Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Phi Phi Islands - Krabi

The Phi Phi Islands (Thai: หมู่เกาะพีพี) are located in Thailand, between the large island of Phuket and the western Andaman Sea coast of the mainland. The islands are administratively part of Krabi province. Ko Phi Phi Don ("ko" (Thai: เกาะ) meaning "island" in the Thai language) is the largest island of the group, and is the only island with permanent inhabitants, although the beaches of the second largest island, Ko Phi Phi Lee (or "Ko Phi Phi Leh"), are visited by many people as well. The rest of the islands in the group, including Bida Nok, Bida Noi, and Bamboo Island, are not much more than large limestone rocks jutting out of the sea.
Phi Phi Don was initially populated by Muslim fishermen during the late 1940s, and later became a coconut plantation. The Thai population of Phi Phi Don remains more than 80% Muslim. The actual population however, if counting laborers, especially from the north-east, from the mainland is much more Buddhist these days.
The islands came to worldwide prominence when Ko Phi Phi Leh was used as a location for the 2000 British-American film The Beach. This attracted criticism, with claims that the film company had damaged the island's environment, an accusation the film's makers contest. The film's release was attributed to an increase in tourism to the islands. Phi Phi Leh also houses the 'Viking Cave', from which there is a thriving bird's nest soup industry.
Ko Phi Phi was devastated by the Indian Ocean Tsunami of December 2004, when nearly all of the island's infrastructure was destroyed. As of 2010 most, but not all, of this has been restored.
From archaeological discoveries, it is believed that the area was one of the oldest communities in Thailand dating back to the prehistoric period. It is believed that this province may have taken its name after the meaning of Krabi, which means sword. This may have stemmed from a legend that an ancient sword was unearthed prior to the city’s founding.
The name Phi Phi (pronounced ‘pee pee’) originates from Malay, the original name for the islands were ‘Pulao Pi ah Pi’. The name refers to the mangrove wood found there. They were incorporated into the national park in 1983. There are six islands in the group known as Phi Phi. They lie 50 km south-east of Phuket and are part of Hadnopparattara-Koh Phi Phi National Park which is home to an abundance of corals and marine life. There are limestone mountains with cliffs, caves and long white sandy beaches. The national park covers a total area of 242,437 Rai.
Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Le are the largest and most well-known islands. Phi Phi Don is 28 sqm: 8 km in length and 3.5 km wide. Phi Phi Le is 6.6 km. Koh Phi Phi comprises 6 islands, 2 of them are the main island – Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Le. On Koh Phi Phi there are 2 villages and under administration of Ao Nang sub-district, Muang district, Krabi Province. The islands are surrounded by the Andaman Sea.
The islands feature beaches and clear water that have had their natural beauty protected by National Park status. Tourism on Ko Phi Phi, like the rest of Krabi province, has exploded only very recently. In the early 1990s only the most adventurous travelers visited the island, staying in only the most basic accommodation. Nowadays, however, the place has turned into one of the major destinations for visitors to Krabi. The is still significantly less developed than the nearby island of Phuket, or Ko Samui, on Thailand's opposite coast.
Ko Phi Phi is a popular place for diving and snorkeling, kayaking and other marine recreational activities.
Post-tsunami reconstruction
After the tsunami, approximately 70% of the buildings on the island had been destroyed. However, January 6, 2005, a former Dutch resident of Phi Phi, Emiel Kok, set up a voluntary organization, Help International Phi Phi. Hi Phi Phi recruited 68 Thai staff from the refugee camp, as well as transient backpacker volunteers (of whom more than 3,500 offered their assistance), and returned to the island to undertake clearing and rebuilding work. On February 18, 2005, a second organization, Phi Phi Dive Camp, was set up to remove the debris from the bays and coral reef, most of which was in Ton Sai Bay.
By the end of July 2005, 23,000 tonnes of debris had been removed from the island, of which 7,000 tonnes had been cleared by hand. "We try and do as much as possible by hand," said Kok, "that way we can search for passports and identification". The majority of buildings that were deemed fit for repair by government surveyors had been repaired, and three hundred businesses had been restored. Hi Phi Phi was nominated for a Time Magazine Heroes of Asia award.
