Category Archives: History

Destinations History Photo Galleries Thailand Travel Asia Travel for everyone

Twilight at the ‘Dawn of Happiness’

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With a backdrop of the setting sun, the sight of the old bricks and stones and Buddhas which used to be the Thai capital during the 13th century was surreal.

P1300259 OVER seven hours bus ride away from Bangkok will take you to the old city of Sukhothai— one of the most impressive World Heritage Sites and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Thailand.P1300202

Located at the lower northern Thailand, the most famous ruins of the ancient city of Sukhothai is a must-never-miss in one’s itinerary. Nestled amid lush jungles, lakes and neatly manicured lawns, the ancient city of Sukhothai which means “the dawn of happiness” is a history buff and a photographer’s dream.

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When we got off the bus at the Sukhothai terminal, my buddy and I rode a songthaew, a long wooden jeepney that transported us to the Old City about 12 kilometers away. We picked one of the hotels right across the street from the Sukhothai Historical Park and hurried to catch our first real glimpse of temple ruins.

I discovered there are just too may temples and ruins to visit you can’t walk all the way. We rented a motorbike for 200 baht good for 24 hours, but there are lots of bicycles for less than 100 baht.

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When we reached the nearest temples or what was left of it, my jaw just dropped. With a backdrop of the setting sun, the sight of the old bricks and stones and Buddhas which used to be the Thai capital during the 13th century was just surreal. P1290957

Historical records show that the Old Sukhothai was the first capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom from 1238 to 1438. Since the 1960s restoration work has been done to preserve the ruins, but I learned later that if you follow the unmarked tracks, it will lead you to more temple ruins in their untouched state. We drove around some more after dark and got a real taste of fear when we stumbled into more ruins in some territory we haven’t seen in thP1300593 copye maps that sent us going around in circles for a long time.

It was kind of spooky going around the ruins especially when darkness fell, with the orange glow casting shadows. You get this uneasy feeling that someone is watching you from behind the pillars and stones but I guess it is part of the mystery and attraction that lures thousands of visitors from all parts of the world every day.P1300428

Accommodation in Sukhothai is not a problem. Hotels and guest houses abound and at whatever budget suits you.

Sukhothai is a place where life starts very early in the morning with vendors selling food in carts and tables on the sidewalks, and where you see hundreds of monks in orange ply the streets in the early morning hours.

Getting to Sukhothai from Bangkok or other parts of Thailand is half the fun and you get to explore the Thailand countryside. The long bus rides are worth it but you can check out other options like trains and airplanes.

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Dallas: The X-Spot

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A spot in the middle of the road marked with a white X is the next focus of attention. This is the very spot where past US president John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963.

WHEN one is heading to Dallas, Texas for a visit, the most recommended and must-never-miss place is the Dealey Plaza at Elm Street, considered as the Front Door of Dallas and one of the most historic districts in Texas.

P1340006Stand on the curb of Elm Street and you can immediately identify visitors. They will all look up the windows on the fifth floor of the former Texas School Book Depository now turned JFK Museum, then down to the street below.

There is more to the place than just a park and ordinary street. It is a spot that carries volumes of extraordinary stories, a place where people come to “walk, feel, touch and experience history” all over again. It is a significant part in the history of the United States.

P1310526This is where Kennedy’s motorcade and his life ended while on his way to the Dallas Trade Mart to speak at a luncheon.

A spot in the middle of the road marked with a white X is the next focus of attention. This is the very spot where past US president John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963.

Despite the heavy traffic in this busy street, people risk their lives just to run and touch the white marker on the road and have their photos taken with the red brick historic building as the backdrop.

P1310539From the safety of the street, I took photos and watched a photographer mount a tripod on the roadside and make a dash for a ‘selfie’ shot standing near the white X mark in the middle of the road. Before his camera flashed, the traffic lights turned green and he had to run for his life.

My travel buddy and I circled the area in our car several times while we captured it all in GoPro attached to our windshield before deciding to check out the place on foot.

This Sixth Floor Museum tour will take visitors to a trip back in time through the precious historical collections of JFK’s assassination.  The collections include art, artifacts, audio, books, documents, films, magazines, newspapers, oral histories and photographs that you can go over to revisit that fateful day when bullets felled one of the US presidents.

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This corner window at the Fifth Floor is marked as the spot where the gunman fired the shot that killed president John F. Kennedy. Photos by Raquel C. Bagnol

There are buses and tour companies that offer special JFK Tours as well as other historic sites in Dallas but if you are daring enough and have the luxury of time, this is a tour best done on foot, at your own time and pace.

