Bhutan – The World with Dragons

The endless driving around the curvy narrowed roads has not only added thrills, it has created many unforgettable moments on my new adventure to this part of world – Bhutan. Daily drive along edgy cliffs and through thick fogs with zero vision on the road placed quotidian challenges – triggering minor heart attacks while trying to reach my destination timely. Nonetheless, its morning charm pleaded for her forgiveness by diverting my attention to her magnificent landscape contained on this land of the Thunder Dragon. Green lawn reflected its first ray from the sun, unshadowing the dark patches and revealing its real beauty to its viewer. We arrived at the largest district of Bhutan known as Trashigang, which was once the main trade route between Bhutan and Tibet.

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Road towards Ura – Photography by Kimy Chang

Being regarded as one of the top travel places in Asia, Bhutan has experienced a significant increase in the number of tourists especially over the last two years. As Bhutanese government strongly believes in the preservation of the country’s culture and environment, a control measure has been put in place to curb with the number of yearly foreign visitors. Any tourists except for Indian, Bangladesh and Maldivian nationals are required to pay a daily package rate of USD 250 (during peak season) per person with one time visa of USD 40; to arrange visa clearance via a tour agency prior to your arrival. This imposition did reduce the number of visitors, acting as a deterrent for an uncontrollable high influx of international tourist; it has also made my visit during the peak season much easier.

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Phallus pointing towards me – Photography by Kimy Chang

The picturesque village houses in Ura detailed an idiosyncratic character of the traditional Bhutan architecture and traditions. The three day festival, namely Ura Yakochoe, enchanted me to wanting to explore this preposterous and yet unassailable belief which derives from various versions of Buddhism – mainly from Vajrayana Buddhism. Phallus worshipping, for instance, plays an indispensable role in Bhutanese belief, which this came from the legendary story of Bhutanese Saint Drukpa Kunley or known as the “Divine madman”. The performer wore a mask with a rope tied to a phallus acting in a playful manner, chasing females as well as males who were attending this annual event. It is believed that ritual using a wooden phallus expels negative spirits; similarly, promotes fertility among couples. I was not spared. 

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Animalistic Mask Dancers- Photography by Kimy Chang

Traditional folk dances were used as short breaks between performances for both audiences and performers. Dancing and spinning in circles accordingly to the rhythm of the Bhutanese music, dancers drowned themselves as if they were possessed by supernatural power from their gods, wearing animalistic marks and brightly coloured costumes; with demonic masks representing the eight manifestations of Guru Rinpocle. It was indeed an amazing finale to end the three day celebration.

 

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Jakar Dzong – Hidden pathway – Photography by Kimy Chang

A short drive towards the main town of Bhumtang, we arrived at the Jakar Dzong. Jakar Dzong, namely the ‘Fortress of the White Bird’, has sit on the hill top since the mid 1600s (to be exact 1667). Known to be the first place visited by Guru Rinpoche, its popularity spread across Bhutan – declaring it as the birthplace of Buddhism in Bhutan. 

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Monk Peformance – Photography by Kimy Chang

With the immediate need to pin down a demon to the earth forever, the then Tibetan king passed down a decree to build 108 temples across Tibet, Bhutan and other border areas within a day during the 659 CE. The Jambey Lhakhang is the one of the 108 remaining temples survived the history. Situated in Bhumtang, it is also a must to visit this place of interest. Although it has been repaired and rebuilt several times, its history somehow glorified the importance of Buddhism during the early time.

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Punakha Dzongs – Photography by Kimy Chang

Trees with purple petals lined up parallel along the river and the famous Punakha Dzong, creating an image that one could only imagine from a painting. The river flow cut through its porous stones, forming a curve at an angle dedicated just for this magnificent temple to stand out from its surroundings. This famous Dzong is also known as the palace of great happiness or bliss and was used as the government administrative office until 1955. 