On October 31, 2005, Deputy Prime Minister Pinit Jarusombat proposed an upgrade to the hotels and restaurants on Phi Phi Don, and a limitation to the number of tourists visiting. "It'll help us preserve its environment," said Pinit. However, after consultation with residents and land-owners, many of whom opposed the plan, the Bangkok Post reported on February 17, 2006, that the proposals would not affect Phi Phi.
As of 6 December 2005, nearly 1,500 hotel rooms were open, and a tsunami early warning alarm system had been installed by the Thai government, with the help of volunteers.
Ko Phi Phi Don (Thai: เกาะพีพีดอน) is the largest of the Phi Phi Islands, in Thailand. It is the only island in the group with permanent inhabitants.
Like the other islands in the group, Ko Phi Phi Don is a non-volcanic island largely made of limestone. It is almost separated into two islands, but a strand of flat land connects them. On this strand lies the largest town on the island, as well as most of the resorts.
Ko Phi Phi Don is now squarely on the tourist map, and tourists from all over the world (especially Europe, Japan, and the wealthier Southeast Asian countries) flock to the island. Accessible from Phuket and mainland Krabi province, all tourists must arrive by boat. (The trip from Phuket takes around 90 minutes.) This has essentially turned the island into a rush of day trippers who overpopulate the island from 11AM-3PM. The island still holds much charm that can be enjoyed in the hours that the flocks from Phuket are not there. While in former times, Ko Phi Phi Don was a serene paradise, parts of it (especially the Ton Sai Bay area) have been exploited for tourism. Restaurants, shops, internet cafes, and shanty towns abound.
While much of the island is a so-called "marine reserve", not much is being done about the rampant growth on the island and destruction of the reefs. Also, litter (usually in the form of cans and plastic bags) is strewn all over certain areas of popular beaches (usually near the shanty towns). Much of the litter is not from tourists, but from the locals. However, since Ko Phi Phi Don is popular for diving and snorkeling, the locals have done away with dynamite fishing and other harmful activities that had probably threatened the reef even more than tourism.
Though in need of much greater conservation efforts, Ko Phi Phi Don is still a spectacular island in its own right. Featuring limestone cliffs abounding with vegetation, a look-out point, and clear waters, this island will probably stay on the tourist map as long as development becomes more in tune with nature.
Koh Phi Phi Leh or Ko Phi Phi Ley (Thai: เกาะพีพีเล) is an island of the Phi Phi archipelago, in the Andaman Sea. It belongs to the Krabi province of Thailand.
Koh Phi Phi Leh is the second largest island of the archipelago, the largest one being Ko Phi Phi Don. The island consists of a ring of steep limestone hills surrounding a shallow bay, the Maya Bay.
Maya Bay is popular for diving, and has become even more popular after the 2000 movie The Beach was filmed there. According to the Lonely Planet's Thailand guidebook, the 2004 tsunami dramatically improved the look of Maya Bay. This was due to the fact that the high waves had cleaned up the beach and removed all the landscaping the Fox production team had added.
Controversy arose during the making of the film The Beach due to 20th Century Fox bulldozing and rescaping of the natural beach setting of Koh Phi Phi Leh to make it more "paradise-like". The production altered some sand dunes and cleared some coconut trees and grass to widen the beach. Fox set aside a fund to reconstruct and return the beach to its natural state, however lawsuits were filed as many believed the damage to the ecosystem is permanent and restoration attempts failed.
The lawsuits dragged on for years. In 2006, Thailand's Supreme Court upheld an appeal court ruling that the filming had harmed the environment and ordered that damage assessments be made. Defendants in the case included 20th Century Fox and some Thai government officials.
Prior to 2004, the island had avoided development. However, it is now a part of Phi Phi National Park and has since begun to see the beginnings of development and some clearing of natural plant life. There are current plans to build bungalows on the island. Since 2007, there has been an entry charge for private visitors of Bt200 per person. There are now permanent basic facilities on the island - toilets, a snack bar and camping sites.

