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

Monday, June 24, 2013

Photos From My Unauthorized Adventures in Vietnam

Below are a selection of photos from my day-to-day adventures exploring the countryside of southern Vietnam. The ancient jewelry you see can't be found in any museums. The ancient temple ruins I find can't be found in any maps or history books. This is real adventure--the essence of discovery.

Song Luy River, Binh Thuan Province

Citadel walls of the forgotten ancient Champa capital city of Bal Canar (Ban Canan)

Ruins of an unknown ancient Cham temple (possibly 8th to 10th Century) in remote farmland.

An ancient silver Cham ring (private collection - not mine) A stylized tiger head motif is carved on either side of the gem. I'm no gemnologist but the stone looked like quartz. I've been to all of Vietnam's major museums and never seen an example of jewelry similar to this.

An undocumented ancient Cham temple ruin. Possibly 8th-10th Century.

Religious displays of Nop villagers (not a tribe you'll find in guidebooks).

An ancient silver Cham bowl, private collection.

Typical Binh Thuan rice farm. The farmhouse is made with mud and grass walls. The walls tend to accumulate ants, termites and scorpions.

Raising ducks

Goat shelter

An ancient amber necklace, probably Cham. Amber necklaces were common in Vietnam's ancient cultures going back thousands of years, though not common now. Private collection. 

A country kitchen.

The road goes ever onward.

A Cham man goes home for lunch. Cham are one of the few ethnic groups in Vietnam to wear their ethnic costumes during normal daily activities.

Ancient Cham bracelets, private collection. I'm not sure if these are silver or bronze.

Lunch in a Cham home.


Top 2: I discover ancient Cham temple ruins on a wooded hillside, probably more than 1000 years old. This was the first of several ruined temples that I found in Binh Thuan, Vietnam. Bottom left: a windscorpion. Bottom right: a termite mound.

A golden tree snake. Considered harmless though mildly venomous and rear-fanged, the snake is known for gliding or 'flying' from trees across Southeast Asia.

Spoils of the adventure: handmade baskets from a Rai village. Rai, a relatively unknown ethnic group, have a similar spoken language to the Cham, and were likely part of the ancient kingdom of Champa.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Bus in Mui Ne Beach Ends Up in The Sea

This weekend a tour bus driver for the government-owned Saigontourist company in Mui Ne Beach forgot to put his parking break on, resulting in a mishap that drew crowds from across the beach. The bus, which was parked at Hung Phat Restaurant while passengers were stopped for lunch, rolled down the hill, across the street and through the seafood stalls in central Mui Ne, before ending the adventure partly submerged in the waves below. Fortunately nobody was hurt, although reportedly one woman and one child were on board. Passenger luggage was apparently still on board and appeared to get rather wet.

Saigontourist (Công ty Du lịch Sài Gòn) is a state-owned company head-quartered in Ho Chi Minh City, It owns and manages hotels, restaurants and runs guided tours throughout Vietnam. Saigontourist owns a large number of hotels in Ho Chi Minh City, including the Caravelle Hotel, Rex Hotel, Hotel Continental Saigon, and Hotel Majestic.

Photos used by permission.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

In Support of the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum

Dear Members of the Presidio Trust,

As a travel author and journalist it is my job to find venues that will be of the highest interest to my readers and tourists. One of the challenges of my work is to find the sights and attractions that are not merely historical or famous, but actually remain popular and relevant to contemporary and future audiences. Destinations that were popular with previous generations do not always sustain their public interest.

There is no question that the name of George Lucas alone, attached to anything, attracts attention. Through his beloved films, George Lucas has fostered a reputation for enduring quality and imagination. However, it is the choice of subject matter that sets the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum apart as an enduring attraction for tourism, education and inspiration. Illustration has been a universally mode of story telling since the beginning of civilization in cultures across the planet. Unlike other forms of visual art, which come in and out of vogue, the art of Norman Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish and others in the collection of the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum have unquestionably resonated with the general public over the past century and continue to inspire, unite and encapsulate the emotions of our culture.

The Lucas Cultural Arts Museum is precisely the sort of area attraction that I want to feature in a guidebook, magazine article or other media outlet. More directly: it is the sort of place that I already know I want to visit, and bring my family and friends.  It has appeal in numerous spheres, from education to entertainment, and engages lovers of art, cinema, and above all, good stories.

There are some commonalities in what George Lucas is striving for with this museum, and my friend Sir Richard Taylor has done with the ‘Weta Cave’ in Wellington, New Zealand, albeit on a smaller scale. The Weta Cave is a mini museum and shop showcasing the artwork of Weta Workshop and Weta Digital in film and television, including features like The Lord of The Rings, The Hobbit, King Kong and The Chronicles of Narnia. The Weta Cave, which includes a limited tour, an exclusive film documentary, periodic book signings, artist demonstrations and other special events, also promotes the independent artistic endeavours of Weta artists, including sculptors, illustrators, authors and computer effects artists. The Weta Cave has become a focal point not only for tourism in the nation’s capital but a creative heart for the local artist community.

On a much larger scale, The Lucas Cultural Arts Museum will become a core cultural arts attraction for not only the Presidio and the San Francisco Bay Area, but will undoubtedly become one of the celebrated museums of the country.

As such I enthusiastically give my professional recommendation to the Presidio Trust that the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum should be awarded with development of the former Commissary site at Crissy Field. The museum will be a valuable asset for tourism, education and culture for generations to come.


Adam Bray

Contributor to CNN Travel, BBC Travel and more than 30 guidebooks for Insight Guides, DK Eyewitness, Berlitz, Thomas Cook, Lonely Planet and others.