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Bhutanese archery – Photography by Kimy Chang

Besides the dzongs and uncountable beautiful sceneries, the Bhutanese archery game is also another charm for any tourist. Archery is one of the most popular sports in Bhutan played by usually males; it is also the national sport. Bhutanese believed archery improves individual’s health, strengthen concentration as well as verbal/intellectual skills.  During the competition, archers are required to engage in verbal battle against its opponent, demeaning opponent whilst encouraging its own team members – a crucial scoring portion similar to hitting a bullseye.

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The Tiger’s Nest- Photography by Kimy Chang

Last, but not least, the world famous – Taktang Monastery or known as The Tiger Nest is a must stop in Bhutan. The trek through the narrow and uneven paths took me close to 2 hours to reach the peak where the monastery is situated. Carrying additional weight (my cameras) not only slow my speed down significantly, it permitted an approved revenge from my unfit body. This upward trek was indeed a killer for me, requiring a great amount of patience and stamina from my unexpected mind. Hard work indeed got paid off finally with the astonish view of the Taktang Monastery, which was built at the mountain edge about 500 years ago; appraised by many visitors, the Tiger Nest has its own unique and special charm for each individual.

The beauty of this country and their bizarre supernatural belief left me with numerous exclaimed surprises; this adventure to Bhutan acts as a closure to my adventure in the Eastern world for this year.

Tips of travel:

1. Taking pictures or filming inside Dzongs, temples, monasteries and religious institutions is not permitted.

2. Wear decently and remove your shoes when entering into Dzongs/temples

3. Travel sickness pill (for the road).

4. Try Bhutanese traditional butter tea during their tea ceremony

5.  Or, try their locally brewed beer – Red Panda

6. Daily Package Rate – USD 250 (peak season) and USD 200 (non-peak season.

7. Visa: Other than Indian, Bangladeshi and Maldivian nationals, all visitors to Bhutan are required to obtain a visa prior entry. One time visa fee is USD 40 and takes about 10 days to process. For updated information, please contact local tour operator or visit Bhutan official tourist board website – http://www.tourism.gov.bt/ .           

Appreciate and very thankful to have engaged Druk Peaceful Holidays as my tour agency for my Bhutan trip. Tailoring to my travel needs whilst trying to squeeze as many number of festivals during my short trip was indeed remarkable.

Tour agent: http://www.bhutanpeacefulholidays.com/

Camera used: D500 16-80mm/f 2.8-4. 

Thank you for reading my blog. All photographs on this blog, Copyrights © 2015-2017 Kimy Chang. All rights reserved.

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Ubud, Bali, Indonesia – The Land of Magic and Gods

The endless rows of bamboo poles – namely Penjor – decorated the narrow roads on this island, leading you to their tranquilized land yet filled with cultural vibrations. Being the only island in Indonesia with the majority Hindus – up to 83.5% of the population are Hindus, Bali has accumulated a list of ancient Hinduism beliefs and practices; surprisingly, many Balinese Hindus still practice them till date.  Arriving at their newly renovated Ngurah Rai International Airport, the cheerfulness and friendliness of Balinese lifted my spirit instantly. A short break is a must to rejuvenate my stressed out mind due to my never-ending work in Singapore.

Located around the Southeast of the Bali Island, Ubud is one of the must visit places in Bali; famous for its traditional craft and dance. This town is also surrounded by large areas of rainforest and rice terrace paddies; is a definite location to ease your greeneries thirst. The rice terraces at Tegalalang village cascaded down on the steep slope of the valley reflected the beauty of man-made nature. This ancient rice cultivation has not only placed an importance to Balinese agriculture, it has defined their main dietary requirement. The glaze from the shaded sun shadowed the tall standing trees while illuminating the various greens from its boring paddies.  This harmonious balance of nature with human agriculture creates a breathtaking moment and astonishing landscape, capturing the individual heart of each passerby.

