Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park - Vietnam

Phong Nha - Ke Bang (Vietnamese:Vưn quc gia Phong Nha-K Bàng) is a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site in the B Trach and Minh Hóa districts of central Quang Binh Province, in north-central Vietnam, about 500 km south of the nation's capital, Hanoi. The park borders the Hin Namno Nature Reserve in the province of Khammouan, Laos by the west, 42 km east of South China Sea from its borderline point. Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is situated in a limestone zone of 2,000 km2 in Vietnamese territory and borders another limestone zone of 2,000 km2 of Hin Namno in Laotian territory. The core zone of this national park covers 857.54 km2 and a buffer zone of 1,954 km2. The park was created to protect one of the world's two largest karst regions with 300 caves and grottoes and also protects the ecosystem of limestone forest of the Annamite Range region in north central coast of Vietnam.

The park is situated around 30 km west of South China Sea and National Road 1A, near Ho Chi Minh Highway and 28 km west of Hanoi-Saigon Railway and is accessed by road or waterway by boat through the estuary in South China Sea upwards. There is a small airport near the park accessible by helicopter or small aircraft (Khe Gat Airbase), an airbase used by North Vietnamese Air Force during Vietnam War, notably in the Battle of Đng Hi.

Phong Nha-Ke Bang area is noted for its cave and grotto systems as it is composed of 300 caves and grottos with a total length of about 70 km, of which only 20 have been surveyed by Vietnamese and British scientists; 17 of these are in located in the Phong Nha area and three in the Ke Bang area. After April 2009, total length of caves and grottoes are 126 km. Before discovery of Son Doong Cave, Phong Nha held several world cave records, as it has the longest underground river, as well as the largest caverns and passageways.

The park derives its name from Phong Nha cave, the most beautiful of all, containing many fascinating rock formations, and Ke Bang forest. The plateau on which the park is situated is probably one of the finest and most distinctive examples of a complex karst landform in Southeast Asia.

This national park was listed in UNESCO's World Heritage Sites in 2003 for its geological values as defined in its criteria viii. In April 2009, the world's largest cave Son Doong Cave, was discovered by a team of British cave explorers of British Caving Association.

Since the recognition by UNESCO in 2003, the government of Vietnam has continued to compile scientific documentation to seek recognition of the park as a world natural heritage in terms of biodiversity in addition to geographical values. According to World Wildlife Foundation report in 2000, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is one of 200 biodiversity centres of the world and one of the 60 significant sanctuaries of Vietnam. It has a unique forest type in the world: green tropical forest. The park also has 15 other types of forests.

The park is situated around 30 km west of South China Sea and National Road 1A, near Ho Chi Minh Highway and 28 km west of Hanoi-Saigon Railway and is accessed by road or waterway by boat through the estuary in South China Sea upwards. There is a small airport near the park accessible by helicopter or small aircraft (Khe Gat Airbase), an airbase used by North Vietnamese Air Force during Vietnam War, notably in the Battle of Đng Hi.

Like Bac Trung Bo in general and Quang Binh Province in particular, the climate in this national park is tropical, hot, and humid. The annual mean temperature is 23 to 25 °C, with a maximum of 41 °C in the summer and a minimum of 6 °C in the winter. The hottest months in this region fall from June to August, with an average temperature of 28 °C, and the coldest months from December to February with an average temperature of 18 °C. Annual rainfall is 2,000 mm to 2,500 mm, and 88% of the rainfall is from July to December. With more than 160 rainy days per year, no month is without rain. Mean annual relative humidity is 84%.

Rivers and streams
Besides the grotto and cave systems, Phong Nha has the longest underground river. The Son and Chay are the main rivers in this national park. Most of caves here have been shaped by Son and Chay Rivers. The Son River flows into the mouth of the Phong Nha cave and keeps on underground, where it is called as the Nam Aki River. It emerges 20 km to the south near Pu-Pha-Dam Mountain.

