Doorways & Courtyards

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Tứ Trụ – In front of the Temple of Literature are these four tall pillars with Chinese inscriptions & two  stelae from which  horsemen dismounted.

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Standing before the Great Portico of the Temple of Literature (Cồng Văn Miếu) which was built in 1070 & reconstructed during the Trần Dynasty (1225-1400) & in later dynasties but the ancient architectural styles have been carefully preserved.

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Vietnam’s first  university,  ‘Quốc Tử Giám’ the Imperial Academy was established here & built by Emperor Lý Nhân Tông  especially for the bureaucrats, nobles, royalty & members of the elite as he recognised that education was of utmost importance.  A bronze bell hangs above this main gate signifying that a person of importance is passing through & affiliated to the Văn Miếu.

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Archway meant for the Monarch is decorated with a gold gilded  Dragon motif wooden panel.    The Imperial Academy was later opened to the public as there was a shortage of universities in Hanoi & remained opened from 1076 to 1779.

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The Great Portico is flanked by two other smaller gates; the centre gate was reserved for the Monarch, the right gate for the administrative Mandarins & the left gate for the military Mandarins..  This temple complex was dedicated to Confucius, a venerated teacher, politician & philosopher & has the same structure as the Temple of Qufu in Shandong, the birthplace of Confucius in China.

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We passed through this gate (Cồng Đại Trung) from the First Courtyard to the Second Courtyard, approaching Khuê Văn Pavilion. The first two courtyards are quiet areas with ancient trees & trimmed lawns where the scholars could relax & get away from the busy outside world.

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Khuê Văn Các – The upper portion of the wooden pavilion is painted a vermillion red with two circular windows topped by an elaborate roof.  A bronze bell hangs from the pavilion’s ceiling & it is rung only on auspicious occasions.

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We are now in the Third Courtyard after crossing the Khuê Văn Pavilion (Khuê Văn Các) which was uniquely built in 1805 on four whitewashed stone stilts.  Thien Quang Well (Giếng Thiên Quang) lies in the middle with the great halls (Bia Tiến Sĩ) on either side, housing treasures of the temple.

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Young Graduates having their portraits taken by the professional photographers.

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This section here is the  ‘Doctors Stelae‘ which was erected in 1484 by Emperor Lê Thánh Tông. Originally there were 116 such Turtle steles but only 82 remain today. They bear the names of  1307 successful candidates of 82 triennial royal exams held between 1442 to 1779 in honour of their talent & to encourage learning. In Vietnamese culture, the turtle symbolizes longevity & wisdom.

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Another batch of happy graduates are having their portrait taken within the Third Courtyard with Khuê Văn Pavilion as the backdrop.

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I am about to cross  Đại Thành Gate (Cồng Đại Thành) into the Fourth Courtyard. There are several pavilions & halls within this complex, where study sessions & the strict exams of the Đại Việt took place.

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Looking through Đại Thành Gate into the Fourth Courtyard which was a flurry of activity as different groups of Graduates prepared to have their photos taken.

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The House of Ceremonies (Đại Bái Đường) with two dragons sitting on the ridge of the roof. According to ancient origin myth, the Vietnamese people were descended from a dragon & a fairy. So the Vietnamese believe that the dragon brings rain essential for agriculture & it also represents the emperor, prosperity & power of the nation.

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Love the colourful  Áo Dàis  & the enthusiasm of these  young people,  the very future of Vietnam.

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A Bronze pair of Crane-like mythical birds guard the altar in the middle. In Vietnamese culture, the colour red is auspicious & represents happiness, love, luck & celebration.

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A long corridor of vermillion pillars with gold embellishments & wooden plagues with Chinese proses in gold lettering. Gold is associated with wealth, prosperity, royalty, happiness & change.

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An ornamental incense holder with two twining Dragons, in front of the Thượng Điện for devotees to place the lighted joss sticks in worship of Confucius (551-479B.C.) & his disciples.

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Within  the Thượng Điện  Confucius & four of his closest disciples Yanhui, Zengshen, Zisi & Mencius are worshipped.

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Beautiful traditional wooden doors within the Thượng Điện.

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Thái Học Gate (Cồng Thái Học)  brings us to the  Fifth & final Courtyard – the Thái Học Courtyard.

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The Thái Học Courtyard was constructed in 2000 where  the Quốc Tử Giám or Imperial Academy formerly stood.  This section  was destroyed  in 1946 during the French occupation  & was re-built to honour talent, the national traditions of culture & education in Vietnam. It consists of a front building, rear building, left & right buildings, a bell tower & a drum tower on each side & some other peripheral buildings. This front building is where ceremonies in memory of cultural scholars, scientific & cultural activities are held.

