Great Wall of China – Badaling

Great Wall of China Badaling

Great Wall of China (万里长城) one of the most recognizable structures in the World. It was originally a series of separate sections build by individual states. Later joined together and made bigger and stronger, are now collectively referred to as the Great Wall. The wall enabled speedy communications via smoke, flares, drums, and bells, as well as allowing for the rapid transport of troops across the country. It begins in the east at Shanhaiguan in Hebei province and ends at Jiayuguan in Gansu province to the west. Its main body consists of walls, horse tracks, watch towers, and shelters on the wall, and includes fortresses and passes along the Wall.

The Great Wall of China Badaling

The day day was cold and foggy when we decided to see the Wall. We chose Badaling as it was close and there is a cable cart which brings you up close to one of the towers. I didn’t expect it to be so steep. Even though it was out of season it was still very crowded and we slowly made our way up. We couldn’t see further than 2 meters and lost hope it’s gonna change.

Great Wall China Badaling

Great Wall of China BadalingBut then it rained…

                                     … and cleared…

                                                                     …and crowds stayed behind

Great Wall of China Badaling


I have to say it’s very impressive. We stayed for two hours but could stay much longer. If you have time take the pedestrian entrance and skip the cable cart. Now imagine people actually run marathon there… uff it’s widely considered one of the world’s most challenging marathons. Imagine running here:

Badaling Great Wall

Great Wall china Badaling

Badaling China


Bath, Somerset – grils and Jane Austen

It was a day trip. It was girl’s trip. And we had so much fun.

My friend Natalia left London for the first time behind the driving wheel. Awwww! Very stressful but we did it! Or rather SHE did it!

Royal Crescent Bath UKWe are all helpless romantics raised in the spirit of Christian Andersen’s Cinderella.  The Jane Austin novels and movies based on those novels reached us when we were already of age so it’s hard to say they shaped our expectation of romance but we can appreciate a bit of drama sealed with “happy end”.

Bath is absolutely amazing. Having said that I started to remember so many other places I’ve been to and reflect on this sentiment for Bath. It is very pleasant place to go away for a day. Have picnic, visit roman baths called thermaes maybe visit spa. I wouldn’t stay there longer though.

Bath UK Pump RoomI remember as a child I had this books in red hard cover. They were describing different cultures/societies/centuries. I was really interested in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. One of my favourite pictures was the one of roman baths. Most probably no one remembers it but for some that might do I enclose the picture. Pierre MiquelThe author – Pierre Miquel is French and the original title is La vie privée des hommes: Au temps des Romains. I used to imagine living in roman house with inner courtyard (atrium) and bathing is pools of hot water with steam blurring the surroundings. I was amazed with the colour of the water in the baths we visited. You can be really tempted to just get into the water and splash as a nymph or goddess. Do enjoy the pictures before continuing to some more of the city itself.

I liked the architecture of the city centre a lot. Most of the buildings were built in the same fashion and you wouldn’t get those modern steel and glass “fillings” in between.

Royal Crescent Bath

I loved the The Royal Crescent, a street of 30 Georgian terraced houses where they filmed scene from Persuasion and The Duchess.

Number 1 Royal Crescent is a historic house museum and even though we didn’t go in I can imagine if you are into history of households it will be interesting. They always make me imagine what it would be like to live in those times and those homes. Walk the stairs, look through the windows and eat by the tables. But maybe it’s just me. I get it all the time even browsing house designs online.

Worth mention is the fact that you can fly over Bath in a hot air baloon drinking champain on board.

Vinales (Viñales) the heart of Cuba tobacco region

Vinales panoramaIn the morning we headed for breakfast and coffee and then to exchange some more money. I know in some guides and in Internet you can find information saying it’s difficult to exchange money outside Havana. This is no longer true. In all tourist destinations we found banks that would exchange money. We ended up once in the middle of nowhere (I’ll tell you the story later on) and there was nothing there and so no bank either but this is jst because we went off the beaten trail.

Blue taxiMaria at this point felt bad and decided to wait at home. This is crucial to further story. I tried the most delicious lemon cake in the shape of triangle. It had layers of waffle and cream and surprise, surprise was not all that sweet. Very fresh, melting in your mouth and paid for in Peso. We took a taxi to bus station to take a bus. Of course as could be expected in front of bus station we were beset by the taxi gang and almost convinced that for the same price they will take us straight to the front door so we do not have to worry about looking for our Casa… We did want to see what the bus is like so headed straight to the Viazul ticket office. We would have to wait for the bus and the price was the same as taxi per person. Blue taxi driverStill distrustful we decided to check out the car first. And there is was our vehicle – big, old, blue american car – we couldn’t wish for anything more!

What was special about this particular trip? Well, first of all we went to get petrol for our car. The driver said we all should stay away and he will take Michal with him so he can oversee that he is not stealing anything from our luggage. He asked us to pay the third of the amount owned so he can pay for the petrol. Very weird. In the end we all stayed in the car while the driver went to some house, which by the way looked more like a farm than gas station, and brought petrol with him. You know what it means. This is when we found out that the infusion of the tank is in the trunk just below our luggage. So watch out as your things might smell of petrol if the driver is not careful enough.Maria the Taxi driver

Second thing was that there was a strong smell of the petrol in the car which made Marysia sick, also we couldn’t close the windows and the wind  started to be annoying after 2 hours of driving. When I tried to lie down suddenly I was thrown up in the air… just a bridge… and it happens at every bridge. I was looking long time at the highway we were using trying to find the difference between Cuba and Europe. The biggest difference is… traffic! So little traffic and so much space in Europe you only get in the middle of the night in less popular routes. Second difference is that in Cuba highways are also for Car & the fridgecarts drawn by horses, oxen and donkeys as well as hitchhikers and random farmers turning at any point on the green belt between the carriageways. We were overtaken by a car with a fridge in his trunk. Whoever remembers Poland before 1989 is not going to be surprised. I have to say I’ve seen much more overloaded vehicles, but never traveling at such a speed.