 

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Tegalalang Rice Terraces – Photography by Kimy Chang

The instilled concept of Karma with the belief of the existence of invisible force has not only constructed the pillars for today’s Balinese traditions, it has safeguarded Balinese’s faith towards Hinduism.  The Kuningan festival, for instance, is a yearly Hindus’ celebration (210 days to be exact) marking the end of the Galungan holiday where their ancestors return back to their holy heaven from earth; happened to collide with my stay in Ubud. At the Pura Tirta Empul temple, large groups of Balinese Hindus as well as tourists swamp to this historical temple for this festival, creating a festive ambience filled with happiness. A national heritage site constructed during the Warmadewa Dynasty (approx. 940 AD) remains grand with thousands of worshippers visiting this temple each year. The ‘Holy water spring’, which is also a direct translation of what Titra Empul means, is for sure the main attraction of this site. Holy water sprung out from the vents was collected within the purification bath for worshippers to cleanse their soul while providing unlimited blessings to its devotees. Other celebration such as Odalan was also celebrated at one of the village temples which I visited. This once every thirty year’s celebration, which held in this temple, was a rare opportunity for me to further indulge in this magical Balinese culture. Nonstop dance performances and cock fighting were the common sight in this ceremony. (The Galungan, the Kuningan and the Nyepi are some of Balinese traditional festivals that happened yearly on this mythical island.)

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Offerings from devotees – Photography by Kimy Chang

Kecak! Kechak! The chant that twitches your inner soul is a traditional Balinese dance and music performance. The Kechak, or commonly known as the Ramayana Monkey Chant, is a trance inducing exorcism dance, which narrates the battle among the monkey like -Vanara with Prince Rama against the evil King Raven. The various hands and body movements seem to create a visual spell, snatching your vision at every moment. Even though the fire dance quickly marked the end of this short spectacular show, this performance had very much left me amazed throughout my whole evening.

The Barong Dance is also a must performance to watch in Ubud. This traditional performance portrays the complex relationship between the good and the evil. Barong, being the good lion-tiger looking mythical creature, protects Man (villagers) against the Evil Ranga from injury caused by daggers. As evil can never be accommodated, the Barong’s victory affirmed its power over the village, acting as a spiritual protector for mankind.

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Kecak Performance – Photography by Kimy Chang

The sound of crackling leaves from a nearby forest enchanted travelers to immerse themselves into its unique tranquility; walking along the stone pathway, the shades from the tress eased the scorching weather. The sacred Monkey Forest is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the village of Padangtegal, Ubud; is visited by more than 10,000 visitors per month. Within this conservation, there are more than 700 monkeys, about 189 tree species and numerous animalistic statues for visitors to quietly spend their hours. However, the unpredictable response from Monkeys could be a risk. It is thus important for visitors either to read the visitors’ guidelines or to keep away food prior to entering.

My four day trip to Ubud ended rather quickly. Though it has been a really short visit, my exposure to their local traditions and culture has deeply immersed me with great knowledge about Balinese Hinduism. Sadly to halt my visit, further exploration will have to wait till my next visit on this mysterious island. My travel experience on this island has only been great and full of awesome surprises.

Tips:

  • Bring mosquitoes repellent
  • Typical travel seasons are in July to October. My favourite is at the end of April as this is the low season where hotel prices are much cheaper compare to the high season plus there are fewer tourist groups.
  • Temple visit: Sarongs are required to visit temples. Ask your tour guide to provide you or you can also get them at local shops.

Below are some pictures which I took during my Bali trip:

Thank you for reading my blog.

