Monthly Archives: March 2012

Some Highlights of Thailand

A few favorites from Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Pai; see PHOTOS for more.

We head out of Laos today… stayed tuned for many more photos and videos to come!

From Wat Arun over the Chao Praya River

Opening Performance, International Muay Thai Festival

Evening prayers, Wat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai

Chinese Village near China border, Pai

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VIDEO: Island Hopping Around Coron, Philippines

While staying in Coron, Philippines, we took advantage of the ability to cheaply hire a Bangka (wooden outrigger boat) and boatman and set out in the beautiful bay stopping wherever we wanted.  It was an amazing day and we put together this video to share some of the highlights…enjoy!

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Visit to the Bangkok Flower Market

One of my favorite things to do while in Bangkok is to check out the Flower Market at Delaat Pak Klong.  It is open 24 hours a day but the night time is the best time to visit as that is when the deliveries of lotuses, roses, orchids, chrysanthemums, and many bright varieties arrive freshly cut from the flower farms  outside the city.    It is surprisingly off the tourist map and every time I have been there, I have only seen a handful of other farang (foreigners) there.   For photographers it is a feast of colors and is very interesting watching the people bartering.  Most of the flowers are destined as offerings at the many Wats (Buddhist temples) in the city, and garlands for wrapping around the hands and heads of Buddhas are handmade by women in almost every stall.

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Exploring Sunken World War 2 Wrecks in the Philippines

While in the Philippines we were able to explore 3 different Japanese wrecks from World War 2 that were sunk by US Fighter Planes in 1944. In this video you will see the Olympia Maru and towards the end of the video the Kogyo Maru. For more info visit our travel blog at http://www.dontmisstheboat.org

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Bangkok Medicine for the Weary Traveler

20120316-141340.jpgOkay, so we’ve only been on the road for two weeks, but that doesn’t mean that the affordable comforts that Bangkok has to offer is not much needed and appreciated. The best meal I’d had up until arriving in Thailand was on our ANA flight, if that says something! It feels good to indulge a little on this Bangkok layover before we head north. Even with the currency rate lower than usual, we foreigners cannot complain about $1 streetside meals, budget aircon rooms on par with Western standards, and nightly Thai massages.

But back to the food. It is my belief that most Thai street food snacks were originated in a 5 year old’s imagination who knows that the best treats consist of coconut, sweetened condensed milk, nuts, merengue, custard, some mango perhaps. I have no idea how some of these creations were invented, but I am in agreement with them! We’ve basically been eating our way through the city. First lunch, second lunch, first dinner, etc. And usually tropical cut fresh fruit or fruit shakes in steady intervals throughout the day. I’m making up for my “Philippine Vegetarian Diet”, which basically meant I was hungry for the 10 days we were there!

Thailand is known and respected for it’s street food, and truly this is an eating culture. I imagine street food here became popularized as folks seem to be always on-the-go, and thus they eat on-the-go. And they are constantly eating! Day, night- in restaurants, malls, stores, streets, indoors, outdoors- Thai folks seem to fiercely enjoy their food.

And so do we.

-Shana

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Leaving the Phillipines, Next Stop Thailand

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After 10 full days in the Phillipines, Shana and I are both very anxious and excited for this plane to leave Clark airport outside Manila and take us to the land of smiles, Siam sunsets, and coconut curries. I really enjoyed scuba diving the Japanese WWII wrecks and exploring the lagoons and lakes on Coron Islands but I think we could have done Basuanga Island in less time. Shana has had a hard time eating vegetarian here as Filipinos love their chicken, fish, and pork so we are both looking forward to the veggie friendly Thai cuisine.

Yesterday we left Basuanga Island and took a flight to Manila. From there we had to make our way to Angeles City about 90 minutes north of Manila where our flight to Bangkok left today. Angeles city is home to Clark Air Force base, a huge sprawling airport that once housed the US Air Force during the Vietnam war. During the late 60’s, Angeles City developed a nightlife scene to cater to the needs of the many Americans and Australians stationed there. From what I’ve heard, very little has changed and during our short time there it felt like were in the middle of a giant brothel. The hotel we stayed at was full of Australian, British, and American ex-pats and their young Philippina lady friends. Looking through a weekly tourist guide, it seemed like the small city had developed a decent sized community of permanent and seasonal expats. Ads offering houses for sale and rent, visas, cheap medical services, and the latest girly bars filled the pages and made me feel a bit gross and sad for these men. What were they escaping from back home? Were they lonely widowers who hadn’t found a wife or partner in their country of origin? Were they stationed here in the Vietnam War and never could acclimate returning home? Was there a shameful legal past they were running from? All of these questions raced through our mind as we watched solitary sad looking men between the ages of 50-80 years old sipping drinks at bars and paired up with girls half their age. It was easy to be judgmental of these men and I wished that I could hear their life stories and learn what had brought them here. There was a fine line going on between prostitution and what may have been actual loving relationships. The entire place was a documentary film waiting to happen, although I can’t say that I could stay there long enough to film it. Needless to say, Shana and I stuck out there like sore thumbs. To be fair, very similar places exist all over Asia and in Thailand like Pattaya and the Patpong district in Bangkok. However, this place really struck me due to the ex-army backgrounds of most of the men.
When we arrive in Bangkok, we will be starting preparation for some videos we are producing while there and lining up interviews. It is a great city to act as a hub for our travels, due to it’s proximity to most South East Asian countries, modern amenities, availability of most everything we may need from clothes to film supplies, and access to internet connections. I have spent more time in Bangkok than any other city I have not permanently lived in, and am so excited to visit my favorite restaurants, food stalls, and stores. We look forward to sharing our stories, photos and videos of this amazing country in the coming weeks.

