Capturing the Corpses, Lakes & Prisons of Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam

Gorgeous lakes, Communist shrines, French-inspired colonial architecture and a sprawling modern city make Hanoi, Vietnam, a must-see city in Southeast Asia

From the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the Hanoi Hilton to the brand-new buildings of downtown Hanoi, Vietnam, the capital is alive with economic progress while maintaining strong ties to its roots.

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Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi! The capital city of Vietnam is one of the most interesting places to visit in the country from a historical perspective – I mean there is the infamous Hanoi Hilton Prison, the Soviet-Communist inspiration of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and of course, the French colonial architecture of the Old Town. But there is also massive economic progress being made as the communist ruling government embraces progress via foreign investment and capitalist principles.

Hanoi, Vietnam
The famous Hoan Kiem Lake & Bridge to the Ngoc Son Temple

Hanoi, Vietnam

For most visitors to Hanoi, the first stop is usually the Hoan Kiem Lake & Bridge to the Ngoc Son Temple. Open from dawn till dusk, the ‘Temple of the Jade Mountain’ is Hanoi’s most-visited temple and sits on a small island in the northern part the lake. The scarlet bridge is constructed in classical Vietnamese style and the temple itself is dedicated to a general who defeated the Mongols in the 13th century, the patron saint of physicians and a famous Vietnamese scholar. It’s free to enter which is great because I could spend that money on overpriced drinks that night at a rooftop bar overlooking the awesome cityscape of Hanoi. Check out the quick video below!

Hanoi, Vietnam

[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WreNtO-kV1Q”]

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Hanoi, Vietnam

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a sight to behold and entering the mausoleum is an unforgettable experience. Styled after Vladimir Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow, Russia, the Vietnamese version features a traditional sloping roof and imposing gray granite which looms over the Ba Dinh Square below. Strict rules upon entrance mean giving up your phones, cameras and electronic devices. The dress code is enforced at all times, meaning no shorts or skirts. Visitors enter in rows of two-by-two and the honor guard you pass on the way in is dressed in all white, pristine makeup and are meant to be intimidating. Upon entrance, silence is mandatory, no hands in pockets (a soldier actually grabbed my arm and put it by my side), no smoking, eating, drinking, photography or video is allowed. The body of Ho Chi Minh is on display in a very cool and air-conditioned central chamber and you are meant to walking rather quickly in a U-shape around the embalmed body.

Hanoi, Vietnam
Vietnamese guards turn away all visitors in skirts and shorts
Hanoi, Vietnam
The expansive square is used often for military parades

 

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum has open hours usually from: Tuesday-Thursday 07:30 – 10:30; Saturday & Sunday 07:30 – 11:00. I recommend checking in with your hostel or hotel staff to the open hours on that day as schedule changes quite often and sometimes it is closed for maintenance.  After the mausoleum we headed next door to check out the Ho Chi Minh Museum for a bit of history before heading on to the Hanoi Hilton Prison.

Hanoi, Vietnam
The Ho Chi Minh Museum is located next to the mausoleum

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam
Artifacts and trinkets from all around Vietnam are on display at the museum
Hanoi, Vietnam
A wax figure of Ho Chi Minh at his desk

 

The Infamous Hanoi Hilton Prison

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam
The original Maison Centrale gatehouse of Hoa Lo Prison

I’ve written before about how “History is written by the victors” using the famous Winston Churchill quote when discussing Vietnam and modern attitudes towards the War with America. In fairness I try to present both sides because, honestly, both sides’ arguments had merit and both sides’ actions were at times atrocious and inexcusable. The example I commonly use is this: dropping napalm (USA) vs. torturing and killing prisoners (Vietnamese). And that’s all I’ll touch on that.

 

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

For a short history, the Hoa Lo Prison was originally built by the French during the Indochina Colonial days and was used mostly for incarcerating political prisoners. Known then as the Maison Centrale (Central House), the French’s cruelty towards those agitating for independence was notorious and well documented. Torture and execution were frequent occurrences and a guillotine still exists and is on display today at the museum. Such was the horror under the French that the locals dubbed the prison Hoa Lo, the fiery furnace or hell hole.

 

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

Most of the history on display at the Hoa Lo Prison concerns the inhumane treatment of the Vietnamese prisoners under French rule and praises the treatment given to the Americans under Vietnamese rule. When the French departed, the North Vietnamese assumed control of the prison and used it to hold American POWs during the Vietnam War. Known infamously as the Hanoi Hilton by the American prisoners in an ironic twist, the Vietnamese actually grew to “resent” the nickname as it went against the propaganda of how “humane” they treated the American prisoners. Again, a point of contention that both sides would dispute greatly but as always, I present both sides.