All Photographs on this Blog, Copyright © 2015- 2017 Kimy Chang, All rights reserved

Sri Lanka (Ceylon) – The Colours of Colombo

Located around the Southeast from India, there lies an island that many would not consider her as the top country to visit. Sri Lanka, the land filled of Sinhalese as a majority, has portrayed a vision of continuous tensions and dangers. The more than a decade civil war – between the Sri Lanka government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (in short Tamil Tigers) – has drained the potentials this country can bring, adversely disrupting the daily lives of the Sri Lankan and bringing the death toll to more than 80 thousand people.  This discontent seems to have originated from the colonial times when the Tamils were enjoying greater social welfare and higher social status, which resulted in deep vexation and fortification against the influence of the west; finally a prolonged war that should not have happened began.   Exacerbated with the 2004 Tsunami, the path to recovery seems unattainable. In 2009, the Sri Lankan government finally won their battle against the rebel group, bringing an end to this unnecessary civil war. Sri Lankan has since able to enjoy the overdue peace.

Devotion to Theravada Buddhism has evolved to be the only acceptable consolation and guidance to a better Sri Lanka, forming an essential part of Sri Lanka’s culture and traditional customs. The Poya day, for instance, is the Buddhist day adopted where no meat and no alcohol can be consumed on every full moon. Street stalls, restaurants and even hotels are forbidden to sell alcoholic drinks to anyone including tourist. Clearly, the spread of Buddhism has not only reached this island, it has infiltrated and deeply rooted to the livelihood of each Sri Lankan. Likewise, many government policies as well as events are also skewed towards the promotion of the ideology of Buddhism.

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Buddhas Statues (Gangaramya Temple) – Photography by Kimy Chang

The Gangaramaya Temple, situated on the Slave Island in Colombo, is one of the most intriguing temples I have come across. Hidden behind its dull yellow gate, this temple has treasures beyond your imagination. Entering the temple from the west side, it would lead you into a dark room, slightly lighted by its orange fluorescent bulbs, filled with Buddhas and its disciples’ statues.  These statues seem to carry living souls; the realistic facial features somehow have manifested a strange feeling that is hard to explain. The possibility of supernatural being appeared to be true. Behind this temple, there stood a Bodhi tree as well as a museum where Buddhist related collectables were displayed for visitors.

Great details about Theravada Buddhism can be found at Kelaniya Temple. Located at the northeast of Colombo, one can go to this attraction rather easily – either by train or by tuk tuk. Its ancient historical statues as well as monuments of more than 2500 years old have attracted thousands of Buddhist devotees to pay their respect to this sacred temple.  The locals believe that if one worships at this temple, her/his sins will be washed away

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Shaman – Photography by Kimy Chang

Hinduism is the second largest religion in Sri Lanka. With about 12.6% of the whole population, Hindu temples are easily visible on the streets in Colombo. The celebration of Pongal festival happened to be on the same day with my visit to Sri Kailasanathar Swamy Devasthanam. Hindu worshippers gathered themselves near to a shrine that holds nine planetary gods; with offerings they prepared such as milk, yogurt, curry, flowers and coconuts for this auspicious moment. The cleaning process of these nine planetary Gods started shortly after Shamans finished their initial prayer and cleanup of the shrine.  Curry, milk and coconuts were used to wash the dark looking statues, giving them a new and shiny appearance. Decorated with flowers provided by the worshipper and returning blessings to the devotees, this marked the end of the ritual. It was a great experience for someone like me who is not a Hindu.

Religion not only provides a comfort for a soul, it provides answers to our daily challenges. The look of a Christian in Saint Anthony Church depicted his deep connection with God. The touch he made on the glass panel and the look he had with Jesus portrayed a desperate need for help. Photography is not allowed inside this church unless approval granted by the Church. Lucky as I am, I am allowed to take a couple of photos of this amazing church and to participate in their Sunday parade with them.

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Christian Prayer – Photography by Kimy Chang

Despite the countrywide adaptation to democracy, the freedom of religion in particular Christianity is pretty restricted. The Sri Lankan – Christians- are currently the main targeted group discriminated by Buddhists and Hindus. Saddened by the news I heard, I empathize what the innocents have to go through. Prayer seems to be heard when a large number of policemen stationed themselves at different key areas during the parade, supporting and protecting the Christians from dangers.