There are over ten spectacular streams, springs and waterfalls in Phong Nha-Ke Bang area, namely: Gió waterfall, Madame Loan waterfall, Mc stream erupting from a limestone mount range, and Tr Ang stream.

Cave and grottoes
Phong Nha-Ke Bang is home to the largest cave in the world and covers 300 different grottoes and caves. Before Son Doong Cave was found, Phong Nha cave was regarded by British Caving Association as the top cave in the world due to its 4 top records: the longest underground river, the highest and longest cave, broadest and most beautiful fine sand beaches inside the caves, the most spectacular stalagmites and stalactites. In the survey conducted in April 2009, the British cave explorers discovered 20 new caves with total length of 56 km, including world's largest cave Son Doong. According to the assessment of UNESCO, the karst formation of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park has evolved since the Palaeozoic (some 400 million years ago) and so is the oldest major karst area in Asia and Phong Nha displays an impressive amount of evidence of earth's history. It is a site of very great importance for increasing our understanding of the geologic, geomorphic and geo-chronological history of the region.

Tourist activities
The park is accessible by road (National Road 1A or Ho Chi Minh Highway 450 km south of Hanoi, 50 km north of Đng Hi, 210 km north of Hue); by rail at Dong Hoi Railway Station on Hanoi-Saigon Railway; by air at Dong Hoi Airport 45 km south of the park. Tourists are served at the Tourism Service Center at Sn Trach commune of B Trch District, the entrance of this center is located by Ho Chi Minh Highway. Tourists are required to buy entrance ticket for package services, including entrance fee, boat service. Ecotourism tour (if needed) requires additional service fee. Tourists then will be transported by boat along the Son River upstream to the Phong Nha Cave and Paradise Cave. Local tour guides can speak English, French and Mandarin Chinese.

The number of tourists has increased dramatically since the park was listed in UNESCO's World Heritage Sites. Quang Binh Province has invested into upgrading the Phong Nha-Ke Bang visitor site to turn it into one of Vietnam's major tourist destinations.

Multiple eco-tourist projects have been licensed for development and the area is being heavily developed by the province to turn it into a major tourist site in Vietnam. Phong Nha Ke Bang is part of a tourism promotion program called: "Middle World Heritage Road" which includes the ancient capital of Hue, the Champa relics of My Son, the city of Hi An, nha nhac and the Space of Gong Culture in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

Tourist activities in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park are organized by local travel agencies and vary in form:
Tour for expedition of caves and grottos in boats and with professional cave expedition means.
Ecotourism, discovering the flora and fauna in this national park in the Ke Bang Forest.
Mountain climbing, trekking: There are extreme sloping mountains here with a height of over 1,000 m, which is a real challenge for adventurous climbers.

One of the adventure tour sites is boating upward on the Chay River into primitive forests, as the river becomes sinuous with several waterfalls and whirlpools until tourists arrive at Tro Mong. This tour sites have been surveyed and included in local travel agents besides cave exploration tour. In Phong Nha-Ke Bang park, there are is a 50m-high waterfall, Chai Waterfall. There is a bull field called Ran Bo (Bull Field) because wild bulls usually comes and reproduce in mating season. There are also some interesting tourist attractions in this park like Nưc Ngang (lit.: Horizontal Spring), a spring runs horizontally instead of vertically as usual; Ðá Nm (Crouching Stone), a stone blockading a stream current; Chân Tht (Chopping Board), a chopping-board-shaped stone. But above all, the most spectacular scene is this area is Nưc Tri (Surfacing Stream), a stream surfacing from the ground. Several streams here run for a long distance, then disappear under the ground.

Thanks to the tourism development in this national park, about 1000 local residents have jobs in tourism. The provincial Centre for Phong Nha-Ke Bang's Ecotourism and Culture currently has 248 boats, creating jobs for 500 locals. Every boat has two trained boatmen earning VND 70,000 per day. This income is relatively high for peasants in this province. This centre also launched a programme in 2000 to train former loggers to work as photographers taking pictures for tourists and about 300 former loggers are now doing this.
In order to facilitate the increasing flow of tourists to the site, the Dong Hoi Airport was constructed and put into operation in May 2008 with air link with Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport and air link with Ho Chi Minh City's Tan Son Nhat International Airport beginning from 1 July 2009.

