The never-ending adventures of a travel writer in Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Friday, November 26, 2010

World Exclusive: Largest & Most Important Archaeological Discovery in Vietnam for a Century

UPDATE: 26 January 2011: Read my CNN story on the Long Wall of Quang Ngai at:

As many of you know, I've been on a research trip for about a month now, traveling across Vietnam to update several guidebooks. I've been fortunate to meet and interview several archaeologists, and Vietnam & Champa history experts along the way. One of the country's top archaeologists and historical scholars recently gave me an interview as well as an exclusive advanced scoop on THE LARGEST AND MOST IMPORTANT ARCHAEOLOGICAL DISCOVERY IN VIETNAM IN A CENTURY. Here I'm just giving a taste--dropping a few hints about what this discovery actually is. I spent the last week locating and surveying it, and despite those many days at the location, I probably managed to see less than 05% of it. Once announced to the world and developed for tourism, this site will change Vietnam's tourism industry forever.

The ruin of this stone fortress is part of the archaeological site, which spans across 2 provinces.

Fortifications at the site are made with a variety of natural materials.

The site involves a diverse set of ethnic groups who still inhabit the area.

My adventure to find the sites involved some danger. Flash flooding washed out bridges.

Heavy rains during the day caused landslides all around me.

 I met fearless natives.

I Made a few other ancient discoveries along the way.

And managed to find a little humor amongst the adventure.

There is a new website for The Long Wall of Quang Ngai.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cham Kate Festival, Phan Rang, Vietnam

The Photos below were taken in Phan Rang - Thap Cham, Vietnam during the Kate Festival last month. The festival is the most important holy day in the Cham calendar and includes both the Cham and the related Rag Lai minorities. I've attended the festival several times, though few other foreigners have witnessed it.

Below are photos of the procession in the first day of the festival, when Rag Lai villagers deliver the ceremonial clothing of the Cham King Po Klong Garai to the Cham people.

These Cham holy men deliver the clothing to Thap Po Klong Garai and adorn the statue of the king.

The procession ends in a pageant of traditional Cham music and dance.

In Cham culture the men usually play the musical instruments, of which there are only a few kinds.

The next day I visited both of the local ancient temple-towers where festivities take place around Phan Rang.

The Champa Kingdom was a contemporary of the ancient Angkor kingdom in Cambodia. Their towers were however made from baked red bricks, instead of laterite blocks like the Khmer.

Cham villagers climbing up to Thap Po Ro Me for the Kate Festival.

Cham leaders at the Kate Festival at Thap Po Klong Garai.

The Cham, unlike the Vietnamese, are a matriarchal society.

The Cham prepare a feast at the temples where they honor and worship the kings.

The modern Cham mostly fall within two religious traditions--the Balamon (Hindu-based) and the Bani (Muslim-based). Both actually celebrate Kate, though most observers at the temples are Balamon.

As with everything on this blog, these photo are copyright Adam Bray and may not be copied or republished anywhere else. Period.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Vietnam cannot have both Bears and bear bile

Ha Noi, November 23th, 2010 – Twenty-two percent of Vietnamese people said that they have used bear bile in the past, according to the findings of the study by Education for Nature-Vietnam (ENV) on attitudes associated with bear bile use in Vietnam.
A total of 3,032 people were surveyed in three cities in Vietnam: Hanoi (north), Da Nang (central) and Ho Chi Minh City (south). The participants were randomly selected and interviewed by telephone to analyze the motivation behind bear bile consumption and evaluate demographic differences between respondents in their attitudes toward the use of bear bile.

The survey results suggested that:
·         Bear bile is considered as a magic medicine that can cure a range of health problems including muscle complaints, bruises, digestive problems or even cancer. Bear bile is mainly used to treat specific health problems (73%). Bear bile is also used for general health improvement (24%) and entertainment purposes (14%).

·         Hanoi has a much higher percentage of bear bile users than Da Nang or Ho Chi Minh City.  Thirty-five percent of survey participants in Hanoi claimed that they have used bear bile in the past, while only 16% of those in Ho Chi Minh City and 15% in Da Nang said that they have used bear bile.

·         The percentage of men using bear bile is higher than the percentage of women in all three cities. Almost 1/3 of all male survey participants (29%) claimed to have consumed bear bile in the past compared to 17% of all women surveyed.

·         People with higher education levels (college degree or higher) are more likely to use bear bile than people with lower education levels (high schools or lower levels). Bear bile consumption also rises with age and the use of bear bile is different between age groups.

Vietnam is home to two species of bears, the Asiatic Black bear (Ursus thibetanus) and the Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus). Both species are being pushed to the edge of extinction, mainly due the illegal hunting and trade to support the demand for bear bile used as a traditional form of medicine. Bears are usually captured as cubs in the wild and sold to bear farms where they are raised and used to extract bile from the gall bladder. Currently, there are about 3,500 bears in farms in Vietnam, most of which originated from the wild.  

Vietnam’s bears are in trouble,” says Ms. Vu Thi Quyen, founding director and the author of the report. “Urgent and tough measures are needed to put an end to bear farming and trade in Vietnam.”
Based on the findings from this study, ENV recommends following actions:

·        A long-term and sustained awareness campaign must be carried out in order to dispel the belief that bear bile is a form of magic medicine. The campaign should promote medical alternatives to bear bile (both herbal and western medicine) and highlight its perceived ineffectiveness as reported by former users.

·        Stronger laws and more effective law enforcement are critical to efforts to phase out bear farming and eliminating bear bile consumption.  All unregistered bears discovered by authorities should be confiscated and the owners appropriately punished.