Peace seems close, but hard to grasp.

In addition, one should also pay a visit to Jami Ul Alfar Mosque. The red and white bricks sweetened the stroll along the street close to Pettah Market, adding a contrast colour and a little fun to the busy walkways. Pettah Market or Manning Market is an open and bustling market where traders come together to do wholesaling of various products. Coolies are a common sight, carrying bags of goods over their shoulders. Taking a peak into the dilapidated warehouses will definitely bring you memories of those old colonial days.

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Onion Trader – Photography by Kimy Chang

Walking along the Galle Face Green’s shoreline, the contentment among families was felt unconstrained. Expressions of their faces were pure joy despite their horrendous past. This rhythm of happiness could both be felt and heard from their never-ending laughter.  Families brought their kids to the seaside or to the nearby open field to play were common sights; enjoying the cold splashes or gently sea breeze as gifts given by our Mother Nature.

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Galle Food Stall – Photography by Kimy Chang

Most of the Sri Lankans grew up in an unstable and violent environment; the struggle to stay positive could be a challenge for some.  On the other hand, due to their deprivation and hardships, they have somehow realised the importance of history; many of the colonial architectures, for instance, are now under restoration process or undergoing a new facelift. The nostalgic past may stir ire among the Sinhalese – anti colonialism ideology. On the other hand, the urge for stronger economic development and growth has created a harmonious balance among the various ethnicities and religious groups. Sri Lanka, in my opinion, is an intriguing, friendly and safe country, which required our further exploration.

Travel Tips:

  1. Always take a tuk tuk with metered installed. You don’t want to be given a cut throat price by the tuk tuk driver.
  2. Shoes and socks are not allowed in many temples
  3. Finding a toilet can be a problem

Below are some of my pictures taken during my trip to Sri Lanka, Colombo:

 

Thank you for reading my blog.

All Photographs on this Blog, Copyright © 2017 Kimy Chang, All rights reserved

 

Nepal – Life, Death and Reincarnation

Not far away from my home, there lies a paradise where photographers would love. Nepal. A country, which owns the highest mountain in the world – Mount Everest – as well as a wide variety of cultures from various ethnicities, has intrigued my travel thirst. Being a state with the most unique flag, in my opinion, I have been gravitated to searching new experiences in this beautiful country. It has since become one of my favourite travel destinations.

Nepal is located between two major powers – India and China – and has a population of approximate 26.4 million. Majority of Nepalese adopt Hinduism while the others believe in other forms of religions such as Buddhism, Kirant, Christians, Muslims and etc. In Kathmandu, you can easily find small temples around each corner where devotees pray to Hindu’s Gods or Buddhas, flourishing a different ambience that is only applicable to Nepal. The dust and pollution are unfortunately a setback on this journey of mine, emulating the difficulties of all developing countries faced; affecting the health of poor locals due to the lack of proper healthcare and effective traffic system. Many traffic junctions – traffic lights – are no longer functional and are replaced by Traffic police standing in the centre of each traffic junction, directing the mess that vehicles have created. Exacerbated by the 2015 earthquake, Nepal has yet to recover fully from the blow of this devastated disaster. Many buildings are still in the process of reconstructing with many others are left untouched. In Basantapur Durbar Square, majority of the buildings remained strong however several important buildings such as Hauman Dhoka palace, Gaddi Durbar palace and Gaddi Durbar are damaged by the earthquake.

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Basantapur Durbar Square  – Photography by Kimy Chang

In Thamel, this place lays the soul of Kathmandu, is one of the main commercial districts. Wifi is easily available in this neighbourhood. The endless streets of restaurants, shops and travel agencies have brought out the essence of daily lifestyle of the Nepalese. Porters carrying heavy loads are a common sight along these narrowed walkways. Many times, streets are occupied by various walks of lives using different commutes such as by foot, cars, bicycle and motorbikes. A bustling area where one should never missed.

