#Indonesia – Borobudur Temple among top cultural destinations in 2017#

If you’ve been itching to travel somewhere new this spring, one of the world’s best cultural landmarks might just be in your backyard.

Booking.com found that out of 34,000 international respondents, 66 percent were on the lookout for new travel experiences. To help with your future travels, they compiled their user recommendation data to create a ranking of lesser-known travel destinations.

Specifically aimed at those who are looking to whet their adventurous appetites, Indonesia’s own Borobudur Temple comes in halfway through the list at fifth place. A Buddhist temple located in Central Java, Borobudur has recently been considered an alternative to Bali, especially for those interested in history and culture, while not wanting to battle the crowds.

(Read also: Borobudur temple hosts new monthly dance performance)

Joining Borobudur Temple on the list are destinations such as the Indian city of Jaisalmer, in second place, a city known for its architecture that is located near the Indian-Pakistani border, and the only other Asian destination on the list. A slightly more well-known locale, Australia’s iconic red rock, Uluru, also makes it onto the list, in sixth place.

Source – TheJakartaPost

FOR THE BEST GLOBAL HOTEL & FLIGHT BOOKINGS

Booking.com’s top cultural destinations for travelers:

1. Recanati, Italy

2. Jaisalmer, India

3. Viljandi, Estonia

4. Borobudur, Indonesia

5. Uluru, Australia

6. Barichara, Colombia

7. Vezelay, France

8. Flores, Guatemala

Indonesia – 10,000 dancers to perform Saman Dance in Aceh

Up to 10,000 dancers are set to participate in a traditional Saman Dance performance in March at Blang Kejeren city stadium in Gayo Lues regency, Aceh.

The mass Saman Dance performance has been held twice and previously involved 5,000 dancers.

“Five thousand dancers was considered to be the biggest, but they will present [more than] 10,000 dancers,” Aceh Cultural and Tourism Agency head Reza Pahlevi told kompas.com.

(Read also: Indonesian troupe to perform Majapahit-inspired dance in India)

Reza said that the performance was part of the dance’s preservation and promotion program and the dancers themselves would be representative of all districts in Gayo Lues regency.

“Almost all Gayou Lues residents can perform the traditional dance,” said Reza. “This is why [the Saman Dance] has received recognition from UNESCO, as it is very authentic and rooted in the people’s lives.”

At the time of writing, Reza had yet to reveal the performance date. He mentioned that the committee was still waiting for the Aceh regional election. “In the meantime, the event is slated for mid-March.” (jes/kes)

Source: TheJakartaPost

Indonesia – What to do in Raja Ampat beyond diving, snorkeling

 

Raja Ampat is a group of islands located in the west tip off Bird’s Head Peninsula, West Papua. This scenic place, comprising 1,500 islands and 100 villages, has been dubbed “The Last Paradise” and “Underwater Paradise” by many people.

Raja Ampat is a group of islands located in the west tip off Bird’s Head Peninsula, West Papua. This scenic place, comprising 1,500 islands and 100 villages, has been dubbed “The Last Paradise” and “Underwater Paradise”  by many people. 

These labels are not without reason. According to the Nature Conservancy and Conservation International, Raja Ampat is home to 75 percent of the coral reef and underwater biota around the world; 1,508 species of fish, 537 species of coral and 700 types of mollusks. A report from Raja Ampat’s Tourist Information Center shows that every year since 2007, Raja Ampat has had an increase of visitors ranging 1,000 to 2,000 each year. In 2016, for example, there were around 20,000 visitors from around the world spending time in the archipelago. 

Unfortunately, some of the tourists come to Raja Ampat only for diving and snorkeling. They join a cruise and stay in a boat. For me personally, staying in a boat without experiencing enough land life is a miss of full Raja Ampat experience. Despite its beautiful marine life, Raja Ampat has so much more to offer beyond diving and snorkeling. 

Teaching English to local children is one of the greatest and most meaningful activities in Raja Ampat. It is the best way to connect with locals and learn about their culture. In Sawinggrai village on Gam Island, for example, there is a volunteer project known as Sawinggrai English Effort. Its purpose is to help local villagers learn English from visitors. Here visitors can have a proper English class at the local school or at the learning center provided by the village. 

