Tag Archives: Ruins

Mandalay, Myanmar

After a crazy mini-bus ride from Inle Lake, I arrived in Mandalay to discover the glass of my laptop screen cover was again cracked. It’s only the cover so no lasting damage but still annoying. Instead of taking the new wide smooth highway, the mini-bus used the old, bumpy and rocky roads. We spent half of the time bouncing out of our seats and my laptop must have jolted in my bag, coming down hard on one end. Ah well, I can live with it.

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Central Mandalay
Mandalay has a more western and modern feel than Yangon, with less street markets and more shops selling things other than mobile phones. Unfortunately, with my foot still recovering from major blistering after the Kalaw Inle Lake trek, I found it difficult to wander more than a block from the hostel. On top of that, for the first time during this Myanmar trip it rained incessantly. I guess I’ve been lucky, others have complained of constant rain in both Yangon and Bagan. So on a day with less rain and to go easy on my foot, I hired a bike and rode around the city.

Mandalay Royal Palace
The first stop for the day was the massive walled area of the royal palace, with nine separate gates and a moat wider than the Brisbane River. After going inside and paying the US$ 10 archaeological fee, I rode through the grounds of the palace, which are largely out-of-bounds to foreigners, to the central reconstructed palace area.

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Named, ‘The Famed Royal Emerald Palace’ and the ‘Great Golden Royal Palace’, the location no longer houses the original palace. Bombed to all buggery by the allies in the second world war a replica was built in its place using more modern materials — mainly corrugated iron for the rooftops. Most buildings are bare and empty although one that survived the bombing was the five-story watch tower. I got lovely views over the palace grounds although I got the impression many of the local visitors were more interested in getting photos of me than the palace.

Mandalay Hill
At one corner of the royal palace area stands the hill that gave the city its name. Covered in pagodas and temples the hill is a popular pilgrimage destination for monks with four sets of steps climbing to the summit. The steps stop at various temples along the 240 m climb although those who leave their flip-flops at the bottom are rewarded by having to dodge piles of bird and dog poop all the way up. The views from the top, however, are worth the annoyance of the climb, which is not difficult, only long.

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National Kandawgyi Gardens
A two-hour group taxi ride to the East finds us in Pyin Oo Lwin, a small town locals from Mandalay come to for holidays away from the city. One of the hotspots here is the National Kandawgyi Gardens, a spot of beauty that took myself and a kiwi girl from the hostel several hours to walk around. It was certainly a change of pace from the city. The gardens are massive with a lake and plentiful kinds of flora growing around it. A great day!

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The best way to see some of the sites of Mandalay is to book a day trip but be warned of extra charges along the way. The fee for the tour only covers the group taxi ride.

King Galan Gold Leaf Workshop
With so much gold leaf around this nation it was interesting to see how it is made. Workers pound by hand small squares of gold into sheets of gold leaf. They use 3 kg sledge hammers and belt the gold continuously for 30 minutes straight.

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Maha Mauni Pagoda
We were delivered to one of Mandalay’s major pagodas and wandered around barefoot, again careful not to stand in the poop of birds that build nests under the ceilings. In the centre of the pagoda is a great seated buddha which locals climb to plaster gold leaf across its surface.

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Mahagandhayon Monastery
Probably the most unusual part of the tour, we head to the monastery to watch lines of monks carry their bowls to be filled for the morning meal. It is unusual as at 10am every morning tourists swarm here to watch these monks (1000 of them) get rice. It must be bizarre from the monks side of things also.

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Sagaing Hill
These are in fact two hills with pagodas atop each that providing great vistas of the surrounding landscapes in addition to sprawling chambers of buddhas.

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Inwa Ava
After lunch we head to a river crossing and the more rural Inwa Ava area for two hours being driven along muddy roads in a horse-drawn carriage. At times I felt sorry for the struggling horse as it dragged two of us and the driver through difficult mud.

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Bagaya Kyaung – The Teak Monastery
One of the attractions of the horse ride was the Teak Monastery built with many thick teak planks. It is a magnificent buildings except that it has suffered from fire damage and the wood has a thick black layer of soot across it. It is part of the Mandalay Archaeological zone so the card I purchased a couple of days earlier covers it. Otherwise it is a US$ 10 fee.