Phong Nha-Ke Bang, together with Ha Long Bay and Fansipan of Vietnam, is listed as a candidate for 7 new world natural wonders vote. As of February 12, 2008 it ranked 10th in the voting list

In January 2009, the United States-based Los Angeles Times listed Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in its recommended world's 29 destinations to visit in 2009.

Source, Images: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phong_Nha_Ke_Bang_National_Park 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Hoi An - Vietnam

Hi An, or rarely Faifo, is a city of Vietnam, on the coast of the South China Sea in the South Central Coast of Vietnam. It is located in Quang Nam province and is home to approximately 120,000 inhabitants. It is recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The city possessed the largest harbour in Southeast Asia in the 1st century and was known as Lâm p Ph (Champa City). Between the seventh and 10th centuries, the Cham (people of Champa) controlled the strategic spice trade and with this came tremendous wealth. The former harbour town of the Cham at the estuary of the Thu Bn River was an important Vietnamese trading centre in the 16th and 17th centuries, where Chinese from various provinces as well as Japanese, Dutch and Indians settled. During this period of the China trade, the town was called Hai Pho (Seaside Town) in Vietnamese. Originally, Hai Pho was a divided town with the Japanese settlement across the "Japanese Bridge" (16th-17th century). The bridge (Chùa cu) is a unique covered structure built by the Japanese, the only known covered bridge with a Buddhist pagoda attached to one side.

The town was known to the French and Spanish as “Faifo”, and by similar names in Portuguese and Dutch. A number of theories have been put forth as to the origin of this name. Some scholars have suggested that it comes from the word "hi-ph" meaning "sea town", while others have said that it is more likely simply a shortening of Hi An-ph , "the town of Hi An", to "Hoi-pho" which became "Faifo"

The early history of Hi An is that of the Cham. These Malayo-Polynesian peoples probably came from Java around 200 B.C. and by 200 A.D. created the Champa Empire which stretched from Huế to beyond Nha Trang. In the early years, M Sơn was the spiritual capital, Trà Kiu was the political capital and Hi An was the commercial capital of the Champa Empire - later, by the 14th century, the Cham moved further down towards Nha Trang. The river system was the transportation for goods between the highlands, inland countries of Laos and Thailand and the low lands.

In 1535 Portuguese explorer and sea captain António de Faria, coming from Đà Nng, tried to establish a major trading center at the port village of Faifo. Hi An was founded as a trading port by the Nguyn Lord Nguyn Hoàng sometime around 1595. The Nguyn Lords were far more interested in commercial activity than the Trnh Lords who ruled the north. As a result, Hi An flourished as a trading port and became the most important trade port on the South China Sea. Captain William Adams, the English sailor and confidant of Tokugawa Ieyasu, is known to have made at least one trading mission to Hi An (around 1619).

In the 18th century, Hi An was considered by Chinese and Japanese merchants to be the best destination for trading in all of Southeast Asia, even Asia. Japanese believed the heart of all of Asia (the dragon) lay beneath the earth of Hi An. The city also rose to prominence as a powerful and exclusive trade conduit between Europe, China, India, and Japan, especially for the ceramic industry. Shipwreck discoveries have shown that Vietnamese and Asian ceramics were transported from Hi An to as far as Sinai, Egypt.

Hi An's importance waned sharply at the end of the 18th century because of the collapse of Nguyn rule (thanks to the Tây Sơn Rebellion - which was opposed to foreign trade). Then, with the triumph of Emperor Gia Long, he repaid the French for their aid by giving them exclusive trade rights to the nearby port town of Đà Nng. Đà Nng became the new center of trade (and later French influence) in central Vietnam while Hi An was a forgotten backwater. Local historians also say that Hi An lost its status as a desirable trade port due to silting up of the river mouth. The result was that Hi An remained almost untouched by the changes to Vietnam over the next 200 years.