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Shoes Porter – Photography by Kimy Chang

During my trip to Boudhanath, I happened to be at the opening of the restored Boudhanath stupa after it was damaged by the 2015 earthquake. With the help of both Chinese and Nepali devotees, this stupa now stands magnificently on the site it has used to be, portraying vividly the mighty Tibetan Buddhism across the Kathmandu valley. I was lucky to have the chance to experience shaman dances as well as to have a close contact with Nepal’s Prime Minister.

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Prime Minister of Nepal –Photography Kimy Chang

The Pashupatinath Temple, a UNESCO world heritage site, is the oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu with evidence from this temple dated back to 400 AD. Located at the west of Kathmandu, you can pass by this temple if you arrived from the airport to the central of Kathmandu. A temple perpetuates ancient Hinduism traditions and practices till to date, bringing you into their world of life and death.

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Burning Corpse – Photography Kimy Chang

The City of Devotees, Bhatakpur remains as one of the most visited places in Nepal. Despite the fact that this place has been badly damaged by the 2015 earthquake, its charm outlived the disaster. Visitors are still pouring in to this UNESCO place to experience these mystical ancient Newari traditions as well as to see the architecture wonders created during the Malla Kingdom.

Following after Bhatakpur, Lalitpur, or historically named as Patan, is another place on your must see list in Nepal. Lalitpur shared a similar but a longer history than Bhatakpur, stretching between the 300BC of the Kirat dynasty to the Mallas of the medieval period. If you happen to be in Patan in May, you will be able to celebrate their longest religious festival – the Chariot festival, which last for one month.

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Destroyed Stupas in UNESCO Bhatakpur – Photography by Kimy Chang

Last but not least, the neighbouring villages, for instance Bungamati and Khohana, should also be on your list. Bungamati and Khohana can both be visited within a day. If you are travelling from the central of Kathmandu, the travel leg will only take about 1 hour each leg. In Bungamati, you can find one of the finest wood cravers reside in Nepal. Despite the fact that many houses and buildings have collapsed during the earthquake, the scenery of the aftermath is another sight of its own.

Below are some of my pictures taken during my Nepal trip:

All Photographs on this Blog, Copyright © 2016 Kimy Chang, All rights reserved

*Tips:

  1. Always bring a mask
  2. Bear in mind that accessibility to clean toilet can be difficult.
  3. If possible, apply visa prior arrival in Kathmandu airport. The queue for on-arrival visa is always long.
  4. Food: Try traditional local “Mo Mo” and Nepali meal set.
  5. Best travel time is during October and November

For more pictures, please look forward to my photobook on Nepal in 2017.

Laos, Luang Prabang: A touch of the Laos Kingdom 2016

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic, in short Laos, was my next travel destination for this year. Laos, a landlocked country with borders shared amongst many countries such as China, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia, is exposed to a wide variety of cultures and tribes. This country however has had experienced great hardship during the Vietnam war. Many evidences have supported this claim that the Americans have more bombs dropped in Laos than bombs fell in all parts of Europe during the Word War II; up to 30% of those bombs have failed to detonate, exacerbating there then already impaired country and economy situation. Many Laotians have hence fled to France and Thailand as refugees. Sadly, even until today, many Laotians have been affected and severely injured by bombs left after the Vietnam war. Nearly as much as eighty millions of bombs have yet to be detonated spreading across vast land mass – farms, villages, jungles and rivers; a never – ending threat to the daily livelihood of the people. This ongoing consequences of war in Laos makes me reflect how fortunate I am living in a safe and well secured country like Singapore.

