Photo Of The Day: Colonial Architecture In Burma

When we think of Southeast Asian architecture we often think of old temples and ancient statues, but the influence of colonial times on this area of the world has had just as much of an influence on the local infrastructure and design.

Flickr member R A L F captured this beautiful building facade in Yangon, Burma (Myanmar). The city, also known as Rangoon, has the largest number of colonial buildings in the region.

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[Photo Credit: R A L F]

Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, A French Colonial Town In America’s Heartland

When we think of Colonial America, we generally think of the old parts of Boston, lovely New England port towns such as Marblehead, or Spanish colonial towns such as St. Augustine. America’s heartland has some colonial traces too. The best preserved and most distinct is the French colonial town of Ste. Genevieve, Missouri.

Located about 60 miles south of St. Louis, Ste. Genevieve was one of the first permanent European settlements in what is now Missouri. French settlers came here in the early 1730s. The first years were tough ones. The town was poorly situated on the Mississippi flood plain and often got soaked, leading the poor Frenchmen to nickname their town Misère, meaning “misery.”

The French were mostly from Canada and copied the architecture they were familiar with. Single-story houses had walls of vertical logs set into the earth and plastered in a style called poteaux-en-terre. A roof of wooden shingles extended past the walls to bring rain away from the house and a covered porch often ran all the way around the house.

Each lot was surrounded by a palisade of vertical logs to keep out the animals that strayed unattended around town. The tops of the logs were sharpened to keep out unwanted two-legged visitors as well. Inside each of these little forts was a yard, garden, barn and an outside kitchen, placed there to reduce the chance of a fire inside the house.

Ste. Genevieve did well as the center for the fur trade and many local farmers made extra income mining for lead and salt. When the region was sold to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase it kept its French character. Even as recently as a hundred years ago some residents spoke French in the home.

As well as keeping their culture they preserved many of their distinctive colonial houses. While you won’t see buckskin-clad trappers hauling their loads of furs onto shore from canoes, or French farmers heading out into the uninhabited woods with a flintlock over their shoulder in search of meat for the pot, Ste. Genevieve retains a strong historic feel. Many of the original 18th-century homes are open as museums and are stocked with period furniture.

Ste. Genevieve makes a good day trip from St. Louis, and an even better overnight. Several 19th century homes have been turned into bed-and-breakfasts and the shopping district is well stocked with antiques and gift items.

Being a regional attraction means the town keeps a full events calendar, including occasional reenactments, so you might just get to see those French trappers and hunters after all.

Kolmanskop: Namibia’s Eerie Ghost Town

There’s something compelling about ghost towns. To walk amid the houses that once held families, past playgrounds that once rang with the laughter of children, and through public buildings where locals once gathered – all gone.

I’ve explored ghost towns all over the American Southwest, and while they have creepiness aplenty, the most disturbing ghost town has to be Kolmanskop in Namibia. Perhaps it hits closer to home because it was abandoned as recently as 1954. Perhaps it’s because its buildings are half filled with desert sand, and may one day get buried entirely.

Kolmanskop sprouted into existence in 1908 when diamonds were discovered there. At that time Namibia was colonized by Germans who were eager to extract the mineral wealth of the region and, shamefully, had just committed genocide against two Namibian tribes to secure their dominance. The discovery set off a rush of investment and construction and soon this barren stretch of sand was the location of a model German town with schools, theaters and stately homes. It was so wealthy that its hospital boasted the first x-ray machine in the Southern Hemisphere and its public transportation included the first tramline in Africa.

%Gallery-155604%Much of the town remains, desiccated and preserved by the harsh desert environment. Check out the photo gallery to see the bleak grandeur of a place that was used by astronomer Dr. Brian Cox to illustrate the concept of entropy on his show “Wonders of the Universe.”

Kolmanskop is located in Sperrgebiet, a diamond-mining region in southern Namibia that is off-limits to the general public without a permit, which can be easily obtained through one of the tour companies that offers visits. Prebooked tours are currently the only way to visit the town. Because of the limited number of visitors, nature thrives in this region despite half of it being desert.

Interested in seeing more ghost towns? Check out Justin Delaney’s post on “The World’s Ten Creepiest Abandoned Cities.”

[Photo courtesy Damien du Toit]

Latin America on a budget: Bogota, Colombia

Not all the glowing stories about Colombia’s travel revival are true: a visit to Bogota can still be dangerous. I actually found myself in peril my first day in Colombia’s capital when I went for some authentic lunch. As I sat down for my first Colombian meal, a friendly local recommended the “Bandeja Paisa,” a hearty Colombian dish. Why not, I thought? Except his innocent meal was not what it seemed – the dish that showed up at my table looked downright terrifying: a dangerously delicious heart-attack-on-a-plate of ground beef, a fried plantain, a chorizo sausage, rice, a fried egg, avocado, crispy pork skin (are we done yet?), beans AND an arepa to top it off in case I was still hungry. As I consumed the tasty fare, I began to feel dangerously lethargic – my breath slowed, and I literally had to fight from slipping into a nap as I later explored Bogota’s nearby Museo del Oro. In other words, I was loving every minute of my time in Bogota.

