All posts by Kian

Visiting Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)

Bagan is one of the world’s greatest Buddhist sites, comparable in size only with Angkor Wat.

Even though Myanmar already nominated Bagan for listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, it still remains only on the “tentative list”.

After years of unrest, the government is slowly but steadily working towards UNESCO’s suggested plans for conservation and preservation of Bagan’s more than 3000 temples, stupas and monasteries.

The Bagan Archaelogical Zone stretches across an area of 42 km2.

bagan no. 2
Balloons over Bagan via Flickr by Paul Arps : http://bit.ly/1on2v8o

When discussing the historical kingdom, Bagan is commonly spelled “Pagan”: the city was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan from the 9th to the 13th century and covered a large part of present-day Burma. Often considered as the glory days, much of the Burmese culture and known traditions were established during that time. Continue reading Visiting Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)

Visiting Sukhothai

When talking about Sukhothai, people usually refer to the Sukhothai Historical Park, also known as Old Sukhothai City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located 300km south of Chiang Mai in the central plains region and one of Thailand’s most visited ancient sites.

Sukhothai_Historical_Parknew
Sukhothai Historical Park via Wikimedia by Paulrudd

According to legend, Sukhothai was founded in the 13th century, when two brothers, known as Pho Khun Bangklanhao and Pho Khun Phameung, took over the kingdom from the Khmer, a then major frontier post of the Angkor Empire.  Over the following years, Sukhothai was drastically expanded until Muang Sua (Luang Prabang), parts of southern Burma and South Thailand and established even political ties with China during its Yuan Dynasty. The name Sukhothai means ‘Dawn of Happiness’.

The Sukhothai-era however only lasted a brief 140 years, until armies of the Ayutthaya kingdom took tributary over Sukhothai.

wat mahathat sukothani 1new
Wat Mahathat via Flickr by Brian Hoffman : http://bit.ly/1wnznrv

Continue reading Visiting Sukhothai

Visiting Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya is a very popular destination for tourists and Thais alike, located just one hour’s drive (80km) from Bangkok, hence making it a perfect day trip from the capital.

After taking over from Sukhothai as the pre-eminent kingdom, Ayutthaya was the second capital of Siam, for about 400 years, from about 1350. After nearly 200 years of tension and several failed attempts by the Burmese army to invade the kingdom, the Ayutthaya dynasty eventually came to an end in 1767, defeated in an invasion led by King Hsinbyushin of Burma.

wat chai  mongkol 2
Wat Yai Chai Mongkol via Flickr by仁仔 何 http://bit.ly/1psRuYf

It is said that the gold of Burma’s famous Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is originally from Ayutthaya. King Hsinbyushin was also responsible for raising Shwedagon to its current height. Continue reading Visiting Ayutthaya

Visiting Luang Prabang

When was the last time you came across a city which was entirely considered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site? That’s right, the beautiful blend of well-preserved French colonial style buildings with Lao traditional architecture in Luang Prabang makes it one of Indochina’s most beautiful cities and an  official heritage site since 1995.

Luang Prabang & the Mekong
Luang Prabang & the Mekong by *saipal via Flickr http://bit.ly/1pGxOQ9

Luang Prabang is located in the highlands of northern Laos at the confluence of the Nam Khan River and the infamous Mekong. A legend says that “Buddha smiled and rested here during his travels, prophesying that it would one day be the site of a rich and powerful city [1 ].

The city became very influential due to its strategic location near the Silk-Road and the Mekong. It was the capital of Laos under a few different reigns, most notable under the kingdom of Lane Xang until 1560 and from 1707 under the independent kingdom of Luang Prabang.

Continue reading Visiting Luang Prabang

Siem Reap for the Cultured Traveller: Recommended 1st-Day Schedule

Buddhist monks in front of Angkor Wat (Wikipedia creative commons)

No other city around Thailand (or hardly anywhere similar in the world) has such a tactful name – “Defeat of Siam”; given that actually Thailand defeated Cambodia and reigned over Siem Reap from 1794 to 1907.

Siem Reap started blooming for the first time during the Golden 1920’s when the legendary Grand Hotel d’Angkor was built and high-profile guests like Charlie Chaplin started visiting the city and Angkor Wat.