Visitors can also participate in a “walking program”, simply play or swim with the students while learning words like sand, shells, stones and fish. Whatever the plan is, the local learners will always be excited to spend time with foreigners. Best of all, there is a local coordinator who will help the visitors recruit students and organize your class. Those who are interested in the program can visit seerajaampat.com for further information. 

Another recreation is to take a nature walk and explore the wildlife. Raja Ampat is not only rich in marine life, it also has diverse flora and fauna. The cutest animal in Raja Ampat is probably a Cuscus. These marsupials are actually nocturnal, but visitors sometimes can see them during the day on the top of coconut trees. Other common animals found in Raja Ampat include monitor lizards, coconut crabs, bats, sugar gliders, and a lot of birds. 

Some areas in Raja Ampat also have orchids growing wildly or planted by locals. Up the hill in Sawinggrai on Gam Island, there is an orchid garden where the villagers planted many kinds of orchids from some islands in Raja Ampat. Besides orchids, there are many types of plants as well. To take a walk, visitors can ask their homestay owners or villagers to show them the local garden and forests. 

Birdwatching is another exciting activity, considering the diversity of Raja Ampat’s bird life. A trip to Raja Ampat will not be complete without doing a single bird watching trip. According to the Avibase – Bird Checklists of the World, Raja Ampat is home to 362 species of birds. The list includes Wilson’s and Red Birds of Paradise, which are among the most beautiful birds on the planet. Both birds of paradise can be found on Waigio Island, the biggest island in Raja Ampat. The red one can be easily found on Gam Island. To do bird watching, visitors can hire local tour guides, or they can go by themselves.  

Many visitors come to Raja Ampat only for diving, snorkeling, and enjoying the marine life. While nothing is wrong with that, it is a shame to miss other wonderful things that Raja Ampat provides. Other activities like birdwatching, taking a nature walk, and teaching local children English are worth spending time on. (kes)

Source: theJakartaPost
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Thailand – King anoints new Supreme Patriarch

20th chief of Buddhism in Ratanakosin era commended as caring for unfortunate.

HIS MAJESTY King Maha Vajiralongkorn yesterday presided over the ceremony to appoint Somdet Phra Ariyawongsakhatayan, the abbot of Ratchabophit Sathitmahasimaram Temple, as the country’s 20th Supreme Patriarch at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

To honour Thailand’s new Buddhism chief, an investiture ceremony started at about 6.30pm with the King presenting saffron robes to senior monks from the Sangha Supreme Council. He then lit candles and incense sticks to worship the Tripitaka, after which senior monks of the Racha Khana rank chanted and granted religious precepts to the King.

The Bureau of Royal Scribes and Royal Decorations then announced the royal command appointing the new Supreme Patriarch. 

The appointment was followed prayers by Racha Khanaranking monks, and then prayers by Sangha Council members. 

The new Supreme Patriarch and Sangha Council members took seats with a group of senior monks from across the country while the King presented a golden plate bearing the name of the Supreme Patriarch and items associated with the senior position.

The newly-appointed Supreme Patriarch is described by laypersons as an austere and very compassionate monk.

Somdet Phra Ariyawongsakha-tayan (Ambhorn Ambharo) has been welcomed by people nationwide, with some suggesting that he is the perfect choice to lead Thai monks and Buddhists.

Yesterday morning, Somdet Phra Maha Muneewong, as the Supreme Patriarch was then known, attended a merit-making ceremony at Ratchabophit Temple to pay respect to previous abbots of the temple. He stopped briefly for a prayer in front of a statue of King Rama V inside the temple. Along the route, young and old Thais paid respect to the newly appointed Supreme Patriarch by kneeling on the ground.

Amporn Kasiwat, 61, a resident of Bangkok’s On Nut district, said she had attended an overnight prayer for Makha Bucha Day and stayed on to witness the ceremony for the new Supreme Patriarch. “I’m very delighted,” she said.

