Thailand – In celebration of a rich heritage

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A province of temples, old teak houses and stunning wood-carvings, Lampang basks in the slow life

Unlike neighbouring Chiang Mai, Lampang province has little in the way of fancy resorts or stylish restaurants to entice sybarites and well-heeled visitors. Small as it is peaceful, this northern province is a haven for culture buffs and disciples of the slow life. Rich in cultural heritage and proud of its glory days, Lampang is a destination that cries out to be discovered.

“Lampang has a reputation as a quiet northern town,” says my local guide as we make our way to Baan Sao Nak. “In fact, Lampang is very rich. The province earned a fortune from the teak and tobacco industries in bygone days. But the rich mostly left to live in big cities like Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Stroll or cycle through the city and you’ll be amazed by the heritage buildings, the old wooden houses and temples.”

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In fact, Lampang was first to enjoy much of the progress that came from Bangkok, the capital, to Thailand’s North. The railway, for example, arrived at Lampang in 1915 and the service to the North ended here for almost 10 years before extending to Chiang Mai through the Khun Tan Tunnel. The Bank of Thailand also opened a branch here to attract business in the North. The Public Relations Department built a television broadcasting station in Lampang, making the province a gateway of information.

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The province also boasted a thriving tobacco business and was for decades the centre of the teak industry – as evidenced by the lumbering elephants at its Thai Elephant Conservation Centre.

Baan Sao Nak, the “house of many pillars”, offers a picture of the wealth of Lampang’s teak barons. Built in 1895 by rich and respected Burmese log trader, Maung Chan Ong, the traditional wood house boasts 116 square teak pillars. It served as the family home for decades before being turned into a local museum. The entire house is furnished with mildly interesting Burmese and Thai antiques and pays testament to the lavish life of Lampang. 

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“When the British were commissioned to export the teak from Thailand in the 19th century, they brought the Burmese along to look after their business,” says the guide. “Some of the Burmese were master loggers, and earned a fortune. They married local women, built lavish mansions like Baan Sao Nak, contributed to Buddhism and made merit.”

Two kilometres south of Baan Sao Nak is Wat Srichum, the largest Burmese-style temple in Thailand. Home to a pagoda and chapel hall, the temple was built by a rich Burmese teak trader towards the end of the 19th century. Legend has it that U Maung Gyi, or the “big boss” as the Burmese tycoon was known, brought the finest carpenters from Mandalay in Central Myanmar to build the main viharn (ordination hall). Teak carvings and decorations of delicately and exquisitely engraved woodwork reflect the craftsmanship of these masters.

“The walls, ceiling and wooden pillars are traditionally lacquered and covered with gold leaves,” says the local guide, directing my attention to the interior walls.

Surrounded by a wall and accessed through a large, elaborately decorated entrance gate topped with a Burmese Pyatthat roof, Wat Sri Chum has been declared a national treasure by the Thai Fine Arts Department.

One of the finest temples in Lampang is Wat Lai Hin, 40 kilometres west of Wat Srichum. Small yet graceful, the temple is a diamond in the province’s crown. The arched entrance, with elegant plasterwork depicting small angels and guardians, was the prototype for the entrance of Wat Phrathat Lampang Luang – the city’s most sacred pagoda.

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“This small viharn with its multi-tiered roofs makes a bold statement about Lampang architecture,” says the local guide. “Many experts regard it as finer than Chiang Mai architecture.” A tall pillar with a swan on top in front of the viharn pays testament to the Burmese influence. 

From Wat Lai Hin, we head to Wat Pongsanuk on the bank of Wang River. Built in 1886 by the Shan-speaking community in Lampang, the temple won Unesco’s Award of Merit 2008 for restoration. Although it lost much of its character during the renovation, the small, open-sided building stands on a mound is one of the few remaining local examples of original Lanna-style temple architecture. To get an idea of what it was like previously, look at the carved wooden gateway at the entrance to the north stairway.

For the history buff, a trip to Lampang is not complete without a visit to Wat Phra That Lampang Luang. Perched on the expansive mound, the visitor has quite a climb up the Naga stairway to reach the main entrance – which is inspired by the arched gateway of Wat Lai Hin. It’s worth checking out for fine plaster designs. 

The main viharn houses a bronze Buddha statue called the Phra Chao Lan Thong. At the end of the viharn is a golden pagoda in Lanna architectural style containing a Holy Relic of Lord Buddha.