But the recovery should not last long – the Khmer Rouge led Siem Reap and its people again into decades of darkness until the mid-1990’s.

Fast forward 2014, Siem Reap has turned into a bustling city with plenty of hotels and restaurants and transformed the city into the heartbeat of Cambodia’s tourism, mainly due to its proximity to the magnificent temples of Angkor Wat.

08:30 – Angkor National Museum

Continue reading Siem Reap for the Cultured Traveller: Recommended 1st-Day Schedule

Bangkok for the Cultured Traveller: Recommended 1st-Day Schedule

The Wat Arun in Bangkok. Photo via Fotopedia by Mark Fischer.
The Wat Arun in Bangkok. Photo via Fotopedia by Mark Fischer.

The City of Angels – no, we are not talking about Los Angeles, but one of the world’s most magnificent cities: Bangkok. The Thais call their capital city by the name of Krung Thep – rather than by the name of “Bangkok- which literally means “City of Angels”.

Bangkok certainly has plenty of things to offer – from some of Asia’s largest shopping malls to locals markets, from Thailand’s leading fine dining spots to traditional food vendors and from sparkling skyscrapers to temples, centuries old; Thailand’s bustling capital is without a doubt the pulse of the country.

Let’s take a look closer at Bangkok’s cultural parts: its history, food, temples, palaces and klongs; but before you should get already overwhelmed by the number of temples, we selected the most historical parts for you – and created a cultural day tour for you:

Continue reading Bangkok for the Cultured Traveller: Recommended 1st-Day Schedule

Vientiane for the Cultured Traveller: Recommended 1st-Day Schedule

Pha That Luang in Vientiane. Photo via Wikimedia by Aaron Smith
Pha That Luang in Vientiane. Photo via Wikimedia by Aaron Smith

Visiting Vientiane might be first a bit of a shock when arriving from cities like Bangkok or Hanoi – not in terms of traffic or crowds, but more because of its refreshingly laid back atmosphere!

Unlike most of the Southeast Asian capitals, Vientiane remains far away from the atmosphere of an overcrowded city. A population of just close to 800,000 citizens – in comparison to multi-millions in Bangkok for example, speaks for itself.

Besides of the population, what else makes Vientiane different? Due to its size, it is quite easy to do sightseeing and navigate yourself around the city, which is even possible by feet or your own bike.

Let’s dive into a city which still keeps the charme of French colonial times, blended with Southeast Asian hospitality – Vientiane!

Continue reading Vientiane for the Cultured Traveller: Recommended 1st-Day Schedule

Buddhism in Western Countries – Introduction & Places

Buddhism was almost entirely unknown in western countries until the 19th century. European diplomats and scholars who travelled and lived in Asia collected Buddhist texts to have them translated into English, German and French. Awareness of Buddhism arrived in the United States around the 1840’s when the first Chinese immigrants settled in the western part of the country.

Still, in general Buddhism remained poorly understood in the west until the 1960’s when the first Buddhist teachers started arriving and quickly found thousands of followers – to some degree in harmony with the Hippie movement. However curious westerners without serious study tended to view Buddhism as more of a mystic movement, rather than an encompassing  spirituality involving meditation.

Continue reading Buddhism in Western Countries – Introduction & Places

Understanding Buddhism: a Short Introduction

Buddhism. For most people the word Buddhism reflects tranquillity and peace of mind, monks in orange robes and non-violence. But when exactly did Buddhism start? What are the important festivals and celebrations?

Architecture of Buddhism takes a closer look where Buddhism got its origins from.

Quick facts about the history:

The founder of Buddhism was a royal prince named Buddha Shakyamuni also known as Siddhartha Gautama, born some 2500 years ago in Lumbini, a place initially in India but now located in Nepal. The exact birthdate is often debated while many authorities favour 623 BC, others around 400 BC.

The legend says that his father kept him away from the outside of the palace and aiming to not make him aware of the world’s common sufferings: aging, sickness and death.

He had hoped that Shakyamuni would become a great king, despite knowing that his future has been several times prophesied to become great spiritual leader.  Buddha spent the first part of his life fulfilling his duties in the royal palace of the family. When he reached his late 20’s, curiosity of life beyond his palace grew and grew, eventually letting him start to explore the surroundings. He was abruptly confronted with reality when he saw old men and diseased people.