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Me Nu Ok Kyaung – The Brick Monastery
Our final crazy carriage visit took us to another monastery, this one the most different in Myanmar as it is not built from wood but brick. With several levels, criss-crossing passages and small rooms with connecting windows this would have made a great play castle. I could imagine playing hide and seek all day in this place.

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U Bein Bridge
Back in our group taxi and we head to the oldest and longest wooden bridge in the world. The teak wood bridge in the shape of a V is 1.2 km long and crosses the Taungthaman Lake. It is a haven of tourists, locals and monks crossing from one side to the other. But instead of walking back across, tourists can hire a boat and be rowed back, stopping midway for sunset, something that was unlikely to happen during our cloudy day.

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Overall, I enjoyed Mandalay better than Yangon as there was more to do in and around the city. There was a feeling of being a sprawling warm city than the dirty mess of cramped streets of Yangon.

Next, I head back to Yangon for my last couple of days in Myanmar before I head back to Malaysia.

The World Wanderer

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Bagan, Myanmar

Nestled in the curve of the Ayeyarwaddy river is Bagan, a city of beauty and wonder founded in the 9th century with the name Pagan. The city only survived four centuries, however, but during the final two hundred years more than 10,000 pagodas, temples and monasteries were built, 2,200 of which are still standing today.

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After a nine-hour overnight bus ride north from Yangon I arrived in Bagan, paid the US$20 archaeological park entrance fee every visitor must pay and was delivered to my hostel at 4am. Unable to get into my dorm, I hired e-bikes with an american girl I met on the bus and we headed out to see the sunrise at one of the more popular pagodas.

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Tourists could once rent scooters in this region but the taxi lobby had them banned. Locals, however, found a way around this law by introducing e-bikes, which are simply electric scooters. Most don’t go fast, barely 20km/h, and don’t have a great range although they also don’t need gas. There are quicker ones, such as the one I rented, with speeds up to 45km/h. In a land as hot as Bagan, you really do want the wind flowing past to keep you cool whenever you can.

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When we arrived at the stupa in the dark there were only a handful of people there. But as sunrise grew nearer more people arrived to climb the large and popular pagoda. The rising of the sun gives great views across the landscape, which is mostly flat and littered with short trees.

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But you don’t really notice the vegetation as there are so many pagodas and temples scattered around, some merely twice my height, while others are massive structures covered in gold leaf that shine brilliantly in the sunshine. The amazing thing about this landscape is that no matter which way you look there are scattered pagodas. The vista is absolutely stunning, like nothing I’ve seen anywhere else in the world.

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The Bagan Archaeological area is surrounded by a bitumen road. Then crisscrossing the plains and providing access to the pagodas are wide dirt tracks. It does pay to be a little careful on these dirt tracks as there is often areas of sand which can make riding sometimes a little tricky.

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There are simply too many temples and pagodas to document and it took me a good two full days of exploring to get my fill. For some, however, like my american bus companion, one day was enough and she was off the very next morning. Crazy if you ask me as this place holds so many wonders.

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Sunset is a popular time to head out with a group, find a pagoda to climb and enjoy the view. In fact, sitting on ancient stonework with new friends as darkness floods the lands, is one of the more amazing aspects of this area. It was something I did on each night of my stay.

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When the darkness comes some of the larger stupas light up. For the rest they are simply dark silhouettes in the evening. There is beauty here even in the darkness where you can just sit and drink in the tranquility of Bagan and her surroundings.

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Began doesn’t have a UNESCO site rating as it was rebuilt by the military without using the original bricks, but the feel of the original city is still here. The military built other things in the area such as a golf course and a viewing tower. While these were looked down upon by the locals, the best view can be gained from the watchtower which stands out on the plains like some dark spire reaching towards the sky.

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The other way to get great views is via one of the balloon rides. These, however, do not operate in low season and cost a small fortune. But beyond this, low season is definitely a great time to come here, while it gets a little hot during the day, there are far less crowds.

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But there is more to the region than just a field full of pagodas. A 90-minute journey away is Popa Mountain where a series of stupas was built atop a rocky mountain. There are some pretty great views from the top, but the taxi will usually stop before the mountain for views of the mountain itself. There are 777 steps to the top, which can be fairly strenuous but also involves avoiding hordes of thieving monkeys. They seemed sated of their thievery when we were there so we had little issue with them.

