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Four Indonesian diving destinations where you can spot manta rays

Published June 12, 2016 by SoClaimon

ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation

http://www.nationmultimedia.com/aec/Four-Indonesian-diving-destinations-where-you-can–30287869.html

Swimming with a manta ray.
Intan Tanjung
The Jakarta Post
HOME AEC DESTINATION SAT, 11 JUN, 2016 1:00 AM

JAKARTA – The manta ray is one of most-exotic marine creatures, capturing the heart of divers with its gentle, elegant ocean dance and gigantic flat shape.

Unlike the grey sting rays which always sit on the bottom of sea and have a poisonous tail, manta rays are harmless, playful and not afraid to approach divers.

As an archipelago with rich marine life, Indonesia is a sanctuary for manta rays. The country made an official statement in 2014 announcing it would protect the fish to attract tourists.

There are several areas where this giant fish can be seen in Indonesia, and here are those places.

Manta Point, Nusa Penida, Bali

Manta Point is the manta rays’ favorite cleaning station, a spot where the marine creatures can swim near the reef and let wrasses clean them from parasites. Often coming in groups, they swim very close to the surface and are even visible to snorkelers.

Unfortunately, the visibility in Manta Point isn’t really that good. On brighter days, you can clearly see them from afar, but most of the time visibility is only around 10-15 meters.

The spot can be reach by taking a local fishing boat from Nusa Penida or Nusa Lembongan island, or by arranging a trip with one of the diving operators on the Bali mainland.

Aside from manta rays, divers also have a chance to see mola mola fish between July and August here.

Karang Makassar, Komodo Islands, East Nusa Tenggara

Take a liveaboard, or make a long trip in a fishing boat to Karang Makassar, the manta ray diving spot of choice near the Komodo Islands, famous as the home of the rare giant lizard, the Komodo dragon. It is also known to have islets with scenic hills, and amazing coral and marine life, including Karang Makassar.

Aside from manta rays, divers can also spot colorful tropical fish such as bumphead parrotfish and eagle rays. Just be careful, as the current here is quite strong, so don’t stray too far from the boat.

Alor, East Nusa Tenggara

Dive Report said that any manta rays encountered by divers in Alor were purely by chance, although they might appear from mid March until mid January.

No worries though, as you have higher chance of encountering other exotic sea animals including a school of hammerhead sharks and even the rare mola mola fish. No wonder Alor is often referred to have a world-class diving site.

Manta Ridge, Raja Ampat, Papua

One of Indonesia’s hottest diving spots, Raja Ampat, in the easternmost province of Papua, lures avid divers and ocean lovers with its stunning landscape and rich marine life including giant sea creatures like manta rays, whalesharks and pristine coral reef.

The site consists of four islets: Misool, Salawati, Batanta and Waigeo, hence why it is named Raja Ampat (Four Kings).

Manta rays are sometimes visible in the surrounding area, but one has a higher chance to spotting them in the central region.

In a spot called ‘Manta Ridge’, you’re likely to see up to 30 mantas during your dive.

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A Yearly Wesak March to Borobudur

Published June 12, 2016 by SoClaimon

ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation

http://www.nationmultimedia.com/aec/A-Yearly-Wesak-March-to-Borobudur-30287876.html

Buddhist monks from various Asian countries gather to pray at the Borobudur Temple in Magelang, Central Java on early May 20, 2016 during a pilgrimage ahead of Vesak Day./AFP
The Star
HOME AEC DESTINATION FRI, 10 JUN, 2016 5:26 PM

YOGYAKARTA – Every year on Wesak Day, thousands of people come to Indonesia’s Borobudur temple to celebrate the life, death and enlightenment of the Buddha.

Built in the ninth century, Borobudur is one of the oldest-surviving Buddhist temples, and perhaps one of the faith’s biggest relics.

It was restored during the 20th century and is now a Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) heritage site.

On May 21 this year, pilgrims from around the region came here to take part in a parade that saw them marching four km from the Mendut temple to Borobudur.

It would also see them launching 5,000 lanterns into the air later that evening, filling the sky with shimmering lights.

Tune in to The Star TV’s mini-documentary “Road to Enlightenment: A Yearly Wesak March to Borobudur” to find out more about this yearly Indonesian festival.

http://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2016/06/10/road-to-enlightenment-a-yearly-wesak-march-to-borobudur/

Sightseeing around Brunei on a bus

Published June 12, 2016 by SoClaimon

ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation

http://www.nationmultimedia.com/aec/Sightseeing-around-Brunei-on-a-bus-30287799.html

The ‘invisible’ bus stop in front of The Mall, Gadong./The Brunei Times

The Masjid Jame’ ‘Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque./The Brunei Times

The bus continues along its route to Bandar Seri Begawan passing by the Silver Jubilee Park. /The Brunei Times
Ahmad Alshidiq Abdul Samad
The Brunei Times
HOME AEC DESTINATION FRI, 10 JUN, 2016 1:00 AM

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – So much has been said about how undesirable the state of Brunei’s public transport system is. The taxis are quite non-existent on the streets for a flag down, and a princely sum when taken from the airport or booked via phone.