Driving around Deleay Plaza and around Dallas at night is a whole new world you should experience. The city lights are just dazzling and there is so much to see. I missed the market fair as it only opens on the weekends.

Dallas is a mix of tourist attraction sites as well as back streets where my friend who was driving told us to “lock our doors and windows because she forgot her gun at home.”P1340053

If you come from the islands where the limit is 45 miles per hour, be ready because people from other states have told us that “Dallas drivers have a reputation of being “mad, crazy drivers” on the road.” From what I saw, I guess I can easily believe that.

This article was first published at the Guam Post Daily November 15, 2015 edition page 12. See the story here.

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Discovering historic Guthrie

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At 9 a.m. there was barely anyone around and only a few cars were on the streets. I had a strange feeling that we stepped into a storybook set in the 1800′s.

IMAGINE waking up one morning and finding yourself in the middle of beautiful tree-lined city streets in historic Guthrie about 30 minutes drive away from Oklahoma City. You will rub your eyes to see if you are awake and make sure you haven’t stepped into a time machine.P1310867

I had no idea what I was in for when my travel buddy and I drove into Guthrie on our way to Ponca City some weeks ago. He just mentioned vaguely about stopping by to see some sights then we were in the center of a movie set, except that it is populated with real people.

At 9 a.m. there was barely anyone of the streets and only a few cars were driving around. I had a strange feeling that we stepped into a storybook set in the 1800s.P1310731

Guthrie, Oklahoma’s first capital is destination for history buffs, antique lovers and collectors. The streets were lined up with rows and rows of antique shops, thrift and resale stores, art galleries, and old-looking structures that house Oklahoma’s artifacts and collections. From the glass store windows the sight of various antique stuffs will lure any shopper in—old chairs and furniture, lamps, kitchen utensils, tapestries, and all sorts of knick-knacks.

Towers emerge from beautiful quaint buildings made of red brick and native sandstone, and don’t be surprised to see classic cars parked on the streets.

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Shopping in Guthrie is the most popular and must-not-miss thing to do but I never had a chance to do it, one more reason to return.

Guthrie has been in the limelight too often as the location shoot of several popular movies including Twister, The Rain Man, Fast Charlie…the Moonbeam Rider, The Gray Man, Public Enemies, My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys, Fingerprints, The Killer Inside me and parts of Outlaw Kingdom.

Flashback to the city’s origins, Guthrie was located in the Unassigned Lands of the Indian territory. The early settlers were among the over 50,000 people who lined to grab their piece of land from the available 2 million acres in the first land rush in Oklahoma in April 22, 1889.  A gunshot was fired, a cannon roared and horses and wagons sprang to life. Guthrie has become a tent city for over 10,000 people  and developments followed right after.

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On our way back, we drove by Guthrie again and stopped on the road to ask a guy talking where the best place to eat was.

He pointed at the building behind him and said “they serve excellent steaks down there at the basement,” and added “I know because I own the place.”

Instead of taking the elevator, we went down a rickety flight of stairs to the basement where another surprise awaited us. Gage’s Steakhouse, the sign said, and true to the owner’s word, they serve really good steaks but that is another entirely article. Watch out for it. P1310845

It was exhilarating walking and driving around the streets in a town that started as a tent city in 1889. Guthrie has preserved the rich architectural legacy while merging with the advent modernization. The magic aura of this unique territorial city continues to draw thousands of visitors from around the world each year.

This article first came out in page 23 of the Guam Post October 18, 2015 issue.

Destinations History Pacific Islands Saipan Travel for everyone

Isely Field of War

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IMG_7754HIDDEN behind thick tangan-tangan jungles across from the Saipan airport tower are more remains of the World War 11 that a lot of people may not know about.

Driving around the area on Sunday morning with visiting friends from the mainland took us to the rusty Japanese tanker just beside the road where a marker was erected by the CNMI Historic Preservation Office telling the whole story about the place.

I’ve been to the tanker by the roadside before but didn’t know there was more beyond. The area was cleared free of thick shrubbery, baring the view for more World War 11 remnants.

We were at As Lito or Isely Field and around us were several structures, bunkers and tankers that haveIMG_7796 been preserved within a National Historic Landmark established on February 4, 1985.