The driver told Maria on the way that he has a wife and two grilfriends and they all know about each other. He also suggested that if she’d like she could become his girlfriend as well. Following the conversation I hear that a man should have one woman for the day and one woman for the night. I was wondering a loud what would be the difference between them. Adam suggested ‘one of them is not working during the day obviously’. Hahahhaa  I don’t know what you thought but I was thinking more in a mother/housewife versus sex godess way. Draw your conclusions.

Vinales CafeteriaOn the way we stopped in Cafeteria serving sugar cane juice. We watched how it’s made. It tastes nice, much batter than fresh coconut for me, but not exceptionally nice. You can see on the pictures traditional machine used to produce it. Later on in Vinales we saw the oldest one dating back to was it XVIIIth century?Guarapera Cafeteria

When we arrived in Vinales or driver insisted in showing us his house first before he deliveres us to our destination. Afte long persuation we reluctantly agreed. So we turned into a short street where the buses from Havana park and there on his corner was his house. So much for the huge advantage to be delivered to the doors of your casa instead of bus station. We went in had a look and even though it was very, very nice and had a terrace on the roof we decided to go to place recommended by Sara. We all got back to the car and the driver took us to the end of the street then turned around and stopped two houses before his own. Very awkward. The house was further down the street. To be honest we chose it mainly because Maria was afraid of wooing of the handsome driver.

Cuerpo de Guardabosques VinalesViñales is a small town and municipality in the north-central Pinar del Río Province dominated by low mountain ranges of the Cordillera de Guaniguanico such as Sierra de los Órganos. In 1999, the Viñales Valley was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a cultural landscape. The characteristic feature is spectrum of rocks/hills rising like islands from the bottom of the valley called mogotes. What to see? Museo Municipal, Casa de Caridad Botanical Gardens, Museo Paleontológico, Palenque (a Maroon village) and the caves (Cueva del Indio, Cueva de José Miguel, Cueva de Santo Tomás) in Valle de Viñales National Park, which were refuges for runaway slaves. I read in one of my books that walking in the street we will be offered by a local to visit his tobacco farm and then be able to see how the cigars are made, but this did not happen. I can’t say I regret.Swinging chairs Vinales

We paid 6 CUC per night each, booked in (the host needs to fill out a book with or details and get our signatures) and went for a meal in the town. I will write now a bit of our house and then the next post will be about sightseeing the caves. In Vinales Maria got really sick and did not go cycling with us. Most of us put the blame on food in Havana, but this was not true as Maria’s sisters and mother were suffering from the same sickness back in Spain (we found out about it when we came back). One night it got so bad we woke up our host and asked her to call in a doctor. He was in fact her brother and came to see Maria within 10 minutes. Front of our casaExamined her carefully, asked different questions and finally told her to drink physiological salt with water and prescribed an antibiotic. She was not to eat any sugar only dry bread and natural juice from pears ora apples. It all ended well. The doctor didn’t want to take any money but I think he could use what we gave him to help others. I know gys gave him some things we brought to give away as well.Casa Vinales

We stayed in Vinales for two nights and every time at 4 am a rooster would start crowing near our windows and then another one and another one until it was dawn. Then a pig wold join in to ultimately deprive us of sleep. Marysia tried to reason with the chickens but they must understand only Spanish because I hate to think they were naughty.

dinner vinalesWe decided to order lunch at our Casa. It was like a feast. Each one of us could choose between chicken, langosta, shrimps and pork. We got plain rice, black beans, vegetables, fried bananas and fruits and juice with it. We could not eat it all.

In the garden of our Casa there was coffee growing. We only found out because the friendly doctor helped out his sister with getting rid of outer shells. Well first it’s called a coffee cherry. You need to remove the pulp (shell) leaving the seed or bean and then dry it. We saw the doctor half naked hitting with a huge wooden cudgel (pestle) something placed in a wooden mortar. coffeeFirst we were shy to take any pictures but the the doctor showed us both what he was doing and where in the garden the coffee was growing. Nice of him.

At this point I made some notes in my diary about the qiet life people live. We would percieve our host as quite poor judging by the quality of the things around us and apparent makeshift. At the same time she was better off than Cubans who have no income from tourist and I don’t think that better quality things are necessary to achieve happiness. Maybe just the opposite. They are a distraction from living your life, make you want to be in the future or think of time in the future when you will possess something that promisses happiness but rarely delivers it. It seems that those people have everything they need, but I couldn’t talk to them so this is just my presumption rather than observation. Ok this is it for now. Next post is going to be about the dancing and caves. See you then.

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Sukhothai World Cultural Heritage

Wat Mahathat

Sukhothai was founded in XIII century by Pho Khun Si Nao Nam Thom (the town’s first ruler) and was the capital of the first Kingdom of Siam.

Wat Si Sawai

Wat Si Sawai

After his death it was besieged by a Khmer warrior named Sabat Khlon Lamphong and not long after recaptured by the Si Nao’s son together with Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao who later became Pho Khun Si Inthrathit – a ruler of Sukhothai and the founder of Sukhothai dynasty. More on the history of Sukhothai you can find on UNESCO web-site as in December 1991 it was declared the 358th World Heritage.

