Tag Archives: UNESCO

Around Asia – Indonesia (Day 2: Borobodur, Prambanan)

Today marks the official start of our trip. At 4am, we met our tour operator Salim for the first time. Finally, there is a face to the person I have been e-mailing with for the past few days.

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From Yogyakarta, we drove for an 1 hour to reach Manohara Resort. As a tip, you can opt to stay here as the Borobudur Temple complex is right inside the resort grounds. They also have discounted rates if you are staying there.

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We were one of the first guests that arrived at the resort. While waiting, we had a chitchat with Salim and our driver Yahia (Sorry, but I am not sure how to spell your name). It was nice to know that we were in good company after we got to know them more.

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It was almost 6am when we started lining up to head to the entrance of the temple complex. We were each given a flashlight that you will only use for a few minutes to climb up the temple stairs.

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As we reached our vantage point, I did not expect the huge amount of tourists that visit the temple during sunrise. We had a difficult time finding a decent spot as there will be a blockade from a fellow traveler wherever you position yourself. This was definitely a turn off for me and it somewhat degraded the beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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After sunrise is where it becomes better. Most tourists will be moving around the complex giving you more space. As time passes, there will be less and less people around as well. This gave me an opportunity to take a few decent shots of the stupas. Maybe next time, I can just stay behind the complex before sunrise. This way, I can take a clear shot of the complex from the back.

Borobudur sunrise 🌞 #Indonesia #unesco #borobudur #photography #sunrise #agameoftones

A post shared by Paolo Lee (@paolee87) on

Don’t get me wrong but going here should be in everyone’s travel bucket list. Definitely one of the best, if not the best, Buddhist temple I have seen. It’s sheer size, symmetry and design is  mind boggling. Just google some aerial shots of this place and you will be amazed!

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From Borobodur, we headed back to Yogyakarta to have our breakfast and checkout from our hotel. We then went for a quick stop to visit another UNESCO site – Parambanan Temple.

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Also another must-see temple to visit. Although, I prefer Borobudur a lot more than this other temple. Prambanan looks very similar to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. And just like the latter (when we visited back in 2012), it was also under construction during the time we visited.

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From here, we went back on the road to what will be the longest land travel of our Asia trip. Our next stop was to head towards the city of Probolinngo.

 

 

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Hanoi (Day 3: Imperial Citadel, Pho Bo, Egg Coffee, Legend Beer)

After a night of drinking, we woke up a bit later than the usual. For breakfast, we had complimentary vouchers at the hotel but decided to skip it for some authentic Vietnamese food.

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We came looking for Pho Suong located at Trung Yen Street which is one of the side streets inside the Old Quarter. We tried out their Pho Bo which is basically beef pho.

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Having some hot beef broth that morning was just what I needed. Ahh…comfort food!

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We also went Cafe Giang for some Cafe Trung (egg coffee). At first, we did not notice that there was a second floor which is where I would recommend that you stay. I also tried their Cafe Sua which is coffee with milk.

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Later on, we visited the Temple of Literature. A lot of students visit this place to pray for good luck.

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Our next stop was the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. I personally removed this from our list of places to see but the hotel staff insisted that we go and visit the place.

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Definitely a must see if you are an ethnic and cultural buff. I have been to several Asian countries and have visited similar museums. Also coming from a country rich in tribal culture, I think Westerners will appreciate this place much more than I did.

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For lunch, we went to Quan An Ngon. I was expecting a hole in the wall type of place but it was the complete opposite. I wanted to scream tourist trap but their food was surprisingly tasty!

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We headed to the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long that afternoon. I was surprised to see that this was a UNESCO site as I have not done my research about this place.

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There are a couple of things you can do around the citadel. Apart from the walled surroundings, the Flag Tower was just around the other end. Also, this place was used as a secret headquarters during the Vietnamese War. The old and new blend with this one.

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It was interesting to go around the buildings that housed offices hidden underground.

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There seems to be a lot of renovation going when we visited. Some areas are still being excavated. Hopefully, there will be more areas open and more things to see when I return in a few years or so.

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We also visited Dong Xuan Market. I was expecting a more touristy place to buy souvenirs but it seemed more like a wholesale market for locals. Some sellers were already packing up when we went so we really did not spend a lot of time in the market. Instead, we went back to the Old Quarter and walked around the streets to buy our goodies. We bought around 2 kilograms of ground coffee to bring home.

