Cutural researcher and photographer Nguyen Van Ku has authored and co-authored several interesting books about Vietnam’s diverse cultures, including ones about the Chams, the Central Highland, and about pagodas in Southern Vietnam. Heritage met the Mr. Nguyen Van Ku to discuss his passion for preserving Vietnam’s cultural heritage
Heritage: You have written many books about Cham culture. What draws you to this subject?
Mr. NVK: I got my first impression of Cham culture nearly 40 years ago when I visited the Museum of Cham Sculpture in Da Nang. I was mesmerized by the carvings of Shiva and Uma and the dancers’ pedestal of Tra Kieu. I strongly admire the Cham civilization with its unique and flourishing culture as seen through many temples, palaces, sculptures, antique steles, etc.
exhibits in museum of cham sculpture
Heritage: Your photo book “Cham Cultural Herritage” was voted the best multilingual book by the Vietnam Book of Records. Why did you decide to republish the 3rd edition in the ancient language of the Chams and Cham Latin?
Mr. NVK: The book was published in five languages, including Vietnamese, traditional Cham, Cham Latin, English and French with an aim to widely introduce the cultural values of the Cham civilization to audiences all over the world. Most importantly, I wanted to present this book as a gift to the Cham people because they are the descendants of the owners of this valuable cultural heritage. I was thrilled to receive a lot of positive feedback from the Cham community. The book creates a path for the young generation to return to their previous era of culture, which deserves its own identity in the past, present and future. I hope that by reading this book in the ancient language of the Cham people, the Cham elders will have the opportunity to teach the young generations about this language as well as about Cham culture.
Discover the spectacular nature place at the central region of Vietnam
Heritage: You have also co-authored many books about Vietnamese pagodas and temples. Why are you passionate about this subject?
Mr. NVK: Communal houses and pagodas play a critical role in the cultural life of the community. These are cultural museums bequeathed by history, which stand for local beliefs and as places for spiritual activities such as traditional festivals and rituals. I have traveled a lot and visited many communal houses and temples all over the country. My desire is to preserve the unique culture of Vietnamese pagodas in a systematic manner. The books I co-authored contain the most succinct information and the most impressive images of 108 communal houses and 122 temples in Vietnam. The 5th edition of the book “Vietnamese Pagodas” introduces typical temples in Vietnam from the beginning of the first millennium AD, through the Dinh, Le, Ly, Tran and Nguyen Dynasties to the present and also recently reconstructed and newly built temples such as Non Temple in Hanoi, Bai Dinh Pagoda in Ninh Binh, Thanh Long Pagoda in Binh Phuoc, etc. The book also illustrates temples on the Spratly Islands, shedding light on the traditional beliefs of Vietnamese people in remote areas, and sending a passionate message to the people living there, who are dedicating their lives to the cause of national defense.
Festival at the communal house of central highland
Heritage: Your journey is ongoing. What are your plans?
Mr. NVK: I am happy to have great opportunities to travel and visit many places. Luckily, I am very healthy and travel is good for one’s health. By my side there are always teachers and friends who are great authorities in culture, history and archeology, such as Professor Pham Huy Thong, Professor Ha Van Tan, Historian Le Van Lan, Associate professor Ngo Van Doanh, Dr. Luu Hung, etc. My trips bring me great opportunities to search for information and take documentary photos in an attempt to preserve invaluable national cultural values. I have finished a manuscript of the third edition of “Vietnamese Communal Houses”. I also plan to publish the sixth edition of “Vietnamese Pagodas” including Vietnamese pagodas overseas.
The ancient Cham civilization, the culture of the Central Highlands, and Vietnamese communal houses and pagodas bring me endless inspiration. I am always looking for additional information so that audiences have the chance to keep reading.
Heritage: Thanks and all the best.
While the North has the rice noodle with grilled meat balls; there are beef noodle or jellyfish noodle of the central region; the South has the typical noodle soup with shrimp paste. Each region has its own subtle cuisine style. Below are some the rice noodle soup you should try when you are traveling.
