either company fell behind the crazy two-year deadline, it would have to pay a delay cost of roughly US$700,000 per day. The pressure was immense, and the competition provided viewers with the ultimate reality show.

Every day, the public watched with fascination the progress (or lack thereof) on what would become their national icons. The staff of each tower spied on its competition with binoculars in either panic or relief, to see whether it was behind or ahead. Malaysians pored over photographs, shared gossip and generally followed every whiff of drama or disaster as a floor went up every four days — a record anywhere.

Ultimately, the Korean company finished its tower one month earlier, despite the disadvantage of having started one month later than Hazama. Samsung had been secretly assembling its spire inside its tower, unseen; in the wee hours of one morning in 1996, they placed the completed spire atop the East tower and so won the race.
Kuala Lumpur’s race to finish its mammoth towers would serve as a fitting symbol of the country’s race to establish itself as a powerful global force…”. *

* Read more of Carla Sapsford Newman note at visiting this website: www.selamtamagazine.com/stories/petronas-towers

 

Petronas towers at night Photo Credit someforofhuman

Amazing view of the Petronas Towers, the twin towers at night. Iconic symbol of Kuala lumpur and Malaysia as a whole, is an extraordinary example of modern architecture, where art, design and engineering meet. Stunning. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Photo Credit: someformofhuman

Petronas Towers Suria KLCC Shoping Centre photo credit Blørn Christian Tørrisen

Petronas Towers Suria KLCC Shopping Centre. Photo Credit:Blørn Christian Tørrisen

 

The island of Penang, once the British Empire’s most important Southeast Asian outpost, a place with a colourful past, mysterious back alleys, palm-shrouded beaches and a stimulating cuisine, but also is a motive for Malaysians’ proud when Georgetown, its capital, was named UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Penang’s beaches are nice, though a little lackluster when compared to those in some other Malaysian states, but this is a more than compensated by the island’s rich multicultural history which is full of Malay, Chinese, Indian and European influences.

The colonial city of Georgetown, Penang’s capital, was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has plenty to offer in the way of museums, a fort, historic homes, and not less importantly, famous food. Penang is considered one of the best places in Southeast Asia to sample incredible street food of all types. The water front esplanade known as Gurney Drive in Penang is lined with great places to sample local Malay, Chinese, and Indian treats.

 

A Interesting Note:     

“ A fascinating fusion of eastern and western influences,Penang is Malaysia’s most tourist-visited destination. The island manages to embrace modernity while retaining its colonial traditions; due to its well-preserved heritage buildings Penang’s capital, Georgetown, has been accorded a listing as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. …..

….Noteworthy as the only state in Malaysia to have a Chinese majority population, Penang’s subculture is a mixture of Asia itself. Rather than feeling mono-ethnic, it exemplifies the country’s colonial past and mixed-heritage future brilliantly. It isn’t Malaysia’s most beautiful state yet it does posses a certain charm- the oldest of the British Straits settlements, this state is arguably one of its most tolerant and cosmopolitan.

Georgetown, Penang’s capital on the north-eastern corner of the island, is dotted with idiosyncratic Chinese shop lots, narrow roads, old fashioned colonial – era mansions, clan houses, numerous schools, ornate temples and Little India districts.It is goes without saying that the city is an exceedingly rewarding destination-skirting the conurbation is a landscape of beaches, forests and lakes…. *

* Read more visiting this website: www.penang.ws/penang-attractions/georgetown-unesco.htm#

 

If only I’d known…

When going to Georgetown, it would be interesting to witness and experience its wonderful and magic multiethnic  life, so , why not   trying a two  or three days -stay  in different hotels, visiting in this way the Chinese, Indian, Malay neighbourhood ? Just give a try…

 

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When in Georgetown , touring the city on an authentic trishaws and whishing to go to a traditional place, just ask its driver  where he would like to go.  There a huge chance you will visit the Clan piers, or Clan Jetties and their floatinbg Village. This is a complete village on stilts above the waters, where Chinese clans live. In the 19th century many Chinese inmigrants came to Malaysia and to ensure therir chances, clans were stablished, so together, they could survive in their new environment. Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia. Photo Credit: Denise del Barto

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The clans used to live mainly of fishing, but lately, most inhabitants work in town. Tourists are welcome to a free stroll about the wooden piers. Have in mind that the best time to visit the Clan jetties is in early morning. Not only you won’t find many more tourists, but you would be able to witness the local Chinese Clan people practicing their daily morning ritulas, ranging from preparing food to praying at the temple . Gerogetown, Penang, Malaysia. Photo Credit: Denise del Barto

