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.
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