We were trudging on grassy area that showcased the remains of a power station building, an oxygen generating building, Japanese headquarters building, hospital, repair shops, and a row of Japanese navy design air raid shelters. Some of the air raid shelters can be seen from the main road but a lot of them are hidden behind thick shrubbery. The air IMG_7740raid shelters are kept clean on the inside.

The marker on the roadside narrates that the construction of As Lito Airfield began in 1934 and As Lito was developed into the principal Japanese air base in the Marianas as the threat of war increased. As Lito was attacked by American aircraft of Task Force 58 on June 11 before the June 15 beach landings along the southwest coast of Saipan.

The interpretive sign which also provides translations in Chamorro, Carolinian and Japanese further tells that one of the objectives of the invasion was to capture As Lito and convert it to an American base that would put land-based bombers within reach of Saipan. IMG_7803 After the Battle of Saipan, As Lito became the home of Bomber Wing 73 and was renamed Isely in honor of an officer whose plane was shot down during one of the air raids. Aviation engineers and Naval Construction battalions moved four million cubic meters of earth to construct the runways at the Isely Field. The As Lito/ Isely Field was deactivated in 1940 aDSC_7831nd the construction of the Saipan International Airport began in October, 1973.

If not for the airport tower that is visible from where the remains are, it is easy to imagine how the place teemed with people and activities during the World War 11.

Try to find some time from your schedules and make a trip to the airport to explore one of the most vital parts of island’s history.

(First published at the Around the Islands page of Marianas Variety, May 8, 2015 issue)

History Photo Galleries Saipan

Screaming walls of a lighthouse

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Text/photos by Raquel C Bagnol

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SAIPAN, CNMI—There is something about lighthouses that always sets my adrenaline level to ultra high and I just can’t resist the temptation to explore one. I guess that happens to a lot of people.

Back in 2008, friend Brad (not Pitt but how I wish! lol) invited me to visit a Japanese lighthouse and said that it was a perfect place to view the sunset, I wasted no time went up to the highest point of Navy Hill on Saipan one afternoon.

A slight drizzle started as soon as we were on Middle Road but I kept my fingers crossed, hoping the unpredictable Saipan weather would do me a favor for once.

The lighthouse is located a few meters away from Whispering Palms School. Hidden by a bend in the road behind overgrown bushes is a white concrete three-storey tower rising approximately 50 feet, looking neglected and abandoned in the gathering dusk.

I mounted 45 steps of the circular staircase going up, counting beneath my breath. To get to the very top of the tower, you have to climb up eight more rungs of a steep ladder. I looked doubtfully at the rusty-looking steel but Brad assured me it wouldn’t collapse under my weight. A fantastic view awaited me from the top. The whole area of Garapan spread out serenely below, the sea in the distance bathed in a red-orange glow as the sun finally decided to peep out of the clouds after the slight drizzle to show its splendor.

Delving a little into history, I learned that the lighthouse was built in 1934 to guide Japanese ships arriving in the harbor. It was abandoned long after the U.S. Navy pulled out of Saipan in 1947. In 1990 the lighthouse was renovated into a restaurant but it closed four years later. The lighthouse was among one of three CNMI sites that were accepted to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

If walls could talk, what stories they have to tell! These walls had been the mute witnesses of everything that happened years and years ago.

The walls DO talk, and shout and scream. Here is one structure that suffered only a slight destruction during the World War 11, withstood the test of time and resisted the harsh elements of nature yet powerless against heartless individuals who seemed to have held a competition on wall writing.

The whole structure was covered in graffiti. Beautify CNMI! and other groups exerted efforts in repainting the lighthouse each year, but vandals always follow them and ruin their efforts.

From time to time I grab the chance revisit the Japanese lighthouse to shoot photos. My next visits not only presented more graffiti but trash on the floors too. You have to wade your way through the piles of empty beer and soda cans and bottles and hordes of other food wrappings to the top of the lighthouse.

Despite the tall bushes and thick shrubs that threatened to engulf the whole structure, the place still maintains its power to lure visitors to come up and challenge the slippery and dank stairs, the piles of trash and graffiti.

It’s always a cat and mouse game with the cleaners and the vandals, but this lighthouse is one of the must-visit sites when you’re on Saipan. Don’t miss it! To get there, just follow the road up to Navy Hill, go left past Whispering Palms School, look for a mango tree, scratch your head and watch out for a dog by the roadside. Kidding. Once you get to Navy Hill, just ask anyone for directions.

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