Hanoi style rice noodle with grilled meat balls
Hanoi has no shortage of good food, but to understand a part of Hanoi cuisine, you should not miss enjoying the rice noodle with grilled meat balls. Like Pho, this dish is present in almost all the streets, alleys with different variations. In which, the most common one is the dish of noodles with a bowl of mixture sauce of kohlrabi and carrot pieces, including grilled meat balls and pieces. Especially, in Hanoi, there is one cooking class course taken place at home named Hanoi home cooking class organized by Ultimate Hanoi Adventures, you can not only learn how to cook many traditional dishes of Vietnam but also know more about Vietnamese cuisine for each region.
Grilled meat balls are made from pieces of sliced pork, which are marinated with spices, then grilled on charcoal until it turns brown yellow. This kind of dish is very easy to eat so it is suitable for hot sunny days. While eating, adding some fresh herbs will become more delicious. You can visit Hang Manh Street, Hang Than, Bach Mai and Dong Xuan Market to enjoy it.
Hai Phong prawn noodle
As typical dish of port land, today it is one of your favorite shrimp noodles in many parts of the country because of specific flavor. The essential ingredients of this dish are rice noodles and prawn, accompanied with some herbs and vegetables like spinach… Unlike conventional noodle soups, the broth of this dish is made from shrimp and sweet bones so it is naturally sweet.
When serving, a bowl of noodle soup with prawn will be added with fried meat betel rolls, fried fish, and some stir fried ear wood slices or water celery. If you want to try this one, you can come to Luong Khanh Thien Street, Tran Quang Khai Street or Cat Dai Street.
Hue style noodle soup with beef
It is no need to go to Hue to enjoy this dish, but if you have the opportunity to come here, you should try to feel its own flavor. Features of Hue beef noodle soup are big, round, long and white noodles; and typically red broth. On the top will be some beef slices, Hue pork rolls and simmered pig legs.
When eating, Hue style beef noodle soup will be served with lemon, chili, herbs, bean sprouts and banana flower slices. Spices and rich aroma of shrimp sauce (mắm tôm) create very specific taste for this dish. Do you want to cook this kind of food? If you like, please come to us, Hanoi home-cooking class, to learn how to make it and enjoy the dish.
Some Hue beef noodle restaurants in the city where visitors can visit are located on Bach Dang Street, Le Duan, Nguyen Du, Nguyen Sinh Cung, Thuong Bac and Ly Thuong Kiet.
Nha Trang jellyfish rice noodle soup
Exotic taste and specialty in Nha Trang are the reasons that you should try the jellyfish noodle soup when traveling to the coastal city of Khanh Hoa. Although the soup is not eye-catchy on color as its ingredients are mainly rice noodle and jellyfish, it attracts a lot of tourists by its typical flavor. The jellyfish after cooked has to be still naturally sweet and crunchy. The broth made from the fish makes the dish more delicious.
You can eat with the fried pork rolls and herbs. After ladling the broth into the bowl of rice noodle with jellyfish to enjoy, you will feel the sea flavor. Thus, it can be said that no matter how many tasty specialties, Nha Trang still captures the visitors by simple but strangely palatable bowls jellyfish noodle soup. Phan Boi Chau Street, Ngo Gia Tu Street, Han Thuyen Street are the trustful addresses for you to enjoy this kind of dish while visiting Nha Trang.
While you are in Hanoi, no worries, join Hanoi cooking class at home, you get to explore a variety of food from lots of regions in Vietnam with their specialties. Led by the famous chef named Phan Hang, this lady teaches you how to cook them and pick ingredients.
With wild beauty covered by spectacular nature, Phu Ninh Lake is regarded as the “blue gem” amongst the blue sky and immense land of the harsh central region in Vietnam.
Far from Tam Ky, Quang Nam about 7 km, Phu Ninh Lake is loved by the locals and called “Blue gem”. In the sweltering weather, blazing sun of Central region, Phu Ninh Lake appears with the wide space with the blue color, diverse flora species, beautiful mountains, more magnificent oasis amongst the immense waves.