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Buddhas at Wat Visoun

Arrived at my destination – Luang Prabang, it seems that I have entered back to the period of 1950s – 1960s. Shop houses along the main city street are mostly made from bricks decorated with a touch of French colonial architecture. Roaming around Luang Prabang, you will surprisingly find many preserved French colonial houses preserved which are left over during the French Colonial Empire in South East Asia, giving a sense of nostalgic recollection about the old colonial period. Intrigued to having a feel of how colonists used to live, I booked my stay at one of these old colonial houses. During my visit in Laos, it happened that US President Obama was in Laos to discuss about US plans in Laos. He is the first US sitting president to visit Laos; he has pledged to increase US contribution in 2017 to fund bomb clearance activity.

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US Air Force – US plane at abandoned domestic airport in Luang Prabang

Laos. Despite having multiple culture facets from different borders, the Laotian’s culture seems to be dominantly skewed to Thai’s culture. For instance, food in Lao and Thailand is almost identical except that Laotian preferred sticky rice as well as grilled dry meat. More than 66% of Laotians are Buddhist, resulting in numerous number of Wats in but not limited to Luang Prabang, Laos. Luang Prabang is hence recognised as one of the UNESCO world heritage site in 1995. For people who are staying in Asia and who wish to explore a new area within South East Asia, this could be your place for a short escape from your stressful work.

(Please do keep in mind that since it is a touristic place, food prices will be adjusted higher for travelling in this area)

Below are some of the pictures I took during this trip:

All Photographs on this Blog, Copyright © 2015 Kimy Chang, All rights reserved

Singapore – Haw Par Villa – Our Chinese Mythology

Haw Par Villa is one of the main tourist attractions in Singapore located along Pasir Panjang road. This park has a nice family history between two Burmese-Chinese brothers – Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par who were also the founder of Tiger Balm in Singapore. They moved their business in Burma to Singapore in the 1924 and built Tiger Balm Gardens in 1937. This house below used to be in Tiger Balm Garden built by Boon Haw as a present to his brother Boon Par. Unfortunately, it was demolished by the Japanese during the World War II.

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Haw Par Villa Mansion 1940

In 1986, the International Theme Parks Pte Ltd decided to invest this garden to a theme park, wishing to create an ‘oriental Disneyland’. More than $30 million was pumped to make this park a success. It used to have a water roller coaster and a water ride boat for the visitors to visit the park as far as I could remember.

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Entrance to Hell – Ten Courts of Hell (18 storeys of Hell)

In 1988, Singapore Tourism Board decided to rename this park to Haw Par Villa Dragon World for the locals to enjoy themselves during weekends or holidays. However, due to over pricing during the late 1990s, this attraction became less interested, resulting in millions of dollars of losses. Water rides hence ended their time in this park removed from this park eternally. You can no longer see the dragon head or tunnel seeing the Chinese hell. On the other hand, many of the statues have been preserved. This park is now open on everyday between 9 am to 7 pm (estimated time to spend there is about 2 hours) with free admission.

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Old Haw Par Villa Gate
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Preserved Haw Par Villa Gate

If you wish to explore Chinese mythology, folklore, history and the Chinese ten courts of hell or 18th storeys of hell. This is a place to visit. You can visit this place by using Singapore MRT system; closest mrt station is Har Paw Villa station. Parking is around $5 per entry.

Below are some of the pictures I took during this trip:

 

All Photographs on this Blog, Copyright © 2015 Kimy Chang, All rights reserved

Loikaw – The Land of Tribes

Loikaw is one of the least visited places in Myanmar; is the capital of the Kayah state in Myanmar. It is the area where you can find tribal people living in the remote hills and forests. The common tribes which can be found in Kayah state are the Kayaw, the Kayan, the Kayar, the Pa-o and the Lisu tribes. Many of them have spent most of their lives isolated from foreign visitors. In order for one to travel to these remote places, approvals from the government as well as from the local army must be granted. Without these permits, visitors are not allowed to go beyond the “foreign independent tourist” zone, risking their lives due to the current internal politics situation.

