Tag Archives: travel blog

VIDEO: In the Shadows of Angkor, Cambodia

Turn on HD for best quality.

Angkor Wat Cambodia is one of the spiritual  power centers  on this earth and has the ability to humble all who walk through its root covered ruins.   After being slightly traumatized by our filming of the Full Moon Party on Ko Phan Ngan, it was nice to get back to Bangkok and make the journey to Siem Reap, Cambodia, home of the Angkor temples.  I had made the journey in 2005 when the road between the border of Thailand, Poipet and Siem Reap was just a mangled pot holed mess.   The journey was infamous for being torturous as backpackers and their backpacks would be crammed into the back of a pick up truck  for a 8 hour journey.   When I did it, a guitar was stolen from us and it lived up to its hellish reputation.  This time however, it went much smoother although it wasn’t without its hickups.    We made the journey in the relative comfort of a first class bus from Bangkok to the border and then got a  ride in a mini van to Siem Reap.    We found a recommended driver and scheduled him to be our guide for the next two days.   We started our first day before dawn as we wanted to take some photos as the vine and root covered Ta Prom temple at sunrise.    It was a beautiful experience as we were the only ones there for the first hour and has the magical ruins to ourselves.   As the sun came up the heat and humidity were punishing with the temperatures reaching 108 degrees.  We were covered with sweat but that did not stop us from seeing most of the temples, some of which are 20 miles apart from one another.

Photos and videos cannot do justice to the experience of being at the temples, but we hope this video can give you a small taste of the sites and sounds of Angkor.

We will be posting a large photo gallery of Angkor in the next week, so keep your eyes peeled for our next post.

Enjoy!

-Ben

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VIDEO: Swimming with Giants: Whale Sharks in Thailand

While staying on Koh Phan Ngan in Southern Thailand, we ventured to the north east of the island and heard rumors that a friendly Whale Shark, the holy grail for a lot of divers, had been seen the previous days. The whale shark is a harmless “shark” and more akin to a whale, being the largest of the fish species. Dark grey with white spots it can grow to be up to 42 feet long and weigh 47,000 pounds!! We booked a spot with a local dive operator to the dive sight Sail Rock, a large rock jutting out of the ocean halfway between Koh Tao and Koh Phan Ngan. The two dives were some of the most magical dives we had ever done with thousands of fish in schools, encircling us as well as turtles, barracudas, and lion fish encounters. On the second dive we were rewarded with multiple visits from a very friendly Whale Shark. It swam by us several times throughout the dive and even came up to the surface to say hello to the snorkelers. We were exhilarated and at the end of the dive came to the surface whooping and slapping high fives with each other. An experience not to be forgotten and we are grateful to have captured it on film.
Enjoy!

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VIDEO-Shiva, Shakti, and Buddha too! Buddha Park, Laos

North of the capital city of Vientiane, on the river banks that seperate Laos and Thailand sits Buddha Park. One of the most interesting religious monuments I have ever been to, it was the project of a a Shaman Luang Pu (Venerable Grandfather) Bunleua Sulilat. He mixed Buddhism with Hinduism and the concrete sculptures that adorn the park feature deities from both religions. He designed all 200 of the sculptures and had his followers who had no experience building statues make them. At the entrance lies a giant pumpkin with a Tikki like head that you enter through the mouth. The pumpkins has three levels that go from scenes from hell on the bottom to nirvana on top with a great lookout from atop the pumpkin of the entire park. We loved it there and was definitely one of the most bizarre places we have ever been. Enjoy the video above and the photos below (-: CLICK THIS OR PHOTO TO VIEW PHOTO ALBUM

Buddha Park, Vientianne, Laos
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Laos Snapshots and Imagery

Some snapshots of life, nature, and tradition in Laos.

The lovely and mysterious Nam Ou River moves through Northern Laos slowly. This photo overlooks the river from the Nong Khiaw bridge in the small town of the same name. The sky was becoming cloudy and misty–a wonderful break from the smoke of Luang Prabang. We stayed here one night before venturing further north upriver to Muang Ngoi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We enjoyed a cold drink from this village “cafe” while overlooking quiet rice paddies, misty moutaintops, and the sound of village life in the background. Ban Na village, Muang Ngoi.

 

 

 

 

 

Beerlao, produced just a few kilometers away from this cafe in Vientiene, Laos, it is “world famous” and the only beer to drink if you are in Laos. Laotions are very proud of their highly respected brew, apparently named by Time magazine to be Asia’s best local beer.  It is crisp but smooth and for a buck, you cannot go wrong!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laos’ capitol city of Vientiene may not have the hottest nightlife, but if you’re willing to show your stuff in front of the locals, we had a blast at a few late night rounds of bowling. Best of all was the old Brunswick 2000 equipment, which took us both back to our 1980’s childhoods.

 

 

 

 

 

Brightly colored ribbons are wrapped around trees, this one here in Vientiene, as a Buddhist offering to the spirits believed to be residing within.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We enjoyed an afternoon getting out of town to visit the Lao Textile Museum. The museum exhibited weaving styles, dying, traditional clothing in a quiet and gorgeous gardened setting. They also offered classes and workshops. Here the caretaker is showing us how fabric dye is made. The top left corner is the indigo plant, grown on the grounds, and dozens of clay urns were holding dye, which was fermenting over a period of several weeks. The dye appeared green until mixed, then becoming a deep bright blue.