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Finding Our Rhythm in the Philippines

Coron

View from Kanyangan Lake, Coron Island

We arrived hot and tired in Coron Town, Philippines, after an arduous and exhausting series of flights, delays, cabs, vans, and finally- safely here at our stay at the lovely Corto Divers apartments. Coron is a small town on the island of Basuanga which is in the Philippine municipality of Palawan. Coron is known for it’s fishing industries and diving adventures, and a growing tourism economy because of the latter. This whole region of Palawan is surrounded by hundreds (thousands?) of small islands, mostly covered in jungle, mangroves, rocky coves and craggy cliffs, as well as some hydrothermal activity which has resulted in hot springs and mixed salt water/fresh water lakes with hot thermal pockets great for swimming, snorkeling, and diving. What we didn’t realized upon arriving was how sparse the beaches on Basuanga Island were, and how far you have to travel by motorbike, jeepney, or boat to relax at a quiet beach not monopolized by a private resort.

It feels foreign and familiar to us both to be back in Southeast Asia, having been in the region together in 2008 and Ben a few times in prior years. The smells, climate, humidity, pollution, and poverty felt shocking and difficult for me to adjust to initially. Although Coron has it’s share of travelers, many of the Philippino communities on the island seem to be living fairly simply. Luxuries such as hot water, electricity, Western toilets, or homes made of materials other than bamboo and palm seem to be few and far between. Ben found us a great stay at Corto Divers, and their apartments (only 3 rooms) are brand new, beautifully designed, and feels more like staying with your French cousins than at a hotel or hostel. It has been a great place to escape from the pounding sun to rejuvenate and relax.

We spent our first few days exploring the region– taking part in a 6 destination snorkeling tour, renting a motorbike and driving up the rugged island roads, and checking out the congested, tiny town of Coron. The build-up was leading to the big question: Would Shana decide to get scuba certified here in this infamous diving location or not?! Corto Divers offers certification and the scene is unique as far as training goes- one on one instruction for three days in gorgeous tropical locale with brand new scuba equipment. With hesitation (dread?), I went for it. My instructor, Olivier, was so skilled, patient, and though he pushed me, he ultimately made me feel safe. Every day of the course I came upon another challenge, mostly internal, which scared me and pushed my boundaries. What was so incredible about the course was moving through the fear every single time to experience another new and beautiful piece of life.

In addition to the protected coral reefs, tropical marine fish and sea turtles, Coron’s diving is most known for it’s Japanese shipwrecks. In 1944 during WWII, the Japanese were occupying the Philippines and on September 24 of that year, a US Navy strike force of fighters and dive bombers attacked a Japanese supply fleet of up to 12 ships at anchor, here in Coron Bay and around Basuanga Island. It is unknown exactly how the US Navy located the ships. 8 ships were closely packed together in Coron Bay. I believe 10 ships in total eventually sank. Being there, it was hard to imagine this beautiful tropical and quiet bay, packed with fleets, on fire and sinking after US fighter planes dropped unexpectedly out of the sky and attacked. Well, here is where I completed my PADI Open Water Course! While Ben had done a number of shipwreck dives a few days prior, he and I both went out with two guides on the last day of my course and were able to share the experience of diving together in this wild, spooky, and fascinating location. 68 years later the ships are covered in marine life including lionfish, banana fish, crocodile fish to name a few. Some of the ships landed right-side up, and the adventurous diver (Ben) can actually go inside and see barrels, ladders, and coiled ropes. However in many ways the shipwrecks now resemble a coral reef, and it’s another incredible example of watching wildlife grow and simply take over. This was an experience I never thought I would have, but I’ll never forget it.

"Hi Mom!"

Check out the photos link in the menu for more photos, and stay tuned for a video of actual footage of the dives.

Next: Thailand!

~Shana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On The Road

20120301-101513.jpg Above: Shana on the way to the airport

After a stressful past week and a grueling past 48 hours, we are on the road–the road being a huge of slab of concrete known as the 405, which now resembles a parking lot, full of Angelenos on their way to work. We’re moving slowly but surely over the Sepulveda pass towards LAX and our first destination, the Phillipines.
I have been fortunate to travel throughout South East Asia many times but I have yet to visit several countries, including the Phillipines. For many years I have heard stories of jewel encrusted white sand beaches where you can find your own piece of paradise, even if just for a day. I’ve also heard stories of tourist kidnappings, Manila Mafias, and all sorts of violence that makes your parents worry for your safety. We are choosing to write our own story and are looking forward to the slow pace, the turquoise colored snorkeling lagoons, and abundance of WWII wrecks to scuba dive off of that has drawn us to explore the island of Coron.
One of the main inspirations for our trip is filming a short documentary dealing with the trash problem at the Full Moon parties on Koh Phan Ngan in Thailand, and a web series about social/political street artists in South East Asia…but that can all wait as right now our first order of business will be to decompress, snorkel, dive, and get some color into our white complexions. Stay Tuned!
-Ben

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