Woraya Jitkarunawong, 50, a resident of Bangkok’s Bang Bon area, said the new Supreme Patriarch was very compassionate and allowed people to follow him closely during the Makha Bucha Day’s Wien Tien ceremony.

Tonwud Wangthamkhum, 68, said he was ordained in 1980 when the new Supreme Patriarch was a monk who always showed compassion to those were unfortunate and had made mistakes.

Itthichai Saewong, a former monk at Ratchabophit Temple, said the new Supreme Patriarch was a fit person to lead the religion, given that he was one of the most austere senior monks in the country and very humble.

“I am tremendously delighted to hear that my preceptor when I was monk at Ratchabophit Temple was nominated to be the new Supreme Patriarch. I wish I could make it to the official appointment ceremony to be a witness in this historic event,” he said.

Itthichai – a monk at Ratchabophit Temple from July to December last year – said he had opportunities to be close to his abbot and serve him as a disciple, and as such directly experienced his kindness and witnessed his commendable practices as a monk.

Somdet Phra Ariyawongsakha-tayan was ordained at Wat Ratchabophit in 1948 and studied at the temple until he graduated from the sixth (intermediate) level of Pali studies before going to Banaras Hindu University in India to study a master’s degree in history. He graduated in 1969. 

He then headed a Buddhism mission in Australia in 1973 and set up temples in many Australian cities such as Canberra, Melbourne and Darwin. He was appointed abbot at Ratchabophit Temple in 2009.

See more photos : http://www.nationmultimedia.com/photo/view/108

Cambodia – Angkor Wat bridge awaits restoration

SIEM REAP, 25 January 2017: A temporary pontoon bridge leading to Angkor Wat will be completed in May to allow workers to close an ancient stone bridge for restoration.

Phnom Penh Post reported that Apsara Authority will close the stone bridge , this May, to allow for restoration, while tourist traffic will be diverted to the temporary bridge.

The authority, which manages the historic temple complex, said the closure is part of restoration efforts carried out in conjunction with Japan’s Sophia University.

The 197-metre-long, 10-metre-wide pontoon is made of non-slip weather-resistant plastic.

Apsara spokeswoman, Chaosun Keriya, was quoted saying: “The restoration will take at least two to three years…as  the same type of stone must be used instead of cement.”

The construction of the pontoon started last November.

The original bridge, west of the temple, is about 190 metres long. The first phase of repairs was completed in 2007 by the Apsara Authority and Sophia University, which has spent 12 years repairing 90 metres of the structure already.

The number of foreign visitors to the World Heritage site rose 4.63% to 2.19 million last year. The top source markets were China, South Korea and the United States.

Revenue from ticket sales to foreigners visiting the park reached a record USD62.5 million in 2016, representing a solid increase of 4.21% over 2015.

The entrance fee to the Angkor Historical Park costs USD20 a day (foreigners only), USD40 for a three-day visit and USD60 for a week-long visit.

New entrance fees are due to take effect 1 February this year. The new fees are: one-day pass USD37, three-day pass USD62, and seven-day pass USD72.

Source: TTRweekly

Bangkok – Chinese New Year Festival cancelled

Bangkok’s China Town will not hold a Chinese New Year Festival this year because the country is still mourning the passing of HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

“The organising committee for the Yaowarat’s Chinese New Year celebrations has resolved to not hold any event,” Samphathawong District Office director Yuttana Pamai said yesterday.

Chinese New Year is Saturday.

Normally, Chinese New Year celebrations in Bangkok’s China Town are a big event with dragon and lion dancing and various other performances.

The late monarch passed away on October 13 last year. The government has announced a one-year mourning period for the government sector.

Source: TheNation

 

We take you to the Pearls of the Orient

CAMBODIA

Siem Reap – Here you will find influences of French colonial and Chinese architecture.

With the Tuk Tuk service to the ancient city of Angkor Thom, to visit Angkor Ta Prohm, one of the famous temples of Cambodia. In the afternoon with a Jeep to the Angkor Wat Temple.

MYANMAR

Mandalay – After arriving in Mandalay you go to Mandalay Hill for magnificent views over the city and Irrawaddy River. In the afternoon you visit Amarapura, ‘the city of immortality. ” During a sunset cruise on Lake Taungthaman overlooking the U Bein Bridge.