Sources:,, Ko_Phi_Phi_Lee

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Jinzhaigou National Park - China

Jiuzhaigou National Park (pinyin: Jiǔzhàigōu; literally "Valley of Nine Villages"; Tibetan: Zitsa Degu) is a nature reserve in the north of Sichuan, a province in south western China. It is known for its many multi-level waterfalls and colorful lakes, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. It belongs to the category V (Protected Landscape) in the IUCN system of protected area categorization.
Known in English as Jiuzhai Valley it lies at the southern end of the Minshan mountain range, 330 km (205 mi) north of the provincial capital of Chengdu. It is part of the Jiuzhaigou County (formerly Nanping County) in the Aba Tibetan Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of northwestern Sichuan province, near the Gansu border.
The valley covers 720 km2 (278 sq mi), with buffer zones covering an additional 600 km2 (232 sq mi). Its elevation, depending on the area considered, ranges from 1,998 to 2,140 m (at the mouth of Shuzheng Gully) to 4,558 - 4,764 m (on Mount Ganzigonggai at the top of Zechawa Gully).
The climate is cool temperate with a mean annual temperature of 7.2 °C, with means of -1 °C in January and 17 °C in July. Total annual rainfall is 661 mm, 80% of which occurs between May and October.
The remote region was inhabited by various Tibetan and Qiang peoples for centuries, but was not officially discovered by the government until 1972. Extensive logging took place until 1979, when the Chinese government banned such activity and made the area a national park in 1982. An Administration Bureau was established and the site officially opened to tourism in 1984; layout of facilities and regulations were completed in 1987. The site was inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1992 and a World Biosphere Reserve in 1997.
Since opening, tourist activity has increased every year: from 5,000 in 1984 to 170,000 in 1991, 160,000 in 1995, to 200,000 in 1997, including about 3,000 foreigners. Visitors numbered 1,190,000 in 2002. As of 2004, the site averages 7,000 visits per day, with a quota of 12,000 being reportedly enforced during high season. The Town of Zhangzha at the exit of the valley and the nearby Songpan County feature an ever-increasing number of hotels, including several polished five-stars, such as Sheraton.
Jiuzhaigou (literally "Nine Village Valley") takes its name from the nine Tibetan villages along its length. Seven of them are still populated today. The main agglomerations that are readily accessible to tourists are Heye, Shuzheng and Zechawa along the main paths that cater to tourists, selling various handicrafts, souvenirs and snacks. There is also Rexi in the smaller Zaru Valley and behind Heye village are Jianpan, Panya and Yana villages. The Valley's no longer populated villages are Guodu and Hejiao.
Finally, the Penbu, Panxing and Yongzhu villages lie along the road that passes through the town of Jiuzhaigou/Zhangza outside the valley.
In 1997, the permanent population of the valley was about 1000, made up of about 130 Tibetan families. Due to the protected nature of the park, agriculture is no longer permitted so the locals now rely on tourism and local government subsidies to make a living.
Jiuzhaigou's ecosystem is classified as temperate broad-leaf forest and woodlands, with mixed mountain and highland systems. Nearly 300 km2 (116 sq mi) of the core scenic area are covered by virgin mixed forests. Those forests take on attractive yellow, orange and red hues in the autumn, making that season a popular one for visitors. They are home to a number of plant species of interest, such as endemic varieties of rhododendron and bamboo.
Local fauna includes the endangered giant panda and golden snub-nosed monkey. Both populations are very small (less than 20 individuals for the pandas) and isolated. Their survival is in question in a valley subject to increasing tourism. Jiuzhaigou is also home to approximately 140 bird species.
Jiuzhaigou's landscape is made up of high-altitude karsts shaped by glacial, hydrological and tectonic activity. It lies on major faultlines on the diverging belt between the Qinghai-Tibet Plate and the Yangtze Plate, and earthquakes have also shaped the landscape. The rock strata is mostly made up of carbonate rocks such dolomite and tufa, as well as some sandstone and shales.
The valley includes the catchment area of three gullies (which due to their large size are often called valleys themselves), and is one of the sources of the Jialing River, part of the Yangtze River system.