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A Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic was commissioned in 2012 by the Penang Municipal Council to creat a street art project in George Town called “ Mirroes George Town”, which consisted of painting several large scale murals in different locations of the old town. Definitely not an easy task, you should think carefully and twice how to mark these walls with something that could enhance the local culture and lifestyle without being obstrusive or offending, while having in mind all the time that the city was a UNESCO site. But the result was just fantastic. His wall paintings represent characters and scenes that celebrate the energy and playfulness of life in the old city having a result what used to be normal streets into more unusual, lively, engaging ones. Penang Street Art, “Little Girl in Blue” Mural, Muntri Street, George Town, Penang, Malaysia. Photo Credit: Denise del Barto

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“The streets of George Town were named after the trades, people and events, which means every street has its own unique story. With the rising rental, many of the original inhabitants moved out and with them, the stories as well, so the idea is to put the stories back into the city”, says Tang Mun Kian, Sculpture at Work’s creative director, the Kuala Lumpur – based art company that won the rights to the state government’s commissioned art challenge’”Marking george Town: An Idea Competition for UNESCO World heritage Site”. It was in this way that within the confines of their workshop, every single steel rod was bent and shaped to bring stories and inspiration to life. Streets Art, george Town, Penang, Malaysia. Photo Credit: Denise del Barto

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Penang Street Art, “Little Children on a Bicycle” Mural, Armenian Street, George Town. “My main inspiration was an overwhelming fascination with Geroge Town and its inhabitants. Well, inspiration always comes from a fascination with something new and an urge to explore it”, declared Ernest Zacharevic, the Lithuanian artist responsable of this mural and eight more. So, if you would like to visit them all, there are Streets Art tours organized, so just take one and follow it. You will not regret . George Town, Penang, Malaysia. Photo credit: Denise del Barto

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George Town, a growing art scene…There’s an unmistaken vibrancy and liveliness that fills Penang and the best way to take pleasure from it all is just to venture along its small side lanes dotted with hawker stalls and hidden alleys to uncover and discover the source of its energy. This inspired local and global artistic communities to give their best. And George Town’s street art is the result of it. Worth spending hours walking just looking for  the next mural. George Town, Penang, Malaysia. Photo Credit: Denise del Barto.

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The kek Lok Si temple , a Buddhist temple situated on the top hill at Air Itam , in Penang, facing the sea and comanding an impressive view, is one of the best known temples on the island and said to be the largest Buddhist temple of Malaysia, or Southeast Asia, depending of whom you are talking to. The main draw in the complex is the striking seven-storey  Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas, with 10,000 alabaster and bronze statues of Buddha, and a 30,2 metres ( 99 ft) tall bronze statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. Penang, Malaysia. Photo Credit: Denise del Barto.

Penang-Lek Lok Si Temple - Denise 5

With hundreds of meaningful carvings, sculptures and murals on the interior and exterior of the temple walls, along with pagodas and archways, Kek Lok Si temple is not just a center for Chinese culture and Buddhism teaching, but also an unique armonious blend of Mahayana Buddhism and traditional Chinese rituals that can be appreciated in the temple architecture and daily activities of its worshipers. Penag, Malaysia. Photo Credit: Denise del Barto

Penang-Lek Lok Si Temple - Denise 3

The Kek Lok Si temple is also an important piligrimage centre for Buddhists from Hong Kong, the Philipines, Singapore and other countries of Southeast Asia. This entire complex of temples was built over a period from 1890 to 1930, an inspirational iniciative of Beow lean, the Abbot. Penang, Malaysia. Photo Credit: Denise del Barto

 

Sarawak and Sabah, on the island of Borneo, which Malaysia shares with Indonesia, are breathtaking in both their biological diversity and grandeur and in the reckless way many of the natural resources, especially wood, have been exploited. Long a sanctuary of rain forest, unique fauna, and indigenous tribes of people, Borneo’s ecosystems have suffered considerably during the 1990s by extensive and highly destructive fires that burned out of control for months at a time. These fires, more often than not, on the Indonesian side of the island, and lit by farmers seeking to clear land, clouded and still clouding the air of Southeast Asia, getting as far as Thailand.

By 2016 Malaysia has a population of over 31 million, 86 percent of it, living in Peninsular Malaysia. Malay and indigenous tribes make up over half of the population, while Chinese, Indians and others also come under the broad spectrum that is covered by the term “Malaysian”. Islam, colonialism, and the Oran Asli provide the threads for the multi-ethnic and interwoven culture of the Malaysian people, not all of who are Malay…

 

Interesting Details about Malaysia

The visitor in Malaysia will encounter warm and engaging people, their lifestyles embed with rich yet culturally diverse traditions. First are the Orang Asli, the indigenous people of Malaysia who have managed to retain some of their centuries – old roots. Then there are the Malays, built upon traditions of the soil and ocean, but who embraced influences from elsewhere as well. And because of its rich resources and strategic location, Malaysia attracted still others, including Indians, Chinese, and…Europeans.