Bagan – Departure to Bagan, where you will visit in the afternoon with a horse and carriage the old town. You will enjoy the sunset and an unforgettable view from O Gyan Pe Hill.

Air Balloon Flight Tour by balloon over temples studded plains of Bagan and the Irrawaddy River. In the afternoon, with small local boats a mini cruise on the Irrawaddy River.

VIETNAM

Hanoi – Let you in Vietnam be surprised by culinary delights, local culture and unique means of transport. In Hanoi visit the main attractions of this fascinating city. Visit the Hoa Lo Prison (known as the “Hanoi Hilton”).

Cruise through Halong Bay city tour Hanoi. In the afternoon, you will embark on a 3-day luxury cruise through one of the most beautiful natural bays in the world. Halong Bay is famous for its thousands of small islands and colorful floating villages in an emerald green sea.

Chinese New Year – Public Holiday in China and several other countries

Chinese New Year begins on 28 January 2017 and will be a public holiday in several countries in East Asia. To see when different countries have public holidays for Chines New Year, use our comprehensive list of Lunar New Year holidays by day.

Each year in the Chinese calendar is represented by one of twelve animals in the Chinese Zodiac. 2017 will be the “year of the Rooster”.

The Chinese New Year has a great history. In other traditions, by this time in the year, most resolutions have been forgotten or put back to the following year. However, all hope is not lost, as there’s a second chance to get it right with the celebration of Chinese New Year.

The Chinese New Year is celebrated by almost a sixth of the world’s population and is very similar to the Western one, swathed in traditions and rituals.

The origin of the Chinese New Year is itself ancient and obscured by the amount of time. It is popularly recognized as the Spring Festival and celebrations last 15 days.

Preparations tend to begin a month from the date of the Chinese New Year (similar to a Western Christmas), when people start buying presents, decoration materials, food and clothing. A huge clean-up gets underway days before the New Year, when Chinese houses are cleaned from top to bottom, to sweep away any traces of bad luck, and doors and windowpanes are given a new coat of paint, usually red.

The eve of the New Year is perhaps the most exciting part of the event, as anticipation creeps in. Here, traditions and rituals are very carefully observed in everything from food to clothing.

Rituals include cleaning the house, putting up new posters of “door gods” on front doors, fireworks before the family union dinner, which should be at least 10 course meal with a whole fish entrée symbolizing the abundance of the coming year.

It’s usual to wear something red as this colour is meant to ward off evil spirits – but black and white are out, as these are associated with mourning. After dinner, the family sit up for the night playing cards, board games or watching TV programmes dedicated to the occasion. At midnight, the sky is lit up by fireworks.

In China, many people will travel back from the cities to their home towns. This results in the world’s largest annual human migration.

On the day itself, an ancient custom called Hong Bao, meaning Red Packet, takes place. This involves married couples giving children and unmarried adults money in red envelopes. Then the family begins to say greetings from door to door, first to their relatives and then their neighbours. Like the Western saying “let bygones be bygones,” at Chinese New Year, grudges are very easily cast aside.

Traditional foods eaten during the Spring festival are fish (the Chinese word for ‘fish’ sounds like the word for ‘surplus,’ so the eating of fish is supposed to bring a surplus of money and good luck); Chinese dumplings (as their shape is said to be like that of silver ingots, which were used as money in ancient Chinese); spring rolls; rice cakes and rice balls.

The end of the New Year is marked by the Festival of Lanterns, which is a celebration with singing, dancing and lantern shows.

China

In China, the rules governing what days are taken for Chinese New Year as public holidays changed in late 2013. From 2014, the festival will be a holiday on the first three days of the first lunar month of each year. Since 2008, the three-day holiday had started on the last day of the lunar year.

Indonesia

In 2001, President Abdurrahman Wahid made Chinese New Year an optional holiday. He also lifted a ban on the display of Chinese characters and the import of Chinese publications. In 2002, President Megawati Soekarnoputri declared Chinese New Year as a national holiday starting from 2003

In Indonesia, Chinese New Year is known as ‘Imlek’ and has become a popular holiday celebrated by all Indonesians, not just those of Chinese descent.