For example, a short 10-minute trip from the Brunei International Airport to The Mall or Rizqun International Hotel in Gadong can cost BN$25 (US$18). Nevertheless, we still have an active public bus system here, although it can be quite a pain to wait for one especially if you are not from around the Bandar Seri Begawan area – which is around Bandar itself, Gadong, Kiulap, Berakas and the airport.

So much optimism and faith I have in the bus service – from seeing an increasing number of them on the road now from around three years ago – that one fine morning, I decided to leave my car at a safe parking lot at the waterfront in Bandar, and take the public bus instead to go to some of Brunei’s most interesting and tourist-friendly places.

I’d been wanting to embark on this ‘bus adventure’ for awhile now as I feel this is something that we all should include in our bucket list in Brunei. Seriously.

For the information of those still clueless, there is one main bus terminal in Brunei-Muara district, and it is located at the heart of Bandar, at Jalan Cator.

It is just a stone’s throw away from the famous Tamu Kianggeh market located along the canal, or should I put it, behind Brunei Hotel.

At the bus terminal, you can find maps of the different bus routes that begin from there. Not that hard to read, the maps have Brunei’s major attractions included with the relevant bus number indicated for our convenience.

But what’s missing is the bus schedule and, more importantly, an information counter at the terminal. I decided to head to the lavish The Empire Hotel & Country Club in Jerudong.

The map shows bus service 57 and 58. So I moved over to where the buses were parked, but to my disappointment, couldn’t find any bus 57 or 58.

This is the part where I feel the existence of the information counter is very much needed. So that I can ask for the exact location of the bus or if it will come anytime soon.

Since I did not have that option, I asked the driver of the nearest bus from where I stood. The friendly driver, who is not local, welcomed my question with a smile; he shook his head indicating that both services were not available and suggested that I take a different bus service instead, which also goes to Jerudong.

I was unsure if I wanted to proceed to Jerudong via that recommended bus service. But, realising from the digital board on the front of his bus that it goes to The Mall, I decided to hop on instead. So, there I was with my family beginning our maiden bus adventure.

The bus route is not bad, really, as it brings you through a scenic journey in Bandar, passing by Tamu Kianggeh, where you can see the ‘life’ of the tamu vendors and visitors. Though I’ve taken that same road many times in my car, driving and taking the bus is so much different in a sense that the latter offers you a glimpse of the tamu from a different perspective. I guess, it’s because when I’m taking the bus, my eyes are free to roam and really have a good look around, as opposed to driving, where you need to stay attentive on the road in front of you.

It’s almost 11am and the tamu is still packed with people, probably, those who know that coming to the market at this hour could get them whatever they need at a cheaper price as the tamu vendors tend to be more generous in their discounts before they close shop.

Next, the bus service 20 that I’m in passes by the Royal Regalia building. I have been to this large museum twice and remember being in awe with the many gift collections that the Sultan and other royalties had received from world leaders. It is definitely a place to visit for tourists, and if you have friends or relatives from other countries visiting Brunei, this is the place to bring them. A big plus point is the powerful air-conditioning in the building, which makes it the place to be if you want to escape from the heat outside.

Throughout the journey, the friendly driver never stops chatting with me, sharing his 14 years experience as a bus driver in Brunei. He has seen how the public bus service here progressed, although he admits that more can be done to make the whole bus system better. He also points out that locals should start taking buses more often. More demand will only mean more improvement, he says.

His sentiments are shared by a Filipino lady passenger whom I have the pleasure of speaking with. She is a frequent bus taker and enjoys it when taking a bus service that serves the Bandar area. But not when in the suburb, where she had experienced waiting for almost an hour for a bus in Salambigar!

As we enter Kg Kiulap, the driver asked if I want to stop at Masjid Jame’ ‘Asr Hassanil Bolkiah. Even though, it is not part of the bus route, but he is actually kind enough to make a turn just to drop us there since we will be passing by the mosque. But I politely rejected his offer as I do not want to waste the time of the other commuters.

The prominent sight of the grand mosque at the major Kiulap roundabout is photo-worthy.

It’s hard to resist the temptation of taking out your camera, or in my case, smartphone, just to take few snaps of the majestic golden dome and minarets – something that’s hard for me to do when I’m behind the wheel.

From Kiulap, the bus goes through the famed Pasar Gadong – a wet market by day, a food haven by night. And just a stone’s throw from Pasar Gadong, stands the pretty looking building called The Mall, which adjoins the Rizqun International Hotel.