Today, the town is a tourist attraction because of its traditional architecture, crafts such as textiles and ceramics preserved and visitors are exploited. Many bars, hotels, and resorts have been constructed both in Hi An and the surrounding area. The port mouth and boats are still used for both fishing and tourism.

Calm mild weather is now limited to the season of May/June - end of August when the seas are calm and wind changes direction and comes from the South. The remainder of the year the weather is intermittent between rain & cold and hot and mild. Popular activities such as visiting offshore Cù lao Chàm islands are only guaranteed to be likely during the short season of end of May - end of August, which is the high season for domestic tourism.

Heritage and tourism
In 1999, the old town was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO as a well-preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port of the 15th to 19th centuries, with buildings that display a unique blend of local and foreign influences. According to the UNESCO Impact Report 2008 on Hi An, tourism has bought changes to the area which are not sustainable without mitigation.

The city has various small museums highlighting the history of the region, especially ceramics, such as the Museum of Trade Ceramics. The Museum of Sa Huỳnh Culture was built in 1995, and has over 430 ceramic items from 8th to 18th Century. The items originating from Persia, China, Thailand, India and other countries are proofs of the importance of Hi An as a major trading port in South East Asia.

Get Around
The centre of Hoi An is very small and pedestrianised, so you will be walking around most of the time. Motorbikes are only banned from the center of town during certain times of day, so keep an eye out for motorized kamikazes, even in the most narrow alleys. However, the city's government does not allow motorbikes to enter the Old Town on the 14th and 15th of each lunar month. On those evenings, a lot of activities, including traditional games such as bai choi, trong quan, and dap nieu are held in all over the town.

To go to the beach or reach some of the more remote hotels, it is easy and cheap to hire a bicycle. Taxis can be found in the middle of Le Loi Street, over the river on An Hoi or called by phone. When busy, taxis may refuse your fare back to your hotel from town if it is too close, opting for larger fares. Arranging a shuttle from your hotel may be a better option although prices can be higher.

Traffic in Hoi An is minimal, so if you've been avoiding getting on a bike in the big cities, small towns and the surrounding countryside like Hoi An are ideal to get used to the road rules. Get a car to visit My Son early in the morning, about an hour away, or the Marble Mountains, about forty minutes north towards Da Nang.

The old Champa way was to travel by the river system. The rivers of Hoi An cover hundreds of kilometers and offer an interesting & adventurous alternative to travelling by road. Get on a boat and you'll begin to see a whole lot more of Hoi An and the Delta.

Sources, Images: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoi_An, http://wikitravel.org/en/Hoi_An

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cappadocia - Turkey

Cappadocia (also Capadocia; Turkish Kapadokya, from Greek: Καππαδοκία / Kappadokía) is a historical region in Central Anatolia, largely in Nevşehir Province.

In the time of Herodotus, the Cappadocians were reported as occupying the whole region from Mount Taurus to the vicinity of the Euxine (Black Sea). Cappadocia, in this sense, was bounded in the south by the chain of the Taurus Mountains that separate it from Cilicia, to the east by the upper Euphrates and the Armenian Highland, to the north by Pontus, and to the west by Lycaonia and eastern Galatia.
The name was traditionally used in Christian sources throughout history and is still widely used as an international tourism concept to define a region of exceptional natural wonders, in particular characterized by fairy chimneys and a unique historical and cultural heritage. The term, as used in tourism, roughly corresponds to present-day Nevşehir Province.