Mysterious Buddha statue emerges after water bags China

Beijing, China (CNN)A 600-year-old Buddha statue has been discovered in a reservoir in east China’s Jiangxi Province after water levels fell during renovation work.

A local villager first spotted the head of the Buddha last month when the water level fell by more than 10 meters during work on a hydropower gate, official state news agency Xinhua reported.
The Buddha’s head sits against a cliff and gazes serenely over the body of water. It has attracted many tourists as well as locals, who see it as an auspicious sign.
Archaeologists said the statue could date back to Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
“A preliminary study of the statue suggests it was probably built during early Ming Dynasty, maybe even earlier as the Yuan Dynasty,” Xu Changqing, director of the Research Institute of Archaeology of Jiangxi province, told CNN in a phone interview.
The statue is potentially just the tip of an untapped archeological treasure trove. A base of a temple hall was also found under the water. Local records suggest the reservoir was located on the ruins of an ancient town called Xiaoshi.
Xu said an underwater archeology team is investigating both the ancient town and the statue and working on a preservation plan.

Bangkok – Praying for Prosperity

We visit the best eight Chinese shrines at which to pay respect as the Year of the Rooster dawns

 With just eight days to go until the Monkey hands over to the Rooster, Chinese the world over are preparing for what promises to be a challenging year ahead. The rooster is by nature a fighter, a totem animal that never gives up, and that makes him one of the most popular symbols in the Chinese zodiac. According to belief, the cockerel is the mascot of five virtues – civil responsibility, marital fidelity, courage, kindness, and confidence – so he sounds like a perfect fit for troubled 2017. 

Some, however, prefer to hedge their bets for luck in the year ahead by visiting a shrine or temple and making some offerings to the gods. Hidden among the skyscrapers and bustling marketplaces and malls, Bangkok has plenty of Chinese shrines at which to pray and they range from humble to extraordinary architectural wonders. 

You don’t have to be spiritual or even superstitious to visit these sanctums. Some are worth admiring for their beautiful architecture and cultural significance. Listen to the chants and urban legends. Watch the performing ancient rituals and get giddy on the aromatic wafts of incense. 

 For giving and praying, these are eight best shrines to visit and revisit over the Chinese New Year.
SAN CHAO RONG KUEAK, YAOWARATTucked away in an alley off Chinatown’s Soi Wanit 2, San Chao Rong Kueak was constructed by Hakka-speaking Chinese immigrants more than 100 years ago. San Chao Rong Kueak – literally the Shrine of Shoe Makers – might not well-known but it is one of only a few shrines made by the Hakka. In terms of number, the Hakka-speaking community is small compared to the Teochew and other Chinese. They are rebellious, itinerant, bookish and good at making shoes. You will meet many of them over the Chinese New Year since they always show up for Cai Shen – God of Wealth.

WHERE: Soi Wanit 2 is a short walk from Pier No.4 of the Chao Phraya Express Boat

ZHOU SHI KONG

Talad Noi marketplace has been home to Hakka and Hokkien-speaking people since Bangkok’s early days. While the Hakka are known as masters cobblers thanks to their excellent leather work, the Hokkein are blacksmiths who create all sorts of things out of metal. The leather and metal masters follow different deities and visit different shrines and Zhou Shi Kong is one of the oldest and most respected shrines among the Hokkien. It houses the statue of Zhou Shi Kong – the respected Chinese monk who lived in Fujian, Southeast China. Influenced by Qing dynasty architecture, the shrine is a heritage site in itself boasting woodcarvings, paintings and more. The best time to visit Zhou Shi Kong is before lunch as Talad Noi is the best place to tuck into hearty Chinese food.