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam
American Senator John McCain, in a rare photo, was one of the most high-profile prisoners held at the “Hanoi Hilton”

 

From the beginning, U.S. POWs endured miserable conditions, including poor food and unsanitary conditions. The “Hanoi Hilton” moniker was given sarcastically in a reference to the famous Hilton Hotel chain. Kids nowadays may be more familiar with the heiress to the Hilton fortune, Paris Hilton. Most of the POWs who were held at the prison were American pilots who were shot down during bombing raids. Straight from Wiki, “Although North Vietnam was a signatory of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949 which demanded “decent and humane treatment” of prisoners of war, severe torture methods were employed, such as rope bindings, irons, beatings, and prolonged solitary confinement.” Regarding treatment at Hỏa Lò and other prisons, Communists countered by stating that prisoners were treated well and in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam
One of the beds provided to captured American servicemen during the war

 

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam
The original guillotine used by the French at the Hoa Lo Prison

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam
The original New Year’s greeting from Ho Chi Minh on display at the prison

Hanoi, Vietnam, has so much to see and do and I hope this post helped convince you to make the trip!

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Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

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Riding Motorbikes in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Meeting a friend from Israel in Vietnam? Time to take the bikes out for a proper ride in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam, is a top travel destination which draws tourists from all over the world to its lush limestone mountains which jut violently from the sea. What few realize is that a whole adventure waits for you just outside the city of Ha Long Bay itself.

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Halong Bay, Vietnam
#squadgoals

Of all the travel destinations I’ve wanted to see most in Southeast Asia, Halong Bay, Vietnam, was top of my list. World renowned for its brilliant karst limestone mountains which seem to impossibly rise out from the surrounding bay, I was more than thrilled by the sites but less impressed by the weather. July is hit-or-miss in Asia in terms of weather as the monsoon can be unforgiving. I hit a one-for-one with one day wet and rainy and the next nice and cool albeit quite gray with clouds.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

I’ve gone in-depth before on the Halong Bay itself however in this post I’ll focus on the surrounding area.  I met a good mate of mine from Israel who had been studying abroad in Hong Kong and he joined me along with two of his classmates, one from Germany and the other from Singapore. Taken aback by the sheer number of tourists descending upon the bay, we spent our second day renting motorbikes for 200,000 Vietnamese Dong (about $10 USD each for the day, quite expensive in Vietnam but expected for a tourist area like this) and by using Google Maps traveling throughout the countryside in a makeshift loop.

Our makeshift loop around Halong Bay
Halong Bay, Vietnam
Google Maps works in Vietnam… a welcome luxury after suffering through Myanmar with my basic Burmese
Halong Bay, Vietnam
The city of Halong Bay doesn’t have much to offer… but the countryside is another world altogether
Halong Bay, Vietnam
The powerful water buffalos of Southeast Asia are nothing to mess about with

The loop we chose was a large elliptical surrounding the outskirts of the city – past farmland, karst limestone mountains (the very same that dot the famous bay, just formed on land) and massive quarries which deplete the area of its natural beauty and resources, not too mention they brew up a nasty dust storm which makes biking through the area quite unpleasant. My sunglasses where even chipped by stones being kicked up by massive trucks moving huge piles of the stuff through the area.

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Landscapes all day
Halong Bay, Vietnam
And the ‘progress’ which is destroying them
Halong Bay, Vietnam
The Bãi Cháy Bridge from the outer loop swampland

The landscapes surrounding the city are almost as stunning as the bay itself. Unfortunately they may not be around for long as economic exploitation of the region is shifting into high gear as Vietnam modernizes and raw materials are needed to build the massive buildings and structures already underway in places such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. But I digress… as we explored the countryside it slowly morphed into swampland but we were still able to visit a temple sat back behind the paved road via a sketchy dirt path.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Metal wires help mold the trees outside the temple into unique shapes

Beautiful lakes, well-paved roads (for the most part), pristine surroundings… if it weren’t for the development of these large-scale factories the areas around Halong Bay would be perfect for trekking and exploration. I will say that in the rainy season it would be quite difficult but well worth it. Anyways our loop took us from the southwest corner of the city all the way past bridges and towards Hanoi, then back up and around the northern tip of Halong Bay region and back along the coast south into the city.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Trying to chart our progress… OK I got us lost….
Halong Bay, Vietnam
And made it to the coast! The monsoon was setting in but with some lucky lighting I got in a few shots

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Doesn’t this look like a “Lord of the Rings” set?

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Well that more or less wraps up our motorbike ride around the Halong Bay, Vietnam. With clear weather we decided to take our bikes for a little drag race to see who’s was faster. Mine was an embarrassment and I came in last by a long shot. With that defeat in mind but a fun day overall, I highly recommend the outer loop of Halong Bay. Till next time in Hanoi.

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Halong Bay, Vietnam
Ready, Set, Go!
Halong Bay, Vietnam
Nuu… faster!