Buddha Wat Mahathat Sukhothai

Buddha at Wat Mahathat Sukhothai

The cultural foundation of Sukhotai is Buddhism and this is where the first Thai alphabet was created.The site – Sukhothai Historical Park is truly impressive. It has a number of fine monuments, illustrating the beginnings of Thai architecture. The ‘must see’ are: Wat Mahathat, Wat Si Sawai, Palace, Saritphong, Wat Saphan Hin, Wat Si Chum, Wat Chetuphon, Wat Trapang Ngoen. I’m sure if you are interested you will find detailed information on all of them. The thing I wanted to highlight is the way the bricks were laid. have a look at the picture. It looks like there was no mortar used. Another picture taken in Historical Park shows workers hammering wooden pegs with hammer which seems to be almost as big as they are. In the heat and stuffy air it was really admirable.

bricksWe arrived in Sukhothai after dark. It looked somehow deserted and maybe a bit dangerous because of the neighbourhood we were in. Although I have to say it might have been only mistaken feelings. We saw some children jumping rope, something we all used to do in childhood. I have to say I’m eager to try it again.

We ended up sleeping in Garden House, Pravetnakorn Rd., Sukhothai 64000, Thailand.

Workers at Sukhothai Historical Park

Workers at Sukhothai Historical Park

I really liked the wooden cottages surrounded by greenery. We had some problems with dripping air condition but we just moved our bed a bit and it was all right. The picture of durian later on was taken in the guesthouse garden. As a curiosity have a look at the pipes in the apartment block behind the fence wall. Amazing modern art, don’t you agree?

Near our place we went to a pub/restaurant called Chopper Bar (69/1 Jarod Withee Thong Road | Thani, Sukhothai) I want to recommend it. Very nice atmosphere, cold beer. Just so you know I have no idea where M. got those horns from <wink>. We were sitting at the back of the restaurant on a terrace and the wooden tables felt very familiar. You can expect: live music and performances as well as definite biker bar theme and a gathering of the folks in the area who own Harleys and other large cc bikes. So both locals and travellers.

Garden House Sukhothai

Wooden bungalow in Garden House Sukhothai

As I really like to read legends and stories I tried to find some connected to Sukhothai. I hope you will find them amusing.

So let’s start from Loy (or Loi) Krathong, one of the oldest festivals celebrated annually throughout Thailand. According to a legened it was started by one of the pricesses at king Loethai court. Princess Nang Nopphamat (นาง นพมาศ) let go on the river garland decorated with small bouquets of banana leaves and flowers to pay homage to the goddess of water and to apologize for wrong actions. The king liked this ceremony so much that he decided to tell his subjects about it. And so from that moment, Thais during the full moon of the twelfth lunar month (the Thai calendar) go to the water to release the Krathong (which can be translated literally as “little raft”), pipesto worship the goddess of water, ask her to take all the worries and problems away and to apologize for wrong actions. We haven’t seen it unfortunatley. It was taking place one or two days after our departure from Thailand. Originally, the krathong was made of banana leaves or the layers of the trunk of a banana tree or a spider lily plant. A krathong contains food, betel nuts, flowers, joss sticks, candle and coins. Modern krathongs are more often made of bread or styrofoam. A bread krathong will disintegrate in a few a days and be eaten by fish and other animals while the styrofoam is polluting the waters. Regardless of the composition, a krathong will be decorated with folded banana leaves, flowers, candles and incense sticks. A low value coin is sometimes included as an offering to the river spirits.

The Legend of the First King of Sukhothai

In Ban Kho sub-district, there was a handsome and strong man walking in a forest. Suddenly, a fairy saw him and fell in love. So, she came down to Earth and talked to the man. They fell in love and eventually had a child. The baby was a boy. He was as strong and handsome as his father. The people saw the boy and they crowned him as the king of Sukhothai named Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao, the first king of the Phra Ruang Monarch. There is a stone inscription stating that his name was “Si Intratit Ban Kho”. Some called him “Phra Ruang”. Therefore, there are various names of this king such as Bang Klang Hao, Si Intratit, Arun Raj, Sairakaraj, Phra Ruang, and Roja Raj.


The Legend of Sukhothai

Siamese tradition attributes the founding of the kingdom of Sukhothai to Phra Ruang, a mythological hero. Prior to his time, according to historical legend, the Tai people were forced to pay tribute to the Khmer rulers of Angkor. This tribute was exacted in the form of scared water from a lake outside Lopburi; the Khmer god-king needed holy water from all corners of the empire for his ceremonial rites, a practice later adopted by Thai kings.

Every three years, the water tribute was sent by bullock carts in large earthenware jars. The jars inevitably cracked en route, compelling the tribute payers to make second and third journeys to fill the required quota. When Phra Ruang came of age, he devised a new system of transporting water in sealed woven bamboo containers, which arrived in Angkor intact. This success aroused the suspicion of the Khmer king. His chief astrologer said the ingenious Thai inventor was a person with supernatural powers who constituted a threat to the empire. The king at once resolved to eliminate the Thai menace, and sent an army westwards.

Phra Ruang perceived the danger and went to Sukhothai, where he concealed himself at Wat Mahathat as a Buddhist monk. The Khmers were defeated, and Phra Ruang’s fame spread. He left the monkhood, married the daughter of Sukhothai’s ruler, and when that monarch died, he was invited to the throne by popular mandate. Fact and fiction are inseparable in this popular account.