By the age of 29 he embarked on a spiritual quest to understand how human suffering could be overcome. After six years he attained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree (tree of awakening) where he sat for 49 consecutive days and practiced meditation and fasting.

Buddha_enlightenment
Buddha’s enlightenment. Photo by ‘ACIM Explained’ http://bit.ly/1v63pKc

Continue reading Understanding Buddhism: a Short Introduction

Highlights of Buddhist Sites in Vientiane, Laos

Wat That Luang
Open: Daily from 08:00-12:00 and 13:00-16:00
Entrance fee: 5000 Kip per person, Laotians: 2000 Kip per person
Address:
That Luang Road

Pha That Luang is the most sacred monument in Laos as it is believed that the shrine houses a breastbone of Buddha. A local legend says that the original temple has been built around the 3rd century by an Indian missionary who brought the relict of Buddha to Laos. The current structure however was built by King Setthathirat in 1566 on the site of a 13th century Khmer temple ruin. It contains an impressive 45m high stupa.

Vientiane’s most important festival ‘Boun That Luang’ is held here in November on the night of the full moon to pay respect to the stupa and to enjoy the colourful event that includes parades, live music and religious ceremonies.

Note: there are two temples beside Pha That Luang, the one being Wat That Luang Neua to the north and Wat That Luang Tai to the south.

Pha_That_Luang_-_Vientiane_(Laos)_I
Wat That Luang. Photo via Wikimedia by Nikopol

Continue reading Highlights of Buddhist Sites in Vientiane, Laos

List of Specialist Local Travel Agencies in Indonesia

We have carefully selected a number of well-established travel agencies in Indonesia, as we understand the importance of professional travel planning. All operators below have years, some even decades, of travel planning experience in Indonesia, are among the top experts and awarded with numerous travel awards as well accredited by leading travel associations like IATA or PATA.

Pacto
www.pactoltd.com
Email: snm@pactoltd.com
Jalan Laksda Adisucipto Km 9 No. 13
Yogyakarta
Tel.: +62 274 484 674, +62 484 685
Certifications:
Winner of TTG for Best Travel Agent in Indonesia 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012

Pacto was founded in 1967 and is recognized as one of the pioneers of tourism in Indonesia.

Continue reading List of Specialist Local Travel Agencies in Indonesia

Growth in Tourism to Ancient Buddhist Sites – Not Always a Positive?

Tourism to Buddhist sites aims to promote interest for Cultural Tourism and Pilgrimage or Faith Travel, as well Archaeological Tourism.

But where is the line between the promotion as important tourist site and religious heritage?

The desire to embark on a journey for religious purposes has inspired people for centuries and considered the oldest form of tourism in history. But visiting ancient Buddhist sites is no longer a domestic and only faith related event.

In times of globalization it has been developed into a major commercial oriented industry. Travel agencies now offer special handcrafted tours to sacred sites, often including multiple temples in various cities or countries.

 

800px-Angkor_Wat_Tourists
Tourists at Angkor Wat. Photo via Wikimedia by Kounosu

Continue reading Growth in Tourism to Ancient Buddhist Sites – Not Always a Positive?

Top Hotels for Touring Southeast Asian Countries

Cambodia

Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor*****
1 Vithei Charles de Gaulle, Khum Svay Dang Kum
Siem Reap
Tel.: +855 63 963 888; Fax: +855 63 963 168
www.raffles.com/siem-reap/
Email: bookus.siemreap@raffles.com

Located in the heart of Siem Reap, in the Old French Quarter only 8 kilometres from the extraordinary Angkor Wat temple complex, Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor is the ideal place to explore the spiritual and archaeological masterwork. Relax and revitalise beside a magnificent pool inspired by Angkorian architecture or take a short stroll along the riverside to discover the vibrant local markets.

Grand_Hotel_dAngkor_SiemReap
Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor. Photo via Wikimedia by Kounosu
Vietnam

Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi*****
15 Ngo Quyen Street
Hoan Kiem District
10000 Hanoi
Tel.: +84 4 382 66919; Fax: +84 4 382 66920
www.sofitel.com/gb/hotel-1555-sofitel-legend-metropole-hanoi/index.shtml
Email: H1555@sofitel.com

Located steps from the Opera House in Hanoi’s French Quarter this legendary property brings guests into intimate contact with the opulence of another era. Surround yourself in heritage as you stroll stately corridors and explore a dramatic past. Behind its classical white façade green shutters original wrought iron details and stately wood panelling reside over a century of stories. Stand on the walkways that grace its lush courtyard lawn and immerse yourself in the hotels rich traditions.