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An Orchestra performs at regular intervals featuring some  bamboo instruments, playing traditional music in honour of the Royal founders & Confucius.

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Entrance to the rear building at the Thái Học Courtyard with the Altar to Chu Văn An, rector of the Imperial Academy,  facing the main  doorway.

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Altar of Chu Văn An,  a  venerated rector of the Imperial Academy.

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Overview of the first level of the rear building at Thái Học Courtyard.

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This upper level of the rear building is dedicated to the three monarchs who contributed most to the foundation of the temple & the academy.  Right in the middle is Lý Nhân Tông (1066-1127) who founded the Imperial Academy & Lê Thánh Tông (1442-1497) who had the Doctors Stelae erected & Lý Thánh Tông (1023-1072) not in the picture, who founded the temple in 1070.

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On the second level overlooking the tiled roof of the rear building & the Bell Tower.

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Lầu Chuông – This Bell was cast in 2000 & has a height of 2.1m & width of 0.99m

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View of the rear building from the Drum Tower all within the Thái Học Courtyard.

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Lầ Trồng – this drum weighs about 700kg, is 2.01m high & 2.65m wide, with the volume of 10m³

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The temple complex covers an area of over 54000 sq m & it includes the Văn Lake, Giám Park & the interior Courtyards which are surrounded by a brick wall.

The Temple of Literature is truly an interesting visit, as it is well-preserved & holds a lot of history & gives insight into the lives of the literati in Hanoi during the centuries past. It is also featured on the back of the 100,000 Vietnamese Dong banknote. Every year,  just before  the New Year celebrations Tết, calligraphers would gather outside the temple & write well wishes in Chinese Han characters. These are either given away as gifts or used as home décor for special occasions.

A Bridge Down Under

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View of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from my room at the Marriott Hotel at Circular Quay.

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Full view of  the Harbour Bridge & the partly lit Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay from the Marriott Hotel.

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The Sydney Harbour Bridge is playing peek-a-boo, hiding behind the luscious trees at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Bennelong Point.

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An iconic picture of  Australia with the  Sydney Opera House,  the Harbour Bridge & Port Jackson all  in one,  as seen from Mrs Macquarie’s Chair within the Royal Botanic Gardens.

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Circular Quay is always bustling with all kinds of seafaring vessels big & small like ferries, water taxis, Captain Cook cruises & ocean liners plying Port Jackson which consists of Sydney Harbour, Middle Harbour, Lane Cove & Parramatta River.

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Museum of Contemporary Art on the left, as I stand at the pier of  Circular Quay to capture a shot of the Harbour Bridge.

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A good night view of the Harbour Bridge nicknamed ‘The Coat-hanger’ wedged by 4 pylons  & North Shore – taken from the Sydney Opera House.

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This spanning arch bridge is the 6th longest in the world & it is also the tallest steel arch-bridge standing over 134m from the water level to the top of the structure. Milsons Point on the North Shore with Sydney Luna Park prominently lit on the foreshore.

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Woke up to a day with overcast skies & as we took the Ferry from Circular Quay to Manly, we passed an Ocean liner that had just docked the night before & coursed right past  the iconic steel arched bridge.

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Conservation area  ‘The Rocks’ at Circular Quay W walking towards Campbell’s Cove Jetty near to the Harbour Bridge.

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At Campbell’s Cove Jetty where a luxurious yacht is docked just by Park Hyatt Hotel, sitting beneath the Harbour Bridge.

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Enjoying the green space at the Hickson Road Reserve where there  is a good view of the Harbour Bridge built by the NSW Department of Public Works under the direction of Dr John Bradfield & opened in 1932. The bridge was designed by the  British firm Dorman Long & Co Ltd of Middlesbrough.

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Walking along Hickson Road & snapping away merrily, as the vista here is pretty to say the least & the weather superb.

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This end of the  Harbour Bridge is located at Dawes Point in ‘The Rocks’ area which is part of the southern CBD of Sydney. Looking across is Lavender Bay & the Luna Park amusement & entertainment venue.

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This iconic bridge carries rail, vehicular, bicycle & pedestrian traffic between Sydney’s CBD & the North Shore. Cahill Expressway & Bradfield Highway spans across this bridge but there is an alternative crossing via the Sydney Harbour Tunnel which was opened in 1992 after 5 years of construction to ease congestion on the Harbour Bridge.

