Saturday, December 31, 2011

Looking back at 2011

After completing my goal of setting foot on all eighty provinces of the Philippines last year, I decided to start visiting more countries and territories around the world. This year, I saw twenty five countries and territories, plus three more in transit.

The year began with a trip to Taipei, Taiwan hosted by China Airlines in March. This was followed by a trip to Hong Kong sponsored by Hong Kong Disneyland. To cap the month of March was the Pinoy Mountaineer Mount Kinabalu Expedition in Malaysia. I finally made it up Low's Peak at 4,095 MASL.

For the summer months of April and May, I was in North America with my niece to visit my sister. I got to visit Washington, DC; Baltimore, Maryland; Charlottesville and Mount Vernon, Virginia; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Miami, Key Biscayne and Orlando, Florida.

I made my first trip to Latin America together with my tokayo Ivan Man Dy of Old Manila Walks. We visited Mexico City, Teotihuacan, Taxco, Puebla, Xochimilco, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Queretaro, Morelia, Oaxaca (and Monte Alban), Palenque, San Cristobal de las Casas, Campeche, Merida, Uxmal, Chichen Itza, Cuernavaca, Xochicalco and Tepoztlan in Mexico; Flores, Tikal, Antigua and Guatemala City in Guatemala; and Copan, Honduras.

A few days after I got back, I flew to Guam for a trip hosted by the Guam Visitors Bureau.

For June, I visited Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hoi An, Hue and My Son in Vietnam. Check out this post on Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City. I celebrated my birthday in Japan in July where I attended a UNITAR workshop on preparing nominations for UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I visited Hiroshima, Miyajima, Himeji, Nikko, Takayama, Shirakawa-go and Osaka.

In September, I was back in Thailand with my family. We visited Bangkok and Ayutthaya. I then flew to Phuket and took a bus to Sukhothai from Bangkok. In October, I led a trip of UP AIT students to Hong Kong and Macau.

I spent four weeks in Europe in November and early December. It was my first time to drive in Europe since I rented a car together with a fraternity brod. We visited Zurich, Sargans and Bern, Switzerland; Vaduz, Liechtenstein; Florence, Pisa, Rome, Venice and Trieste, Italy; Vatican City; San Marino; Ljubljana, Slovenia; Graz and Vienna, Austria; Budapest, Hungary; Bratislava, Slovakia and Prague, Czech Republic driving close to 6,000 kilometers.

I then visited Lourdes and Nice, France; Andorra la Vella, Andorra and Monte Carlo, Monaco by train. My last week was spent in Paris, France to attend the 17th ICOMOS General Assembly at UNESCO Headquarters. I got to visit Versailles and Chantilly while I was there.

Local trips were memorable as well. I made two trips to Cagayan de Oro and Bukidnon this year. I hope that CDO will be able to recover soon. Too sad that they had to temporarily halt the whitewater rafting tours which was a significant source of tourism income for the city. I also visited Bohol, Zamboanga del Norte, and did a food trip in Pampanga with UP AIT students. We partied in Binondo on Chinese New Year, saw the Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta and Giant Lantern Festival, and attended the Independence Day Celeberations in Cavite and Rizal Sesquicentennial Ceremonies in Laguna.

I got invited by Rare to attend the launch of their Rare Pride Marine Conservation Campaign in Inabanga, Bohol. And just this week, I went food tripping in Silay, Negros Occidental. Definitely not a bad year don't you think?

Welcome 2012 and Happy New Year to all! Here is my Travel Year 2011 album.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Thailand: Night Market in Chiang Mai

Looking for a place to shop in Chiang Mai? Then a visit to the Chiang Mai Night Market of the Kad Luang (Royal Market) is a must! It’s right in the center of the city, near the banks of the Ping River.

The prices of merchandise and local handicrafts are quite good in the night market since it’s located quite close to the companies which manufacture them. It’s actually a large maze of stalls that can be found in various buildings, open spaces and sidewalks along Chang Klan Road between Tha Pae and Si Donchai Roads.

You can literally find everything you need there from native handicrafts, dried fruits and other local Thai snacks, clothing and accessories, Thai silk, jewelry and watches, and other trinkets and souvenir items.

One can also find the artisans themselves like soap carvers and umbrella painters.