Bogota, Colombia is still a dangerous place to visit these days. It’s just that it’s not dangerous in the way you’re probably thinking. In place of drugs and violence, this delightfully accessible Colombian capital is now “dangerous” for lots of good reasons: the dangerously gorgeous streets of colonial Candelaria, the city’s sinfully exotic tropical fruit juices and mouth-watering culinary delights and, most importantly, its threateningly inexpensive costs for North American budget travelers.

This past February, I made the remarkably easy five hour non-stop Delta flight down to Bogota from New York City to find out just what everyone was talking about. My mission: to explore the city on just $75 a day. Wondering what I discovered in this dangerously intriguing South American capital? Keep reading below.Orientation
The sprawling city of Bogota rests on a high mountain plateau set against the Eastern Cordillera of the Andes Mountains. Within this metropolis of over seven million residents lie several distinct neighborhoods of interest to the budget traveler.

Visitors on a tight budget head for La Candelaria, an atmospheric neighborhood of gorgeous colonial facades and many of the city’s hostels and guesthouses. Though not quite as atmospheric, Bogota’s more upscale neighborhoods to the north, including Zona T, Zona G and Parque 93 offer equally leafy, park-laden confines swarming with restaurants, cafes and nightlife. Chapinero, just to the south of Bogota’s swanky commercial areas is an increasingly attractive option as well.

Where to Stay
Given my travel budget for Bogota, my initial search led me to Bogota’s cheaper Candelaria neighborhood, where I considered renting private rooms at Hostel Sue ($15/night) and Anandamayi Hostel ($30/night). Cheaper mixed dorm beds were also available. At the recommendation of Jeff, a Colombian expat who runs Career Break Secrets, I ended up checking out La Pinta, slightly further north in Chapinero, with private rooms for $27/night.

La Pinta proved to be the perfect match. Its pleasant backyard, proximity to nearby pubs filled with students and central location made a great base to explore Bogota’s northern neighborhoods as well as easy access to La Candelaria in the south.

Getting Around
Bogota’s progressive approach to city planning comes through in the city’s extensive transportation network. From the airport, it was within my budget to grab a regulated taxi, run by a dispatcher, for flat fare between $8-13. Make sure to look for the stand when you exit the terminal.

Once you make it to Bogota proper, getting around is fairly cheap as well. Even a typical taxi ride between the Northern and Southern parts of Bogota never cost me more than $10. Make sure to look for a regulated cab with 411-1111 or 311-1111 on the side to prevent scams. Though I typically took taxis, Bogota’s extensive and reliable Transmilenio express bus system is another attractive option at under $1 per ride.

My Bogota Experience
With little time to spare on my short weekend trip to Bogota, I headed straight out of the airport and right into Bogota’s buzzing weekend nightlife. I spent my first evening downing one dollar Aguila beers in the scruffy bohemian bars lining Carrera Septima (7th Avenue) near La Pinta. It was a delight to watch the energetic student patrons shuffle along to vintage Cumbia music inside the bars, their walls lined with Colombian flags and peeling Che Guevara posters.

The next morning was Sunday, a day many Bogota residents use to partake in the city’s Ciclovía: a weekly event when the city’s main road is closed off to cars and cyclists, walkers and joggers take to the streets in the beautiful 70 degree weather. I walked all the way from Chipinero to La Candelaria along the Ciclovía route, stopping for lunch at Sabrosita, a local Colombian chain, where I stuffed myself on a plate of hearty Bandeja Paisa ($3 for a plate) before continuing to Bogota’s famed Museo Del Oro.

It was at the Museum of Gold (Museo del Oro) that I began to realize what a gem of destination Bogota had become. The museum’s collection, housed inside a sleek, artfully arranged facility downtown, is composed of literally thousands of pieces of gold jewelry and ceremonial objects, each more stunning than the next. Best of all on Sundays, the museum is free of charge.

Thanks to a long weekend, I had one more day to enjoy in this cosmopolitan city in the Andes, and I truly made the most of it. I wandered my way back to Candelaria, stopping to take in the sprawling plaza at Plaza de Bolivar, and explore the nearby cobblestone streets lined with colorful facades, ornate woodwork and unique street graffiti. At this point my energy was flagging – a situation that I remedied with a drink made of a unique Colombian infusion of sugar, chocolate and…cheese (?) called Chocolate Santafereno at a famous Candelaria sweet shop called La Puerta Falsa.