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28 panel arch trusses ranging from 18m to 57m support the Bridge which weighs about 52,800 tonnes in totality.  About 79% of the steel was imported from England & the rest sourced from Newcastle, NSW.  The Bridge is held together by 6 million Australian made hand-driven rivets supplied by the McPherson Co of Melbourne with the last one driven in on deck on 21st Jan 1932.

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It is interesting to just stand under this gargantuan structure & listen to the trains coming,  cars passing,  trucks trundling along & not  forgetting the boats & cruisers quietly sailing past.

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Standing at Ives Steps at Dawes Point where I spied some anglers trying their luck for the day right under the nose  of the Harbour Bridge.

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Walsh Bay consists of a mix of commercial & residential properties with quite a few art houses & theatre companies based here.

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Barangaroo Reserve is a 6 hectare park at Millers Point which is Sydney’s latest Harbour foreshore playground. This park resonates with Aboriginal significance & maritime history &  it is a good place to walk, cycle, picnic or simply to take in the stunning view. More than 10,000 sandstone blocks were extracted from Barangaroo  & used to create this extraordinary headland park with native flora on the city’s doorstep.

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Sydney is a city built on & from sandstone. Aboriginal rock carvings have survived because of the durability of sandstone that lies up to 6km deep beneath the Harbour. Some of the city’s beautiful landmarks like the Queen Victoria Building, Australian Museum, Town Hall & Central Station & now Barangaroo Reserve are constructed from Sydney sandstone.

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Was it 200 steps that I climbed to get to the top of the Pylon Lookout? There is a 360 degree observation deck with a glass view finder pointing out Sydney’s surrounding suburbs & the panoramic view up here is spectacular.

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Literally looking over the Sydney Harbour Bridge at this angle. Pedestrian footway on the eastern side, Cahill Expressway & Bradfield Highway,  two Train tracks & a cycleway on the western side – all  suspended over Port Jackson. Side fences have been added to prevent suicides by people jumping off the bridge.

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In the 1950’s & 1960’s there were occasional reports of climbers making illegal arch traversals of the Bridge in the dead of the night. French high-wire artist Philippe Petit walked across a tightrope between the two pylons at the southern end of the Bridge. BridgeClimb opened in 1998 making it possible for tourists to legally climb the southern half of the bridge for an exhilarating experience.

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Looking up from Dawes Point Park I saw another group of Harbour Bridge climbers listening attentively to their guide. Wish I was not acrophobic & believe me, I did seriously think about conquering my fear but at the end of the day, settled for the ‘pseudo climb’ up the Pylon Lookout instead!

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At the junction of George St & Lower Fort St, you can walk under the Harbour Bridge at Dawes Point Park & see the Dawes Point Battery which was the first fortified position constructed in 1788 to protect the cove from foreign invasion. Five cannons manned up till 1916  still remain here but the fort was removed during the construction of the Harbour Bridge.

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At each end of the Harbour Bridge stands a pair of 89m high concrete pylons faced with granite such as this.  Abutments at the base of the pylons are essential to support the load from the bridge’s arch & to hold its span firmly in place. The pylons in themselves do not have structural purpose except to provide a frame for the arch panels & to give better visual balance to the bridge.

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Since 1993 the Harbour Bridge has been an integral part of the Sydney New Year’s Eve celebrations where spectacular firework displays with special themes & effects are staged at 21:00 & midnight.

This majestic bridge soars 10-storey high, looks like the heaviest thing you know & can be seen from many parts of the city. It has been great fun capturing  it from different places & angles & it has certainly cut a deep impression as a symbol synonymous to Sydney & Australia!

Okuma Beach

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Detailed map of the entire Okuma Private Beach & Resort.

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This is the Garden Villa where we stayed the night which is roomy enough for 4 pax. The villas are  nicely spaced out & are encircled by greenery.

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Bougainvillea spectabilis also known as Great Bougainvillea is a flowering species of shrub that originated from South America. The heart shaped leaves are thorny & the white flowers small & inconspicuous but are highlighted by modified leaves called bracts. This fuchsia pink bract is very vibrant & attractive but the colours can vary from white, pink, mauve, purple-red to orange.

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The Garden Villa has an adjoining verandah & it feels comfortable here just like home away from home.

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This is the Grand Cottage section which features Asian-style rooms with a luxurious atmosphere &  a sense of privacy. 