Temple sites nearby:
Tran Quoc Pagaoda – 4km
Chua Dau Pagoda – 30km outside of Hanoi, Thuan Thanh district
Temple of Literature – 2.5km

800px-Hotel_Metropole_Hanoi_0418new
Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi. Photo via Wikimedia by Gryffindor
Laos

Settha Palace Hotel*****
6 Rue Pang Kham
Vientiane
Tel.: +856 21 217 581; Fax: +856 21 217 583
www.setthapalace.com
Email: reservations@setthapalace.com

In the heart of bustling Vientiane stands a remarkable hotel. Built in the early part of the last century, circa 1932, and painstakingly restored to its former imperial glory, the Settha Palace Hotel serves as testament to the long lost era of classical elegance, gracious service and French colonial charm.

Temple sites nearby:
Pha That Luang – 3.5km
Wat Sisaket – 800m
Wat Mixai – 1km

2979238069_ed25642d32
Settha Palace Hotel. Photo via Flickr by Peter Riccio – http://goo.gl/68Rlsj
Myanmar (Burma)

The Strand Hotel Yangon*****
92 Strand Road
Yangon
Tel.: +95 1 243 377; Fax: +95 1 243 393
www.hotelthestrand.com
Email: reservations@hotelthestrand.com

Declared “the finest hostelry East of Suez” by John Murray in his Handbook for Travellers written in the early 20th century, the 1901-built three storey 5 star hotel in Yangon remains one of Southeast Asia’s few grand hotels and one of its most awe inspiring.

Temple sites nearby:
Shwedagon Pagoda – 4.5km
Karaweik Hall – 3.4km
Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda (Reclining Buddha) – 6.6km

800px-Strand_Hotel_Entrance_(8391604920)new
The Strand Hotel Yangon. Photo via Wikimedia by Russavia
 Thailand

The Siam Hotel*****
3/2 Thanon Khao, Vachirapayabal, Dusit
Bangkok 10300
Tel.: +66 2206 6999; Fax: +66 2206 6998
www.thesiamhotel.com
Email: info@thesiamhotel.com

The Siam is the newest addition to, and crown jewel of, the growing portfolio of independently owned and operated properties that make up Sukosol Hotels. The Siam spirit is to create a luxury experience embracing every moment and every individual with sincerity and integrity and a passion for service.

Temple sites nearby:
Wat Suthat and the Giant Swing – 11km
Wat Arun – 8km
Wat Pho – 6km

800px-Wat_Arun_-_1
Wat Arun Bangkok. Photo via Wikimedia by Muisamart
Indonesia

The Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta*****
Jalan Jenderal Sudiman 9
55233 Yogyakarta
Tel.: +62 274 566617; Fax: +62 274 566856
www.mgallery.com
Email: info@thephoenixyogya.com

Located in the heart of Yogyakarta, near the popular Malioboro district, the historic Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta, a member of theMgallery Collection, is a colonial landmark dating back to 1918. With 144 elegant rooms and suites, each boasting a balcony and a fusion of Asian and European décor, The Phoenix Hotel features a restaurant, wine bar and terrace bar overlooking an open courtyard. An inviting swimming pool, indulgent day spa and modern conferencing facilities complete the exclusive experience.

Temple sites nearby:
Bodobudur – 42km
Prambanan – 16km

800px-Borobudur,_Java
Borobudur in Indonesia. Photo via Wikimedia by Bernard Gagnon

 

Visiting Borobudur

When to go:

Yogyakarta is blessed with plenty of sunshine throughout the year. Generally speaking, the days are hot and humid, with only two seasons per year: the rainy season and the dry season. November to March is dominated by strong rainfall, therefore it is recommended to visit Yogyakarta during the dry season from April to October.

800px-Borobudur.Stupas.am003
Borobudur. Photo via Wikimedia by Klodo6975

 

Borobudur Opening Times:

Continue reading Visiting Borobudur