“Wat Phra That Lampang Luang draws visitors for the golden pagoda,” says the guide. “But the temple also has beautiful murals on wooden walls and these are said to be the oldest in the North.”

The murals tell the tales of Jataka through paintings of serpents, elephants and Lord Buddha as well as the stories of Ramayana and some Lanna folktales. 

Despite its size and provincial mien, Lampang in many ways maintains a slow Lanna pace. Unlike the big city like Chiang Mai, it charms visitors with its old-fashioned Lanna culture. Whether you choose to move around in a horse-drawn carriage, Lampang’s signature mode of transportation, cycle or walk, you’ll be delighted with the sense of discovery.

Source: TheNation

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We take you to the Pearls of the Orient

CAMBODIA Siem Reap – Here you will find influences of French colonial and Chinese architecture. With the Tuk Tuk service to the ancient city of Angkor Thom, to visit Angkor Ta Prohm, one of the famous temples of Cambodia. In the afternoon with a Jeep to the Angkor Wat Temple. MYANMAR Mandalay – After arriving…

via Pearls of the Orient — NEWS & TRAVEL GURU MAGAZINE

The beauty of Vietman

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Vietnam 1

Astonishingly exotic and utterly compelling, Vietnam is a country of breathtaking natural beauty with an incredible heritage that quickly becomes addictive.

Sensory Overload

Unforgettable experiences are everywhere in Vietnam. There’s the sublime: gazing over a surreal seascape of limestone islands from the deck of a Chinese junk in Halong Bay. The ridiculous: taking 10 minutes just to cross the street through a tsunami of motorbikes in Hanoi. The inspirational: exploring the world’s most spectacular cave systems in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. The comical: watching a moped loaded with honking pigs weave a wobbly route along a country lane. And the contemplative: witnessing a solitary grave in a cemetery of tens of thousands of war victims.

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A Culinary Superpower

The Thais may grumble, but in Southeast Asia nothing really comes close: Vietnamese food is that good. Incredibly subtle in its flavors and outstanding in its diversity, Vietnamese cooking is a fascinating draw for travelers – the dozens of cooking schools in Hoi An are testament to this. Geography plays a crucial role, with Chinese flavours influencing the soups of northern Vietnam, spices sparking up southern cuisine and myriad herbs and complex techniques typifying the central region, rightly renowned as Vietnam’s epicurean epicentre.

Meet the Locals

Vietnamese people are energetic, direct, sharp in commerce and resilient by nature. The locals love a laugh and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to socialize with them and hear their tales. Generally the rule is the more uncomfortable the (always tiny) seats in the bar or cafe, the more fun you’ll have. Poor in parts but never squalid, Vietnam is developing at an astonishing pace and inevitably there are some issues to consider (including some minor scams). However, on the whole this is an extremely safe (apart from the traffic!) and wonderfully rewarding country to explore.

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Why I Love Vietnam

I know of few more driven, purposeful people on earth than the Vietnamese. Back in 1991 when I first arrived, the country was broke – one of the poorest on earth – but not broken. The streets were swept, the cuisine was outstanding and visitors (yes, even Americans) were welcomed. Over the years I’ve returned to enjoy the same simple pleasures: chatting with friends over a glass of bia hoi, soaking up the street scenes in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, biking lonely mountain roads, and marveling at the locals’ sheer lust for life. And then I start planning a return trip.

Thrills & Chills

If you’ve got the bills, Vietnam’s got the thrills and chills. Some require a little physical effort, like motorbiking switchback after switchback up the jaw-dropping Hai Van Pass in central Vietnam. Others require even more sweat: kitesurfing the tropical oceanic waters off Mui Ne or hiking the evergreen hills around Bac Ha or Sapa. And when you’re done with all that adrenaline stuff, there’s plenty of horizontal ‘me’ time to relish. Vietnam has outstanding spas – from marble temples of treatments, to simple family run massage salons with backpacker-friendly rates.

Vietnam tour

Sourse: Lonelyplanet
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Vietnam tocht

Hidden jewel of the Hindu Kush, #Pakistan

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Chitral in Pakistan’s far north offers lush green valleys, snowy peaks and a friendly welcome.