Cappadocia lies in eastern Anatolia, in the center of what is now Turkey. The relief consists of a high plateau over 1000 m in altitude that is pierced by volcanic peaks, with Mount Erciyes (ancient Argaeus) near Kayseri (ancient Caesarea) being the tallest at 3916 m. The boundaries of historical Cappadocia are vague, particularly towards the west. To the south, the Taurus Mountains form the boundary with Cilicia and separate Cappadocia from the Mediterranean Sea. To the west, Cappadocia is bounded by the historical regions of Lycaonia to the southwest, and Galatia to the northwest. The Black Sea coastal ranges separate Cappadocia from Pontus and the Black Sea, while to the east Cappadocia is bounded by the upper Euphrates, before that river bends to the southeast to flow into Mesopotamia, and the Armenian Highland. This results in an area approximately 400 km (250 mi) east–west and 250 km (160 mi) north–south. Due to its inland location and high altitude, Cappadocia has a markedly continental climate, with hot dry summers and cold snowy winters. Rainfall is sparse and the region is largely semi-arid.

Cappadocia was known as Hatti in the late Bronze Age, and was the homeland of the Hittite power centred at Hattusa. After the fall of the Hittite Empire, with the decline of the Syro-Cappadocians (Mushki) after their defeat by the Lydian king Croesus in the 6th century, Cappadocia was ruled by a sort of feudal aristocracy, dwelling in strong castles and keeping the peasants in a servile condition, which later made them apt for foreign slavery. It was included in the third Persian satrapy in the division established by Darius, but continued to be governed by rulers of its own, none apparently supreme over the whole country and all more or less tributaries of the Great King.

Kingdom of Cappadocia
After bringing the Persian Empire to an end, Alexander the Great tried to rule the area through one of his military commanders. But Ariarathes, a Persian aristocrat, somehow became king of the Cappadocians. Ariarthes I (332—322 BC) was a successful ruler, and he extended the borders of the Cappadocian Kingdom as far as to the Black Sea. The kingdom of Cappadocia lived in peace until the death of Alexander. The previous empire was then divided into many parts, and Cappadocia fell to Eumenes. His claims were made good in 322 BC by the regent Perdiccas, who crucified Ariarathes; but in the dissensions which brought about Eumenes's death, the son of Ariarathes recovered his inheritance and left it to a line of successors, who mostly bore the name of the founder of the dynasty.

Under Ariarathes IV, Cappadocia came into relations with Rome, first as a foe espousing the cause of Antiochus the Great, then as an ally against Perseus of Macedon. The kings henceforward threw in their lot with the Republic as against the Seleucids, to whom they had been from time to time tributary. Ariarathes V marched with the Roman proconsul Publius Licinius Crassus Dives Mucianus against Aristonicus, a claimant to the throne of Pergamon, and their forces were annihilated (130 BC). The imbroglio which followed his death ultimately led to interference by the rising power of Pontus and the intrigues and wars which ended in the failure of the dynasty.

Roman and Byzantine province
The Cappadocians, supported by Rome against Mithridates VI of Pontus, elected a native lord, Ariobarzanes, to succeed (93 BC); but in the same year Armenian troops under Tigranes the Great entered Cappadocia, dethroned king Ariobarzanes and crowned Gordios as the new client-king of Cappadocia, thus creating a buffer zone against the encroaching Romans. It was not until Rome had deposed the Pontic and Armenian kings that the rule of Ariobarzanes was established (63 BC). In the civil wars Cappadocia was first for Pompey, then for Caesar, then for Antony, and finally, Octavian. The Ariobarzanes dynasty came to an end and a certain Archelaus reigned in its stead, by favour first of Antony and then of Octavian, and maintained tributary independence until AD 17, when the emperor Tiberius, on Archelaus' death in disgrace, reduced Cappadocia at last to a Roman province.

Cappadocia contains several underground cities (Kaymaklı Underground City), largely used by early Christians as hiding places before they became an accepted religion. The Cappadocian Fathers of the 4th century were integral to much of early Christian philosophy. It also produced, among other people, another Patriarch of Constantinople, John of Cappadocia, who held office 517—520. For most of the Byzantine era it remained relatively undisturbed by the conflicts in the area with the Sassanid Empire, but was a vital frontier zone later against the Muslim conquests. From the 7th century, Cappadocia was divided between the Anatolic and Armeniac themes. In the 9th–11th centuries, the region comprised the themes of Charsianon and Cappadocia.