We alight right in front of the main entrance of The Mall. There is neither proper bus shelter nor bus signage in sight though. I feel this is something that needs to be looked into as there could be visitors who are not familiar with Brunei’s ‘hippest’ place and could be searching high and low for a bus stop. The journey takes around 15-20 minutes from Bandar to The Mall. Not bad, really, considering it is like a nice sightseeing trip. And have I mentioned that it costs only BN$1 (70 US cents).

US$1 = BN$1.33

Learn the history of Klang on this delightful walk

Published June 12, 2016 by SoClaimon

ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation

http://www.nationmultimedia.com/aec/Learn-the-history-of-Klang-on-this-delightful-walk-30287577.html

Road signs in Klang./The Star
Chester Chin
The Star
HOME AEC DESTINATION WED, 8 JUN, 2016 1:00 AM

KLANG – I have, in the past, suggested to colleagues in the newsroom that we sign up for the free Royal Klang Heritage Walk over the weekend. Some were kind enough to feign mock interest, but most … well, they shut me up the moment I mentioned the venue.

“Klang? That’s like the other side of the world, dude. What’s there to do there?” someone piped up. But that’s the whole purpose of the trip, I protested – to show that there’s so more to the place than just, er….bak kut teh (pork ribs stew).

Alas, I found myself driving alone to the royal port town one hazy Saturday morning. The guided walk kicked off at 9am from The Sultan Abdul Aziz Royal Gallery.

There couldn’t have been a better starting point, really. The itinerary for the day covered various heritage structures and traditional buildings. But the Royal Gallery – housed in the striking Sultan Suleiman Building – has to be, arguably, one of the handsomest colonial buildings around.

Julie Chang, a sprightly woman in her early sixties (or as she jovially points out: “I’m only 26 years old young … in reverse!”) is our guide for the morning.

For Chang, the gallery reflects Klang’s noble status.

“This is a royal town,” she reminds participants as we duly sign a consent form at the start of the tour, “I do hope you will feel the royal presence here.”

“Just be aware of cars when you cross the road. The hand wave you do in KL might not work here,” she humorously adds, a subtle hint that Klang residents subscribe to a different code when it comes to their roads.

The group for the day comprises a miscellaneous bunch – a young Klangite intent on showing off his hometown to an out-of-town companion, a Japanese expatriate couple and a group of friends who call themselves the “Makan Kaki” (loosely translated from Malay to mean “foodie gang”).

“We get about this number of visitors usually,” Chang reveals, referring to the turn-out.

While walk-ins are welcome, most local participants register with Tourism Selangor – joint organisers of these tours with the Klang Municipal Council – by calling 03-5513 2000; foreign tourists are often referred by travel agencies.

After ample explanation about the Selangor sultanate’s genealogy at the Royal Gallery, we make our way to the former Chartered Bank (which the younger generation will remember as the Standard Chartered Bank).

Although the Neo-classical building once housed Klang’s first financial institution (Standard Chartered is, in fact, Malaysia’s first and oldest bank with over 140 years of history), today colourful silk sarees and brassware fill the interior which has been converted into an Indian boutique – Chennai Silk on Jalan Istana. “That over there,” Chang points to a flight of steps, “is completely original. Just imagine English bankers walking up and down them in the past.”

If there’s one thing that doesn’t require much imagination it is the original architecture of the building. While renovations have been made to cater to commercial demands, much of the building has been carefully preserved to uphold its century-old legacy.

The same can be said for the other attractions that span the nearly three-hour walk. Klang takes pride in its storied past, and this is reflected in the preservation of many of its buildings.

The anecdotes that pepper our walk shed light on this busy port town which amongst other things, is, yes, the birthplace ofbak kut teh! But there’s more.

“Malaya’s famous striptease queen, Rose Chan, used to perform here at the Smugglers’ Inn,” our tour guide explains while at the Royal Klang Club, about a 100m walk uphill from the old Chartered Bank.

And over at the Indian Muslim Tengku Kelana Mosque, Chang lets us in on a local secret – the mosque serves the most amazing nasi briyani instead of the conventional bubur lambuk during the holy month of Ramadan.

More than just bits of trivia, the Royal Klang Heritage Walk also grants access to locations that are otherwise out of the public eye. The Royal Klang Club, for instance, shuns non-members.

Another example is the Sri Nagara Thendayuthapani temple. Built by the Nattukottal Chettiar merchants, the ornate place of worship, dedicated to the Goddess Parvathi, is often only visited by select clans in Klang. And on the day of our visit, we are lucky enough to witness prayers being performed.

Another religious institution included on the trail, was the gothic-styled Church of Our Lady of Lourdes on Jalan Tengku Kelana, which turned out to be a pleasant visit. The church holds the famous glass panel bearing the purported image of the Virgin Mary that made headlines back in 2012.

For Japanese expat Mayumi Nomura, who took the early train from KL Sentral with her husband so she could join this walk, the various sights and sounds of the town was a welcome change from the bustle of their home in KL.