Phu Ninh Lake is surrounded by green forests, mountains, poetic streams along with the same green color stretching to infinity. Coming to Phu Ninh Lake, you will feel the wild beauty, coolness, unique natural scenery, which are is not inferior to any famous tourist destinations in Vietnam. Even a lot of backpackers prefer calling this place with the name “Maldives Paradise” of Quang Nam. Organized by Ultimate Hanoi Adventures, this local operator offer local experiences with the getaway to non-touristy place like Phu Ninh lake. You guys will get to enjoy the peaceful and get the joy of your travel.
Phu Ninh lake has about 30 large and small islets
Phu Ninh lake has about 30 large and small islets which are known by names like Turtle Island, Monkey Island and so on. After getting on the boat, the journey to discover paradise Quang will become more mysterious than ever. Cool breeze and warm voices of the girl guides will capture the visitors’ minds.
In addition to discovery, you will have great chance to explore the hot water sprayed directly from the lake bottom and run via a rubber tube for customers to use. Hot water is circulated all day and night so even here at the day time, you can still touch and merrily play with the underground hot water of the lake. For the springs that are cold, you still step into the water with the bare feet to feel.
Guests have the opportunity to visit many interesting places
Once visiting Phu Ninh, you can not give up on halfway by lake beauty as the elegant but attractive girl. Feeling comfortable to sit on the boats to watch our shadows under water or experiencing a night in the lake with the fog spreading fancifully to hear the mysterious stories will be unforgettable memories.
With Phu Ninh Tourism, visitors not only admire the rich ecosystem, spacious green space, but also to discover the places, historical monuments from Khanh Tho forbidden forest, Coc Ba Cay, Ao Lay and Ky Thinh, Cam Khe to the tunnel area Ky Anh – one of the famous legends of the war in the ground from the previous century.
Don’t miss destinations in Ninh Binh province
Amur in Phu Ninh Lake is very tasty
Do not forget to enjoy the Amur directly in the lake. Especially in the moonlit night, doing camping fire and catching the fish to grill it at the lake is a great experience. The carp in Phu Ninh Lake is delicious and fresh. Amur salad is one of the cannot-miss specialties when coming to Phu Ninh. If lucky, you can catch fish that weighs tens of kilograms.
Mountains and forests around the lake
If you want to enjoy all the beauty of Phu Ninh Lake, continue driving up to Tam Lanh road. Standing on this path, you will see a bigger picture of the lake with mountains, forests and immense sky. Spectacular landscapes, the sound of birds, the sound of gurgling streams will dispel your worries and sorrow, and you just want to stand here alone to embrace Phu Ninh Lake forever, to feel something more peaceful and comfortable.
Paradise amongst the scorching sun in Central region of Vietnam
It will be definitely a wonderful experience for you to come and feel the picturesque scene of the lake. From the far distance, you will see so many houses with the smoke releasing from and the sun gradually going down behind the high mountains to give a way to the quiet space, like a beautiful water-color painting. Only after visiting Phu Ninh Lake once, you can fully feel the picturesque beauty of the “paradise” amongst the scorching sunlight of the central region in Vietnam.
It can be said that each destination will impress you in its own way with the unique beauty. All what you need to do is that making a chance to take a tour to and experience because life is the traveling! Ultimate Hanoi Adventures will design different tours for you to choose. Come with us and enjoy the trip!
Ninh Binh is a southern province of the Northern Delta. The nature favorably gave this land so many amazingly beautiful landscapes, attracting a lot of domestic and international tourists. It is a potential destination in Vietnam.
Ninh Binh Tourism is known for many famous caves such as Tam Coc – Bic Dong, Dich Long, Tien Cave, Hoa Son Cave and so on. Cuc Phuong National Park is well-known for the diverse flora and fauna species, especially 1000-year-old White Meranti tree. This land also treasures lots of cultural, religious and historic relics as Hoa Lu ancient city, Phat Diem Stone Church Complex, Non Nuoc Pagoda, etc. All of these relics have become the attractive destinations for domestic and international visitors.