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One day while exploring, I stopped at one of the handy map boards scattered around the plains and was approached by a local girl asking if I would like a tour of her village.

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As it happened it was exactly what I was hoping for and was happy to be led around the village. I met her family and neighbours, and saw how they weave their cloth, lacquer their bowls and spin cotton. This is her grandmother spinning cotton while her mother rolls cigars just out of picture to the left. They visit gave me plenty of insights into tribal life in the village, which helped me to detail the villages I’ve created in the novel I recently wrote.

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Overall, Bagan was an amazing place and I even extended my stay because I was enjoying the surroundings so much. I was even sad when I decided to move on but there were other places I wanted to see. There is something deeply spiritual about Bagan that gives you a deep sense of peace. No other place I have been to on this trip have had that effect. This has to be one of my favourite places in the world.

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Next I head across Myanmar to Inle Lake and a spot of hiking.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Siem Reap, Cambodia – Impressions

Siem Reap, meaning ‘the defeat of Siam’, is the centre of all tourism in Cambodia. Nearby is the Angkor Archaeological Park where there are of over 50 temple ruins – the once capitals of the Empire of Angkor.

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From 835 AD to 1307 AD the Empire of Angkor, also known as the Khmer Empire, ruled much of South East Asia including what is now Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and much of Vietnam. Angkor was the capital city at the centre of the empire and at its centre was a grand temple. When a new king took control of the empire he would often establish a new capital nearby and build a grand temple at its centre. Over time there were many such cities and central temples built.

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While most of the earlier temples were constructed using sandstone, later temples were built from less long-lasting materials. Most of these temples have long since disappeared. Like the ruins of the Mayans in Central America, Angkor is thought to have been abandoned because of drought and a lack of water in the region.

Angkor Wat

Built between 1113 AD and 1150 AD, Angkor Wat, at 1.5 km by 1.3 km, is the largest religious monument ever to have been built. Meaning ‘City Pagoda’, the temple grounds housed an entire city and while the other temples in the region were abandoned over the years, Angkor Wat remained in use.

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Angkor Wat is made up of concentric galleries found in most Khmer temples that lead to a main central temple. Each concentric gallery is built taller than the previous one to form a pyramid, another typical Khmer structural design. The Angkor Wat temple is surrounded by a wide moat with only two causeways leading into it.

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Angkor Wat is a major Hindu temple designed to resemble Mount Meru in Northern India, the home of the Hindu gods. It has five main towers to represent the five main peeks of the sacred mountain.

Angkor Thom

Built around 1200 AD, Angkor Thom, meaning ‘Great City’, was the largest and the last of the Angkor capital cities.

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At the four entry points to the city there is a face-tower gate representing the Hindu God Brahma. At the centre of Angkor Thom is the Bayon Temple.

Bayon 

Built around 1200 AD as the temple at the centre of Angkor Thom, it is thought to be one of the most powerful religious structures ever built.

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The temple is very complex and is thought to have been reworked several times since its creation. There were 49 distinct towers, most with the four faces of Brahma built into them. They were arranged in ever higher tiers to create a stone mountain.

Ta Prohm

Built around 1186 AD as a monastery temple, it was dedicated to King Jayavarman VII’s mother.

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While many of the temples in the region were reassembled, La Prohm was left in its natural state with only a minimal amount of work done to prevent further collapse. The ruins are said to have a romantic atmosphere because of the intertwining trees growing through the structure.

Banteay Kdei

Built around 1200 AD its name means ‘Citadel of Many Chambers’.

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It was constructed over another temple built 200 years earlier and has been left in its ruined stated.

Prasat Kravan

Dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu, the small structure was built in 921 AD.

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The name means ‘Cardamom Sanctuary’ after a tree that once stood in the compound.

Pre Rup

Built in 961 AD by the then King Rajendravarman as the centre of his capital city.

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Pre Rup means ‘turning the body’ and is a cremation rite where the ashes of the dead are rotated at certain times during the ceremony. After the king’s death, the capital was moved back to Angkor.

Banteay Samre 

Constructed around 1130 AD its main tower is the same as those at Angkor Wat although it has many similarities to temples of northern Thailand.