Shooting Fire at the Da Nang Dragon Bridge

The Da Nang Dragon Bridge is a symbol of the resurgence of Central Vietnam both culturally and economically.

The fire-breathing Da Nang Dragon Bridge is located in the heart of Danang and spans the length of the Han River a whopping 666 meters (2,185 ft).

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Da Nang Dragon Bridge

“Cau Rong Da Nang!” That was the first thing I heard upon arriving via motorbike in Danang, a growing tourist destination in central Vietnam. Well, a “growing tourist destination” in theory at least as the Southeast Asian country is investing heavily in the beautiful yet-still-quaint city. Its location between the Hoi Van Pass of Top Gear fame in the north, the gorgeous ancient town of Hoi An along with the Marble Mountains to the south, the Son Tra Peninsula located slightly east and the Ba Na Hills to the west make it a prime vacation spot for Buddhist pilgrims and vacationers both local and foreign. But I digress… let’s talk about the fire-breathing Dragon Bridge!

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

Awesome, right? The Cau Rong – meaning Dragon Bridge – is ironically-measured at 666-meters long (about 2,185 ft) and connects the Da Nang International Airport to the city of Da Nang. The 1.5 trillion Vietnamese Dong ($88 million USD) project was officially completed in 2013 and is a 6-lane pass going both ways over the mighty Han River. As for seeing the fire show, the Da Nang Dragon Bridge lights up from sunset on Saturday and Sunday nights at 9:00pm. It is best to get there a bit early as the bridge is massively popular with the locals, however the bridge itself shuts down to traffic so it isn’t so hard to find a good view.

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
The Da Nang Dragon Bridge as seen from the Monkey Mountain on Son Tra Peninsula
Da Nang Dragon Bridge
The Dragon is a symbol of power, nobility and good fortune dating back to the Ly Dynasty

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

Da Nang Dragon Bridge
Cooling off the street after the fire show

As you can tell, I was a bit too close and the heat emitted from the fire itself is no joke! The police presence is apparent but they don’t do that much aside from keeping crowds near the sides of the bridge and stopping traffic… so you can get pretty close. After the show I recommend walking the span of the Da Nang Dragon Bridge to take in all the sights of the city after dark.  There is a pair of bridges, LED lights galore and ships moving up and down the river while the lights of restaurants and bars fill the banks of the Han River.

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

Da Nang Dragon Bridge
The Cau Song Han Bridge from the Cau Rong

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

Da Nang Dragon Bridge
The Sun Wheel and the LED lights of the Cau Tran Thi Ly

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

Alright, that’s your lot for today. Back soon with another post from Central Vietnam!

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The Incredibly Colorful Chua Buu Dai Son Chinese Temple of Da Nang

Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son

The city of Da Nang in central Vietnam has so much to offer travelers – whether that be backpackers, photographers or regular run-of-the-mill travelers. An afternoon drive along the beach brought me to the Vu Lan Bao Hieu – Chua Buu Dai Son Chinese Temple and I just had to snap some pics.

Located along the beach just before the magnificent Son Tra Peninsula, the Chua Buu Dai Son is a colorful reminder to always explore everywhere you go!

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Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son

Many of Vietnam’s incredible sites have been well documented thanks to the enormous numbers of travelers who have ventured to this part of the world. Danang’s Dragon Bridge, Son Tra Peninsula (not too mention the glorious Lady Buddha) and the further Hoi An and Hoi Van Pass of Top Gear fame, have all been written about at length. What has gotten lost in all this clamour are the less-traveled yet important heritage sites such as local pagodas and temples. The Vu Lan Bao Hieu – Chua Buu Dai Son Chinese Temple is a perfect example of the latter, as Vietnamese culture oozes through every part of this fantastically colorful pagoda and surrounding compound.

Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son
The Budai (or Pu-Tai) statue in front of the main temple
Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son
Swords and mythical figures – a Chinese epic in the main temple
Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son
Incredible colors and a solitary Buddha Image

Like most places I’ve visited in Southeast Asia, there is a serious dearth of information on the Chua Buu Dai Son Temple. I could wax poetic about the colors though I feel I’ve covered that already! From my visit and perusing the entire compound, I can report that there are many stone statues each with its own unique flair in addition to well maintained albeit smaller temples and the Vietnamese traditional-style architecture, with Chinese infusion, is beyond stunning.

Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son

Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son

So that’s your lot for now. It was a brilliant day of blue skies and I hope you enjoyed the photos from the Chua Buu Dai Son Chinese Temple. I’ll be back with more from brilliant Da Nang, Vietnam – my favorite city in the country! Here are some more photos for a lasting impression.

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Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son

Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son
More than a few swastikas, hey

 

Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son

Wild Motorbike Ride to the Peak of Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

The Son Tra Peninsula in Da Nang is one of the most picturesque places I’ve had the chance to travel to. Taking a motorbike up to the top of Monkey Mountain is a must for travelers passing through central Vietnam. 