Tam Coc – Bich Dong Tourist Site
Tam Coc – Bich Dong Tourist Site is a landscape regarded as “Halong Bay on land”
Tam Coc – Bich Dong Tourist Site is far from Ninh Binh City about 7km towards the south. It is a famous place in Ninh Binh and regarded as “Halong Bay on land”. There are unique tourism routes such as Tam Coc – Thai Vi – Mua Cave; Thach Bich – Thung Nang; Bich Dong Pagoda – Tien Cave – Chua Cave – Ghe Cave – Chim Valley and Doi Nham ecosystem tourist site. Depending on your time, you can choose to visit one or many visit routes and one of the most popular route about one day trip from Hanoi is Hoa Lu-Tam Coc tour that you can do the guided tour. Otherwise, you can discover the site according to the research-oriented tourism, cave discovery or visit to handicraft villages.
Hoa Lu ancient capital
Hoa Lu is the capital city of the first centralized feudal state in Vietnam
Unlike the ancient imperial capital of Hue, Hoa Lu is the capital city of the first centralized feudal state in Vietnam. There are currently palace, temples, pagodas and tombs (until Dinh – Le Dynasties). Hoa Lu historic site also has the picturesque pagodas such as Ngan Xuyen Pagoda (near Ma Yen Mountain Foot) and Nhat Tru Pagoda (far from Le King Temple about 200 meters), attracting a number of visitors to Ninh Binh for wandering and sightseeing.
Bai Dinh Pagoda
Bai Dinh Pagoda was built with the largest scale in Vietnam
Far from Ninh Binh City about 15km towards the north, Bai Dinh Pagoda has the largest scale in Vietnam with many records verified like Vietnam’s biggest bell, heaviest bronze-made statue, largest well and so on. Therefore, it is the cannot-miss destination when you take a tour around Ninh Binh
Cuc Phuong National Park
Cuc Phuong is the home to many kinds of beautiful and rare insects
Far from Hanoi about 120km towards the Southwest, the forest has the total area of 22.200 ha, in which ¾ are Limestone Mountains which are high from 300 meters to 600 meters above the sea level. Cuc Phuong National Park treasures 71 animal species, including 319 bird species, 33 reptile species, 16 amphibians and other rare animals like bears, horses, panthers, etc. In this place, there is a special area for semi-natural breeding to conserve some kinds of animals like deers, Indochinese rhesus macaques, and polatouches and so on. Moreover, Cuc Phuong is the home to many kinds of insects and hundreds of unique birds.
Trang An Ecosystem Tourist Site
Far from the city about 7km, Trang An Ecosystem Tourist Site is the place for tourists to discover the amazing caves to know more about the history and culture of Ninh Binh. Its total area is 1961 ha with 31 valleys, nearly 50 caves stretching over 10km across the river towards the north and historic sites closely attached to Hoa Lu ancient city.
Beside some famous places for Ninh Binh Tourism mentioned above, there are a lot of other attractive sites such as Tien Cave, Hoa Son Cave, Van Trinh Cave, Ga Channel and so on. Just take these suggestions as reference and then, plan for your own trip to Ninh Binh Province as your wish.
Let’s take a visit and discover the beauty of Ninh Binh for your holidays by browsing Hanoi local operator to enjoy these amazing destinations by a package tour
Phat Diem Stone Church
Phat Diem Stone Church, an architectural masterpiece is one of the tourist attractions in Ninh Binh Province and far from Hanoi 130km towards the south. It is a masterpiece built by vicar Tran Luc (often called “cu Sau” in Vietnamese) from 1875 to 1899. This is a architecture complex according to the combination of the Eastern temple style and Gothic architecture of Western churches, including lakes and ponds, main church, side churches, stone church and stone cave.
France’s Loire River valley is home to stunning scenery and historic chateaux. Since the 11th century, French Kings and Nobles came to the scenic Loire Valley to hunt and relax
Flanking the longest river in France, the Loire Valley is often called the “Valley of Kings”. Since the 11th century, French kings and nobles came to the Loire Valley to hunt and relax. They built magnificent chateaux, more than 100 of which remain today.
Touring chateaux that date back to the Renaissance is like going back in time. Photo by amyvermillioninteriors
Strolling along the Loire River and gazing at chateaux dating back to the Renaissance is like going back in time. Despite the ups and downs of history, the Loire still boasts a variety of chateaux in diverse styles. The Loire Valley is also one of France’s most famous wine regions, the river lined by lush vineyards. Every wine brand that originates in the Loire is associated with a chateau.