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East Mebon

East Mebon temple is known as the Elephant Temple because of the several elephant statues around the structure.

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It was built as an island on the now dry East Baray, a water reservoir measuring 7.5 kilometres by 1.8 kilometres.

Ta Som

This small temple is said to be a miniature version of Ta Prohm or Banteay Kdei temples. It is known as Gaurasrigajaratna – the Jewel of the Propitious White Elephant.

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Neak Poan

Near Poan is a small monument at the centre of a large pond, which is at the centre of a further four smaller ponds.

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Build in the late 12th century it was built on an island in a water reservoir. It is speculated to represent a sacred Himalayan lake said to hold healing waters with four rivers running from it.

Preah Khan

This large temple was also a Buddhist university with more than a thousand teachers.

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It was said to have been built on a lake of blood, the site of a major battle to recapture Angkor from the Cham empire, where the Cham King was slain.

Pub Street and Night Markets
One day is just not enough to see all the temple ruins, and even in two days I only saw 13 of the 53. But after two days out on a tuk-tuk in the heat and intense humidity I was templed out.

At night Siem Reap lights up around two main areas, Pub Street and the Night Markets. You can tell when you’re in the area because of the large neon signs announcing them. Overall, it’s very touristic with many restaurants, bars and markets.

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Next, it’s time to leave Cambodia and head back to Thailand.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by Scooter – Part 3

I’m currently riding the length of Vietnam on a Scooter.

Incase you missed them:
Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by Scooter – Part 1
Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by Scooter – Part 2

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Day 12 – Hoi An to Kham Duc – 110Km
Today started out cloudy, but once I got into the highlands it began to pour. Before long I was drenched, even though my supposedly waterproof clothing, drowning my phone in one of my pockets. Then at one point I came around a corner too close to the road’s edge and came off my bike. My clothes took the brunt of the scrapes and I got off fairly lightly thanks to my sedate pace in the rain.

On arrival at the hotel I changed into dry clothes and surveyed the damage. While my phone was wet on the outside, water had only found its way into the SIM slot. This stopped my phone from connecting to the network via the SIM and removes my only navigation tool.

Day 13 – Tham Duc to Hoi An – 110km
As country Vietnam has less than optimal signposting and without the ability to navigate on my phone, I made the decision to head back to Hoi An. This was in hope of getting to an Apple store in Da Nang to get my phone either replaced or fixed. For my ride today the weather was clear with no threat of rain, and the journey back was actually enjoyable with some interesting views.

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Returning to Hoi An was fairly easy, although there was the occasional junction without adequate signage that was confusing. In Da Nang I located the Apple Service Centre but as it’s Chinese New Years getting parts would take weeks. I had no choice but to continue my journey without it.

Day 14 – Hoi An to Quang Ngai – 127km
Instead of heading back into the highlands, I rode south along the AH1, the main Asian Highway which stretches for over 20,000 km and crosses 16 countries from Japan to Turkey. As in previous days on the AH1 there were too many road works and even more trucks to spray up the dust. It took me 3 hours to get to the outskirts of Quang Ngai, but finding the hotel without my phone was troublesome. After settling into my room I headed out to find an ATM and to buy a cheap phone. After my purchase I stopped by the tomb of national hero Truong Cong Dinh, famous for leading an army against the french invasion force.

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Huang Ngai is also the site the Song My massacre. During the American War, the area was incorrectly identified as a Viet Cong stronghold. More than 400 innocents were slaughtered by American Soldiers, mainly women and children.

Day 15 – Quang Ngai to Quy Nhon – 204km
Today’s long ride was fairly uneventful. The AH1 continued to be the same with many road works, trucks and dust. Today the road cut through many flat, deep green rice paddies on the plains.

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Quy Nhon is an industrial city littered with large car dealerships and malls. It was nice to find a decent supermarket to stock up on some needed items.

Day 16 – Quy Nhon to Nha Trang – 218km
This morning I woke to find my back tyre flat, so after finding coffee, I located a mechanic to replace my entire rear tyre. With that fixed, I headed off, but when I stopped to take a photo 5 km along the highway, the bike wouldn’t start again. The starter motor cable had sheered off so I jury rigged it and headed back to the mechanic who fixed it for free.