Now let’s watch the slideshow:

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Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca CityThe unforgettable city of Oaxaca is the cradle of a multicolored culture with continual fascinating enchantment. For me it was also the city of romance. We had a very handsom guide on our tour to Monte Alban. Dark sparkling eyes, boyish smile, cute black curls and nicely built tanned body. I typically don’t like the “latino” type but he was  just so alluring… he asked me out which totally shocked me. Now, when I’m more aware of “customs” it doesn’t seem so shocking and makes me and my adventure less special. But let’s not spoil the sweet memories by thinking too much.Beer in Oaxaca City

We went out to have something to drink in beautiful Zocalo. In front of the cathedral I could hear opera singers entertaining the crowd. The plaza and restaurants were full of lights and people. The air was warm, the alcohol strong and his eyes bright and deep. After not that long we seemed to be talking only about desire, senses and romance. His fingers gently touching my skin crawl the length of my arms to climb to the line where the neck meets the hair. Then he slowly moved his hand down my spine probably reaching the intended effect of electricity in the air between us.

But… well but… just straight after coming back from Mexico I was to move in with a person I really cared about, so it didn’t really work that way. There was no electricity and the romance ended before it even started. Thinking about it now I just can’t believe feeling for one huy can make you so insensitive to seduction by another even though he was so very attractive and I recognised it. Strange. But well, happens right?Basilica de la Soledad

The city was formerly known as Huayacac, a Nahuatl word whose roots “huaxin”, stand for “gourd”, and “yacatl”, which means “pinnacle, point or beginning”, thus being defined as “The beginning or pinnacle of the gourds”.

The cathedral I mentioned earlier is called Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption (Nuestra Señora de al Asunción). It is acctually the third to be built as the first two were destroyed by large earthquakes in the 16th and 18th centuries.

Basilica de la SoledadBasilica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad is located four blocks west of the Cathedral on Avenida Independencia. It is built between 1682 and 1697 by Father Fernando Méndezon a site where supposedly an image of the Virgin Mary appeared. According to legend, the image of the Virgin was found in the pack of a mule that sat down on an outcropping of rock and refused to get up. When the image was discovered, the Virgin appeared, and a basilica was constructed to commemorate the event. The outcropping of rock is surrounded by a cage of iron bars immediately to your right along the wall as you enter the church.Wedding outside basilica de la Soledad

The concave facade of the Basilica de la Soledad, projecting forward from the building, is unique in Mexico’s religious architecture. The way the top is rounded and the tiers are divided suggests an imitation in stone of the traditional carved wooden retablos (folding altarpieces) common in Mexican churches.

Oaxaca is now preserved as a  “Cultural Heritage of Humanity” site by UNESCO.

Cuilapan de GuerreroDuring the tour around the city we visited also Cuilapan de Guerrero, famous XVIth-century open-air chapel hosted a mass by Pope John Paul II. Cuilapan was originally called Sahayuca and inhabited by the Mixtecand Zapotecpopulations. the monastery is located on a small hill which gives it a view of much of the valley area.It is one of the most extravagant and elaborate colonial area construction in Oaxaca.Built of green quarried stone and river rocks, it is a quiet place where footsteps can echo in the hallways. The extravagances of the site, include the tall basilica, the elaborate baptismal font, the Gothic cloister and murals remain as national treasures. The decorative work of the monastery, especially its murals, are important because they show a systematic blending of indigenous elements into the Christian framework, done in order to support the evangelization process in the local Mixtec and Zapotec people.Pope John Paul II in Cuilapan de Guerrero

One of the parts of the monastery is open air chapel. It is a three-nave chapel, also called “Church of the Three Naves.” The chapel has been given to the convent of Cuilapan fame for being the only of its kind throughout Oaxaca. The main facade stands out for its Renaissance elements. It has three entrances with semicircular arch on fluted pilasters. Central access is framed by Corinthian columns fluted shaft and a double cornice, above is a frame that Cuilapan de Guerrerocontains the shield of dominica order, flanked by two dogs carrying a torch in his mouth. Dogs, symbol of the Dominicans, represent, according to legend, a dream of the mother of Santo Domingo. On the sides of the frame are two human figures representing the virtues. The side entrances are lower than the central concert is an oculus with iron bars. The ends of the facade are occupied by two cylindrical towers, pierced in arch, and covered with spire. The top center of the facade is a triangular pediment.Cuilapan de Guerrero

The interior is in three naves. The naves are divided by two rows of 13 arches, supported by Tuscan columns, one of the rows is unfinished. The side walls have nine hits with arch. The bottom of the central nave ends with the triumphal arch, located near the main altar, now walled up. In the nave west, also at the bottom, is built a stone quarry with inscriptions Mixtec historical perspective, accompanied by the date 1555.

Cuilapan de GuerreroIf I remember correctly the chapel didn’t have a roof because the natives believed they wouldn’t have contact with God if they couldn’t see the sky.

We also visited Arrazola and San Martin Tilcajete, two towns which specialize in the art of crafting alebrijes (brightly colored Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures), which can be purchased directly from the artists. And San Bartolo Coyotepec where the artisans specialize in black clay pottery.

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Hue – The Forbidden Purple City and Imperial Tombs

We left Hoi An on the bus and arrived in Hue after dark. I think we just let one of the tauters lead us to a hotel. It was cold and raining and we didn’t really want to walk around much. This is how we saw the best place on our trip. A restaurant, pub and cafe in one.

Cafe On Thu WheelsCafe on Thu Wheels

Address: 3/34 Nguyen Tri Phuong Street, Hue, Vietnam


  • amazing atmosphere
  • place where you can let your “wachfulness” down and be crazy
  • charming owner
  • if you are feeling home sick and need to meet genuine, fun, and interesting people this is your place
  • other travellers, we joined them in drinking local beer and sharing travel adventures
  • delicious food
  • motorbike rental and tours
  • a notebook with messages and contacts to people all around the World
  • walls full of memories and individual expressions
  • toilet you are not likely to forget ;) I’m not going to spoil it for you

We stayed at the hotel just opposite. I can’t complain. It was good standard but it was terribly cold. Well I suppose it would be perfect if the temperature outside was tropical heat.