And like all markets, there’s a lot of food. And it’s the best place to try out local street food. So when in Chiang Mai, don’t miss the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thailand: Khao soi ข้าวซอย noodle dish in Chiang Mai

When in Chiang Mai, you must try khao soi ข้าวซอย, traditional Chiang Mai egg noodles in a yellow curry soup. Khao soi is said to be Burmese-inspired and is very popular in northern Thailand and Laos.

The dish is made with deep-fried crispy egg noodle in a really rich curry sauce containing coconut milk, and it usually has chunks of beef or chicken in it. It’s also served with chopped onions, pickled cabbage, and lime, which makes the dish extra tangy.

I had my first encounter with khao soi at Le Grand Lanna at the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi which was superb! But I’d like to try the street version of this dish if I had the chance. Where can on find the best khao soi in Chiang Mai?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Thailand: Temples of Chiang Mai เชียงใหม่

When in Chiang Mai เชียงใหม่, Thailand, make sure you visit its many temples. Being the most culturally-significant city in northern Thailand and former capital of the Lanna Kingdom, Chiang Mai has over 300 Buddhist temples or wat วัด as the locals would call them. Definitely, one would not have time to visit them all. So here are five temples you should not miss.

Wat Phra Singh วัดพระสิงห์วรมหาวิหาร
Dating back to 1345, Wat Phra Singh is a temple bestowed the status of royal temple of the first grade. Of the over 40,000 temples in Thailand, only 272 are royal temples.

The main attraction of the temple complex is the Vihan Lai Kham, a classic example of Lanna architecture, which together with the chedi date back to 1345.

Wat Chedi Luang วัดเจดีย์หลวง
The Wat Chedi Luang or Temple of the Big Stupa dates back to 1401. From 1468 to 1551, the Emerald Buddha was enshrined in the temple. The main attraction of the temple is the chedi. The city pillar or lak mueang of Chiang Mai is also found in the temple grounds.

Wat Chiang Mun วัดเชียงมั่น
The oldest temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Chiang Mun was built in 1297. The oldest structure is the Elephant Chedi which can be found behind the Main Vihan. In the New Vihan is enshrined the Crystal Buddha, a 10 cm Budhha statue carved from quartz.

Wat Lok Molee
Wat Lok Molee houses the ashes of the Mengrai Dynasty of the Lanna Kingdom. Its chedi was built in 1527. While the main hall was built in 1545.

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep วัดพระธาตุดอยสุเทพ
An important pilgrimage site, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is located on Doi Suthep (1,676 m). The temple dates back to 1383 when the first chedi was built.

The temple is located 15 kilometers from the city center of Chiang Mai and offers a panoramic view of the city. A tram conveniently ferries passengers who do not want to walk up the steps up to the temple. It was bestowed the status of royal temple of the second grade.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Austria: Overnight in Graz (November 14, 2011)

Since most of Europe follows the same time zone (+1 GMT), as you go further east, the sun sets earlier. Our plan was to explore Graz, Austria in the afternoon and spend the night there. But we left Ljubljana a bit late and thus managed to arrive in Graz a few minutes after sunset which was at about 4 p.m.

The City of Graz – Historic Centre and Schloss Eggenberg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We didn't have time to make it up to Eggenberg Castle. But at least we got to see the city center. For dinner, we had Krainer with Kren (horseradish), Ketchup & Senf (mustard) at the Hauptplatz. Here are more photos of Graz, Austria from the Ivan About Town Facebook page.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Pampanga: Congratulations to the winners of Giant Lantern Festival 2011!

First and foremost, thank you to the two busloads of happy eaters who joined Ultimate Philippines Tours for the 5-way lechon dégustation at Claude Tayag's Bale Dutung and the Giant Lantern Festival. We had as much fun touring you around as you did enjoying the sights, sounds and flavors of Pampanga!

And congratulations to the winners of this year's Giant Lantern Festival for your well-deserved wins. The champion this year was last year's champion, Barangay Santa Lucia. Second place went to Barangay San Jose. And third place went to Barangay Del Carmen. Again congratulations!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Portugal: Historic Centre of Porto (UNESCO World Heritage Site)

I suddenly found myself in enchanting Porto, Portugal, a city familiar to me because of its wine. The previous night, I had arrived close to midnight at Aeroportos Porto after close to 19 hours of traveling from Manila, including a stopover at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol where my KLM flight landed. My ICOMOS colleague Luisa was so nice to meet me at the airport, and brought me to the Pousada de Juventude de Porto where I stayed while I was in Porto.