Most of these chateaux were built during the Middle Ages and Renaissance from white stone or marble. One of the most enticing is the Chateau de Blois, constructed at the behest of the Duke of Chatillon. It comprises four separate wings encircling a public yard and resembles a medieval castle mirrored in the Loire River. In 1498, Blois was made into a royal residence. It accommodated seven kings and nine queens of France. Each symbol in this chateau is linked with a specific figure; Francois I with a fire-breathing dragon; Louis II with a porcupine,… Pillars in the chateau feature carved fleurs de lis, a symbol of the French royal family.
Equally impressive is the Chateau de Chambord, built under the reign of King Francois I (1515 – 1547) and influenced by Renaissance architecture. Registered as a UNESCO World Heritage, Chambord measures 156m in length, 56m in height and boasts 440 rooms set in lush forests spanning 4,440 hectares. Home to various kings, Chambord houses a collection of invaluable artefacts that draw visitors from all over the world. Visitors flock here to admire the breathtaking gardens. In 1992 the first International Bonsai Festival took place at this chateau.
Not far from Chambord lies the chateau of Chenonceau, built between 1513 and 1521. Known as “the Chateau of Ladies”, it is associated with strong Renaissance women. Viewed from afar, Chenonceau seems to float on the water because its outer vaults are built across the Cher River, a small branch of the Loire. The lavish beauty of Chenonceau is further accentuated by two royal gardens.
The chateau of Cheverny to the south of the Loire River has a collection of rare household items. Walls are draped in leather or decorated with old tapestries. Furnishings and ornaments are virtually intact, transporting visitors to the past.
The architectural diversity, historical value and cultural significance of these chateaux make the Loire Valley a marvelous destination.
There are a lot of interesting things to discover and experience for tourists visiting Australia such as discovering the lifestyles of aborigines on the island, relaxing on the beach in the sunlight of the sunset or experiencing the night life of the city and much more.
Located in the middle of Pacific and Indian Ocean, Australia is the world’s largest island country and also the smallest continent.
Below is the suggestion of 10 attractive tourist sites in Australia:
Adelaide is a center of the south of Australia. It is the third largest city of the country with the population of more than 1.2 million people. Over ¾ population in the south of Australia are living in Adelaide. The city is on a plain between Adelaide Hill and St. Vincent Bay, surrounded by the famous wine hill in Australia. With the long standing history, this place has many churches and building built according to the colonial architecture style.
Located along the coastline of the Northern Territory, Darwin has traded with almost the big cities of the country and other nations in Indian Ocean. Despite being destructed heavily under the World War II, Darwin residents were always resilient to fight against the enemies to protect their beloved hometown. Currently, the city becomes one of the most attractive tourism spots in Australia.
Hobart is the city on Tasmania Island with the second long standing history, just after Sydney. With the population of about 250.000 people, Hobart is a small but friendlier city than others in Australia. The city has many construction works according to Georgia and Victoria architecture styles such as Salamanca Place. In which, there was an area for whaling in 1830.
Brisbane is the capital city of Queensland State with the population of approximately 2 million people, making it the third largest city in Australia, after Sydney and Melbourne. Brisbane has the warm climate all year around with the beautiful landscapes and hospitable locals. Therefore, this is the most fast-moving city in Australia.
With the location along the coastline of the southwest in Australia, Perth is the fourth largest city and also the center of the Western Australia. In spite of the thousands years of history, Perth with 2 million inhabitants is now very modern, lively and friendly.
Melbourne is the capital city of Victoria State. The population in Melbourne is the second largest all over the country. Located on Port Phillip Bay, Melbourne is the port city and regarded as the cultural center of the nation. The city is famous for shopping, restaurants and sports so it can be said Melbourne is the ideal destination for those who are seeking for experiences of the civilized lifestyle
With the tropical climate and the position near Great Barrier Coral reefs, Cairns is one of the most well-known resort stop in Australia. In the corner of the Northwest of Australia, Cairns just have 150.000 residents with the typical features such as many wild animals in the suburban areas. If tourists choose to visit this city, it will be a wonderful experience for adventure trip.