Hue served as Vietnam’s capital under the emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 to 1945 and the city’s regal past can still be seen inside the walls of the Citadel and the Imperial City. Thanks to UNESCO funding, much of the City is being faithfully restored to its former glory. The Imperial City, created in the 19th century and modeled on the Forbidden City in Beijing, has many palaces and temples inside. The seat of the Nguyen emperors was the Citadel, which occupies a large, walled area on the north side of the river. Inside the citadel was a forbidden city where only the emperors, concubines, and those close enough to them were granted access; the punishment for trespassing was death. Today, little of the forbidden city remains, though reconstruction efforts are in progress to maintain it as a historic tourist attraction.

We decided to split. P. wanted to rent a motorbike and just drive around and I wanted to see the Royal Tombs with a guide. It was to be the highlight of our trip for me. I love the flexibility and no pressure to be together all the time. I think we were both happy about the choice we made.

In short, from what P. told me, the ride around city was exciting and the traffic wasn’t as bad as in HCMC after driving around the center he decided to drive out of the city. There he almost had a terrible accident in a big puddle. Anyway I was glad he was alright. I have no idea what I would have done if he didn’t show up in the place where we were supposed to meet. Where to start looking? And when? We didn’t even have working mobile phones to get in touch. So I’m glad nothing happened.

Hue PagodaI went on a tour. It wasn’t organised by Cafe on Thu Wheels. If it wasn’t raining I think I would go on a motorbike tour they offer. Anyway, we had a bus. The first thing we saw was the Thien Mu Pagoda (pagoda of the Heavenly Lady). It is located on a hill overlooking the Perfume River. In the autumn, flowers from orchards upriver from Hue fall into the water, giving the river a perfume-like aroma, hence the soubriquet. Hue Thien Mu PagodaLegend has it that the pagoda was founded after and old woman dressed in red gown and green trousers appeared on the hill and prophesied that soon a true king will come here and build a pagoda that will attract and converge all the heavenly forces and energies of the Dragon Veins. After saying it the woman vanished. And so it happened. I guess you can call it a self-fulfilling prophecy as the king that build it heard it before he made a decision.

The most characteristic building is the wedding cake like tower. It has seven storeys which represent incarnations of Buddha.

bonsaiWe then visited a garden. It was a special garden with different types of plants and flowers. I think it was Ngoc Son which was the former residence of the Princess Ngoc Son, daughter of Emperor Dong Khanh. But it might be some other garden as well. it wasn’t a big thing for me and maybe because of the season it wasn’t anything special. Almost no blooming flowers, everything wet and gray. Well you have to pay a price for travelling out of season. I was really looking forward to the tombs. So let’s move forward to it.

When you think about royal tombs in hue think more of a pleasure grounds and temples than cementaries and mausoleums. They combine park like landscapes and lakes with traditional architecture. Each tomb consists of: a pavilon housing a stele recording the emperor’s achievements, a brick paved court of honour where life sized stone mandarins and animal figures stand in attendence, a tample with funerary tablet and precious items belonging to the emperor, a masoleum and houses for guards and servants. Each of the tombs is different though.

The Tomb of Minh Mang (also called Hieu Tomb)

Minh Mang Tomb gatesMinh Mang was possibly the greatest of Nguyen emperors. This 28 hectare tomb is surrounded by an oval wall of 1700 meters. Originally, the tomb consisted of 40 architectural constructions symmetrically arranged along a 700 meter axis. It is known for its solemnity and precise layout. It is a UNESCO World heritage Site.mandarins

Dai Hong Mon: It is the main gate to enter the tomb. The gate presents three paths with 24 heaving roofs covered with beautiful decorations. The gate was opened only once to bring the Emperor’s coffin to the tomb, and had been tightly closed since then. Visitors have to use the two side-gates Ta Hong Mon (Left Gate) and Huu Hong Mon (Right Gate).

Minh Mang stele houseOn the Salutation Court there are the Thahn stone statues of great mandarins, along with elephants and horses representing the royal entourage that accompanies and protects the emperor in the other world. The Salutation Court is divided into four steps – The Hien Duc Mon (gate) leads to the worship place. In the centre is Sung An Temple surrounded by Ta, Huu Phoi Dien (Left, Right Temples) in the front and Ta, Huu Tung Phong (Left, Right Rooms) in the back. altarThe Emperor and Queen Ta Thien Nhan are worshipped in Sung An Temple. Finally, the Hoang Trach Gate leads to the Minh Lau Bright Pavilion. It is placed on top of three terraces representing heaven, earth and water. It is a square pavilion with two storeys and eight roofs. The Minh Lau Pavilion radiates a remarkable, mystical atmosphere; it also features an anthology of selected poems of Vietnam’s early 19th century. On both sides of Minh Lau, two obelisks stand on the hills. In the back of Minh Lau are two flower gardens designed as the character “Longevity”.

The stele house keeps the Thanh Duc Than Cong Stele consistion of an essay of 2500 Chinese characters of Thieu Tri emperor that was carved to praise the contribution of his emperor-father Minh Mang and to describe the tomb constructing process.

The tomb (Buu Thanh) – Tan Nguyet (New Moon) crescent Lake embraces the circular Buu Thanh (The wall surrounding the grave). There are three bridges on Tan Nguyet Lake. Minh Mang TombVisitors have to climb 33 Thanh stone steps to reach the sepulchre of the Emperor. We were in fact not allowed to climb those stairs I think because of the restoration works.