Monkey Mountain on the Son Tra Peninsula rises 850 meters (about 3,000 feet) above the city of Da Nang and makes for a perfect day trip for any adventurer (or photographer!) and has some of the best views in the entire country.

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Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Located almost halfway between the former Vietnamese capital of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and the current capital of Hanoi, Danang is one of the gems of Vietnam’s central coastline and has so much to offer a traveler. From the glorious Buddhist pilgrimage sites of the Marble Mountains to the towering Lady Buddha located a third of the way up the Monkey Mountain on Son Tra Peninsula, you really need to stop by this place for a few days at minimum to catch a glimpse of real Vietnamese life. As I’ve just published a blog post on the Lady Buddha I’ll leave that for this post on the motorbike drive up to the peak of the Monkey Mountain.

Da Nang Lady Buddha
The fishing village at the bottom of Monkey Mountain with the Lady Buddha of Danang in the distance
Da Nang Lady Buddha
The bay of Danang and city in the distance, from the circular road leading up the mountain

The Son Tra Peninsula still largely covered with dense, lush rainforest.  Though I didn’t spot any, the mountain gets its “Monkey”moniker from the rare Red Shanked Doucs monkeys that inhabit the area. The narrow jungle roads can be a bit hairy by motorbike as taxis, tuk tuks and open-air trucks can be seen ferrying up visitors to and from the peak. I only came across a few but the one-lane roads make it easy to imagine having to take it a bit slow just to play it safe. Don’t go too slow, some of the roads are pretty steep and you won’t be able to get your bike up it!

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
Some amazing coves and views all around the peninsula. Most of the beaches are empty and can be taken advantage of by those who want some peace and quiet
Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
Clouds starting to form at the peak

I made it a point to leave early in the morning to try and beat the afternoon clouds that usually settle upon the mountain this time of year… however as luck would have it about two-thirds up the clouds started to form around the peak. Back on the bike and with the GoPro attached to my wrist, it was full speed ahead along the increasingly narrow, steep roads to the top.

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
Eek! That was close

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

By the time I reached the peak I was driving in near white-out conditions. From the photo above, you can see how thick the clouds set upon the last stretch of road near the top. The following two pics are almost completely untouched so you can get a real feel for just how cloudy the peak was. What is most peculiar is that just a couple meters below the cloud line, perfect weather mean incredible photos… it was just the top bit that had zero visibility. Check out the pictures below of the chess grandmaster waiting for you at the top and following that some excellent shots of Danang City from just below the cloud line.

I won!

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
A 4-minute drive from the peak broke through the clouds and gave way to some of the most incredible views
Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
STOKED!

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
The Danang Dragon Bridge crossing the river in Danang, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

From the lookout I continue my descent through the winding roads of the Monkey Mountain. An observatory sits atop a second peak and unfortunately I was unable to get up there. But the view from my stop off was unbelievable. Islands almost untouched by man and some of the thickest jungle in the entire region blanket this little bit of paradise.

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Welp, there you have it… my motorbike trip through the excellent and pristine Monkey Mountain of the Son Tra Peninsula. Keep an eye out for my next post of the Danang Dragon Bridge, a long stretch of road over the river in the form of a traditional Vietnamese dragon… and it shoots fire at night!

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Biking to the Da Nang Lady Buddha of Son Tra, Vietnam

Da Nang Lady Buddha

The Da Nang Lady Buddha is missing from most guidebooks and travel sites but it is a must-see of central Vietnam. 

Da Nang is best known for its Marble Mountains, close proximity to the Hoi Van Pass, Hoi An and Hue. The Da Nang Lady Buddha isn’t at the top of the list for most travelers but really should be, standing at 67m tall and rivaling the Statue of Liberty in scale.

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Da Nang Lady Buddha
The Lady Buddha of Danang from the fishing village across the bay

The Linh Ung Pagoda of Son Tra Peninsula in Da Nang (Danang), Vietnam, is home to a massive Buddha statue which looks over the bay and China Beach (known locally as My Khe Beach).  The beautiful 67m (220 ft) is the tallest Buddha statue in Vietnam and is only 14km from the Da Nang city center making it a quick drive along the coast and past the fishing village. Perhaps what is most impressive about the Da Nang Lady Buddha is how it is visible from almost the entire city and as well has a lotus diameter of 35m, equivalent to a 30-story building! The official website of the Lady Buddha reads that “facing the sea, the kind eyes looking down, a hand exorcizes (ed) while the other hand is holding a bottle of holy water like sprinkling the peace to the offshore fishermen.”