·        Studies should be carried out to identify major wild populations of bears in Vietnam where protection and recovery efforts should be prioritized; an analysis of commercial farming of bears and other endangered species and its impact on species conservation should be conducted.

The results of ENV’s study will help authorities and conservation organizations to develop more effective measures to address bear bile consumption and trade in Vietnam and enhance protection for what may be Vietnam’s last remaining bears in the wild.  

“We need to face a tough choice,” says Ms. Quyen, “Vietnam can’t have wild bears and bear bile too.”

The full results of the study have been compiled in a report, An Analysis of Attitudes and Bear Bile Use in Vietnam (Vietnamese and English version).  ENV wishes to thank the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) for supporting this important study.

Related Links

Bear campaign TV Public Service Announcements
Bear extinction guaranteed PSA:
Younger generation Say “No” PSA:

About Education for Nature - Vietnam

Education for Nature-Vietnam (ENV) was established in 2000 as Vietnam’s first non-governmental organization focused on conservation of nature and the environment through education.  Our mission is to foster greater understanding amongst the Vietnamese public about environmental issues of local, national and global significance, ranging from protection of wildlife and natural ecosystems to climate change. We employ creative and innovative strategies to influence attitudes and behavior, not only highlighting the need to protect Vietnam’s rich natural heritage and the living world around us, but also encouraging greater public participation in achieving this important and challenging task.

ENV’s efforts to protect Vietnam’s endangered bears

ENV has been working for more than five years to end bear farming and trade, carrying out a range of activities including investigations and surveys of bear farms, working with authorities to confiscate illegal bears, and combating consumer crimes such as selling bear bile and products made from bears, ENV’s legislative and policy arm works to build support amongst key government decision-makers and leaders to improve policy and strengthen legislation aimed at protecting Vietnam’s bears, and ensure that current laws are enforced effectively, while ENV’s public awareness and education unit carries out campaigns with the aim of reducing the consumption and use of bear bile and bear products. Recent campaigns have include airing public service announcements on TV and radio, campaigning through the media, billboards and advertising on buses, and public events throughout Vietnam  hosted by ENV’s mobile awareness unit.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Flooding in World Heritage Town of Hoi An, Vietnam

Below are photos from the current rainy season floods in the UNESCO World Heritage Town of Hoi An, in central Vietnam.

The first two are the walking bridge going out to the island.

Riverside street below.

Riverside on the island. The water comes right up into the shops.

Below boats pull right up to shops on the second street in from the river.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Quang Ngai Khanh Van Cham Tower Destroyed?

Reprinting this article here as its gone out of print and I don't want it to be lost. Sad testimony of the state of preservation of historical and archaeological monuments in Vietnam, particularly of the Cham people:

Quang Ngai: Khanh Van Tower may fall
15:56' 10/06/2005 (GMT+7)
Khanh Van tower in Quang Ngai Province is in danger of collapse as workers are taking its foundation soils to fill in reclaimed land for Tinh Phong industrial zone.

Tam Son hill in its current state.
There are 35 relics related to Cham culture in Quang Ngai, among these are 10 deserted and abandoned antique towers. The Khanh Van tower on Tam Son hill, Tinh Tho commune, Son Tinh District is the most intact in its foundation architecture.

In August 1998, archeologists excavated Khanh Van. Technical specifications from the base of the tower, as well as several other findings helped identify that the tower was built in the XI century and ruined by the XVI century.

The foundation is 2m high, each side is 10m, each corner is L shaped 3m each side, 4 ornamental supports, sculpture of leaf and carving of a hermit, the vignette was made refined in the form of saw tooth. The height of the tower is 20m, approximately the height of My Son A1 – a masterpiece of the Cham in drawing and architecture.

The archeologists also discovered a stone altar 1.4m in length, 42cm in width, 34cm in height, with a lot of carvings and engraved pictures.

Recently, when UNESCO proposed the cultural conservation agency to recommend two Cham relics in Quang Ngai, the cultural conservationists started checking the status of Khanh van tower - one of the two top recommended sites. This was when they discovered that one third of the hill had disappeared.

According to Mr. Le Thanh Ha the party secretary of Tinh Tho commune where the historic site is located “…the commune has never received any document to say that Khanh Van was a cultural relic.

So, this mount has long been used to provide earth for construction schemes in the commune and around the district. Recently, the people from Quang Ngai Museum came up and we were informed that the mount is a relic that must be protected.”

The foundations of Khanh Van tower are already on the edge of a hundred meter precipice.

The total area of industrial zone of Tinh Phong, hundreds of hectares, is made from the earth taken from the hill. “It is lucky that the foundations at Tinh are complete, so workers stopped digging at the hill,” Ha said.

The obvious question is why the commune allowed digging around the antique tower in the first place.

Bui Hong Huong, director of the Quang Ngai Museum, said, “The sector had no funding to rank the cultural relics. Because no ranking has been done, no sign or notice was given to the local authority."

Sadly, short of major intervention, the last remaining relic of the Cham culture in Quang Ngai will be demolished when the rainy season comes and the land slides.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Evening at Bobby Chinn's

Had another great dinner at Bobby Chinn's in Hanoi last night. A pleasure to finally meet the man himself as well.

I had the basic set menu (a cute little appetizer, crab-corn-truffle soup, filet mignon, desert sampler platter) plus the quesadillas (a sample or meat and spinach--very tasty--and mango salsa).

I won't tell you hear what I paid--but you can see in upcoming guidebooks for DK Eyewitness, Insight Guides and other good publishers. :)