Tu Duc Tomb

Tu Duc Tomb boardLocated in a narrow valley, Tu Duc Tomb is one of the most beautifully designed complexes among the tombs of the Nguyen dynasty. Embedded in a lush pine forest, this tomb is the final resting place of Emperor Tu Duc who had the longest reign of all emperors of the Nguyen dynasty. In his lifetime, the Emperor Tu Duc used the tomb as a palatial retreat together with his many wives and concubines.

The enormous costs, extra taxation and forced labor necessary to build the tomb caused protest among the workers, who attempted a coup in 1866. With the help of his generals Tự Đức was able to suppress the coup and continued enjoying the palace within the tomb for the remainder of his life. The royal amenities available at this tomb are unmatched by any other such structure in Vietnam.
Although the Emperor had over a hundred wives and concubines, he did not have any offspring. Lacking a son to write his biography and merits, which would be part of the stele inscription, the task fell to himself, a circumstance he considered to be a bad omen. His modest self-composed epitaph can now be found inscribed on the stele in the pavilion, to the east of the tomb. The stele for Tự Đức Tomb was brought there from a quarry over 500 km away, and it is the largest of its type in Viet Nam. It took four years to complete the transport. The tomb’s palace area has a lake where the Emperor used to boat, a small game hunting ground on a tiny island inmidst the lake, and the luxurious Xung Khiem Pavilion where Tu Duc is said to have retreated to relax and recite or compose poetry in the company of his concubines.

Tu Duc poetry pavilonIt was in fact designed by the emperor as a secluded poetic fairyland where he could write poetry and enjoy life’s pleasures and, in death, find a harmonious resting place. It comprises 50 structures enclosed by 1500m wall. The entrance is a Vu Kiem Gate in the south. To the right is the Luu Khiem Lake with Tinh Khiem islet in the middle. Tu Duc TombOn the tomb complex you can also find Minh Khiem royal theatre and Hoa Khiem Temple used as a palace during Tu Duc’s lifetime. What is funny is that the emperors remains are not there, his burial site is unknown.

I didn’t include many photos of Tu Duc Tomb in the text above, I will add some more in the slideshow below. From hue we took a train to Da Nang and then a flight back to HCMC. On the train which was better than our regional services in Poland a steward was serving a soup, courious thing. There was also a lovely girl, picture in the slideshow. It was hard to go back but to be honest I was looking forward to sleeping in my own bed. I think first time in my life I was exhausted with the holidays and finally taking a week off to rest after holidays started to make sense. We got very late back to London (flight through Bahrain) and it was so windy and called I hated it streight away. Now when I don’t remember the constant tiredness I start to appreciate how much we saw. The thing is, I know the balance between doing nothing and seightseeing is crucial. I think I’m just greedy, want to see as much as I can and sometimes it’s just so hard to give something up and choose. Unless you have unlimited time and money you have to make smart decisions.

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My Son Sanctuary – trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva at the heart of the Cham people

My Son Vietnam“I go first, then you go! I die first, then you die! buhahahahaa”

These were the words of our guide in My Son. You should hear his low voice, accent and intonation. It reminds me of Samurai talk in Kurosawa movies. P. can really do this talk.

In the morning of our departure from Hoi An we went on a day trip to My Son, a spiritual hear to the Kingdom of Champa. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I found my entrance ticket and so I know we went ther on17th Nov 2009. Let me rewrite what it says on the back:

In  Duy Phu Village, Duy Xuyen district, Quang Nam province, at My Son valley, there is still a most important complex of Hindu temple-towers which is a symbol of Champa art and countinuously developed from the 4th century to the 13th century.

The ancient Champa people were raised to be “the masters of art in building brick”. So far the technique in building the ancient temple-towers of Champa people remains controversial. The bricks were smoothed and laid closely and securely without mortar. My Son’s value is also refected in the art of lively and fine sculpture and craving on brick, stone from the images of deities, priests, dancers, plants, animals and sacrifices…

Because of its prominent value as an example of cultural exchange and integration of external cultures, especially the art and architecture of Hinduism with the native culture, combined with lively reflection of the Champa Kingdomin South East Asia cultural history, in December 1999, UNESCO listed My Son a World Cultural Heritage.

My Son boardThe day was rainy  we got to the site and followed our guide to jeeps. We got really excited. I think it was my second life in this type of a car. For me they seemed to be those old American ones you could see in M.A.S.H. There was going to be a ride through jungle and I got to sit on the side. This site is truly worth the visit and the guide was very funny and outgoing. The history od Cham people and their religous celebrations were very interesting. As in many places around the World you can find phallic symbols that mingt not be so obvious in the first place.My Son jeep Like the piramid shape of a roof in a tower underneath which and altar in a shape of phallus is located. The pictures will come later keep on reading.

The American War destroyed many of the site’s temples. The Viet Cong had used My Son as a key base which forced US bombing of the site leaving about 20 of the original 70 structures intact. Bomb craters next to some of the temples are clearly visible. Now you understand why the guide was warning us to follow his footsteps and not to wander too far from the main area. You never know when you step on a mine or a bomb.

Our guide at My SonMy Son is located in a picturesque valley surrounded by hills and overlooked by Cat’s Tooth Mountain (Hon Quap) – also called My Son mountain (“Good Mountain”). Clear streams run between the structures and past nearby coffee plantations. Some people compare it to Angkor, I think I wouldn’t go as far as that, but still My Son is impressive and seems more wild and adventureous than Ankor. I love the way hills are covered with jungle.