Da Nang Lady Buddha

In Danang, you can rent a motorbike for around 100,000 dong (about $5 USD) and the drive up the coast to the Son Tra Mountain aka Monkey Mountain takes hardly any time at all. The traffic in this area is quite light while the infrastructure of this area is top class. The only thing a traveler needs to look out for is tight turns around the corners going up the mountain. Vietnamese drivers are notoriously quick and carefree so of course you’ll have to take that into account. The views from the Lady Buddha are brilliant and you’ll want to stop off several times on your trip to grab a few photos. I sure did!

Da Nang Lady Buddha
Halfway up to the Da Nang Lady Buddha!
Da Nang Lady Buddha
Mountainous islands and brilliant turquoise blue seas as far as the eye can see

Definitely don’t get distracted while driving up! The Da Nang Lady Buddha is located about halfway up the mountain and a large-scale parking lot is available at the entrance to store your bike. I forget the exact parking fee but it is nominal to say the least. If riding motorbikes is a bit too hairy for you, tuk tuks and open-air trucks regularly ferry visitors up the mountain. Most will take you up to the peak of the Son Tra Mountain after visiting the Lady Buddha, another sight you won’t want to miss. My next post will cover the peak of the mountain.

Da Nang Lady Buddha
The steps leading up the Linh Ung Pagoda from the parking lot
Da Nang Lady Buddha
The entrance… but first turn around quick!
Da Nang Lady Buddha
Worth it!

Da Nang Lady Buddha

Linh Ung Pagoda

The Da Nang Lady Buddha is part of the greater Linh Ung Pagoda, a complex with many different temples and Buddha statues to take in.  On a hot day (it was way past 40C when I arrived, around 100F) there is plenty of shade to take advantage of. As a quick bit of history (and Vietnamese myth), the people of Son Tra “recalled that, at the time of Minh Mang King (Nguyen Dynasty, XIX century), there was a Buddha statue from nowhere to drift on the sandbank here. Believing that was an auspicious sign, people here established a shrine for worship… the sandbank where the Buddha statue drifted was then named Bai But (i.e. Buddha land on earth) also was where Ling Ung pagoda erected today,” – LadyBuddha.org. The modern complex you can visit today took six years to complete, from June 2004 to July 30th, 2010. The Linh Ung Bai But Pagoda is considered the “meeting place of heaven and earth.”

Da Nang Lady Buddha
The main temple of Linh Ung Bai But with the traditional Vietnamese architecture of a dragon roof
Da Nang Lady Buddha
Worshippers praying to the Sakyamuni Buddha Statue
Da Nang Lady Buddha
The Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva ‘guarding’ the Buddhist worshippers

Da Nang Lady Buddha

Da Nang Lady Buddha
Rubbing the Buddha belly for good luck
Da Nang Lady Buddha
18 stone Arhat statues line the Linh Ung Pagoda courtyard. Each was carved up by the artist Nguyen Viet Minh (head of the Non Nuoc craft village) with monolithic white stone materials brought from Thanh Hoa
Da Nang Lady Buddha
The view from the main temple. Beat this: Danang City in the background, a pristine ocean, the entrance and courtyard and, of course, the Lady Buddha

Da Nang Lady Buddha

Da Nang Lady Buddha

I hope you guys enjoyed the Da Nang Lady Buddha and Linh Ung Pagoda! I’ll be back with the drive up the Son Tra Peninsula and peak soon, don’t miss it!

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A Rainy Day in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Few places in the world are as renowned for its incredible natural formations like the karst limestone mountains of Halong Bay, Vietnam

The sheer size, scope and beauty of the natural rock formations of Halong Bay, Vietnam, first captured my imagination several years ago when I caught a glimpse  of them on a television program on the National Geographic Channel. Seeing is believing and it is truly one of the rare places on Planet Earth that you really do need to see to believe. Unfortunately my trip included a massive monsoon rainstorm that caught up with me on the boat ride out to explore the area.

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[su_youtube_advanced url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zOhh2NagQg” theme=”light”]

From the start, we arrived to the town of Halong Bay after a couple days in Hanoi (with beautiful blue skies nonetheless) and the change of scenery was seriously welcome. A crowded and bustling (though brilliant… more on that in a later post) city gave way to striking countryside, small villages and excellent rural expanses that span as far as the eye can see. I was traveling with three mates, one from Israel and doing a semester abroad in Hong Kong, plus two of his classmates, one German and one from Singapore. After some hunting around for the best price, we ended up in a private van for about $15 each.

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Boats with cabins below and a sundeck above are aplenty at Halong Bay, offering daily cruises

After settling into the hostel and looking for the best price for day cruises, we found most prices to range from $30 USD to $50 USD and up. We booked for $30 from the Halong Party Hostel and pickup began at 6:00 AM. Unfortunately our perfect blue skies gave way to the last gasps of the Southeast Asian monsoon and muggy weather turned out to be the theme of the day. Luckily I was armed with my handy GoPro camera and its waterproof case turned out to be a lifesaver. So in advance, my apologies for the clarity of some of these images as I was constantly wiping away raindrops from blurring my shots of the area.