Mayumi was game to try out a few Malaysian delicacies when the walk reached Tengku Kelana street, or Little India, as it is more commonly called. A cornucopia of Indian snacks and sweets can be found along the rows of narrow antiquated shop houses.

Seasoned structures aside, the trail also showcases the strong sense of community spirit in Klang. At the Victorian-styled Klang Fire Station, the local firemen have taken the initiative to set up a mini gallery in support of the heritage walk. The gallery, while simple, is a heartwarming gesture.

“It’s a good thing they’re doing here and I hope that we’re able to show more of Klang to visitors,” Chang says of those who played a role – from the merchants to relevant tourism bodies – that have helped sustain the walk. The amount of love and effort poured into this trail certainly deserves praise.

We arrive at our final stop for the day – Gedung Raja Abdullah. Built in 1857, this building was first used to store weapons, tin and food, according to tourismselangor.my. The British then converted the warehouse into government offices in 1874. It later became the police station, then a museum, but is now closed for restoration undertaken by National Heritage Department.

“That over there,” she points to a corner coffee shop, Kedai Makanan Seng Huat, after we pass our final stop “is one of the places where you can find the best bak kut teh in town.”

Four traditional dances to see in Manggarai, East Nusa Tenggara

Published June 12, 2016 by SoClaimon

ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation

http://www.nationmultimedia.com/aec/Four-traditional-dances-to-see-in-Manggarai-East-N-30287324.html

The Teba Meka was performed to welcome cyclists competing in Tour de Flores 2016./The Jakarta Post
Intan Tanjung
The Jakarta Post
HOME AEC DESTINATION FRI, 3 JUN, 2016 5:50 PM

MANGGARAI – Manggarai in East Nusa Tenggara is famous for traditional villages such as Wae Rebo, Ruteng Puu as well as its unique spider web-patterned rice fields.

It is also home to a fascinating cultural heritage that includes traditional dance performed to welcome special guests and for celebration. These dances were recently performed to greet the cyclists participating in Tour de Flores, held on May 19 to 23.

Ronda dance

This dance is often performed to welcome special guests who come to visit Manggarai. The locals believe that this dance can cast out bad spirits that accompany the guests and also serves to request that the residing spirits in the area stay out of the celebration zone.

Caci dance

Caci is a martial arts dance that is usually performed during traditional ritual celebrations such as New Year, harvest time, or when opening new fields. The dance aims to show bravery and dignity by performing attack and defense capabilities with whips and shields. In certain areas like Wae Rebo village, it’s only staged during specific ceremonies.

Teba Meka dance

Teba Meka has been dedicated to Tour de Flores cyclists. It was designed to show how excited the people of Manggarai were to have them visit the region.

Following the dance, a traditional ceremony was held to offer blessings to visitors. During this ceremony, the priest handed over an offering of traditional palm liquor and one white chicken to represent the pure intention of Flores people to greet Tour de Flores participants.

The priest continued by chanting a prayer to tell the ancestors that the visiting guests are not strangers and will later contribute to increase the welfare of Manggarai people.

Cekeng Weri dance

This dance illustrates the choreography of planting rice or corn, inspired by farming activities. Farmers usually start to plant between September and October when the rain starts to fall.

Staged during the gala dinner hosted at the Manggarai Regency office to entertain participants, this dance was performed to plant a seed of hope in the bike race, with an aim to promote the culture and tourism of the Manggarai area.

Strolling through megalithic village of Bena

Published June 12, 2016 by SoClaimon

ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation

http://www.nationmultimedia.com/aec/Strolling-through-megalithic-village-of-Bena-30286868.html

ena village’s traditional houses in Bajawa./The Jakarta Post
Intan Tanjung
The Jakarta Post
HOME AEC DESTINATION SUN, 29 MAY, 2016 1:00 AM

FLORES, EAST NUSA TENGGARA – It’s late in the afternoon and mist has started to descend from Mount Inerie. Sitting on top of the valley, at 2245 meters above sea level, is the megalithic village of Bena, one of East Nusa Tenggara’s traditional villages located in Bajawa in Ngada regency.

Visiting the village is like a journey back in time. The Bena people are thought to have resided in this valley for some 1,200 years, but Yoseph Rojakale, head of the Deru Lalulewa tribe, said the village might be older than that.

Strolling through the village, visitors can admire Bena’s traditional houses still preserved in their original form.

There are a total of nine clans that reside in 49 houses, although not all of them live in the village area. Each clan has two main houses, one of them is for their female elders called saka puu, which has a figure called bhaga on the top of the house. For the male elders, their house is called saka lobo, which is marked by a statue sitting on its roof. It is wrapped in palm fibers and is holding a machete and a spear. Each main house is accompanied by a plain house that has no symbols called kaka.

The Bena people built the houses using natural materials such as bamboo and wood called oja, which was taken from the surrounding forests. Symbols and pictures of animals decorate the interior and exterior of the houses.