I had read about Chocolate Santafereno, but couldn’t fathom why anyone would put a hunk of creamy cheese in a perfectly good cup of hot chocolate – until I tasted it. The salty, creamy queso blended perfectly with the sweet & spicy, thick pudding-like texture of Colombian hot chocolate. It was a pick-me-up, culinary novelty and comfort food, wrapped into one.

Much like that first taste of Chocolate Santafereno, my experience in Bogota was not what I was expecting. Colombia is indeed dangerous…dangerously addictive, that is. Take a quick taste for a weekend, and you’re likely to come back wanting more.

Hungry for more budget travel ideas? Be sure to check out Gadling’s budget travel archive.

South by Southeast: Hit and run Hanoi

You don’t just visit Hanoi. Hanoi visits you. Take a walk down any street of this fast-paced Vietnamese capital of commerce and communism and prepare to be overwhelmed by sensory delights (and annoyances). Motorbikes buzz around intersections like nests of angry hornets. Your feet trip over small plastic stools at street-side noodle shops. Vendors chase you down the street like used car salesmen, endlessly peddling a mish-mash of boat trips, tropical fruits and Lonely Planet guidebooks. It’s enough to make a Southeast Asian traveler go mad. But beneath this cacophony of life and movement lies an emerging must-see destination of achingly beautiful architecture, vibrant street life and cutting-edge culture. Get out of the way – we’re taking a “hit and run” tour of Hanoi.

For many years, getting to Hanoi was more of a roadblock than a green light. Situated in Vietnam’s furthest northern reaches, it was a capital both hard to get to and literally hard to enter. Veiled behind a curtain of communism and painful memories from decades of war, it was a destination most American travelers couldn’t and didn’t visit. But with the normalization of relations in 1994 and Vietnam’s admission to the WTO in 2007, tourism has been on the move. Nowhere is the “new Vietnam” more evident than in rapidly changing Hanoi. Where infamous prisons once stood, there are now luxury high rises. And in place of guns and grenades, you’ll find fashion boutiques and trendy coffee shops.

Ready to take another look at this on-the-move Vietnamese capital? Keep reading below for the ins and outs of a proper Hanoi visit.Getting In
Getting to the furthest northern reaches of Vietnam has never been easier or more inexpensive. Thanks to cheap budget airlines like Air Asia and Jetstar, flying into Hanoi from other Southeast Asia capitals is a snap. If you’re coming direct from the U.S., consider United Airlines and Delta, both of which now fly to Vietnam (with a layover in Asia) from the United States. For those arriving from points south in Vietnam, the country’s competent rail system offers sleeper trains for around $30-40 depending on the point of origin.

What to See
Hanoi is a city with a rich history. Anyone interested in the history of the Cold War will find lots to explore at the city’s many war monuments and museums, covering Vietnam’s struggle for independence as well as the conflict between North and South. In addition, Hanoi is increasingly home to a thriving arts, food and nightlife scene.

  • Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum – The body of “Uncle Ho,” architect of modern Vietnam, is entombed at this vast complex. There’s no more surreal (and creepy) sight in Hanoi than paying a visit to Ho’s preserved body. Surrounding the mausoleum visitors can investigate a large museum and complex of buildings where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked.
  • Old Quarter – To see where old and new Hanoi collide, head to the city’s Old Quarter. Just north of Hoan Kiem Lake, the area is home to a growing collection of trendy art galleries, bohemian coffee shops and happening bars. These businesses mix effortlessly with the area’s chaotic array of merchants, selling everything from textiles to fruit shakes to motorbike parts.
  • Beer, Ahoy! – Hanoi’s street food is legendary. Stumble down any street and you’re likely to find delicious local specialties like Bun Cha and savory bowls of Pho noodle soup all accompanied by Vietnam’s infamous brew, Bia Hoi (draught beer). And for 25 cents a glass, you can afford to buy a few rounds for your pals.
  • Temple of Literature – Take a trip back in time to ancient Vietnam at this well-preserved monument to the teachings of Confucius and Vietnamese scholarly works. The Temple of Literature represents an oasis of serene Chinese-style pagodas in the city’s chaotic traffic-choked center.

Where to Stay
A stay in Hanoi is incredibly friendly on the wallet. Considering the range of amenities like free WiFi and satellite TV available at most hotels and guest houses, a budget traveler will find themselves spoiled for choice starting at around $15 per night. Great options include the Especen Hotel situated just west of Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake. Shoestring travelers should check out Hanoi Backpackers, which attracts a happening crowd for its daily happy hours and is a great bargain at $7.50/night for a dorm bed. High rollers frequent the Sofitel Metropole, a grand dame of Asian colonial elegance, with rooms starting at just over $200/night.

Gadling writer Jeremy Kressmann is spending the next few months in Southeast Asia. You can read other posts on his adventures “South by Southeast” HERE.