Halong Bay, Vietnam
For reference, the thousands of islands of Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Upon grabbing our boat and setting sail, our first glimpse of the thousands of islands that dot the Halong Bay landscape came into view and despite all the rain, the sheer size and immensity of the surroundings really blow you away. Our first stop was a cave amongst the islands for which I was able to break out the Canon and take some remarkable images of the giant stalactite and stalagmite formations of the cave.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, VietnamHalong Bay, VietnamHalong Bay, VietnamHalong Bay, Vietnam

The cave itself was an eerie experience though for me, a bit far from enjoyable. Many tourists are crammed into the caverns not only making the art of photography difficult but making it hard to connect with the site itself and feel more like a theme park ride than an adventure out into the islands. This is the tradeoff in Halong Bay, Vietnam = the most unique and impressive sights combined with a glut of tourists which make it hard to take it all in. But I digress… after we exited the cave, the weather had broken a bit and it was back into the boat and on to the next location, taking out kayaks into the Bay. A word of advice – make sure you negotiate the kayak rental into the price of the trip itself. We had it thrown in as part of our package and avoided having to pay an extra fee for the rental. But as we arrived, the weather acted up again but it didn’t stop us from going hard into the water.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam
The cave behind us led to…
Halong Bay, Vietnam
The most gorgeous lagoon I’ve ever seen, rain and all

Kayak rental can cost anywhere from $5 to $50 USD depending on who you rent from. Don’t get scammed but definitely take the kayaks. Even in the worst weather it is an adventure well worth the hassle. With the GoPro affixed to my head attachment, we set out into the bay and underneath a cave which led to the lagoon of my dreams. We were the only ones in there and it was a welcome change from being surrounded by tourists. This was by far my favorite moment of the trip.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

The rain continued to press on and by this time we were all quite miserable, our crew along with the entire boat. I attempted to dry off but it was ultimately to no avail. A short boat ride around the islands followed by another stop at a small island concluded our epic trip to the once-of-a-kind Halong Bay. I’ll leave ya’ll with some parting shots (For all the high-resolution photos from Halong Bay, Vietnam: Click Hereand stay tuned for more from Vietnam!

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Sun setting after a long cruise on the epic Halong Bay, Vietnam

For all my travel blog posts on Vietnam: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Halong Bay, Vietnam: Click Here

Koh Phangan’s Top Five Must-See Beaches

Koh Phangan, Thailand

Some of the best beaches in the world are located on the island of Koh Phangan, Thailand

Thailand is known for its world-class beaches and travel options. The beautiful beaches of Koh Phangan are world renowned for a reason and here is a list of my top five must-see beaches on the gulf island.

For all my blog entries in Thailand, check out the blog: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Koh Phangan, Thailand: Click Here

No. 5: Ao Thong Nai Pan Noi

Koh Phangan
Great views & Great atmosphere

Ao Thong Nai Pan Noi is one of Koh Phangan’s smaller and underrated beaches. Great views, plenty of small and chilled beach-front restaurants to grab drinks and snacks from and a cool vibe give this little piece of sand a cool vibe not found many other places in the hustle and bustle of the Thai islands. If you’re in the mood for some sun, a few sodas and some cool views, check out Ao Thong Nai Pan Noi.

Koh Phangan
Food & Drinks & Chill at Ao Thong Nai Pan Noi

No. 4: Haad Salad

Koh Phangan
Nearly empty beach on a crescent-shaped cove

Koh Phangan

Haad Salad is the place to go for beachfront traditional Thai massages, nightly seafood BBQs and last but not least, a lovely and quiet crescent-shaped beach. Haad Salad has two resorts located at each crescent tip and most restaurants and massage parlors rely on them for the majority of their business. As these resorts are generally smaller than others and packed with luxury, the majority of the beach remains empty most of the time. A terrific and quiet find.

Koh Phangan
The thick, dense jungle hides a beautiful crescent-shaped beach

No. 3: Haad Than Sadet

Koh Phangan

A beach cove on the eastern edge of the island of Koh Phangan, Haad Than Sadet is a small beach book-ended by a pair of small resorts and in the middle, a view into infinity. This beach is the entrance into the Gulf of Thailand and the mesmerizing view coupled with quiet surroundings is a great place for relaxing after a night of partying or just unwinding from the world for a bit.

Koh Phangan
The sound of waves… and occasional lovebirds

Koh Phangan

No. 2: Haad Thian Beach

 

Koh Phangan

A sandbar beach in paradise? Sign me up! The Haad Thian Beach is pretty much your average cool island beach – small shack-bars with cold drinks, a couple lounge chairs strewn about and random passersby sticking around for indeterminate periods of time – except for one amazing feature – a giant sandbar located some 20 yards from the beach itself! The massive sandbar feels like its own separate island and has the cleanest sand you’ll find.