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Today the AH1 followed the mountainous coastline and in the sunshine there were many beautiful views.

Unfortunately, when I arrived at the hostel, I discovered that the screen of my new macbook had cracked. With the ongoing issues with my scooter and damage to other pieces of my equipment, this adventure is starting to be an expensive one. While I have enjoyed many parts of it, I’m starting to look forward to it being over.

Day 17 – Rest Day in Nha Trang

Nah Trang is a resort city on the sea. With direct flights from Moscow, it’s very popular with Russian holiday makers especially during the Russian winter. While it’s warmer here it’s not hot enough for me to consider it beach weather, but the many tourists used to cooler climates seemed to enjoy it immensely.

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Like most larger Vietnamese cities, the streets of Nha Trang are crazy with motorbikes flowing everywhere. I rode around the city in search of some of its sights and found the Nha Trang Cathedral, a neo-Gothic structure built by the French in 1933.

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Then on the north side of the city I found the Po Nagar Towers. The temple complex was built over 1,200 years ago by the Cham people, the civilisation that preceded Vietnam. The towers were part of a temple dedicated to the goddess of the country, which encompassing much of what is now Vietnam, Cambodia and southern Laos.

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For the final part of my journey – Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by Scooter Part 4 – I head back into the Central Highlands then along southern beaches to Vietnam’s largest city.

Vietnam Central South1

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by Scooter – Part 2

I’m currently riding the length of Vietnam on a Scooter. Here’s Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by Scooter – Part 1 if you missed it.

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Day 6 – Hong Linh to Dong Hui – 223km
While the more direct route would have been about 50km shorter, today I wanted ride the Ho Chi Minh highway for the first time. This highway follows the Ho Chi Minh Trail used during the American War with amazing mountainous scenery. The weather remained fairly good, although I had to stop to put pack-covers on my bags when a particularly nasty cloud threatened, but nothing came of it.

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I arrived at Dong Hui and after getting settled into my hostel, took a ride around a city that had been laid waste during the war. Dong Hui is virtually a new city, as there’s little left of how it was. The city isn’t on the tourist route and the beautiful empty beaches were serene.

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Day 7 – Dong Hui to Hue – 176km
Today started out with blue skies over the ocean but began turning sour after half an hour out from Dong Hui. While it didn’t actually rain, it seriously threatened to. With heavy black clouds further inland, I decided to take a more direct route to Hue. I’m not sure which would have been the lesser of the two evils, getting rained on or riding through the constant road works every 2km. To make it worse, the roads were jammed with trucks spraying up dust and sand from the road works. Before lunch I rode through the Demilitarized Zone, crossing out of what was North Vietnam and into South Vietnam, stopping at the War Memorial Monument.

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Then as I arrived on the outskirts of Hue, I crossed another milestone, my 1000th kilometre on the road since leaving Hanoi. Later in the afternoon, I walked around the ruins of the Imperial City and at its centre, the forbidden Purple City. it was home to the ruling dynasty between 1800 and 1950, when Hue was the Vietnam’s capital.

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Day 8 – Hue Rest Day
There are many stories of motorcycles that break down regularly on this trip through Vietnam. While often cheap to repair because most Vietnamese boys over the age of 12 can fix them, it’s inconvenient. To date I’ve suffered only a flat tyre and in hopes of staving off any other issues, I got the scooter serviced. While the bike was away, I took the day off and just hung around the hostel.

Day 9 – Hue to Hoi An – 130km
Since the ride to Hoi An was to shorter than average, I decided to see more of the sights around Hue before heading on. I found the Thien Mu Temple and Pagoda a little away from the Imperial Palace and stopped for a look.

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Around Hue, there several tombs belonging to the emperors who ruled from Hue. I took some time to visit the closest one to town – Tu Duc Tomb – and was surprised at how large the area was. The location was called the Second Imperial City as the emperor used it as his ‘man cave’ to get away from affairs of home and state.

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After my visit I headed to Hoi An, but on the way disaster struck. An hour out of Hue I got a flat tyre, then only a minute away from where the puncture was repaired, the engine cut out and wouldn’t start again. The ‘mechanic’ who fixed my tyre and who didn’t speak any english informed me I needed a new carburetor. Ninety minutes and a million Dong (US$47) later I was back on the road. So much for servicing it to prevent it breaking down. I continued on, crossing the Hai Van Pass and eventually arrived in Hoi An two hours later than expected.