“We call the curves lalu, susu and mesa, which mean ‘father’, ‘mother’ and ‘child’,” said Yoseph. “Horses are a symbol of energy, meaning that we need to have horse power to do our work, while chickens are to remind us to go farming early in the morning at 6 a.m. and come back at 6 p.m. We have to start early to keep our farm safe from monkeys that like to steal our harvest.”

In front of the house, colorful traditional woven fabrics are put on display and can be bought as souvenirs. Women weave during mornings inside of the house in a specific area called teda moa, while the men work in the field.

Yoseph said the price to build a house could reach up to Rp 350 million ( US$25,773 ), which involved a special ceremony that sacrifices 20 bulls. The money is collected from donations and the bulls’ horns would be displayed in front of the house to respect the donors.

“These decorations are symbols of our gotong-royong [mutual cooperation]. It costs us a lot of money to build this house since the price of wood is very expensive.”

Yoseph later revealed an ancient stone that cannot be removed.

“This stone has to stay here. If someone takes it away, disaster will strike and destroy the entire village.”

Mogao caves – the thousand Buddha grottoes

Published June 12, 2016 by SoClaimon

ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation

http://www.nationmultimedia.com/aec/Mogao-caves–the-thousand-Buddha-grottoes-30286810.html

The view from outside the Mogao Caves./Viet Nam News

Tourists ride camels single file into the desert./Viet Nam News
Mai Khuyen
Viet Nam News
HOME AEC DESTINATION FRI, 27 MAY, 2016 2:47 AM

DONHUANG, CHINA – The sun dazzles brilliantly all day over indulgent sand dunes stretching towards the horizon while tourist pilgrims riding on camels move smoothly with their shadows on a small sandy path.

This was the incredible attractive facet of the Gobi desert attributed to the honest and introvert people of Dunhuang, a city in China’s north-western Gansu province, which is now hastening the revival of the Silk Road.

Holding a particularly important position on the ancient road and described as an oasis in the Gobi desert, the city used to welcome foreign merchants and monks from the West as well as officials and soldiers from central China to bring their own cultures to and make it a trading centre and a cultural “melting pot”.

The economic, military, political and cultural activities which took place at this crossroad provided the basis for the flourishing of one of China’s earliest Buddhist centres.

Most Buddhist monks came to China from India and Central Asia by way of the Silk Road. Foreign monks and their Chinese disciples formed the earliest Buddhist communities at Dunhuang in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries.

Dunhuang today remains a thriving town surrounded by fields of cotton and maize. Green energy with solar power plants has emerged as the potential for the city to help cut pollution, reduce water consumption and boost social economic development of China.

And it is also a famous tourist destination.

This is because of the painted and decorated Buddhist cave temples 25km southeast of the town, the Mogao caves.

The Mogao cave temples were made between AD 400 and 1200 by Buddhist believers, including officials, soldiers, merchants, and monks, in addition to nuns, travellers and the ordinary men and women of Dunhuang. At that time, Buddhism was the main religion of Dunhuang and China.

The message of Buddhism had been brought by monks and other travellers from India and the original Buddhist texts were in Indian languages written on leaves from palm trees which grew in northern India.

Some of these were brought to the city by monks over 1,500 years ago and were kept in a special library at the Buddhist caves.

A legend tells the story of the first monk at Dunhuang – monk Yuezun – who was far away from home. His family was in central China but he had left them to become a Buddhist monk, seeking enlightenment, and had travelled over a thousand miles west to the remote area of Gansu.

One day when wandering in the desert southeast of Dunhuang, he had a vision of a golden light emitted from Mount Sanwei as if a thousand Buddhas were glowing.

He thought it was a message from the Buddha to make a shrine here, and so he dug a small cave from the cliff in order to meditate on his vision and a statue of the Buddha to pray to.

Soon words spread and other monks joined him and dug their own caves for prayer, rest and meditation. Others paid for more elaborate temple caves, hiring artists to paint the walls with beautiful images of Buddhism and sculptors to make statues of the Buddha and his disciples.

Today almost 500 caves survive and the site is famous throughout the world. It is one of the world’s greatest art galleries.

Fast growing economy

With a strategic goal to recover the world’s trade journey between the east and west and to lay out an extensive vision for close relations with dozens of countries that were loosely connected along the Silk Road more than 1,000 years ago, the Chinese government is pouring billions of dollars into Gansu Province and has chosen Dunhuang as one of the key targets of the nation’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Though it is still a controversial plan that has caused geopolitical scepticism among both, westerners and those traders from the East that they could increasingly become too dependent on China, the strategy has obviously breathed a new life to this desert city.

Dunhuang welcomed an explosive GDP growth in recent years thanks to its outstanding success in tourism development.

With a total population of more than 180,000 but only a minor 28,000 officially working in tourism industry, Dunhuang last year welcomed 6.6 million tourists and is expected to receive about 8 million this year – more than 40 times the number of the local population, the city’s Tourism Department reports.