Jiuzhaigou's best-known feature is its dozens of blue, green and turquoise-colored lakes. The local Tibetan people call them "Haizi" in Chinese, meaning "son of the sea". Originating in glacial activity, they were dammed by rockfalls and other natural phenomena, then solidified by processes of carbonate deposition. Some lakes have a high concentration of calcium carbonate, and their water is very clear so that the bottom is often visible even at high depths. The lakes vary in color and aspect according to their depths, residues, and surroundings.
Some of the less stable dams and formations have been artificially reinforced, and direct contact with the lakes or other features is forbidden to tourists.
Notable features
Jiuzhaigou is composed of three valleys arranged in a Y shape. The Rize and Zechawa valleys flow from the south and meet at the centre of the site where they form the Shuzheng valley, flowing north to the mouth of the valley. The mountainous watersheds of these gullies are lined with 55 km (34 mi) of roads for shuttle buses, as well as boardwalks and small pavilions. The boardwalks are typically located on the opposite side of the lakes from the road, shielding them from disturbance by passing buses.
Most visitors will first take the shuttle bus to the end of Rize and/or Shuzheng gully, then make their way back downhill by foot on the boardwalks, taking the bus instead when the next site is too distant. Here is a summary of the sites found in each of the gullies.
Rize Valley
The 18 km (11 mi) long Rize Valley (pinyin: Rìzé Gōu) is the south-western branch of Jiuzhaigou. It contains the largest variety of sites and is typically visited first. Going downhill from its highest point, one passes the following sites:
-    The Primeval Forest (Yuánshǐ Sēnlín) is a preserved ancient woodland. It is fronted by spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and cliffs, including the 500 m high blade-shaped Sword Rock (Jiàn Yán).
-    Swan Lake (Tiān'é Hǎi) is a 2250 m long, 125 m wide picturesque lake named for its visiting swans and ducks.
-    Grass Lake (Cǎo Hǎi) is a shallow lake covered in intricate vegetation patterns.
-    Arrow Bamboo Lake (Jiànzhú Hǎi), covering an area of 170,000 m², is a shallow lake with a depth of 6 m. It lies at an elevation of 2,618 m, and was a main feature site for the 2002 Chinese film Hero.

-    Panda Lake (Xióngmāo Hǎi) features curious color patterns of blue and green. It empties into the multi-stream, multi-level Panda Waterfalls, dropping 78m in 3 steps.
-    Five Flower Lake (Wǔhuā Hǎi) is a shallow multi-colored lake whose bottom is criss-crossed by ancient fallen tree trunks.

-    Pearl Shoal (Zhēnzhū Tān) is a wide, gently sloping area of active calcareous tufa deposition covered in a thin sheet of flowing water. It empties into the famous Pearl Waterfalls, where the shoal drops 28 m in a 310 m wide broad curtain of water. A scene of the television adaptation of Journey to the West was filmed there.
-    Mirror Lake (Jìng Hǎi) is another quiet lake casting beautiful reflections of the surroundings when the water is calm.
Zechawa Valley
The Zechawa Gully (Zécháwā Gōu) is the south-eastern branch of Jiuzhaigou. It is approximately the same length as Rize gully (18 km ) but climbs to a higher altitude (3150 m at the Long Lake). Going downhill from its highest point, it features the following sites:
-    Long Lake (Cháng Hǎi) is the highest, largest and deepest lake in Jiuzhaigou, measuring 7.5 km (5 mi) in length and up to 103 m in depth. It reportedly has no outgoing waterways, getting its water from snowmelt and losing it from seepage. Local folklore features a monster in its depths.
-    Five-Color Pond (Wǔcǎi Chí) is one of the smallest but most spectacular bodies of water in Jiuzhaigou lakes. Despite its very modest dimensions and depth, it has a richly colored underwater landscape with some of the brightest and clearest waters in the area.
-    The Seasonal Lakes (Jìjié Hǎi) are a series of 3 lakes (Lower, Middle and Upper) along the main road, that change from empty to full during each year.