It might be hard to imagine how different it looked in it’s heyday. It has been said that at the height of the Cham power, the summits of the temples were layered in gold but these have been stripped since by various invaders.My Son sanctuary

Each historical period has its own identity, so that each temple worshipping a genie or a king of a different dynasty has its own architectural style of different impression. All of the Cham towers were built on a quadrate foundations and each comprises three parts: a solid tower base, representing the world of human beings, the mysterious and sacred tower body, representing the world of spirits, and the tower top built in the shape of a man offering flowers and fruits or of trees, birds, animals, etc., representing things that are close to the spirits and human beings. The site is divided into different parts coded by letters from A to N.

  • Group A and A’ (also called Pagoda tower by the local) consist of 17 works.
  • Group B, G, D (Market tower) consist of 27 works.
  • Group E, F (Hd Khé tower) consist of 5 works.
  • Group H (Chess tower) consist of 4 works.
  • Group K consist of2 works.   .
  • Different works: L, M and N

My Son towerA 24 metres high tower was found in the Thap Chua area (coded A1 by archaeologists and researchers on My Son). This tower is a masterpiece of ancient Cham architecture. It has two doors, one in the east and the other in the west. The tower body is high and delicate with a system of paved pillars; six sub-towers surrounding the tower. This two-storey tower looks like a lotus flower. The top of the upper layer is made of sandstone and carved with elephant and lion designs. In the lower layer, the walls are carved with fairies, water evils and men riding elephants.

The main tower (kalan ) symbolizes the sacred Mi Sonmountain (meru ) at the centre of the universe. The square or rectangular base (bhurloka ), representing the human world, is built from brick or stone blocks and decorated with reliefs. Above this rises the main tower (bhuvakola ), constructed entirely in brick, with applied columns and a false door facing east. The interiors are plain, with small niches for lamps; the Shivalingam was situated on a plinth in the centre. It symbolized the spirit world. The towers were separated from their roofs (suarloka ) by a decorated frieze.

My Son libraryThe two long mandapas, assembly halls were built for pilgrims who used the halls to prepare offerings for temple visits.

The best preserved object is a library where holy books were stored. See picture on the left and detailed cravings on the wall on the right (black and white picture).My Son library carvings There is a Polynesian, Javan influence in the shape of the inverted boat. As our guide said: “Cham people came from Jaaaaavaaaaa” (it’s funny only when you hear him saying it, when you visit you will understand).

Inside E1 temple was a altar consisting of assembled sandstone blocks, (displayed at Ba Nang Museum of Cham sculpture). It was delicately carved with sights of dancing, playing stringed instruments and flute; and uninterrupted chain of carving including the activities of Brahmins such aspreaching, preparing drugs, treating, etc…These sights were separated by leafy decorative motifs stylized by curved lines tocreate retroversion in the middle of which there are My Son gate towersdiamond- shaped frames alternating with flowers. The two gate towers, you can see on the left are located west of E1 temple.

Coming back to the promissed phallic symbols, some of them are more obvious. Have a look at this two 1000 year old stone sculpture on the right that leaves little to the imagination. A linga (or lingam) is a phallic post that serves as a representation of Shiva. Cham kings frequently erected and dedicated stone lingas as the central religious images in royal temples. The name a Cham king would give to such a linga would be a composite of the king’s own name and suffix “-esvara”, which stands for Shiva. The linga, the mukhalinga, the jatalinga, the segmented linga, and the kosa were the main symbols of Cham Shaivism. If you follow the link to Wikipedia you will find out the difference.

phallic symbol My Son My Son linga

The largest collection of Cham art is on exhibit at the Museum of Cham Sculpture in Da Nang.

If you would like to find out more I recommend this web-site: http://mysonsanctuary.com/


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Hoi An – pearl of Vietnam and UNESCO World Heritage Site

Hoi An Japanese bridge

Exhausted, sick and sore we got to Hoi An. Bent under the weight of our backpacks we did not intend to look for a place to stay for long. I think we went into maybe three hotels. Streets of Hoi AnWe chose the least expensive, but still comfortable with a swimming pool and got straight into bed, ok shower (warm shower) was first. And let me tell you not everywhere we had warm water. And then the air conditioning was shut down because of some external works in the street. Hoi An I suppose for people used to living in hot climate the change between coolness of an apartment building and very hot outside is someting usual but I felt uncomfortable every time it happened and staight away I got running nose. Being sick in hot climate, without air conditioning, feels really bad. Anyway, we stayed there for two nights and in that time we both got better. We used the swimming pool in the hotel with freezing water what felt good. It all goes into oblivion when you consider the beauty of Hoi An.

Hoi An

On the left one of my favourite shots from Hoi An. Women sitting on a curb in from of the Japanese bridge. As you can see the straw hats have a wide ribbon that can also be used as a mouth mask, which is much more useful that the stripes they sell to tourists. They carry their goods (this time fruits) in apparatus that looks like the scales of justice – a long wooden pole across the shoulders dangling two baskets loaded with (hopefully) equally weighted wares. In the picture you can see such fruits as:

  • Rambutan (Chôm Chôm) also known unofficially as Hairy Cherry, has its origin in the tropical low-lands of Malaysia. The name rambutan came from the Malay word ‘rambut’ for hair. Today, the rambutan is grown in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. The fruit is about 5 cm long and has soft fleshy hair from 2 to 3 cm long over the entire surface.
  • Sweet-sop (Na or Mãng Cầu Ta) also called sugar-apple, and custard-apple comes from South America. Like the pomegranate, the sweet-sop is packed with seeds. The edible pulp is a thin layer covering the individual seed. The outer layers appear to be rough and scaly. The fruit is green even when it is ripe. It reminds me of a huge artichoke.
  • Longan (Nhãn) in Vietnamese, “long nhan” means dragon eye. The Longan is a close relative to the litchi. Longans are grown mostly in the cooler highlands of South-East Asia. It was brought here by Chinese immigrants as they migrated south and settled in various areas. The peel is brown and brittle. The meat is translucent white and is very juicy and sweet. In Vietnam, dried longans are cooked in water to make a dessert drink called ‘nuoc long nhan’.
  • Guava (Ổi) the fruits are round or with thin dark green skin which becomes yellowish green as the fruits ripen. The fruits range from small tomato size to as large as 13 cm in length. The flesh is crunchy much like eating a slice of apple. Sometime, the guava slice is dipped in a mixture of salt and grounded red chili pepper. The Mekong Delta’s Xá Lị variety is probably the most famous in all of Vietnam.
  • Pitaya (Thanh long) meaning blue dragon. The round fruit is bright pink-purple and its leathery peel is in layers and turned up at the tips, supposedly resembling a dragon’s horns. One easily peels it by hand to reveal its white flesh, studded with tiny black seeds. It has a mild and refreshing flavour, with a texture similar to kiwi fruit.

Hoi An Chinese Temple entrance gate

Hoi AnHoi An is a very well preserved trading port enlisted as UNESCO World Heritage Site. Being there you feel like in a time trap (besides the tourists). You can clearly see the Chinese and Japanese influences all around the town. Before entering any of the temples, public houses museums or private houses you need to purchase a ticket which includes a choice of several. Hoi An, VietnamIf you would like to see them all you will need to buy two or three tickets. What I remember the most about Hoi An is its atmosphere and genuine charm which was hard for me to capture in the pictures. As you can see the list of sights on many other web-sites I will stick to showing you my best shots of the town. Let me also tell you that sitting in a bar on a river bank and drinking local beer is one of the best moments in Vietnam. I wished we stayed there longer.

Kazimierz kwiatkowski Memorial Hoi AnPatriotic theme: Kazimierz Kwiatkowski (1944-1997, in Vietnam known as “Kazik”) – a Polish architect, restorer. Directed the work of conservation in Vietnam from 1981 until his death in 1997 he has been dedicated a commemorative plaque in the Purple Forbidden City (Imperial Palace) in Hue, and the religious sanctuary of My Son. In 2007 in Hoi An Kazimierz Kwiatkowski monument was unveiled, considered here as a providential man who saved the historic complex before the disappearance, and contributed to the success of the city. He’s attributed the chief merit of Hoi An entry in the register of historic World Heritage Site.

11.06.2012 I just found receipt from Hoa Binh Hotel (696 Hai Ba Trung St, Hoi An) – the room for 2 nights – $30, trip to My Son for two – $10.

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Caravan route from Sahara to Marrakesh – Ait Ben Haddou – Morocco part 5

And so it was that we got up and left the city of Ouarzazate with it’s film studios and memories of films such as Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, Kundun, Kingdom of Haven and many more. We took the Tizi n Tichka road and soon enough felt hungry. Not even 20 km away we stopped on a petrol station to have some breakfast. Tagine! as you can imagine. Yummy, but we had to wait for it for ages.

First glimpse of ksar was unbelievable.

Sand stronghold in the middle of sand townhouses, all like it was part of the desert. Around strips of color, stains of green and towards the skyline whites of snow in Atlas mountains. Above it all clear, clear blue of the cloudless sky. First thought: ‘How beautiful’ Second: ‘How did they build it?’ Third thought: ‘Like town from Stargate’.

We got a little bit further and the ksar was suddenly mist over by new town where tourist business flourishes. We took a cobblestone street towards the wall and gates of Ait Ben Haddou where as you can imagine all shops are located. They all look lovely but we were in no mood for shopping. We felt impatient to see the ksar again. One of the men on our way was very persistent, he asked us to translate a letter he received from a customer from our country. He wanted us to drink tea and spend sometime with him but we were suddenly in a hurry. We did translate the letter in the end but “promised” maybe to buy something on our way back.

And there it was just in front of us on the other side of the river. River???? Yes about knee deep but still a river, locals will charge 10Dr to cross the river on a donkey (or let wellingtons), they probably removed the stepping stones to improve their business. Anyway we took off our shoes and crossed to the other side.

From the main gate we followed a labyrinth of stairs, houses, paths, roofs to get to the top. It felt amazing, like  bieng kids in the playground. The light, sun and shadow everything was so picturesque. While inside it was dark and cool when you step outside to one of the roof is was bright and warm. It took some time for the eyes to adjust. I didn’t think about the people who used to live here years ago, what they did, if they were happy. I was more concentrated on finding out what was behind the next door, stairs, corner. We climbed up, up and up until finally reached the top of the rock. The view did not disappoint.

A couple of facts, you can find more on UNESCO web-site:

–  the ksar, a group of earthen buildings surrounded by high walls, is a traditional pre-Saharan habitat;

– the oldest constructions do not appear to be earlier than the XVII century, although their structure and technique were propagated from a very early period in the valleys of southern Morocco

– the site was a trading post on the commercial route linking ancient Sudan to Marrakesh by the Dra Valley and the Tizi-n’Telouet Pass

– the communal areas include a mosque, a public square, grain threshing areas outside the ramparts, a fortification and a loft at the top of the village, an caravanserai, two cemeteries (Muslim and Jewish) and the Sanctuary of the Saint Sidi Ali or Amer

– the earthen buildings are very vulnerable due to lack of maintenance and regular repair resulting from the abandonment of the ksar by its inhabitants

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