Alice Springs has a lot of cliffs and caves with the immense dessert landscape. It also has the aborigines living in the remote areas. It is the ancient land of Australia, especially, remote area Red Centre which has the interesting sites for adventure travels such as Uluru / Ayers Rock, Kata Tjuta (Olgas) and Kings Canyon
Great Barrier Reef
One of the top tourism destinations for the explorers and divers is Great Barrier Reef, which is the largest coral reef in the world. Its location is in the Coral Sea, outside Queensland State. The coral reef consists of more than 2.900 coral species from hundreds of islands. Here, there are millions of microorganisms living about millions of years ago
Great Barrier Reef has the world’s most diverse ecosystems. Thus, it is a tourist attraction for those who want to discover Australia
Located on the coastline of the southeast of Australia, Sydney is the center of New South Wales State. It is a modern city with the long standing history and splendid landscapes. The port area has inhabitants living thousands of years ago. In 1780, the criminals were sent to this city in Australia
Nowadays, Sydney is the top tourist destination of the county and famous for Sydney Harbor Bridge and Opera House which are both symbolic to the city
In conclusion, you should take a visit to Australia to experience and discover the tourist sites of the country and get more memories.
The area around the Towada region is blessed by the four charming seasons of Japan with all their distinct tones, colors and essences.
Fall colours from Hachimantai! It was too cloudy so couldn’t capture it well. Photo: gayatriisingh
The 1613m volcanic plateau Hachimantai and Lake Towada in Aomori make up Towada-Hachimantai National Park. The area boasts meandering walking routes alongside various lagoons and hot springs. Hachimantai is beautiful throughout all the four seasons. Particularly, from late September to mid-October, the autumn is breathtaking with leaves transforming the mountains with a red and gold palette.
Towada Lake is part of Towada-Hachimantai National Park and the largest volcanic crater on Honshu Island, the main island of Japan. Straddling the borders of Akita and Aomori prefectures, the area is famous for its autumn colors and particularly the surroundings of Oirase Spring, one of the best known sites of autumn admiration of Japan.
Photo by shenguyu
Kakunodate is a town of castles and ancient samurai fortresses in the present Akita Prefecture. While the old Kakunodate Castle was destroyed, the town has not been substantially changed since its foundation in 1620, including two separate quarters for samurais and merchants. Once a quarter of 80 households, the samurai quarter still boasts quintessential houses of this class in Japan.
Kakunodate is also known to be the most recognizable cherry blossom quarter in Tohoku region. Around late April and early May, legions of watchers flock here to admire the spectacular mingling between cherry blossoms and historical houses of Kakunodate.
Aspite Line is a 27-kilometer sightseeing route that runs through Towada-Hachimantai National Park and stretches up to Iwate and Akita. With only one house left on the top, it’s a fine sightseeing location, particularly in the autumn when you can take a panoramic view of colorful oak and pine trees. Aspite Line is closed in the winter due to heavy snow; however in April, the line is reopened in a striking manner with high walls of snow flanking the way, some of which can reach up to 6 meters in several areas, so sharp and precipitous as if they were cut with knives right at the very start of their formation. Experiencing both winter and spring on the Aspite Line by driving through the snow corridor which leads to cherry blossom trees in full bloom in Kakunodate is unforgettable
Shirakami Sanchi is a wide mountain range stretching between Aomori and Akita in the north of Tohoku region in Japan. The core of Shirakami Sanchi was formed out of the last primordial oak forests in Japan, which was altogether registered as one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Japan in 1993
The main attraction of Shirakami Sanchi lies in walking routes of different distances that lead through forests to waterfalls, mountain peaks and lakes. The most popular walking route leads to Anmon Falls in the northeast of Shirakami Sanchi.
Anmon Falls are three waterfalls situated about 90 minutes’ walking distance to the valley from the forest entrance, and are inaccessible from late November to late April.