Koh Phangan

Koh Phangan

The haze that sets upon the tall hills of Koh Phangan adds a fairytale-like feel to this tiny sand oasis in the bay of Haad Thian. Haad Thain is located on the western coast of Koh Phangan.

Koh Phangan
The view from the edge of the sandbar is immense… almost as if the sand is melting back into the sea

Koh Phangan

Koh Phangan

No. 1: Haad Rin

Koh Phangan

It had to be #1, right? “The Full Moon Party” Beach of Haad Rin is the most famous beach on the entire island of Koh Phangan, let alone its neighbors Samui or Tao. The monthly festivities last all night long and in the morning give way to a freshly-cleaned cleaned canvas of sand and hungover/still sleeping partygoers. Known as a backpackers beach, you’ll want to enjoy the cheap food and drinks that dot the area along with taking a tuk tuk to and from the beach during the party season.

Koh Phangan
When the beach isn’t hosting all night parties, there are beach football/soccer tournaments put on by the local pubs
Koh Phangan
Catching some sun

Koh Phangan

I hope you enjoyed my top 5 beaches on Koh Phangan! Stay tuned for my rundown of Koh Tao coming up next and as always…

For all my blog entries in Thailand, check out the blog: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Koh Phangan, Thailand: Click Here

Walking with Elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Asian Elephants are some of the most amazing, graceful and gigantic creatures on Planet Earth.

On a misty morning and up in the high mountains of northern Thailand, I found a herd of formerly-abused Asian Elephants at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. The ensuing shenanigans made for possibly the most fun day of my two week-long northern Thailand/Laos trip.

For all my blog entries in Thailand, check out the blog: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Chiang Mai, Thailand: Click Here

Elephants
After a hard trip up the mountain… the view

The ride up to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary was miserable. About 2 hours in the cold and rain in the back of a truck bed with benches on both sides. A small tarp didn’t break the wind or rain nearly as much as it should have and the 8 of us crammed in there was just tough. We ended up laughing about the whole thing which brings you closer as a group but you know, I’m cool with distance if I’m not freezing. Anywho… the ride up the mountain about 60 km north of Chiang Mai was pretty steep but the views are impressive.

Elephants
Mud + constant drizzle = plastic rain coat fashion accessories
Elephants
Nom nom

Those who know me are aware of the obligation I feel towards responsible tourism, especially when it comes to impoverished or indigenous tribes and native wildlife. Too often in undeveloped parts of the world you can find tiger “temples” and basically “photobooths” with locals – both of which are usually accessible for only a few dollars and terribly abusive for the animals and people involved. So with that being said, during my brilliant but short stay in northern Thailand’s largest city of Chiang Mai, I decided to check out the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary where both of my concerns were alleviated instantly.

Elephants

Elephants

The sanctuary was started as an experiment in eco-tourism through ethical and sustainable business practices in 2014. The joint-initiative combines international travelers with the Karen Hill-Tribes which dot this part of Asia. As I’m currently living in Myanmar I’ve become very familiar with the Karen as they live in the jungles between Shan State, Myanmar, and the northern provinces of Thailand, it’s great to see this effort in action. The no-riding experience began with a quick overview of what’s up in the valley and the plan for the day. We had about 20 participants in our group and as it was roughly 7:45am and most of us had been enjoying ourselves the night before, not many were paying close attention. I just wanted a coffee.

Elephants

Elephants

We meandered down in to the valley were the elephants were hanging out and munching on some bamboo. The thing about these elephants is that you can tell they’d been abused, could easily see the scars and holes in their ears, yet they didn’t seem to care. The quality of their lives is readily apparent as their days consist of eating bamboo, getting fed treats by travelers, playing the mud, hanging out on the hillsides and washing off in a pristine natural stream.

Elephants
It was her idea…
Elephants
The world’s largest land animal and an elephant
Elephants
Wearing a traditional Karen shirt over my wind jacket

The elephants are very friendly (you are feeding them, after all) and aren’t shy in the slightest – which is both good and bad. You have to constantly keep your head on a swivel as they move about without much regard to who’s around them. The last thing you’d want is to have your foot be stepped on by on of these gigantic creatures. I grew up around Belgium draft horses and there is really no comparison as to how incredibly tall and wide – these animals are easily as wide as a U-Haul truck.

Elephants

Elephants

Elephants

Elephants

After a short time of feeding the elephants, off they went to the mountainside for a bit of graze. The steep muddy slopes make for tricky terrain but their flat feet somehow hold. We were slipping and sliding all over the place. Next was off to the stream at the end of the valley to play in the water with the elephants. Elephants really do engage in an incredible amount of social activity with each other and watching them play about from only feet away was such a uniquely-awesome experience.