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A view of the valley from Ayuon

WHEN I READ an article in the New York Times last year about the historical valley of Chitral and its inhabitants, a minority tribe known as the Kalash, I knew that I would have to go here and discover it for myself.

The Kalash of Chitral in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, the Times article informed me, shared DNA fragments with an ancient European population, possibly Greek in origin.

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Kalash women traditionally wear black dresses covered with colourful embroidery.

Statistical analysis suggests that this has resulted from interracial mixing between the local populace and Alexander the Great’s army well before 210 BC.

The Kalash, who believe in multiple deities, live in Chitral’s Rumbur, Bumburet and Birir valleys, and speak the Kalasha language, which is derived from the Dardic family of the Indo-Iranian branch.

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We chose December for our visit to Chitral, a month well out of the tourist season but one that shows off the mountains at their very best, and travelled from Lahore, a journey of almost 800 kilometres that takes between 11 and 12 hours.

We were joined at Sialkot by a group of young adventurers and almost 24 hours later, entered the small town of Ayun from where we rented jeeps for the bumpy ride ahead. Soon, we were on our way to the mountainous areas of magnificent Chitral.

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he scenery, which welcomed us at the break of dawn as we reached the valley, was positively breathtaking with everything covered with a thick blanket of pure white snow.

In contrast to the bitterly cold weather, the Kalash were warm and welcoming and despite being so close to the Afghan border, at no point did we feel unsafe. Indeed, it is considered one of the safest districts in Pakistan and in recent years has become a popular summer destination for local, and often well-heeled, tourists.

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After checking in and leaving our baggage at the Foreigner Tourism Inn in Bumburet, we headed further into the valley and at every step were greeted by the locals of the village; all happy to see us and eager to engage us in conversation.

We were particularly entranced by the costumes of the Kalash women – long, black dresses, usually embroidered with cowry shells in vivid colours and which serve as a unique symbol of identity.

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The people of the neighbouring Nuristan, a province of Afghanistan, once practised the same polytheist religion as the Kalash minority though by the late 1800as, most had converted to Islam. While this has also happened to a certain extent among the Kalash, those who convert tend to remain in the area and stay faithful to the ancient customs.

We also trekked into a valley from where we could see the Afghan mountains covered with thick sheets of snow. The view was magical and it was hard to imagine how much more beautiful the valley would look in summer or spring, when everything turns a lush green.

Perhaps we will find out for ourselves one day – the visit to Chitral will surely not be our last.

Source: The Nation

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Cambodian Khmer Apsara dancers

Apsara - Khmer dansers
Cambodian Khmer Apsara dancers

An Apsara (also spelled as Apsarasa) is a female spirit of the clouds and waters in Hindu and Buddhist mythology.

English translations of the word “Apsara” include “nymph,” “celestial nymph,” and “celestial maiden.”

Apsaras represent an important motif in the stone bas-reliefs of the Angkorian temples in Cambodia (8th–13th centuries AD), however all female images are not considered to be apsaras. In harmony with the Indian association of dance with apsaras, Khmer female figures that are dancing or are poised to dance are considered apsaras; female figures, depicted individually or in groups, who are standing still and facing forward in the manner of temple guardians or custodians are called devatas.

Angkor Wat, the largest Angkorian temple (built AD 1116–1150), features both apsaras and devata, however the devata type are the most numerous with more than 1,796 in the present research inventory. Angkor Wat architects employed small apsara images (30–40 cm as seen at left) as decorative motifs on pillars and walls. They incorporated larger devata images (all full-body portraits measuring approximately 95–110 cm) more prominently at every level of the temple from the entry pavilion to the tops of the high towers. In 1927, Sappho Marchal published a study cataloging the remarkable diversity of their hair, headdresses, garments, stance, jewelry and decorative flowers, which Marchal concluded were based on actual practices of the Angkor period. Some devata appear with arms around each other and seem to be greeting the viewer. “The devatas seem to epitomize all the elements of a refined elegance,” wrote Marchal.
Khmer classical dance
Khmer classical dance, the indigenous ballet-like performance art of Cambodia, is frequently called “Apsara Dance”.

Champa
Apsaras were also an important motif in the art of Champa, medieval Angkor’s neighbor to the east along the coast of what is now central Vietnam. Especially noteworthy are the depictions of apsaras in the Tra Kieu Style of Cham art, a style which flourished in the 10th and 11th centuries AD.

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