It was early morning and I was walked from my hostel to the venue of our conference for the day, the Palacio de Bolsa. We attended the International Conference on World Heritage Status: Opportunities for Economic Gain for Tourism Destinations – The Case of the Douro Valley, Portugal. I walked along the banks of the Rio Douro and was charmed by the architecture just across the river. It turns out this was no longer part of Porto but a separate city, Vila Nova de Gaia.

The Palácio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange Palace) itself is a very interesting building. It is located in Praça Infante D. Henrique. Since it was a gathering of heritage professionals, we were shown around various rooms, including one undergoing restoration. While the Neoclassical structure was completed in 1850 by the Commercial Association (Associação Comercial), the lavish interiors and decoration were finished in 1910.

During the break, I took time out to visit the nearby structures of the Historic Centre of Porto, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Right beside Palácio da Bolsa is the Igreja de São Francisco. In fact, the property of Palácio da Bolsa used to be the cloisters of the convent of São Francisco until 1832 when they were destroyed by fire during the Liberal Wars.

The interior of the Gothic structure is extensively decorated with Baroque gilt wood work or talha dourada by local wood carvers. No doubt, it is among the most impressive in Portugal.

For dinner, we were guests of Mário Ferreira, CEO of Douro Azul, on one of his river cruise ships. So we walked over to the Praça da Ribeira port area where the ship was docked. Of course, you can get a really nice view of the Dom Luís I Bridge from there.

It was a good thing it was summer, so the sun set quite late. And we were able to enjoy the architecture of Porto as seen from the Douro River. When visiting old cities, river cruises are more often than not on my to-do list.

The next day, we proceeded to the Estação de São Bento (São Bento Train Station) for a train ride deeper into the Douro Valley. Note the magnificent azulejo tile panels in the vestible. In total, there are more that twenty thousand tiles painted by Jorge Colaço from 1905 to 1916. The ICOMOS International Cultural Tourism Committee was to meet in Lamego.

On the way to the station, we saw the elegant buildings along Avenida dos Aliados and Praça da Liberdade. More photos of Porto & Douro Valley, Portugal at the Ivan About Town Facebook page.

Pousada de Juventude do Porto
Rua Paulo da Gama, nº 551, 4169-006 Porto, Portugal
Tel. +351 22 617 7257 | Fax. +351 22 617 7247
Linha da Juventude 707 20 30 30

You can book your youth hostels all over Portugal in the Pousadas de Juventude website.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Slovenia: Around Ljubljana's historic center (November 14, 2011)

Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia. From Trieste, Italy where we spent the night, we drove to Ljubljana. It's actually has a relatively small historic center and is quite easy to explore. We drove up to the Ljubljana Castle (Ljubljanski grad), a medieval castle that overlooks old Ljubljana. From there, we drove to the city center where we spent a few hours walking around. More photos of Ljubljana, Slovenia in the Ivan About Town Facebook page.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Italy: Venice and its lagoons (November 13, 2011)

Who in his right mind would not want to visit Venice? The City of Canals has always been on my mind, especially when I listen to the music of Vivaldi. The former capital of the Venetian Republic, Venezia is actually built on 117 small islands connected to each other by hundreds of bridges.

Landmarks include the Piazza San Marco with St. Mark's Basilica and Campanile, the Doge's Palace, and the Grand Canal and Rialto Bridge among many others. Too bad we weren't able to try out the gondola ride since it comes out quite pricey if there are just a few of you sharing the cost. But we did hop on one of their vaporetto (water buses) to see the architecture along the Grand Canal. Photos of Venice, Italy are in the Ivan About Town Facebook page.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

San Marino: Centro storico di San Marino e Monte Titano (November 13, 2011)

Since we were driving, passing by San Marino on the way to Venice was very convenient. The Repubblica di San Marino is the oldest surviving sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world. The landlocked country is the fifth smallest and is surrounded by Italy.

The Centro storico di San Marino e Monte Titano or the San Marino Historic Centre and Mount Titano is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among the major landmarks of San Marino are the Palazzo Pubblico, the Basilica di San Marino and the Torri di San Marino. Check out the San Marino album in the Ivan About Town Facebook page.
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