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Grand Cottages illuminated at night.  Guests staying at the Grand Cottage, Grand Cottage Maisonnette 64 & Grand Cottage Masionnette 125 enjoy the use of the Exclusive lounge at Club Shiokaze during meal times & to hang out,  practically all day.

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The Palm Cottages are closest to the Carpark (at the back) & the Beach. It makes a great base for going to the sea, enjoying Yanbaru’s natural environment & the various marine activities at Okuma Beach. Even the colourful buildings seem to hint at the more active guests’ preferences.

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Reflections on the moat surrounding the frontage of the Palm Cottages.

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We  enjoyed the sumptuous buffet breakfast spread at the Surfside Cafe situated on the left side in this photo. There are 7 different food & beverage outlets at the resort to relax & enjoy your meals.

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Bashful Water Lilies just unfurling.

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Surfside Cafe on the left where we had buffet breakfast  & Iju Restaurant right in front of the lily pond that serves Japanese & Okinawan local Cuisine.

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This is the pier where the Boats are moored for boarding & disembarkation. The resort has recently been renamed Okuma Private Beach & Resort under the Nikko Hotels International group.

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It is lit up & shines like a gem in the night. The bell was very inviting & I could not resist ringing it gently just once.

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The main entrance to the reception area of Okuma Private Beach & Resort.

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Walking towards the Shopping area – Plumeria

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The Marine House is where the Beach Information Desk is located & honestly the activities available on any good day is truly amazing. The Oasis is a beach cafe with the seating capacity of 65 & you can enjoy lunch & the bar from 4pm to 11pm daily.

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View of the pier from the deck of the Marine House.

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Entering the fountain courtyard of the Okuma Felicia Church.

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Inside the modern chapel that has glass panels & furnishing that gives an airy & feeling of lightness with a good view of the sea. It is a perfect  venue for a romantic, quiet & intimate wedding.

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Rentals of Yacht, Canoe, Marine Walker, Windsurf Board, U Tube Giant Float & Stand Up Paddlers are available for your picking.

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Lazing by the poolside is not a bad idea,  to catch up on your reading or have a drink at the bar of Club Shiokaze right beside you.

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A  5min Banana Boat or Rocket Board Ski Biscuit costs ¥1,000 a pop. Or how about a Glass-bottom Boat Tour to get out there & see the exotic fish in the ocean.

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This resort is comfortable & set in a secluded private beach making it a sub-tropical paradise.

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The luxurious guest cottages & apartments are scattered throughout the spacious area, a stone’s throw from the beautiful white sandy beach.

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The swim bay is cordoned off & the beach patrolled by lifeguards to ensure the safety of the swimmers & those enjoying recreational water activities.

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In the cool of the morning, when the sun is just rising from the east.

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It is about 6am now & the beach is quiet but in about an hour’s time, people will come out to play. In the summer, this beach would be bustling with activity.

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A simple yet sweet declaration of love fashioned out of seashells & corals found on Okuma Beach.

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The first family to hit the beach this morning & the boy is picking seashells by the seashore. 

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Okuma Beach faces the East China Sea & is part of Kunigami Village in Okinawa Prefecture, Japan.

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Never a dull moment, as this guy gamely allows his buddies to bury him in the sand.

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 In the distance northwest of Okuma is Akamaku Misaki (Akamaku Cape) which has an elevation of 22m. Can you spot a tilted face in the rocks? As the sunshine got stronger, the sand started drying out & looked  whiter in appearance. 

Okuma Beach is surrounded by beautiful views of the East China Sea & there are different facilities from camping to luxurious resort to enjoy the great outdoors & a wide array of land & water recreation. It is a great place to relax & get away from the hustle & bustle of city life & to…… simply chill!

 

Lao Chai to Ta Van

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The village of Lao Chai is just 30mins drive or 6km away from Sapa town where we were based.

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Lao Chai is nestled at the beginning of the Muong Hoa Valley with over 100 ethnic Black H’mong families in the village living on subsistence farming & tourist dollars.

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The Floating Homestay is a rustic & interesting place, strategically located & looking into the Muong Hoa Valley.

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The majestic  Hoang Lien Son Mountains is an eastern extension of the Himalayas & the inhabitants at the foot of the range include  ethnic minorities like the H’mong , Dzao, Zay, Tay & Red Zao.

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The padi season is  over & all the sheaths have been harvested so the rice terraces look a little empty but the ducks are pecking & cows grazing, perhaps still finding something to eat.