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At night, we visited Legend Beer to get a glimpse of Hanoi for one last time. We grabbed some drinks and light snack while overlooking the organized chaos below the streets.

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We grabbed some quick dinner at a nearby street BBQ place. One last meal before we head back.

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As we waited for our airport pick-up, I felt mixed emotions about going back home. From chasing sunsets in Tanjung Aru to catching the sunrise in Mount Kinabalu to our layover in Kuala Lumpur and finally bia hoi Hanoi, this trip is definitely one for the books!

– The Tourist Pao

 

Hanoi (Day 2: Halong Bay, Bia Hoi Corner)

For our second day in Hanoi, we booked a Halong Bay day tour in the Halong Phoenix Cruiser via Blue Dragon Tours. The voucher we purchased online cost us around USD $52.00 per person. Hotel pick-up and drop-off is included in the package.

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We were picked-up at around 8:30 am in a mini bus that will head straight to Halong City. Of course, the tour would not be complete without your usual tourist trap stopover.

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It was almost 2 pm when we arrived at the docks. Since we did some careful research on the junk we will be boarding, the Phoenix Cruiser did not disappoint and we got exactly what we booked for.

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We were lucky to be able to book a boat that is not fully occupied as I would have imagined a less enjoyable experience. Our guide, Hai, told us that the big group booked on our tour decided to take the overnight boat instead. We were only 7 in the group that day.

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As we cruised along the bay, you can already see the limestone formations a few minutes after departing the dock. The formations are similar to the ones I have seen in Coron, Palawan. In Halong Bay, you experience foggy cold weather as you cruise along the bay versus the summer island vibe in Coron. If you had to ask me which one is better, I would have to tell you to experience both.

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Our first stop was a floating village called Ba Hang. We moved to a smaller boat that was maneuvered by a female local. Though there were lots of tourists from other junk operators, Halong Bay still felt calm and quiet.

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The last stop of the tour was Thien Cung Cave. Comparing this cave to the one I visited in Sagada (Philippines), which was dark, damp and had bat guano everywhere, this cave is lighted and well-kept.

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The cave looks nice, especially in photos, but it looks too touristy for me at times. Then again, maybe the whole Halong Bay tour is. I still enjoyed it though!

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It was time to go back to Hanoi. One of our tourmates joined us after the trip. We decided to head to Bia Hoi Corner. You can locate this area along Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Street.

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The street is all lined-up with locals and tourists all seated beside each other in small stools. We decided to grab some cold bia hoi in one of the shops near the front. Apparently, not all shops sell this local beer.

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As the night passed, our group grew in to six people. That being two locals who recently attended a language school in Hanoi and were practicing their English as well as the peer of our tourmate who we were just talking about. Four different countries represented at our table.

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Time to rest after the shop ran out of bia hoi. Cheers!

Hanoi (Day 3: Imperial Citadel, Pho Bo, Egg Coffee, Legend Beer)

– The Tourist Pao

Summit to Mount Kinabalu (Day 2: Base Camp to Low’s Peak)

I was supposed to get as much sleep as I can before the morning summit. Unfortunately, I felt the altitude sickness which made it difficult for me to rest. I had no choice but to take some painkillers that night. Just as I am about to fall asleep, it was already our 1:30 am call time. Time for our early breakfast!

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At around 2:30 am, our group gathered outside Laban Rata. There were already a few groups who went ahead before we left.

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The first part of the trek was an incline which is partially made up of wooden steps. The initial assault was a bit tiring because you cannot pace yourself with the long queue ahead. Due to this, our group was separated into two. We skipped a few groups every now and then and waited for the second group to follow. Unfortunately, we could not locate them at some point and decided to go ahead if we wanted to reach the summit before sunrise.

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Upon reaching the checkpoint, your badge will be tagged to check who among the climbers have reached this area. Now is the tricky part of the climb. Coupled by the steepness and the energy exhausted earlier, I found the next part to be daunting at first.

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The trail from the checkpoint to the summit is pretty straightforward. You just follow the thick white rope which will lead you to Low’s Peak. The terrain is made of granodiorite which is the inclined rocky part you see when you search Mount Kinabalu in pictures. For me, this was the more difficult part to climb up. I had to hold on to the rope at times.