Day 10 – Exploring Hoi An
Like Hue, Hoi An is a popular tourist spot. After breakfast, I headed out on the bike to a location called My Son where there are the ruins of an old Hindu temple complex. Of the buildings, some have barely a column standing while others are in the process of being rebuilt.

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I then rode into Da Nang, a city north of Hoi An, to a place called the Marble Mountains. Atop the monolithic mountains is a large buddhist temple complex with plentiful adjoining caves.

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The Marble Mountains give great views along My Khe Beach, as 30 km stretch of nicknamed China Beach by the Americans during the war. It was used as both an evacuation hospital area and site for rest and recreation during the war.

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Day 11 – Hoi An Rest Day
As I had spent a lot of time on my bike around Hoi An yesterday, I decided to take the day off and just relax around Hoi An, so I did.

Vietnam Central1

In Part 3, I head south into the Vietnamese highlands.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Mapping My Journey So Far

Sixteen months on the road is a long time. During that time I covered quite a distance and did many things. While I’ve been ‘resting’ in the United Kingdom, I’ve put together a step by step rundown of my trip including maps.

South East Australia

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In a van called the Pointy Brick I…

Antarctica, Chile and Argentina

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From Brisbane, I flew to Auckland and spent 3 weeks with family before flying to South America where I…

Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador

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From Buenos Aires I…

Colombia, Central America and Mexico

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From Ecuador I…

The Full Map. May take some time to load.

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The World Wanderer

Hoover Dam and The Grand Canyon, Arizona – Impressions

Las Vegas, in the state of Nevada, is an intense place even if you’re only staying a couple of days. But if you’re planning to stay a week or more, getting out of the city should be a high priority. We did just that, hiring a car and driving to two features of the region:

Hoover Dam
Hoover Dan is situated on the U.S. state border of Nevada and Arizona, 50 kilometres from Las Vegas. The dam was built in Black Canyon on the Colorado River to prevent flooding, provide irrigation and generate power for the states of Nevada, Arizona and California. At the time of construction it was the largest concrete structure in the world.

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Completed in 1936, the dam was also used as a major highway, but due to increasing traffic concerns the Dam Bypass Bridge opened in 2010.

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The dam created Lake Mead, the largest reservoir of water in the United States by volume. The dam took only 5 years to build and during that time took the lives of 112 people. Sixteen people died in the first year of construction when temperatures in the area clocked in at close to 50ºC. Another forty-two died from pneumonia, although in later years this listing was seen as a cover-up of deaths caused by carbon-monoxide poisoning.

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The Grand Canyon
Nearly 200 kilometres from Las Vegas by car is the site of the Grand Canyon Skywalk. The Skywalk is near the western end of the canyon at a site ingeniously called Grand Canyon West. There are several sections tourists can visit at Grand Canyon West; one is  Eagle Point, named after the impression of an Eagle in the ridge opposite…

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Eagle Point is also the location of the Skybridge itself, a metal framed ‘bridge’ with a glass bottom. Unfortunately use of personal cameras on the bridge is not permitted, meaning the cost of entry onto the walk plus purchase the photographs is quite expensive. Taking the Skywalk is not required as fearless tourists can walk to the edge of the canyon beside the structure.

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Another point of interest is Guano Point, literally ‘Bat Shit Point’. Bat caves were discovered in the canyon, the guano being a good source of phosphates used in farming. The mining lift building still stands at the end of the point.

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Guano Point is at the end of a thin section of a ridge line stacked high with boulders, giving great views along three separate sections of the canyon.

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The Colorado River formed the Grand Canyon over the course of two billion years. It is 446 kilometres long, 29 kilometres at its widest and is 1,800 metres deep. It is in the top five largest canyons in the world, although the term ‘largest’ can have several meanings relating to depth, width and length.

While many simply bus to the sections of the canyon, boat, helicopter and small plane tours are available for those who wish an even closer look.

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Other Places
These are not the only getaways near Las Vegas, only the two we visited. Other sites of interest are:

  • Red Rock Canyon
  • Death Valley
  • Valley of Fire
  • Hidden Valley
  • El Dorado Canyon

The World Wanderer