WHERE: Soi Wanit 2, within easy walking distance of Pier No.4 of Chao Phraya Express Boat

THABTHIM SHRINE, PAHURAT

Known as Chao Mae Thabthim (Goddess of Water) among the Chinese-speaking community, this is one of the most respected Chinese deities. Thabthim is native to an island in the South China Sea and the seafarers who braved the South China Sea as they sailed their large junks to Thailand very much counted on Chao Mae Thabthim’s power. Shrines to her can be found in Chinese-speaking communities, but the most visited is in Pahurat, Bangkok’s “Little India” right next-door to Chinatown. This Chinese shrine provided a “safe house” for people in the neighbourhood during the 1940s when Bangkok was bombed by the Allies.

WHERE: Corner of Chakphet and Tri Phet Roads, Chinatown

 WAT MANGKON KAMALAWAT, YAOWARAT

Also known as Wat Leng Noei Yi, this temple was established in 1871 for Mahayana Buddhists in Siam. Wat Mangkon Kamalawat is the largest and most important Chinese temple in Bangkok. Incense and the sounds of chanting dominate the prayer hall, especially during the Chinese New Year. Tea and fruit are offered to gods and deities as prayers and devout worshippers brave the clouds of incense to kneel and pray for a good and peaceful year ahead. 

WHERE: Corner of Chareon Krung and Mangkon Roads, Chinatown

KUAN YIN SHRINE (THIAN FA FOUNDATION), YAOWARAT

This Chinese shrine is part of the Thian Fa traditional Chinese medical hospital. Established in 1902 by Chinese immigrants, the shrine houses a statue of the Goddess Kuan Yin that is said to be carved from teak and believed to be more than 800 years old. The shrine always draws people to pray for a healthy life during the Chinese New Year. 

WHERE: Corner of Yaowarat 5 Alley and Yaowarat Road

GUAN YU SHRINE, KHLONG SAN

Guan Yu – the red-faced, bearded Chinese deity – was a well-known warrior and is known to Thais for his leading role in the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” novel. Described as a criminal who fled his home to join the militia, he is loved by both the lawful and the lawless for his courage and honesty. There are several shrines to him but the oldest is nestled along the Chao Phraya River on the Thon Buri side and is 280 years old. Three statues of Guan Yu preside over Chao Phraya River from inside the shrine’s red chamber. The smallest statue is believed to have been brought from Fujian in Southern China, while the two others were contributed by Qing emperors.

WHERE: Take the ferry from Si Phraya to Khlong San then a tuk-tuk for the short ride to the shrine.

KIAN UN KENG SHRINE, THON BURI BANK OF THE CHAO PHRAYA

Kian Un Keng Shrine is one of the oldest of its kind in Bangkok. Looking out over the Chao Phraya River and next door to Wat Kalayanamitr, the shrine was founded and rebuilt more than 200 years ago. Rustic and beautiful, it draws visitors to pay respects to the Goddess Kuan Yin as well as to admire its magnificent woodcarvings. Built by the Hokkien Chinese, who followed King Taksin the Great to the new capital city in Thon Buri, the shrine makes a strong statement about the craftsmanship of that era.

WHERE: A ferry runs between Pak Klong Talad and Wat Kalayanamitr.

 GUAN YU SHRINE, YAOWARAT

Unlike the famous Guan Yu Shrine along the Chao Phraya River, this shrine is smaller though the intensity of the incense cloud tends to be greater. Hidden behind the Old Market of Yaowarat, this shrine was erected to honour both Guan Yu and his horse, Red Hare. A magnificent mount, Red Hare was said to be strong and capable of travelling 200 kilometres a day. Devotees visit the shrine once in a while to pray for strength. 

WHERE: Corner of Soi Yaowarat 11 and Soi Yaowa Phanich

 LAO PUN TAO KONG, YAOWARAT

Easy walking distance from Ratchawong Pier to the corner of Song Wat and Yaowa Phanit roads, the shrine was established by Chinese immigrants who disembarked from their junks during the reign of King Rama III to house and honour traditional Chinese deities. Lao Pun Tao Kong – a kind of “chief of staff” of local deities – is enshrined here. The shrine is said to be especially good for those who want their prayers answered and devout worshippers flock here to pay their respects all year round – and especially during Chinese New Year – to reflect on their sins. 

WHERE: Soi Rong Khom off Song Wat Road

Source: TheNation