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The Indigo plant (Strobilanthes cusia nee kuntze) is a leafy shrub that grows no taller than 1 metre  bearing violet-coloured flowers. They thrive best at altitudes of between 500-1600m above sea-level under natural conditions.  Indigo has been used since ancient times for medicinal purposes & as a natural dye for textiles. The leaves are processed by soaking in water & later fermented, releasing the Indican which can be hydrolysed & oxidised to indigo-blue with the addition of lye. The precipitate is the dried & pressed into cakes or powdered.

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Lao Chai is currently positioned as the rest stop for trekkers going to other villages like Ta Van & is inhabited by mainly Black Hmong families who offer genuine homestay experiences & Batik making workshops. What better way to immerse yourself in Hmong culture than to live amongst them.

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The Muong Hoa River flows through this area where several villages starting with Cat Cat, Lao Chai, Ta Van & Giang Ta Chai gradually fanning out to  many others. This river  feeds the rice terraces that are so beautifully crafted in the valley.

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Soaking in the awesome view at Lao Chai & the Muong Hoa Valley.

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This Hemp plant (Cannabis sativa) is what the Black Hmong process & weave into fabric which is fashioned into  clothing & a wide variety of items. In recorded history, the Cannabis sativa has been cultivated as a source for industrial fibre, hempseed oil, food, recreation (marijuana, hashish), spiritual rituals & medicine. Each part of the plant is harvested differently dependant on the purpose of its use.

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We stopped briefly at a small rest house by the  idyllic Muong Hoa River for a swig of Coke…the DRINK & some local ice cream which I sadly did not enjoy!

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We crossed this narrow Red bridge tagged Lao Chai quickly as it was only wide enough for one car to pass & a truck was rumbling along.

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Without a guide or map, we happily embarked on the trek but these friendly  women from the Black Hmong tribe came alongside right from the start, at the top of the hill. They speak a little English  & tried their best to engage us in conversation which I did not particularly mind but soon realised that they were actually street vendors touting their embroidered items.

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A colourful convenience store in Lao Chai where fruits & vegetables are not the only things on sale; we may be in a remote area in the mountainous region of North Vietnam but staying connected to the world via telecommunications is big here judging by the 4 advertisements posted.

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The valley is dominated by rice terraces but the higher reaches of the mountain sides are usually where other  agricultural crops like corn, sweet potato & cassava is cultivated.

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A provision shop that is well stocked with fresh produce, poultry, pork & sundries in Lao Chai.

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H’mong village houses in Lao Chai near  Sapa.

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We are in Ta Van territory but I honestly do not know where the delineation between Lao Chai & Ta Van really is. Could it be this bridge crossing is the start of Ta Van Village?

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Ta Van was formerly a quiet village with a mix of Dao, H’mong & Giay minorities populating it but tourism has brought tremendous changes & the people have experienced economic growth & adapted. It is hoped that rapid changes would not affect the urban layout,  have negative impact on the people & erode their unique culture.

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Pretty blooming violet flowers of the  aquatic Water Hyacinth plant (Eichhornia crassipes).

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Picture perfect  Ta Van – complete with green vegetable patches, cascading rice terraces, the imposing Hoang Lien Son mountain range & the  illumination of by  blue skies. A snapshot which I treasure & have kept in my heart.

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We see stalks of corn being hung up to dry in the sun before the kernels are extracted from the cob & laid on the ground for further drying. It would be used to feed their livestock like cattle, poultry, buffalo & hogs. On the left side of the porch are joss sticks laid out to dry.

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Cottage industry where the  Giay women folk  manufacture  Joss sticks & pellets of Sandalwood incense. Giay women wear blouses like this one with splits at the sides & buttoned on the right side paired with dark indigo trousers & their hair wrapped around their head with a scarf. The older women usually don blouses of darker shades & in their costume we see  Vietnamese & Western elements blended together.

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A pair of ducks sunbathing & contemplating their world – Ta Van, Vietnam.

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Our 3 hour long slow & easy trek ended as we exited Ta Van crossing this bridge.  Child labour is an issue Vietnam  contends  with but  I sincerely hope that these young girls will have a chance to get an  education & secure themselves  a brighter future.

The journey from Hanoi to Lao Cai takes a gruelling 8 hours & though the train’s air-conditioned sleeping  berths were reasonably comfortable, it could not make up for the noisy & bumpy ride which kept me awake through the night though I was dead tired. On arrival at Lao Cai Station, you have to take a bus or van ride for about an hour with  a fair bit  of winding mountain roads before reaching Sapa town proper.