Dunhuang deputy mayor, Wang Xiaoling, said that in the past five years, the city’s GDP increased about two folds to 11.5 billion yuan, or about $1.8 billion, in which the culture tourism contributed approximately 60 per cent.

Last year alone, total investment in Dunhuang assets reached 19 billion yuan ($2.9 billion), said the official.

Dunhuang, along with 29 other cities of China, has entered the list of tourism destinations that build qualified international characteristics, according to China’s National Tourism Administration.

Dunhuang is the only city in Gansu on the list. Entering the list provides more opportunities for Dunhuang city, according to the authority.

As it will hold the First Silk Road (Dunhuang) International Cultural Expo, the city is expected to promote tourism, comprehensive service and its brand recognition by focussing on tourism content and advanced regional collaboration.

International Cultural Expo

Dunhuang has embarked on preparations for an international cultural event since 2013, with the aim of promoting a cultural exchange, laying the foundation for the dynamic trade and economic co-operation between countries.

To prepare for the event, the first Silk Road International Culture Expo (SRICE) scheduled to take place in September this year, the city is in a hurry to complete building a large international expo complex centre with a total investment of 1.6 billion yuan ($245 million).

The complex includes a 126,000 square-metre large exhibition centre, a conference centre with a capacity to accommodate 3,000 people and a theatre for 1,200 viewers.

Inspired by the spirit long formed through exchanges on the Silk Road, the city authority expects that through the festival, cultural communication, co-operation and development can be enhanced.

Moreover, the expo is being held with the goal to advocate absorbing the best from other civilisations, and to promote mutual understanding among residents, the deputy mayor said.

SRICE (Dunhuang) will become a professional and international cultural expo, and serve as an important platform for cultural exchange and economic development, said the official.

River visit evokes times past

Published June 12, 2016 by SoClaimon

ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation

http://www.nationmultimedia.com/aec/River-visit-evokes-times-past-30286229.html

This rock offers a great view of the Nam Lik river./Vientiane Times

Fish soup with ant eggs./Vientiane Times
Features Desk
Vientiane Times
HOME AEC DESTINATION SAT, 21 MAY, 2016 4:47 PM

VIENTIANE – To be born and grow up near a river is wonderful because the river can be both your plaything and also your livelihood.

Living in a rural area means a lack of fun places to go to like in a city such as restaurants, nightclubs, bars and shopping centres, but you can still have a great time during the weekends by having picnics by the river.

Especially now that the weather is so hot, it’s undoubtedly the best place to be, where there are beautiful surroundings and clean, natural water.

Last month, I went back home to Hadtha village in Keo-oudom district, Vientiane province, about 13 kilometres from the town of Thalath in Thoulakhom district.

It was really a wonderful time for me to be there as some of my friends had returned there from their farm for the weekend.

In the early morning, we went for a picnic just as we used to do with our parents when we were eight years old. But we didn’t take any food. We just brought some masks, fishing nets, forked sticks and something to cook with, knowing we could get our lunch from the river.

When I arrived at the river, I remembered the beach but while riding in the boat I could recall very little because the water was very low and a lot of things had changed. It wasn’t as I had envisaged it but the memories came flooding back after talking to my friends.

We took a boat on the Nam Lik for about an hour until we got to a place called Kang Kayang (Kachang Rapids) where there’s a good place for a picnic under a big tree. We collected some firewood to make a fire so we could grill some fish.

After just one hour or half an hour my friend brought some fish for me to grill. I asked him how he had caught them and he told me our friends had used their nets.

It seemed to be very easy to catch fish and fishing is something I love, so I joined them, wearing a mask and wielding a forked stick. The water was very clear but I couldn’t see many fish because I wasn’t very experienced and I couldn’t hold my breath for long enough under water. I was also a bit nervous about going into deep water. And then I realised that fishing wasn’t so easy for me any more.

While I was grilling the fish, I noticed that the two girls who had come with us had disappeared but then I spotted them on the other side of the river where they were picking some vegetables to eat with the fish. Some of my friends were collecting ant eggs so that we could add them to our fish soup.

When the fish were cooked we called all of our friends to eat together. We were eating and reminiscing about our childhood but some couldn’t stay for long because they were in a hurry to go fishing again.

I remember that the rivers used to be very picturesque and there were a lot more rocks, so I asked my friends what had happened. Some of them explained that we hadn’t been able to go that far and it wasn’t possible to go there any more because a hydropower dam was under construction.

The water is very low now, so it’s difficult to get there by boat and it’s also part of a conservation area. So they don’t allow anyone to go to that area.

A few years ago tourists used to visit this place to play in the water and take boat trips and they all said it was a beautiful place that not many people knew about yet, so it was a great place to set up camp and have a picnic.