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Kayan elder woman – 80 years old

In Panpet village (a 2 hours drive from the downtown), it lives the most popular tribe – the Kayan tribe. The Kayan tribe is also commonly known as the long neck tribe. As many people have seen them in Chiang Mai, the Kayan people living in Chiang Mai are the refugees fled from the Kayah state. The Kayah state is where the real Kayan originates. In this village, you can find many of them still dressed up in their traditional costumes with bronze bangles hugged around their necks as well as their knees. Kids as young as 4 years start to wear these bangles till their deaths, representing beauty in their belief. According to my guide who is also a Kayan, the Kayan women never take their bangles off unless for polishing purpose. Many Kayan woman pass down these bangles to their next of kins after they die and some bring it with them to their graves. My curiosity has nevertheless sparked my self-approval to give my neck such a weight. Wearing 10 rings on my neck seems easy for the first few minutes. However, the heavy bangles prevented me to turn my head as fast as I want to. Photo taking seems impossible with my neck casted. These bangles had somehow tripled my neck’s weight, causing light bruises on my collarbone for just wearing them for 15 minutes. This was indeed a torture. Definitely, my first and my last time wearing them. On the other hand, I do admire them that they still uphold their traditional belief so willingly.

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Kayan woman’s kitchen

Little known to foreigner is the Kayaw tribe. This tribe stays in a far end and remote part of the Kayah state. The Kayaw people has a totally different costume than the Kayan. They are usually dressed in colourful tops with golden bronze bangles around their knees. In addition, they also have disfigured ears loops with long red earrings hanging down from their ears. However, from my own opinion, I feel that the Kayaw tribe is one of the poorest tribes among the tribes that I have visited. They relies heavily on their own crops such as corn, rice and pigs for survival. What they sow is what they eat. Almost all houses which I have visited in this village have nothing: no chair or bed; only a cooking area where they make their daily meal cooked using firewood. I heard many of them only eat once a day. During this trip, I have had met up with a young Kayaw kid who has been a child model for Kayah’s state local calendar. Below is her picture with her grandma (Unfortunately, I forgot to ask for her name).

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Kayaw model with her grandmother

All I know about the next tribe – Kayar tribe – is how friendly and lively they have been. They enjoy dancing, singing and drinking their traditional local brew wine. As unimaginable as it can be, they love me taking their photographs. Many of them even posed in different weird ways, allowing me to take multiple pictures of them. They did not even reject or have complained that I have taken too many pictures of them. They seems to be very happy and contended with what they have despite the fact they have also do not have much. The Kayar tribe’s costume does not have thick bronze rings like the Kayaw or the Kayah. They wear black strings made from tree branches or ropes dyed in black resins. They also wear cone-shaped headwears, usually in red, with green scarfs across their chest and shoulder as tops.

Along the way to Nyaung-Shwe, I came across a Pa O tribal market. Many of the stall owners were Pa O. You can easily find their local traditional costumes and locally weaved Pa O bags on sale amongst the stalls.  The Pa O tribe is one of the easiest tribes to be recognised. Their significant turban headwear in bright colour as well as their dark navy blue jacket distinguish them easily from others. The history of Pa O costume was set by then King Anawartha who had defeated their Mon king, Makuta of Thaton, forcing them to wear these dull coloured clothes to signify their status. This had since shaped their traditional costume. They are now second largest tribe in the Shan state.

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Pa O ladies at market

The Burmese Lisu tribe village located near to Nyaung-Shwe was one of my last stops. Their main agriculture is rice planting. Being a hardworking tribe, almost everyone is working. Each home I visit was empty. No one at home. Only those who were sick or old were at home. However, my time was much limited and I had to rush back to Nyaung Shwe before the sunset.

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Lisu woman with her young child

Time seemed to have passed faster than it should be. I truely wish I could stay longer to explore this tribal world. At least, this trip has ascertained my further plan to return to this wonderful tribal land.

Below are some of my work for this trip:

All Photographs on this Blog, Copyright © 2015 Kimy Chang, All rights reserved