Nishiki Katakuri Colony is unique because its total area is one of the largest flower colonies in Japan, four times larger than the Tokyo Dome (200,000sqm). Although eight years to bear blossoms and prove quite sensitive to different climate conditions, Katakuri trees are extensive in the Colony thanks to their favorable conditions, fertile soil and the abundant sunlight that fades away as reflected from the upper part of the forest. It’s the reason why it is a large habitat of violets. Also in the autumn, the Colony is famous for Saimyo-ji Guri,the largest chestnut species in Japan whose seeds are larger than a child’s hand.
Visit the kingdom of chocolate, fries and beer?
Photo by hkm350
Yokote Castle was constructed by the Onodera clan in the 16th century. Onodera daimyos ruled until the outburst of Sekigahara Battle in 1600. After Sekigahara Battle, Onodera daimyos were sent to Shimane Prefecture and replaced by Satake daimyos of Mito. Yokote Castle was an important landmark of the southern territories of Satake. In the Edo era, the rule of the castle was handed over from Satake to Date, Suda and Tomura until Meiji Era. In 1868, the castle was reduced to ashes in a battle of Boshin War.
I arrived in Bruges – the “Belgian Venice” – on an early autumn day. The Northern sun cast its gleaming velvet light on Gothic buildings which seemed to float on canals, and ancient Bruges greeted me with jangling horse bells and clomping horseshoes on old alleys paved with medieval tiles.
Bruges was a robust harbor city between the 12th and 15th centuries, as trading vessels from throughout Europe came offering pepper, cinnamon, chili and agricultural staples to trade for Flemish wools and cottons. Canals connecting Zeebrugge with the center of Bruges were the crucial transport network of the town during its golden days and now contribute to this well-preserved floating city’s status as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.
Bruges – Belgian Venice
The medieval city of Bruges entices with well-preserved architecture and delicious chocolate, fries and beer
An outdoor museum
Bruges boasts some of the most unique museums in Belgium: The Fries Museum (Frietmuseum), Chocolate Museum, Beer Museum De Halve Maan, Diamond Museum and Groeninge Museum, which displays art by painters who lived and worked in Bruges from the 14th to the 20th century. In fact, the town itself is an outdoor museum that exhibits architectural masterpieces and countless bridges crossing centuries-old canals. Highlights include Beguinage Castle, the Basilica of the Holy Blood, the Church of Our Lady, the Saint Salvator Cathedral, Mariastraat Cathedral, the Tomb of Duke Charles the Bold, the City Hall of Bruges on the Burg Square, St. John Hospital and Begijnhof Monastery.
My journey to discover Bruges began on a canoe packed with dozens of visitors from all over the world. The canoe pilot and a tour guide led us along Groenerei Canal, the main route for exploring Bruges. The canoe snaked through floating buildings along river banks, crossed beneath curved stone bridges and sometimes turned down narrow canals, revealing modest rooms looming behind old green shades. On each of these 30-minute trips, the canoe driver took us to the outstanding constructions of Bruges and told us of the golden age and fall of the town as well as the miraculous revival of this outdoor museum since the turn of the 20th century. Like a short film rolling through the memories of the narrator, a Bruges of the past and present revealed itself to me.
I left the canoe at a wharf sprinkled with flowers at the other end of town. There stands the Church of Our Lady, home to the masterpiece “Madonna of Bruges” sculpture by Michelangelo, which was the only of his works to leave Italy during his lifetime. It seemed that all the ancient lanes in downtown Bruges led to this church. From here, visitors can branch out to admire other architectural masterpieces of Bruges, where every single fairylike gate is marked with UNESCO’s Blue Shield symbol, representing a commitment to protecting humanity’s cultural sites.
Joining the throng of visitors strolling along narrow and labyrinthine alleys, I crossed bridges that led to other jewels of Bruges in hopes of exploring all the wonders of the harbor town while the sunset fell.