But nowadays not many people come here, including the locals. However, it’s a great place for an outing because it has everything you need for a picnic and you can have fun with your friends or family. It made me feel that it was truly a paradise for humans.

Northern Lao district plans to reveal hidden gems for tourism

Published June 12, 2016 by SoClaimon

ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation

http://www.nationmultimedia.com/aec/Northern-Lao-district-plans-to-reveal-hidden-gems–30286222.html

Phavang waterfall is about 30 km from the centre of Xamtay district in Huaphan province./Vientiane Times
News Desk
Vientiane Times
HOME AEC DESTINATION THU, 19 MAY, 2016 1:00 AM

VIENTIANE – Realising the tourism potential of the many scenic attractions on their doorstep, authorities in Xamtay district, Huaphan province, are hoping that an investor will add the necessary facilities to entice more visitors.

Xamtay district governor Hinthong Heuangchansouk told Vientiane Times recently that the district has a wealth of scenic beauty, cultural interest and historic sites.

“Our district has considerable potential for tourism and our waterfalls are of particular interest. For example, Phavang waterfall is a key part of our tourism development plan,” he said.

Phavang waterfall is about 30km from the centre of Xamtay district, in Pao Neua village. The water cascades over a 700-metre drop and has 21 levels.

“We opened the waterfall to the public last month. Hundreds of local residents came to the opening ceremony but we don’t have an accurate record of the number of visitors coming here,” Hinthong said.

Xamtay district borders on Viengxay district and has a road link with Vietnam to the east.

“We want to promote the potential benefits of our tourist attractions in the hope of teaming up with Vietnam in the years to come,” he said.

Hinthong explained that the key to their tourism development plan was infrastructure development, especially roads, so that people can access the main tourist attractions in the district.

“The development of tourism in Xamtay district will focus on sustainability and avoid negative impacts on the environment, biodiversity and wildlife,” he said.

According to Hinthong, Xamtay district has more than 15 waterfalls but they are not easily accessible.

“We are now hoping that investors will build facilities at the most outstanding visitor attractions but they will have to submit the necessary paperwork to the provincial and district authorities,” he added.

Xamtay officially became a district two decades ago and infrastructure is still limited because of the difficult terrain.

But hidden gems lie deep in the forest, and caves and waterfalls await discovery by intrepid adventurers.

Xamtay district is five to six hours by car from Xamneua district, the capital of Huaphan province. The road is paved and passes through some dramatic scenery, with tree-covered mountains and deep ravines.

Walking the Nakasendo Trail in Japan

Published June 12, 2016 by SoClaimon

ศาสตร์เกษตรดินปุ๋ย : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation

http://www.nationmultimedia.com/aec/Walking-the-Nakasendo-Trail-in-Japan-30285980.html

Walking though a bamboo forest along the trail./Photo courtesy of Oku Japan, Yan Naung Oak

The Nakasendo walk passes through the heart of Narai post town./Photo courtesy of Oku Japan, Yan Naung Oak
Corrie Tan
The Straits Times
HOME AEC DESTINATION SUN, 15 MAY, 2016 12:53 PM

TOKYO – It is my first trip to Japan and my friends are eager to make it count. “Oh, you will love Tokyo, it’s such a great city.”

This becomes a common refrain as they rhapsodise about making pilgrimages to the Japanese capital almost every year, its teeming streets a paradise of shopping, food, technology and efficiency. Everyone seems to have his own list of “must- dos” – a ramen list, a sushi list, a museum list. I am soon completely worn out by lists.

So my husband and I, together with another couple who are good friends of ours, decide to go on a different sort of pilgrimage: a four- day, three-night self-guided walk on the Nakasendo in central Japan. It is an ancient 533km trail established in the Edo period (1603 to 1868) that connected Edo (now Tokyo) to Kyoto, the imperial capital.

We are walking only a tiny section of the Nakasendo, literally “central mountain route”, about 35km of walking plus a few bus and train transfers between the Kiso Valley towns of Magome and Kiso Hirasawa, but the route offered by tour operator Oku Japan (www.okujapan.com) promises a challenging, invigorating walk through low mountain passes and lush bamboo forests.

We decide to book a trip during the first week of April, traditionally the peak of the cherry blossom season in Japan. I press my face against the glass as we take the train from Narita Airport into the city. Neon lights wink beguilingly from every crowded street corner. But we are in Tokyo for less than a day before we are on board the shinkansen (bullet train) heading south-west. The long, smooth snout of the train slices through the city, quickly shedding it for vast expanses of countryside.

Our starting point in Magome is a bustling tourist pitstop. Shopkeepers selling gohei-mochi, rice balls served with a special miso sauce, beckon to us from open windows. As we ascend the cobblestone path through the village, dodging clutches of tourists with selfie sticks, I question myself: Is this what our walk will be like over the next four days?