The Malay term Oran Asli means “ original people” and covers three more or less distinct groups and a score or more of separate tribes. Oran Asli has become a convenient term for explaining those groups of people who do not belong to the three predominant races found on Peninsular Malaysia.

The Malays, long linked to the land, are known as “ sons of the Soil”. Although the gap between the farm and the city generally widen year after year, it does not threaten the strong unity of the Malays derived from a common faith. The laws of islam strongly set a Malay apart from a non- Malay Malaysian. Intermarriage between races is uncommon, and Muslims in Malaysia are subject to enforceable religious laws.

Malaysian Indians still maintain strong home ties with their former villages, sometimes even taking wives in India and bringing them back to live in Malaysia. The greatest cultural influence was brought by the southern Indians, leaving a rich and colourful stamp on Malaysia’s life: bright silk saris, Tamil movies, the indomitable prevalence of Hindu faith, and exquisite banana- leaf curries have added further diversity to Malaysian culture.

The Chinese population makes up over a third of the country’s total, yet its presence in the control of major industries such as rubber, tin and import and export companies would seem to make the numbers greater. The Chinese in Malaysia are defined by their history of hardship and pioneering, as well as the three important Chinese ethical threads: Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism. Even if converted to Islam or Christianity, this background is deeply rooted. Consequently, many of traditional Chinese festivals and rites are regularly and openly celebrated in Malaysia.

Peranakan ( means “born here”) Chinese or Straits-born Chinese, are the descendants of Chinese immigrants who came to the Malay archipelago between the 15 and 17th century. They have lived for generations along the Straits of Malacca, they were usually traders, the middleman of the British and the Chinese, or the Chinese and Malays, or vice versa because they were mostly English educated, what gave them the ability to speak two or more languages.

When the sultanate of Malacca fell to the Portuguese invaders in 1511, the new rulers sought to establish control by encouraging Portuguese soldiers to marry local women. As it can be expected, a strong Eurasian community grew up with loyalty to Portugal and the Catholic religion and are proudly protective of their unique cuisine.

The people of Borneo, who live in the two easternmost states of Sabah and Sarawak, situated in the northern part of the island of Borneo, which Malaysia shares with Indonesia, are the most diverse racial group of all Malaysia. Most of them are of Mongoloid extract .The majority of the indigenous tribes have traditions and ways of living in common, but each group has some unique belief or activity that sets it apart from the rest.

Malaysia multi-ethnicity play a large role in politics. The constitution declares Islam the state religion while allowing freedom of religion for non- muslims. The government system is closely modelled on the Westminster parliamentary system and the legal system is based on common law. While the head of State is the king, chosen from the hereditary rulers of the nine Malay states every five years, the head of government is the Prime mInister.

 

Looking into Malaysia’ History

 

Panorama_of_Kuala_Lumpur_ca_1884 Photo Credit G.R.Lambert & Co., 1880-1910, John Falconer

Section of a panoramic view of Kuala Lumpur ca.1884. Image taken from “A Vision of the Past- A history of early photography in Singapore and Malaya”. Photo Credit: John Falconer, from G.R .Lamber & Co. 1880-1910.

Govermental Office in KL in Selangor circa 1900 Photo Credit Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies and Leiden University Library_Wikimedia Commons

Govermental Office in KL in Selangor circa 1900. Photo Credit: Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies and Leiden University Library

KL_Kleingrothe_C_Medan_-_Headquarters_of_the_FMS_Railways_at_Kuala_Lumpur_-_circa_1910

Headquaters of the Railway Kuala Lumpur, ca. 1910.The construction of the railway spurred the growth of the city. On the picture is shown the headquarters of the F.M.S. Railways in Kuala Lumpur, with the dome of the Sultan Abul Samada Building just visible behind. Photo Credit: Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies and Leiden University Library/Wikimedia Commons

Japanese_troops_mopping_up_in_Kuala_Lumpur Phto Credit belongs to public domain

Japanese advancing in KL during WWII. The Japanase campaign and victory, runs from 8th, December 1941 until 15th February, 1942. In this picture, Japanese troops mooping up in Kuala Lumpur during their advance through Malaya. Photo Credit: photo HU 2776 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums, created by the United Kingdom Government, unkown author.

