Looking out over the panorama of Yokohama from Japan's tallest building, you can hardly believe that 150 years ago, Japan's second largest city and largest port was hardly even a village. When Commodore Perry's Black Ships sailed in and demanded that Japan open itself up to the rest of the world after its long insular snooze, Yokohama was opened up as an international port. The city quickly grew around the port and foreign concessions blossomed. Foreigners were allowed to live only in certain areas of the city. Yamate Bluff quickly became a virtual European village. Chinese were soon to follow. Chinatown, just below the Europeans' bluff bustled, as it still does, with the sizzle of noodles being stir-fried and the smell of ginger and sesame.
Phrae is often overlooked when visitors come to Northern Thailand, and there lies its quaint charm. The old city is surrounded by a moat and within are some preserved and restored teak houses. Phrae was once the main provider of teak before the logging industry became extremely restricted in preserving what’s left of the teak forests. Besides its quiet, tree laned charm, Phrae is most famous for Phae Muang Phi, an unusual spot in Northern Thailand with its famous rock formations. Its original name means “city of ghosts” and is commonly thought of as "Thailand’s Grand Canyon" for its distinctive mushroom-shaped formations and pillars shaped by natural erosion.
Monks in saffron robes and flip-flops stroll through the streets at dawn collecting alms. Children play marbles and hopscotch on the sidewalk of the city's main drag, as a chicken pecks at the roadside by a basket of mangoes. Welcome to Vientiane - Asia's quietest capital. The Mekong River slowly meanders past the city, setting the pace for the town. Laotians move along at a similar tempo and visitors are soon lulled into the city's rhythm, a rare treat for those who crave a slower, friendlier, gentler way of life. Hustle and bustle are not the Laotian way - you will find none of the buzz of other cities here - and there lies Vientiane's charm.
Vigan's Mestizo District offers a picturesque glimpse into the Philippines colonial past. The ancestral houses were mostly built by Chinese traders using a mixture of Filipino, Asian and Spanish architectural styles. The fact that the town is so well preserved has earned it UNESCO World Heritage Status. Vigan had long been an important trading post for Chinese before the Spanish conquest in 1572. After colonization, Vigan grew to become a center of Spanish political and religious power in Northern Luzon, Philippines.
Once upon a time, Hoi An was Southeast Asia's busiest port. When traffic moved elsewhere the town took a long nap. This preserved the town's unique architecture, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Chinese temples jostle Sino-Portuguese shophouses while down along the riverfront, elegant mustard-hued villas with colonnades remind us of Colonial France. Chinese temples and assembly halls, vibrant with reds, golds and fire-breathing dragons bring us back to Asia. Hoi An is so renowned for its unique retro charm and great food it is maybe not so surprising that few think of it as a beach town. If you can manage to tear yourself away, one of Southeast Asia's broadest and cleanest beaches is a short bicycle ride away. The quiet surf, lack of crowds and minimal hustle will make you wonder why all those beachbums flock to Bali or Phuket. Cua Dai Beach is, for the time being, part of the time warp that is Hoi An. Enjoy the serenity while it lasts.
Japanese rock gardens, karesansui or zen gardens were influenced by Zen Buddhism and can be found at Zen temples especially in the Kyoto area. Originally their creation and maintenance was a form of meditation itself. Japanese gardens are living works of art in which the plants and trees are ever changing with the seasons. As they grow and mature, they are constantly sculpted to maintain and enhance the overall experience. In this way a Japanese garden is never the same and never really finished.
Luang Prabang Images Like everything else in Luang Prabang, the Mekong River never hurries as it passes by the town. The residents of this small city move along at a similar pace. Monks in orange robes and flip-flops stroll through the streets collecting alms at dawn. Children skip down sidewalks and play marbles. A chicken slowly pecks at the roadside by baskets of mangos. Visitors are soon lulled into the pace of life here, a treat for those of us that crave a slower tempo. Set in the jungle between the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, Luang Prabang was almost completely abandoned after 1975. Thanks to UNESCO naming it a World Heritage Site in 1995 as "the Best Preserved City in Southeast Asia" tourism has rescued the town. Visitors now come to explore 1000 year old temples and chat with the friendly monks, sip coffee on French colonial verandas and wander around in Luang Prabang's narrow brick lanes and markets. Luang Prabang - the ancient capital of Lang Xang, the Kingdom of a Million Elephants.