My wish is that the Train system would be overhauled & high-speed trains would be running when I next visit Sapa.  Despite the rough journey,  I must say Sapa & the surrounding areas around Fansiṕan Mountain are the highlights of my trip to Northern Vietnam & I love this place!

Indochina’s Rooftop

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We took a 15min taxi ride to Sapa Station which is about 3km South-west of Sapa Town to where the Fansiṕan Legend commenced.

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Directly opposite the Sapa Station entrance is Bao An Thien Tu or Bao An Pagoda which not only is located in beautiful surroundings but stands at an impressive  altitude of 1,604m.

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The Fansiṕan Legend newly opened in Feb 2016 is a suspended cable car system that is the highest, longest & most modern suspended cable car system in Asia as well as the world. Adult Tickets are priced at VND600,000 approximately US$33 which is a little steep but state of the art as promised.

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The 15min ride  was very smooth & quiet, fitted with comfortable seats that can easily accommodate up to 20 people each trip. Fansiṕan Legend was awarded a Guinness World Record for the feat in transporting 2000 guests in an hour.

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Fansiṕan is about 9km away from Sapa town & a round trip hike would take  about 3 days for anyone in good shape.

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Muong Hoa Valley is carved with an intricate maze of rice terraces that look interesting even when barren after the Autumn harvest. The best time to catch the verdant valley is around July-August; during April-May, the rice fields would look like huge sparkling mirrors as water cover the surfaces. From September-October, a golden sea signals harvest time.

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The Sun Group employees did a good job braving the weather & working on the rough terrain to get this first class cable car system in place.

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As we ascended higher into the Hoàng Liên Son Mountain range, we were engulfed in swirling clouds.

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Cổng Tam Quan or Tam Quan Gate shrouded & celestial – the first flight of steps to conquer after exiting Sapa Station.

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The  signboard missing a “G” detailing  what you can expect to see as you head towards the crown of Fansiṕan. However, a few of them are still under construction at this time.

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No. 7 on the map. On the steps of Chùa Hạ – Bích Vân Thiền Tự Temple which is 3,037m above sea-level. Believed to be where Heaven & Earth blend harmoniously converging Yin & Yang, & where all sorrows dissipate leaving only peace in one’s soul.  The architecture in the spiritual landmarks reflect the style of the Ly-Tran Dynasty.

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No. 9 on the map. The Vọng Lĩnh Cao Đai Buddhist Great Bell.

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I did not keep count but there are supposedly over 600 steps from Fansiṕan Station to the summit of the mountain.

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Point No 11 on the map. Slowly taking shape is the unfinished iron structure of the  Great Buddha Statue seated on a giant lotus throne. The Lotus flower symbolises fortune in Buddhism, as it rises & blooms above the  muddy waters to achieve enlightenment. It also speaks of purification of the spirit that is born into murkiness & a world of suffering & finally it is an inference to faithfulness, as those who seek to rise above the muddy waters need to be faithful followers.

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Point No. 18  on the map. The final station of the Funicular is still under construction which was why we had to climb about 600 steps to get to the crest of Fansiṕan. Some workers seen carrying construction materials uphill  are catching a breather here.

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No. 17 on the map – Cột Cờ, the Flag pole. It was nice to finally reach the peak of Fansiṕan. The exertion & perhaps thinner air, meant I had to take  short breaks in between climbing but I certainly enjoyed the cold weather & wind with temperatures  hovering around 10°C.

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No 19 on the map – Dĩnh Fansiṕan, the zenith of Fansiṕan Mountain & the Rooftop of Indochina stands at the elevation of 3,143m (10,371.9ft)

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It was time to make tracks as it was getting dark;  my hair was dripping wet from walking in the clouds as I did not have a hat.

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Return leg from Fansiṕan Station to Sapa Station which would cover a  non-stop distance of 6,292.5m on this sophisticated  3-rope cable car system.

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This breathtaking scenery coupled with the feeling of soaring through the clouds is nothing short of amazing. We passed Hoàng Liên National Park, Muong Hoa Valley & the impressive peaks of the Hoàng Liên Son Mountain range.

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The vast open skies, a canvas painted with the colours from the palette of a beautiful sunset.

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How magnificent  is the Creator’s handiwork & what an awesome privilege to be there to capture this  incredible moment.

Rüstem Pasha Mosque

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The mosque sits atop a high terrace over a complex of vaulted shops whose rents were used to finance & administrate the mosque complex. It now houses a religious school. The honeycomb framed niche or Mihrab indicates the direction of Mecca which Muslims face when praying.