Georgetown City- People -Street Architecture - Penang- April- May 2017 32-001

Georgetown in the early 1800s. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

 

Malaysia has its origins in the Malay kingdoms present in the area which, from the 18th century, became subject to the British Empire. The first British territories were known as the Straits Settlements, whose establishment was followed by the Malay kingdoms becoming British Protectorates.

One of those British territories  was Penang island, which counts with a rich own history….

 

An Interesting Note:   

“Before Penang, the Pearl of the Orient, was known to the world as a beautiful, exotic holiday destination, she was Pulau Pinang – a virgin paradise that got her name from the abundance of betel nut palms scattered across her soft, sandy beaches.

Literally translated, Pulau Pinang means the “Isle of the Betel Nut” in Malay – Malaysia’s national language. Steeped in history, “Penang” was born when charismatic English captain Francis Light persuaded the Sultan of Kedah to cede Pulau Pinang to the British East India Company.

In 1786, Light landed on what is known as the scenic Esplanade today. Local folklore tells of how he fired gold coins into the surrounding jungle to induce his men to clear the area. Fourteen years later, the Sultan of Kedah further ceded a strip of land on the mainland across the channel to a very persuasive Light.

The state of Penang then comprised of an island originally named Prince of Wales Island, after George V, and the strip on the mainland which was christened Province Wellesley, after the Governor of India. The former was later named George Town, after King George III.

In 1832, Penang formed part of the Straits Settlement with Malacca and Singapore. The Penang maritime port was among the busiest in the region, attracting rich merchants involved in the lucrative trade of tea, spices, porcelain and cloth.

Settlers and fortune-seekers from the all over called Penang home and it was from this interesting mix of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Siamese (to name a few) cultures that Penang became a melting pot for hybrid communities – the most famous being the Baba Nyonya, Jawi Peranakan and Eurasians.

For more than a century, the major trading post remained under British colonial rule until 1957, when Malaysia gained independence. George Town was accorded city status by Queen Elizabeth II on January 1, 1957, thereby becoming the first town in the Federation of Malay – after Singapore – to become a city.

Although she is Malaysia’s electric and electronic manufacturing hub, Penang has successfully retained her old world charm. As recognition of her rich heritage, George Town, together with Malacca, was listed as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site on July 7, 2008.” *

* We found this interesting tale visiting this website: www.tourismpenang.net.my/index.php/About-Penang/about-penang

 

The territories on peninsular Malaysia were first unified as the Malaysian Union in 1946. Malaysia was restructured as the Federation of Malaysia in 1948, and achieved independence on 31 August 1957. Malaysia was united with North Borneo, Sarawak, and Singapore in September 1963. Less than two years later, in 1965, Singapore leaves the federation and became an independent nation.

Since its independence, Malaysia has had one of the best economic records in Asia. The economy has traditionally been fuelled by its natural resources, but is expanding on the sectors of science, tourism commerce and medical tourism. Today, Malaysia has a newly industrialized market economy, ranked 3rd largest in southeast Asia and 29th largest in the world. Malaysia is member of ASEAN ( Association of South East Nations) ,the east Asia Summit and the organization of Islamic Cooperation, and a member of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the Commonwealth of Nations, and the Non- Aligned Movement.

 

Penang- Clan Jetties- Denise 11

Clan Jetties, George Town, Penang, Malaysia. Photo Credit: Denise del Barto

Penang- Clan Jetties- Denise 10

Colourful walls of one of the wooden stilted houses . Clan jetties, George Town, Penang, Malaysia. Photo Credit: Denise del Barto

Penang- Street Art- Denise 19

Street Art, George Town, Penang, Malaysia. Photo Credit: Denise del Barto

Penang- Street Art- Denise 22

Street Art, George Town, Penang, Malaysia. Photo Credit: Denise del Barto

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia by guyfrombronx

Modern Kuala Lumpur at night, Malaysia. Photo Credit: guyfrombronx

Kl Mosque_Jamek Photo Credit Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams-_Earth_ December 2005

Mosque Jamek, one of the oldest mosques of Kuala Lumpur. Photo Credit: Mohd Hazif Noor Shams-Earth. December 2005

Petronas_Towers Photo Credit Daniel Berthold

Impressive view of the Petronas Towers at night. Photo Credit: Daniel Berthold

Practical Advise for Planing a trip to Southeast Asia

Planning an Itinerary:

Although it is tempting to try and visit all these sights in the first two weeks after moving in to Thailand, resist the urge and spend a little time planing and more time in fewer places. It is really very easy to travel independently, and then flights can be not so expensive.