But in about half an hour, just about every tourist seems to have vanished. We see the opening to a bamboo grove and a gleaming bell on a wooden post, one of hundreds of bear bells on the well-marked route. Small brown bears live in the forests and in the mountains, and even though we do not see any, hikers are encouraged to ring these bells – all sharp and sonorous – to warn the animals of their presence.

A group of half a dozen local walkers beams at us, greeting us with a warm “konnichiwa” (good afternoon) as they head back towards Magome, and they are the last large group of people we will see on our entire walk.

We have lunch at a tiny 15-seat soba restaurant run by the wife of the village postman, who plies us with endless dishes, including horse meat, and is tickled by our attempts at speaking Japanese.

Our walk takes us through small farms, past family shrines and perfectly manicured little gardens. We’ve been talking and laughing, then one of our friends suggests: “Let’s spend the next half an hour just walking and see what that’s like.” We agree to spend the next half-hour in meditative silence.

We pause to drink in the sight of thousands of tall, narrow pines standing guard over our dirt path, their leaves whispering in the light breeze. Our shoes make soft, snuffling noises on a carpet of fallen leaves. I feel an odd welling up in my heart as I look at the canopy, a tapestry of branches silhouetted against sunlight. I am no longer a hiker; I am a character in some sort of enchanted forest, where a crafty tanuki (the shapeshifting Japanese raccoon dog of local folklore) might emerge from the shadows.

The four of us have not spoken a word, but we are – simultaneously – profoundly and utterly moved.

We soon see O-Tsumago, the small hamlet where we will spend the night. Tanuki statues beckon from the doors of each ryokan. We stay at the Maruya Minshuku (tel: +81-264-57-3117), a cosy family-run inn housed in a 230-year-old wooden building. It has two shared baths with bathtubs made of cypress wood from the Kiso Valley and filled with hot, fragrant water, a delicious mix of bath salts that make me feel like a brand new person after a soak.

The walk on the second day is the longest at 18.4km; our guidebook indicates an elevation gain of about 723m. It takes us through a stunning, dense bamboo forest. Small rabbit-like animals skitter through the trees, too quick for us to identify. An eagle circling overhead pauses to rest on a tall post, observing us as we trudge through the drizzle. As we walk through one of the quiet hamlets, at least five Shiba Inus, one of Japan’s most well-loved dog breeds, bark at the disturbance, tails wagging cautiously.

The ascent is beautiful, taking us over bubbling streams, through rich farmland and picturesque little villages, where we greet lone farmers at work. However, the long, winding descent on tarmac takes us past swathes of charred and felled forest, leaving us wondering what might have happened.

We arrive at the Nojiri train station, ravenous after about seven hours of walking and in time to catch the train departing for Kiso- Fukushima, where a staff member from the Komanoyu Ryokan (tel: +81-264-23-2288) immediately bundles us off in a van to the gorgeous inn, which offers indoor and outdoor baths for guests.

Once we are dressed in yukata robes provided by the hotel, we are plied with sake and a 10-course dinner featuring ingredients sourced mostly from the area, including grilled salmon and tender beef.

We take the train to nearby Yabuhara the next morning, embarking on one of the loveliest walks of the trip, a climb up a forested trail to the Torii-touge Pass. It is a crisp, sunny day and the weather is perfect for a good hike, offering sweeping views of the valley below, including Narai, “the town of 1,000 inns”, where we will spend the night.

Perched atop the mountain pass, nearly 1,200m high, is a beautiful shrine built in the 15th century by a prominent samurai warrior to thank the mountain spirit for helping him win a significant battle.

We have passed several small jizo (stone bodhisattvas) on our trip so far. While most of us are not religious, we stop at each one to thank any mountain spirit that might be nearby and sometimes leave a small stack of rocks next to the statues as a little traveller’s prayer.

In Narai, we stay at Iseya inn (tel: +81-264-34-3051), which was established in 1818. During the Edo period, it served as one of the town’s two porter-service offices. Its private baths are made of Kiso umbrella pine and there are only 10 guestrooms. Narai’s historic buildings are well- preserved and travellers throughout the years have rested at its inns after climbing the Torii-touge.

Our journey ends the next day with a short but pleasant walk alongside a burbling river to Kiso- Hirasawa. We stop to buy some pieces of lacquerware, which the town is known for, and strike up a halting conversation in English with the storekeeper, who says he much prefers the peace of village living to that of the city.

I do not give that conversation much thought until we are back in Tokyo navigating the labyrinthine Shinjuku station, hemmed in by thousands of commuters as they make their way from one train to the next.

The city, I suppose, has its own pulse, a rapid palpitation of schedules to follow and trains to catch. We stay in a capsule hotel for a night just for the fun of it, but the isolation of urban living soon catches up with me.

Those four days of walking, slowly, from village to village, where time becomes elastic and stretches out, languorously, ahead of us – I think that slowness is something to be savoured in a world where we constantly race ahead, but leave so much behind.

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