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PHOTOS-Laos…Jewel of the Mekong

Nong Khiaw, Laos

(CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO SEE OUR LAOS PHOTOS)

After nearly a week exploring Northern Thailand amid a cloud of smoke from the slash and burn agriculture we boarded a plane to Luang Prabang, Laos. We had hoped Laos would be a bit less hazy, but upon our descent into the airport it looked like it would be worse. Although disappointed by the lack of views that this country is known for, we were determined not to let that ruin our time here. I had visited Laos in 2005 and had fallen in love with the landscape, the people, and the slow pace of life, and was anxious to share it with Shana.
Luang Prabang is a special place, with the old city planted beside a bend in the Mekong River and emanating old world charm. You can see remnants of it’s French Colonial past in its architecture and riverside cafes where sipping a coffee and watching the river life pass by is a favorite pastime. We spent a few days exploring the temples and royal palace which has remained devoid of the Royal family since 1975 when the Communist Pathet Lao party ended the monarchy and sent them to work and eventually die in the fields.
We were eager to escape the agricultural smoke which enveloped the entire city, swallowed sunsets, rained ash over every surface and wreaked havoc on our eyes, nose, and throats (see our previous post on slash and burn air pollution).
Heading up the Nam Ou by riverboat is the only way to reach Muang Ngoi Neua as it has no road access. Watching the river life from the boat, it seems as if it has been frozen in time and not much has not changed in the past hundreds of years. Families cruise up and down the river and fishermen stand waist deep setting and checking their nets for a fresh catch.
Upon arriving, we were ecstatic that a heavy morning rain had cleared away the smoke and the air was cool and crisp with a mystical thin veil of fog hanging over the limestone mountains reminding us of Lord of the Rings Middle Earth.
Muang Ngoi used to be a regional center but was bombed off the map by America during the CIA’s “secret war” against Laos during the Vietnam war (more on that in an upcoming post). Unexploded bombs can still be seen in the village being used as flower pots and at our guesthouse as stairway banisters (see photo). Since then, the village re-established itself and was rediscovered by backpackers about 10 years ago and now sees a stream of travelers. Muang Ngoi is a great place to hike to reach off-the-beaten-path villages as there are no roads in the area and electricity is limited to 3 hours a day.
On our second day there, we set off to hike to a local village, Ban Na. A trail took us through rice paddies, passed by a cave that was used by locals and rebels during the war, and then past a traditional weaver from whom we bought a scarf. The trail arched over hillsides that gave us spectacular views of the valley and the majestic karsts looming overhead while also passing swaths of hillside that were still baren, black, and still smoking from the slash and burn practices. As we descended onto the floor of the valley and entered Ban Na village, Shana and I could only look at each other with childish grins on our faces as we were so blown away by the surroundings. We were the only non-villagers there so we respectfully and slowly started walking down the single lane of the village smiling at the locals who were very curious about us. Seven-inch long puppies flocked at our feet and we came across a group of young boys firing pellets out of skinny shafts of bamboo that popped like cap guns.
We had purchased a set of Laotian/English language children’s books at the non-profit Big Brother Mouse in Luang Prabang to hand out to villagers as they often don’t have the means or access to books. We handed some out and the boys were instantly enraptured by them. After enjoying the secluded atmosphere we headed back to Muang Ngoi Neau as the sun set and passed a large heard of cows who were on their way back home as well.
After another day soaking up the laid back atmosphere we headed back via riverboat to Luang Prabang and then spent a few days exploring the Capitol of Vientianne where we enjoyed an excellent authentic Italian meal and some delicious western dishes that helped nurse our cravings after a steady diet of local cuisine.
Laos is an incredible country, despite being one of the poorest in the world in the world and owning the dubious distinction of being the “most bombed country in the world”. The slowed pace of life, subtle French influence left over from it’s colonial past, and dramatically beautiful scenery truly bolster its claim to being the “Jewel of the Mekong”.

You can also check out a slideshow of our photos by clicking the photo below:

Laos
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VIDEO: Reflections of Wat Doi Suthep-Chiang Mai Thailand

Ever since the first time I visited Wat Doi Suthep over ten years ago with my Mom, I have appreciated coming back and re-visiting the hill top temple.  Once visitors have climbed the 309 steps up, they are rewarded with views over Chiang Mai and the peaceful and contemplative setting of the temple, although this visit the view was obscurred by thick smoke from the slash and burn agriculture (more on that in our next post).

Shana and I raced up the hill on a motorbike as the sun was setting and by the time we had climbed the steps we were out of breath.  The last slice of sunlight illuminated the golden chedi and buddhas beautifully and we got to watch the monks doing their sunset chants and prayers. Most of the other tourists were long gone so we got to enjoy the temple in peace.

This short video shares some of the sights and sounds of the temple and I hope conveys some of the meditative aspects that I have come to enjoy.

-Ben

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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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