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It was very dark and you can barely see the summit which made the trail feel endless. The number of climbers you come across kept dwindling the farther you head up. Most are either at the summit at this point or still below before the checkpoint. Midway through the rocky part, I made occasional stops to take photos of the terrain. I wanted to take some sky shots accompanied by the unearth-like view but I left my tripod at base camp. It made me feel like I was on another planet!

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Out of breath, this was the time I got separated from the first group. I told them to go ahead and I would follow behind at my own pace. My steps became shorter and shorter at this point. I had one last glimpse of the first group as they shouted my name just a few meters ahead.

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Just as I thought I had enough, I made one last push to keep moving forward. I said to myself “This is the reason why I am here and I will not disappoint myself“. Next thing you know, I finally reached Low’s Peak in time! The two others climbers who went ahead from my group even said that I was just 5-10 minutes behind when they reached the summit. I did not expect that I would only be behind by that much. I guess my non-stop small steps with both my hands on the trekking pole worked!

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Reaching the summit is already a feat for me. At 4095.2 MASL (13,436 feet), this is the highest I have been on foot.

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As the sun started to rise, the beauty of Mount Kinabalu is revealed. The view is just awe-inspiring that I will never forget. I can not believe that we actually made it!

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After taking some photos, I rewarded myself with some hot tea. The reason why I bought a thermal mug is for times like these. At around 7:00 am, we were ready to head back to base camp.

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At this point, I stopped taking photos and we reached base camp just before check out time. We grabbed some quick breakfast and headed back to Kinabalu Park Headquarters. It was probably around 2:30 pm when we reached Timpohon Gate.

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We reached the city at around 6 pm and said our goodbyes with the rest of the group. Their flight was scheduled early the next day while me and my brother was just about to start the second leg of our trip. Hanoi!

– The Tourist Pao

Summit to Mount Kinabalu (Day 1: Timpohon Gate to Base Camp)

Today is the day we have all been waiting for. We woke up early in the morning and the bus picked us up from our hotel to head to Kinabalu Park Headquarters. On our way there, we were briefed by the tour operator on the dos and don’ts before falling asleep. I thought to myself: I probably will not be sleeping for the next 36 hours. For this tour, we booked the 2D/1N package with Amazing Borneo.

As we reach the headquarters, we were met by dozens of other climbers from around the world. We were each given our packed lunch as well as the mandatory ID tag which you had to wear at all times. Mine was tagged 007 for this climb. Pretty neat!

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Just before 10:00 am, we were already at the Timpohon Gate. This is it!

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We were 9 in the group including the 2 guides who also acted as our porters.

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Before the hike, we have been advised by our guides not to walk too fast. The walk will be long and the first day is just for reaching the base camp. There is also the danger of getting altitude sickness if our body does not acclimatize well.

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We weren’t used to this kind of pace which is why we were reminded to walk slower after 30 minutes. The hikes we do locally are usually day trips and the mountains range from 500-700 meters only on the average.

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As we passed each stop, you notice the shift in the terrain and vegetation. Likewise, the weather also becomes more unpredictable. We experienced hot and humid weather as well as the cold and some rain showers throughout the hike.

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Before they re-opened the mountain, due to the earthquake last 2015, they already re-routed and fixed the trail routes.

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The rest stops are quite convenient as they have toilets with running water in every stop. As a pre-cautionary measure, it is highly advised not to drink directly from the tap water. I suggest that you bring enough (at least 2 litres) until you reach base camp. Just to be sure, bring purification tablets or iodine solution in case you have to get from the tap.

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As we got closer to the base camp, the weather was getting colder. I layered up as early as our lunch stop. To keep myself energized the whole trek, I brought a good mix of trail food. I had energy shots and sweets, biscuits and some chocolates.

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With the occasional rest stops and photo ops, we did not notice that it was getting quite late already. Some of us reached base camp earlier while the others were 30-45 minutes behind. I was already exhausted and famished at this point when I managed to reach the base camp before 5 pm.

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My first impression about the base camp was “not bad at all!“.  The rooms consist of 4 double deck beds and food was served buffet style. The only other time I had an overnight hiking experience was back in 2015 when we went to Mount Pulag. We camped out in tents for that one.

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After dinner, everyone decided to freshen up and prepare for next morning’s hike. Our call time was at 1:30 am which was only in a few hours. Before retiring, I went outside to do some astrophotography. The cold got the best of me and the area where I placed my tripod setup was not that stable. Oh well! Better luck next time for me. This was officially my second try on site with this type of photography. The first being in Sagada.