Take a look at the ancient imperial capital of Hue
The kingdom of chocolate, fries and beer
However, there is much more to Bruges than its ancient buildings – no visitor should miss out on the city’s chocolate, fries and beer. Belgium is the kingdom of chocolate and Bruges is undoubtedly its heart, as numerous chocolate shops permeate the town with their sweet fragrance. In these stores, some of the finest chocolate of Belgium and the world comes in all styles, shapes and sizes. I also stopped by the Chocolate Story, a museum where all things related to chocolate were on display: cocoa beans, chocolate making tools, statues of Mayans – the first people to use cocoa – sculptures of chocolate, legends of the goddess of chocolate and the history of chocolate production. Stepping out of the museum, my newfound knowledge of chocolate only added to the irresistible appeal of this sweet obsession.
Bruges is a place where one will frequently encounter visitors strolling through the Old Quarter, carrying paper cones of salted fries served with mayonnaise and other delicious sauces, perhaps on their way to the unique Frietmuseum. However, the finest delicacy in Bruges for me was beer. The town is the home to various renowned beer brands of Belgium such as Bruges Tripel, Bruges Blond, Bruges Babbelaar, Brugs, Bruges Straffe Hendrik, and many more. The beer I loved the best was a dense concoction brewed by monks that resembles golden honey and is stored in drum-shaped oak barrels.
After a long day spent exploring, I stopped by a beer pub by St. John Cathedral for Cloister Beer and lamb ribs while Bruges was draped in the dark blanket of falling sunset. As the sunset gleam faded away, light from church belfries and the window panes of old castles cast a warm glow. Another side of Bruges emerged, as visitors began flocking to Market Square in the downtown to continue their explorations of the town’s nightlife.
Two recent tourist attractions offer visitors a taste of life in the ancient imperial capital of Hue
Tu Phuong Vo Su Pavilion (the name means “Reign of Peace Worldwide”) was constructed in 1923 under the rule of Emperor Khai Dinh (1916-) 925), meant to commemorate his 40th birthday. The pavilion was built on the former foundation of an 1804 temple named Tu Thong which had served as an outpost for Imperial City guards. After its construction, Tu Phuong Vo Su Pavilion was dedicated to the emperor and his royals for relaxation and to princes and princesses for daily studies during the last years of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945)
The two-story Tu Phuong Vo Su Pavilion was designed in a colonial style. From the second floor, visitors can take a panoramic view of the majestic landscape of ponds, green trees and undulating roofs of the Imperial City and observe the peaceful everyday life inside the Forbidden City. It was rumored that Emperor Thieu Tri enjoyed the sight of his entire royal palaces from this pavilion, which inspired him to write his “Ten sights of the palaces” poems. Each of these poems was illustrated and carved on woodblock prints, then sent to China to be etched on mirrors.
For a long time Tu Phuong Vo Su Pavilion had fallen into ruin, but in 2010, the site was restored to its original glory. Today, the Pavilion has become the site of imperial-style cultural events with a strong contemporary touch. Audiences can enjoy improvised versions of Hue chamber music, displays of Hue Tuong masks or Tru singing of old Thang Long.
Le Quy Duong, one of Vietnam’s leading directors, has worked in partnership with the Center for Preservation of Hue Former Citadel to restore and develop events for Tu Phuong Vo Su Pavilion and Long Quan royal boat. He said in the near future his company would host an amateur music night in Hue’s former citadel, while Tu Phuong Vo Su Pavilion will be utilized by artists and scholars to exchange ideas and new research about Hue. In the future, several UNESCO-recognized genres, such as Noh theater of Japan, traditional dances of India and the culture of Australian aboriginals will also be featured at the site.
Photo by fadetotoday
Along with Tu Phuong Vo Su Pavilion, the Long Quan royal boat at the Greeting Temple is a unique location for concerts and a way to enjoy and admire the Perfume River at sunset. This luxurious craft was modeled after Te Thong royal boats of the Nguyen Dynasty. It measures 30 meters long and can accommodate 100 guests. Traveling along the tranquil Perfume River, visitors will pass Linh Mu Pagoda, Ngoc Tran Mount and Hon Chen Temple while hearing stories of ancient royal life before joining a “Royal Banquet” that is hosted right on board.
Tu Phuong Vo Su Pavilion and Long Quan royal boat are helping to diversify the tourist attractions on offer in Hue. These two sites will help preserve and promote cultural values of Hue while promising to leave a strong impression on both domestic and foreign visitors to the old imperial capital.