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Rüstem Pasha Mosque is a 16th century  Ottoman structure located at  Hasırcılar Çarşışı (Strawmat Weavers Market) in Fatih District of the city of Istanbul, Turkey. It was dedicated to the memory  of Rüstem Pasha(c.1500-1561)  by his wife Ottoman princess Mihrimah Sultan(1522-1578), who wielded great power in the empire.

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The mosque has double porches which  consist of five domed bays which project a deep, low roof supported by a row of columns. Here is the outer porch with marble floorings and columns.

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Muslims practice  ritual purification or ablution(wudu) before prayers & to observe cleanliness within the mosque, we left our shoes at the racks at the  entrance. We filed passed this inner porch before we got to the central prayer hall( Musallah).

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Rüstem Pasha Mosque is lesser known compared to the  Blue Mosque & Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul but this smallish place of worship contains a large quantity of beautiful Iznik tiles that makes it a gem.

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The interior  is extensively covered in ceramic  Iznik tiles & the Mihrab, the semicircular niche in the  qibla  wall as seen here is elaborately decorated.  The Mihrab  indicates the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca & it is the focal point in  prayer rituals. On the right are steps leading to the Minbar where the Imam stands to deliver sermons or addresses the congregation.

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Rüstem Pasha served as the Grand Vizier of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent from 1544-1553 & 1555-1561. He married  Mihrimah Sultan, the daughter of  Suleiman the Magnificent & his  wife Hürrem Sultan in 1539. This mosque was built between 1561-1563 after Pasha’s death  was designed by Mimar Sinan the genius architect & civil engineer of the Ottoman Empire.

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Sinan only realised his dream late in life when he was appointed Chief Royal Architect when he was about 50 years old. He left a copious amount of works which include 92 mosques, 52 small mosques(mescit), 55 Theological schools(medrese), 7 Koran reciter schools(darülkurra), 20 mausoleums,17 public kitchens, 3 hospitals, 6 aqueducts, 10 bridges, 20 caravanserais, 36 palaces & mansions, 8 vaults & 48 baths.

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The plan of the mosque has some Byzantine  influence;  an octagon inscribed in a rectangle with a large central  dome resting on four semi-domes. Seen here is one of four special octagonal pillars where the arches of the dome rest & the southern gallery on the left.

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Iznik is a town in Anatolia which became the established centre in the last quarter of the 15th century for the production of simple but high quality earthenware pottery & tiles with an underglaze decoration of Cobalt Blue.

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The combination of traditional Ottoman arabesque patterns & the influence of Chinese elements was probably due to the patronage of the Ottoman court in Istanbul who greatly valued Chinese Blue & White porcelain. We see in this tile a Coral or Tomato Red colouring which was derived from an Iron-rich red earth called bole found in Armenia. It produces a slightly raised texture & a brilliant red colouring termed as Iznik Red.

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This gorgeous panel is found on the wall of the Outer porch. There is no representation of humans or fauna in Islamic art as they believe that God alone is the unique creator of all living forms.

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The ancient town of Scardona  has over 2000 years of history & is the gateway to Krka National Park. It is now known as Skradin & since 1968 has become  a protected cultural monument, besides being a popular culinary & yachting destination. Forbes magazine cited how Bill Gates & his family enjoyed  the summer of 2010 exploring this tiny Mediterranean town of Skradin filled with  narrow paved streets, passages & steep  hillsides.

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This is the birthplace of Rüstem Pasha who was of Croatian or Serbian descent. He was taken to Istanbul as a child where he  built his military & bureaucratic career. Skradin  is a small town with a population presently of about 4000 people in the Šibenik-Knin County of Croatia. It  sits at the entrance of Krka National Park near the Krka River & is about 17km from Šibenik & 100km from Split.

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This 391m long concrete arch bridge opened in 2005 is called Krka Bridge. It spans the karst Krka River Canyon & rises over 65m & is situated between the Skradin & Šibenik interchanges in Croatia on the A1 Motorway.

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Beautiful reflections on Prokljan Lake(Prokljansko jezero) in the region of Dalmatia. It covers an area of 11.1sq km & is the 2nd largest lake in the whole of Croatia. This lake is connected to Šibenik Harbour  by a narrow channel & it eventually meets the Adriatic Sea.

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Watching from the rest area south of Krka Bridge, I am mesmerised by this breathtaking sunset as I appreciate the glorious handiwork of my infinite creator.