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Tomorrow is the big day!

Summit to Mount Kinabalu (Day 2: Base Camp to Low’s Peak)

– The Tourist Pao

Third Thai’s A Charm – Ayutthaya (Day 2: Temples)

Our second day in Ayutthaya is another day of more temple touring. Not that I’m complaining… For today, we hired a private tuk tuk guide to tour us around the temples.

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Our first stop was Wat Yai Chai Mongkol. This temple is well-maintained and had several attractions to enjoy. You can even go walk up the temple and view the surroundings.

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Next was Wat Mahathat. Probably one of the more well-known temples to visit and is a must-see when you’re in Ayutthaya. Don’t forget to check out the large Buddha head that’s enveloped by a tree.

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We also passed by Wat Na Phra Men. One of their active temples inside the Historical Park.

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Our fourth stop was Wat Lokkayasutharam. The main feature of this place is the large outdoor reclining Buddha. On a side note, we had an accident before we reached this destination. Our tuk tuk abruptly braked when a motorcycle backed in front of us. My girlfriend hit her left side on the metal railing of our tuk tuk. At that moment, I panicked and thought we would be ending our trip short. Thank goodness she just ended up having a bruised arm and a bit of bleeding in her mouth. No broken tooth and all… Phew!

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We rested for a bit to recover and moved to our fifth stop – Wat Mongkhon Bophit. This was probably the temple I liked the least. I prefer old “ruined” temples over modern looking ones.

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Our last stop was Wat Phra Si Sanphet. Most of the structures seemed to have been restored to it’s old beauty. I could just imagine how much more beautiful it could have been if it was in it’s original form.

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By this time, we were so exhausted that it was time for us to grab some really late lunch. We ate in a riverside restaurant and ordered several dishes like tom yum and grilled river prawns. Just what I needed to cap our tour in Ayutthaya…

After our lunch, we went back to Baan Thai House. Dipped a bit in their pool before having our traditional Thai massage. By this time, the weather was getting rainy. We had a few drinks at night and even had a bicycling fiasco. I guess that’s another story to tell. This wraps our last day in Ayutthaya as we’re moving back to Bangkok tomorrow.

This place definitely has it’s unique charm! Definitely one of my favorite destinations so far.

Third Thai’s A Charm – Bangkok (Day 3: Wat Pho, Wat Arun, Siam Ocean World, Baiyoke Sky Hotel)

– The Tourist Pao

Third Thai’s A Charm – Ayutthaya (Day 1: Wat Phanan Choeng, Wat Phutthaisawan, Wat Chaiwatthanaram)

When I first visited Cambodia in 2011, I was inspired to see more ancient temples similar to those in Siem Reap. After careful research and what my budget permitted, I decided to visit the ancient city of Ayutthaya which was just a stone’s throw away from Thailand‘s capital city of Bangkok. For numerous reasons, our trip to Thailand seemed to be the perfect choice for us back then. This trip marked my 3rd time in Thailand.

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Our trip starts once we arrived in Suvarnabhumi Airport. From there, we traveled around 2 hours by land to Ayutthaya. Our first stop was to check-in at Baan Thai House. We booked their Deluxe Lake Villa which has a nice view overlooking the grounds. We were able to meet the owner Leena who has been helpful to us even before we arrived in Thailand. This place is definitely a true gem! I recommend that you stay here if you plan to visit Ayutthaya.

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After we settled, we decided to join a boat tour which we were fortunate enough to book late in the afternoon. We were lucky that there was no one else on the tour so we had the boat all to ourselves.

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Our first stop was Wat Phanan Choeng. The highlight of this temple is the large golden buddha statue.

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Next was Wat Phutthaisawan which featured an outdoor reclining buddha. The grounds also contained several statues lined up together.

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Lastly, the highlight of our first day was Wat Chaiwatthanaram. It was unfortunate that we did not enter the grounds as there was an entrance fee. This temple is probably the best if not one of my favorites during this trip.

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The weather was getting a bit gloomy and sun down was nearing so we decided to end our first day in one of the nearby night markets. Of course, our day will not end by trying some thai milk tea and rice cakes.

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We headed back to Baan Thai House after. So far, so good for our first day in Ayutthaya. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for us tomorrow!

Third Thai’s A Charm – Ayutthaya (Day 2: Temples)

– The Tourist Pao