Shuzheng Valley
The Shuzheng Valley (Shùzhèng Gōu) is the northern (main) branch of Jiuzhaigou. It ends after 14.5 km (9 mi) at the Y-shaped intersection of the three gullies. Going downhill from the intersection to the mouth of the valley, visitors encounter the following:
-    Nuorilang Falls (Nuòrìlǎng Pùbù), near the junction of the valleys, are 20 m high and 320 m wide. They are reportedly the widest highland waterfall in China, and one of the symbols of Jiuzhaigou.
-    Nuorilang Lakes (Nuòrìlǎng Qúnhǎi) and Shuzheng Lakes (Shùzhèng Qúnhǎi) are stepped series of respectively 18 and 19 ribbon lakes formed by the passage of glaciers, then naturally dammed. Some of them have their own folkloric names, such as the Rhinoceros, Unknown, and Tiger lakes.
-    Sleeping Dragon Lake (Wòlóng Hǎi) is one of the lower lakes in the area. With a depth of 20 m, it is notable for the clearly visible calcareous dyke running through it, whose shape has been compared to a dragon lying on the bottom.
-    Reed Lake (Lúwěi Hǎi) is a 1375m-long, reed-covered marsh with a clear turquoise brook zigzaging through it. The contrast is particularly striking in the autumn when the reeds turn yellow.
The Zharu Valley (Zārú Gōu) runs southeast from the main Shuzheng gully and is rarely visited by tourists. The valley begins at the Zharu Buddhist monastery and ends at the Red, Black, and Daling lakes.
Zharu Valley is the home of eco-tourism in Jiuzhaigou. The valley has recently been opened to a small number of ecotourists wishing to go hiking and camping off the beaten track. Visitors can choose from day walks and multiple day hikes, depending on their time availability. Knowledgeable guides accompany ecotourists through the valley, sharing their knowledge about the unique biodiversity and local culture of the national park. The Zharu Valley has 40% of all the plant species that exist in China and it is the best place to spot wildlife inside the national park.
The main hike follows the pilgrimage of the local Benbo Buddhists circumnavigating the sacred 4,528m Zha Yi Zha Ga Mountain.
The Fairy Pool (Shénxiān Chí) lies 42 km (26 mi) west of Jiuzhaigou and features travertine pools very similar to those of the nearby Huanglong Natural Reserve.
Jiuzhaigou, compared to other high-traffic scenic spots in China can be difficult to access by land. The majority of tourists reach the valley by a 10 hour bus ride from Chengdu along the Minjiang River canyon, prone to occasional minor rockslides and in the rainy season, mudslides that can add several hours to the trip. The new highway that had been constructed along this route was badly damaged during the May 12th 2008 earthquake but has now been repaired. Further repairs from Mao Xian to Chuan Zhu Si are still on going but the road is open to public buses and private vehicles.
Since 2003, it has been possible to fly from Chengdu or Chongqing to Jiuzhaigou Huanglong Airport on a 11,311 ft (3,448 m), high mountain side near Songpan County, and then take an hour-long bus ride to Huanglong, or a 90 minute bus ride to Jiuzhaigou. From 2006, a daily flight to Xi'an had been opened in peak season and new flights are being added all the time from different parts of China. In October 2009 new direct flights were added from Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou. Jiuzhaigou or Huanglong National Parks did not experience any damage during the earthquake of May 2008 and never closed after the event.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Lotus Lake - Taiwan

Lotus Lake is a man-made lake on the east side of Zuoying District in Kaohsiung City in southern Taiwan. Opened in 1951, it is famous for the lotus plants on the lake and the numerous temples around the lake.
The lake is a popular tourist destination famous for its many temples and its large statue of the Emperor of the Dark Heaven, a Taoist God. The most popular temples are the Spring and Autumn Pavilions, the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas, and the Confucian Temple. As its name suggests, Lotus Lake is famous for the many beautiful pink lotus flowers blooming around the rim of the lake. Lotus Lake is easy to get to by train from Kaoshiung city center, and the sights are best explored on foot.
Lotus Lake was the site for several water sporting events for World Games 2009, including canoe polo, water ski, and dragon boat.

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