Cappadocia shared an always-changing relationship with neighbouring Armenia, by that time a region of the Empire. The Arab historian Abu Al Faraj asserts the following about Armenian settlers in Sivas, during the 10th century: "Sivas, in Cappadocia, was dominated by the Armenians and their numbers became so many that they became vital members of the imperial armies. These Armenians were used as watch-posts in strong fortresses, taken from the Arabs. They distinguished themselves as experienced infantry soldiers in the imperial army and were constantly fighting with outstanding courage and success by the side of the Romans in other words Byzantine". As a result of the Byzantine military campaigns and the Seljuk invasion of Armenia, the Armenians spread into Cappadocia and eastward from Cilicia into the mountainous areas of northern Syria and Mesopotamia, and the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia was eventually formed. This immigration was increased further after the decline of the local imperial power and the establishment of the Crusader States following the Fourth Crusade. To the crusaders, Cappadocia was "terra Hermeniorum," the land of the Armenians, due to the large number of Armenians settled there.

Turkish Cappadocia
Following the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, various Turkish clans under the leadership of the Seljuks began settling in Anatolia. With the rise of Turkish power in Anatolia, Cappadocia slowly became a tributary to the Turkish states that were established to the east and to the west, and some of the population converted to Islam. By the end of the early 12th century, Anatolian Seljuks had established their sole dominance over the region. With the decline and the fall of the Konya-based Seljuks in the second half of the 13th century, they were gradually replaced by the Karaman-based Beylik of Karaman, who themselves were gradually succeeded by the Ottoman Empire over the course of the 15th century. Cappadocia remained part of the Ottoman Empire for the centuries to come, and remains now part of the modern state of Turkey. A fundamental change occurred in between when a new urban center, Nevşehir, was founded in the early 18th century by a grand vizier who was a native of the locality (Nevşehirli Damat İbrahim Pasha), to serve as regional capital, a role the city continues to assume to this day.

In the meantime many former Cappadocians had shifted to a Turkish dialect (written in Greek alphabet, Karamanlıca), and where the Greek language was maintained (Sille, villages near Kayseri, Pharasa town and other nearby villages), it became heavily influenced by the surrounding Turkish. This dialect of Greek is known as Cappadocian Greek. Following the 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey, the language is now only spoken by a handful of the former population's descendants in modern Greece.

Modern tourism
The area is a popular tourist destination, as it has many areas with unique geological, historic and cultural features.

The region is located southwest of the major city Kayseri, which has airline and railroad (railway) service to Ankara and Istanbul.

Sedimentary rocks formed in lakes and streams and ignimbrite deposits erupted from ancient volcanoes approximately 9 to 3 million years ago, during the late Miocene to Pliocene epochs, underlie the Cappadocia region. The rocks of Cappadocia near Göreme eroded into hundreds of spectacular pillars and minaret-like forms. The volcanic deposits are soft rocks that the people of the villages at the heart of the Cappadocia Region carved out to form houses, churches, and monasteries. Göreme became a monastic center in 300—1200 AD.

The first period of settlement in Göreme goes back to the Roman period. The Yusuf Koç, Ortahane, Durmus Kadir, and Bezirhane churches in Göreme, houses and churches carved into rocks in the Uzundere, Bağıldere, and Zemi Valleys all illustrate history and can be seen today. The Göreme Open Air Museum is the most visited site of the monastic communities in Cappadocia and is one of the most famous sites in central Turkey. The complex contains more than 30 carved-from-rock churches and chapels; some of them have superb frescoes inside, dating from the 9th century to the 11th century.

In 1975 a study of three small villages in central Cappadocia - Tuzköy, Karain and Sarıhıdır - found that peritoneal mesothelioma was causing 50% of all deaths. Initially, this was attributed to erionite, a zeolite mineral with similar properties to asbestos, but detailed epidemiological investigation demonstrated that the substance causes the disease mostly in families with a genetic predisposition to mineral fiber carcinogenesis. The studies are being extended to other parts of the region.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cappadocia
Images: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Cappadocia