Nippon’s Miniature Niagara

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This is the Parking area for 六角堂 Rokkakudou which is a hexagonal-shaped shrine just by Fukiware Falls.

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吹割ノ滝 Fukiware-no-taki is situated in Okkai, Tone-machi, Numata-City of Gunma Prefecture in Japan. Ukishima Bridge(Right) & Fukiware Bridge(Left) in full view.

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We stayed overnight at Oigami Onsen which is a hot spring resort in the mountains of Gunma Prefecture bordering Numata City. It is about 4km up river from Fukiware Falls & took about 10mins drive to get to. We parked across the road outside a restaurant & walked through an underpass before descending  about 2-3 flight of stairs  to get to the water’s edge.

A Festival  procession to offer prayers for safe water levels  after the thawing  of winter frost swell the Katashina  River &  also for the safety of visitors who come to Fukiware Falls. This Rogation day usually falls on April 18th every Spring.

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Over a million visitors come yearly to see these spectacular falls which have become  a national treasure of sorts & it is especially beautiful during Autumn when the  surrounding foliage or 紅葉 Kouyou  are at their stunning & blazing best. When the winds are strong you can feel the spray of mist churned up from the mighty 7m splash.

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Fukiware-no-taki is a horseshoe-shaped waterfall that spans 30m & drops 7m into the granite riverbed below. The sight & sound of the rapid gushing vortex of water hitting the river bottom is a mesmerising & powerful impression.

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吹割ノ滝 Fukiware-no-taki  Fukiware Waterfalls.

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The 片品渓谷 Katashina  Keikoku – Katashina Ravine stretches over 1.5km  & the elements & river continue to change the landscape over time & carve out rocks of unusual & interesting shapes.

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This is a calmer section where we get to appreciate  the crystalline waters & granite cliffs more closely.

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A cave lies around the corner & the deeper section of the river appears an attractive  emerald green.

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Continue along the concrete footpath that skirts the ravine 吹割渓谷 Fukiware Keikoku & river, then turn around & have a look  at the colourful rugged rock face; a natural phenomena  that is worth more than a second look.

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We approached a second granite  plateau before another  waterfall  greeted us.

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The downstream flow of water gathers speed & form a swirling mass before plunging into the section below.

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A multi-coloured composition of rocks with traces of mineral deposits & the bright orange parts hinting of either an iron or non-metallic sulfide.

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We reached the lower section of the ravine & got to 鱒飛ノ滝 Masutobi-no-taki  which drops a further 15m before we turned  back.

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浮島橋 Ukishima Bridge spans 150m & crosses to  浮島 Ukishima Island where 浮島神社 Ukishima Kannon Temple is located.

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Looking upstream at Katashina River from Ukishima Bridge.

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Ukishima Bridge sans hordes of tourists.

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Ukishima Kannon Temple is a Buddhist temple dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy. It also houses the work of legendary Japanese sculptor, artist & carpenter  Jingoro Hidari who lived during the Edo Period circa 1596-1644. It is believed that he created many deity sculptures throughout Japan including his famous 眠り猫 Nemuri-Neko Sleeping Cat & 三匹ノ猿 Sanbiki no saru Three Wise Monkeys.

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眠り猫 Nemuri-neko Sleeping Cat at the Kuguri-mon Gate at Nikko’s 日光東照宮 Toshogu Shrine.

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三匹ノ猿 Sanbiki no saru Three Wise Monkeys at 日光東照宮 Toshogu Shrine in Nikko.

This  kind gentleman from the Ukishima Kannon Temple offered me a drink of fermented sweet rice wine.

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Condiments of pickled radish (daikon) to go with the Amazake, a traditional sweet low alcohol Japanese drink made from  koji (fermented rice) & the koji mold Aspergillus oryzae which is commonly served at shrines during festivals.

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Fukiware Bridge  which is 140m in length offers splendid views of the Katashina Gorge below.

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View from 吹割橋 Fukiware Bridge with 浮島 Ukishima Island on the left.

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A parking area & a rest-stop to catch a breather before we retrace our steps  back to our car & head to Kusatsu Onzen.

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A tourist map near the parking area & rest-stop that highlights the walking trails & spots of interest.

Fukiware Waterfalls was a pleasant surprise & it certainly exceeded my expectations. Though it is more convenient to get there by driving compared to public transport,  I deem it worthy of a visit & I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere, the walk & the interaction  with the local folks.