Jaipur is familiarly known as the “Pink City” and is the largest city in Rajasthan. Jaipur was India's first planned city and is now is a major tourist attraction belonging to the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra. Jaipur is often called Pink City in reference to its colored buildings, originally painted pink to imitate the red sandstone architecture of Mughal settlements. Today’s reddish color originates from the repainting of the buildings done for a special visit by the Prince of Wales. Not only the capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur has many attractions, including UNESCO world heritage sites, and is a major hub for tourism: Amber Fort, Jaipur City Palace, Jantar Mantar Observatory, Jal Mahal Floating Palace, among many others.
Bacolod is the capital city of Negros Occidental known as the City of Smiles. Bacolod is also the home of the renowned Maskara Festival, a spectacular mix of dance, color and music. Bacolod is also known for its culinary heritage, including its inasal roast chicken on skewers. Hot spots in and around town include Negros Occidental Provincial Capitol Building and its Romanesque architecture and lagoon. The Ruins - the remains of a Spanish era sugar baron's palace that was burned down before Japanese forces could seize it during WWII. All that is left of the mansion is its stone skeleton. San Sebastian Cathedral was first planned by Father Gonzaga who started building it and then was continued by the government and other priests. Silay City, locals like to think of it as as "the Paris of Negros" because of its European architecture though it would take a rather vivid imagination to compare it with Paris. Still, the efforts of locals to preserve historical buildings is noteworthy in itself.
Due to Baguio's cool mountainous weather the city is a treat compared to hot, sweltering lowland Luzon. Baguio was established by the Americans in 1900 at the site of an Ibaloi village. At an altitude of 1600 meters or 5200 feet the climate is cool and temperate. Baguio's nickname is the "City of Pines" and has become the center of commerce and education in Northern Luzon and so the seat of government of the Cordillera Administrative Region.
Sukhothai Historical Park is all about the ruins of Sukhothai, ancient capital of the Sukhothai kingdom in the 13th and 14th centuries. The ruins and temples in a park-like setting, making them ideally viewed on a cycle tour. Sukhothai Historical Park is located near the modern city of New Sukhothai, capital of the province of the same name. Within the UNESCO listed park there are 193 ruins on 70 square kilometers of land. Inside are the remains of the royal palace and twenty six temples, the largest being Wat Mahathat. The park is maintained by the Fine Arts Department of Thailand and UNESCO. The park sees thousands of visitors each year who marvel at the ancient Buddha figures and ruined temples.
The Island of Hawaii is the youngest island in the Hawaiian chain and is also by far the biggest, with a variety of environments to discover. This is the home of one of the world’s most active volcanoes. All but two of the world’s climate zones generate everything from lush rain forests to volcanic deserts...
Angkor Archaeological Park - the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia -stretches over 400 square kilometers. Angkor contains the magnificent remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. These include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations. The Angkor complex itself has no accommodations and few facilities - the nearby town of Siem Reap is the tourist hub for the area. Together with Tonle Sap Lake and its "floating villages", Siem Reap and the area are packed with interesting attractions not to mention the UNESCO World Heritage site Angkor.
The area of what is now Mongolia has been ruled by various nomadic tribes for centuries. The Mongol Empire was founded by Genghis Khan in 1206 and came to rule much of Asia in its heyday. After the collapse of the Yuan Dynasty the Mongols returned to their earlier patterns. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Mongolia came under the influence of Tibetan Buddhism. Mongolia is the most sparsely populated country in the world, with a population of only around 3 million people.
After visiting a japanese garden we ask ourselves what is deliberate, what is accidental? Does it truly offer hidden meaning behind those rocks or ponds? Japanese gardens reveal themselves only detail by detail and so to enjoy the hushed silence here is to appreciate the Japanese aesthetic, which puts great value on what is implied not shown...