When to go:

High tourist season in this region is between December and February, as most locations are experiencing the cool and dry season. If you travel during this time, you will be competing with more tourists for accommodation, that means that you will have to book in advance, but options will almost always be available due to the number of choices.

There are some places where it is not recommended traveling during the Monsoon season, so should avoid going in that particular time. But, there are not a few destinations where you could decide  traveling during the low season when you might suffer  the humid heat or some days of rains, but it is when  the hotels and transportations fares are cheaper (including important discounts), and there are fewer tourists going around. So, it might turn up being a good decision.

Transportation:

Bangkok is the airport hub for the region, with inexpensive flights to carry you to virtually anywhere in Southeast Asia. There are several budget airlines , including  Air Asia, with flights to nearly all the tourist destinations; other carriers such as Bangkok Airways, Thai Airways, Vietnam Airlines and Lao Airlines also service the region. Important to have in mind at time of planning your trips,  is that the now – upgraded U-Tapao airport , so close to Pattaya, offers a wider range of flights for domestic and international destinations.  Unlike other parts of the World, prices on one-way tickets are reasonable and usually don’t require long advance-purchase.

Accommodation:

The range is really wide, and can go from a few dollars a night in some locations to luxury options for those with more outsized travel budgets, with all in between. As always, the best and freshest information these days usually comes from other travelers.

Unless your trip coincides with a local festival or national holiday, accommodation should be easy to come by and even possible, to arrange once you arrive. Consider booking a night or two for your arrival and seeking out better options once you are on the ground. But these days, booking on line makes a traveler’s life much easier, so once you make your plans, you are ready for your flight tickets and hotel room bookings just seated in front of your computer.

If you are one of the “old guard”, you could go to any of the many Travel Agencies with your plans already made and ask for quotations. Sometimes, it might be a little bit more expensive, but you save time and to be dealing with airlines, hotels staff.

 

If only I’d known…

If you are an independent traveler, as many of us became thanks to internet , a good idea would be just to visit TripAdvisor website : it is a quick- easy to use  way to read reviews of hotels, restaurants, activities and entertainments in any touristic destination.  TripAdvisor is  a resource of recommendation … or condemnation , as there will be several different perspectives and viewpoints there. Just visit: www.tripadvisor.com

 

 

Food hygiene:

Bottled water is inexpensive and available everywhere. Food-borne stomach ailments, by no means endemic, do happen in this part of the world. Eating from street food stalls should not be entirely avoided, in the majority of the most tourist destinations that we have mentioned, where street food offers some of the best tasting and most culturally satisfying experiences . If have any doubt you could ask at the desk of the hotel where you’re staying or at your local guide, they will advise you where it would be safer to buy street food.

The destinations listed above are accustomed to serving Western tourists, meaning that the level of hygiene is generally better than in remote areas and the level of spice is dialed down to accommodate Western palates. And one fact is sure: it will difficult to find a place in Southeast Asia where people eat spicer food than in Thailand..so if you get used to, or at least manage to eat comfortably spiced food here, then you are on the safe side everywhere else.

For trips tips you could read : “ How to Travel Without Hugging the bowl: 10 Tips for Staying Healthy on the Road  visiting this website: www.uncorneredmarket.com/ten-tips-for-staying-healthy-on-the-road/

Travel medical concerns:

The main tourist destinations mentioned are mostly malaria- free, But, if you are going to be far off the beaten track, then, it’s best to take precautions, asking to your doctor. For basic medical concerns, take some medications with you for headaches, stomach troubles, and motion sickness. Also, be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and mosquito repellent. Realize , however, that virtually all medications you might require would be available once you arrive, unless the place where you are heading is in a remote and isolated area.

By no means the countries and place listed in this page are all you can find. It only covers Mainland Southeast Asia and it really only scratches on the surface. Consider it a starting point to plan and explore. Regardless of your itinerary, you won’t be disappointed and you’ll likely find yourself planning your second visit before your first is even over.

Note:

As we have said, the content of this page is the result of our research, plus some comments of our own. We gathered and put together interesting  information that we considered  it would be of help and which we had found while reading the books and websites listed below. So, you could find all this information and much more, reading  and visiting:

 

Books:

  • Southeast Asia, Insight Guide, by Discovery Channel
  • Sacred Sites of Burma, by Donal M.Stadtner
  • Laos & Cambodia, Insight insides, by Discovery Channel
  • A Souvenir of Angkor, by Michael Freeman
  • Focusing on the Angkor Temples, by Michael Petrotchenko

Websites: 

 

We hope that you had enjoyed this page and that the information that we gathered would be of help for your future trips planning. If you have any comment or questions, lets know. In this way, we will keep linking Pattaya together...

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