Elephants
Paradise in the dense Thai jungle

Elephants

Elephants

Elephants
Baby always climbing on mama

Elephants

Elephants

Elephants

We spent about 6 hours with the elephants in total and it was worth every minute. The whole tour plus travel costs runs about 1,500 baht (give or take $40 USD) but for the experience, interaction with the animals and for the cause, it really is worth the expense. I’d do it again in a heartbeat and have recommended the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary to many friends and fellow travelers. I mean, the weather was atrocious and it was my favorite day in Thailand.

Elephants
Elephant paradise

For all my blog entries in Thailand, check out the blog: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Chiang Mai, Thailand: Click Here

Charming Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai is one of the gems of Northern Thailand’s dense jungle region

The jungles of Northern Thailand are still a mysterious and wild place to visit, however a traveler can hang his hat in Chiang Mai while enjoying modern first-world comfort

For all my blog entries in Thailand, check out the blog: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Chiang Mai, Thailand: Click Here

Chiang Mai
Arrive at airport, hop on tuk tuk, food. And more food.

Chiang Mai! I was really excited to get a chance to really explore Thailand and after so many trips to the islands it was definitely time to get back to some adventure and the jungle way up north was calling me. The flight over really gets you pumped for what’s to come, I mean check out this view from my plane window:

Chiang Mai
Next-level shades of green

So to be completely fair, I had no idea what to expect of Chiang Mai other than the obvious ‘being in the middle of nowhere.’ It’s about 700 km north of Thailand’s capital of Bangkok and it turns out Chiang Mai is actually the largest city in Northern Thailand and, up until recently, had some serious issues with air pollution. I experienced no pollution while there but after being in the islands for so long the sticky humidity was a bit tough. It was also the capital of the Lan Na Kingdom (1296-1768) and was then known as the Kingdom of Chiang Mai (1774-1899) which are important factoids considering the first thing you see upon entering the city are the expertly well-kept old city walls.

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

I was in Chiang Mai to visit a mate of mine that was traveling all throughout Asia after journeying through the Middle East. He told me to expect some craziness and late nights so I left my photography gear at home and was traveling with only my Samsung Galaxy A8 on me. This turned out to be a good call as my sunglasses and watch all were wrecked on this trip (mostly from visiting the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary just outside of town… but that will be in the next post). So after arriving in the Chiang Mai it was time to hit the hostel and drop my bags, then grab some Thai street food and check out the night market. Chiang Mai’s night market is world renowned and is a big part of why TripAdvisor named the city one of its “25 Best Destinations in the World.”

Chiang Mai
Trademark Thai cutoff t’s
Chiang Mai
Pancakes with nutella and banana? Yes please!

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai
Everything from art to t-shirts to watches to electronics are on offer at the night market
Chiang Mai
Obviously a ladyboy show in the middle of the plaza
Chiang Mai
Live music at most bars
Chiang Mai
Muay Thai boxing gyms are located throughout the city for the short- and long-term travelers
Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai’s most famous bar/club is Zoe in Yellow – recommended

 

The diverse night market is a great way to meet people and see the city. The vendors here were incredibly friendly and not nearly as pushy as the ones you find throughout Southeast Asia, Bangkok especially. Ladyboys dancing and inviting onlookers to their show later in the evening and bars scattered throughout the market with live music adds to the ambiance all while tourists and travelers from the world over mingle about and peruse all the goods on show. It’s quite a cool experience even for those looking to party and get some drinks in. We ended up at Zoe in Yellow, Chiang Mai’s most famous bar which morphs into a club around 10:30-11:00 pm. Bars close notoriously early in Chiang Mai so you’ll have to get the evening started straight away. You can try to find clubs open late on the popular Nimmanhaemin Road. We met some cool people at the clubs whom we met up later in the trip, however it was time to crash as we had a full day of siteseeing the next morning. Ready for pictures of Wats (Pagodas, Stupas, Temples)? Well here we go:

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai
Thai temple architecture is unique from neighboring Myanmar and Laos

 

Chiang Mai
Some temples are much more ‘touristy’ than others

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

As a pseudo-professional photography (I’ve been paid but this isn’t a full-time gig at all for me, still a hobby), the picture above taken with a sub-par phone camera makes me proud. The photo below, however, is riddled with lighting issues. The debate I have with myself is this: post and tell the story as fully as possible or omit the photo and just photograph the exterior of the building. I’ll let ya’ll decide.

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

I’ll be back with another post from the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, one of the gems of Chiang Mai and a brilliant experience. Responsible tourism is an important issue to me and to support a local initiative that takes formerly-captive work elephants and let’s them live a full life in a rich and diverse environment was an unreal experience. The zoo was never an option and time ran out on us to do the Flight of the Gibbon zipline adventure, but I’ve heard good things. See ya’ll soon and here are some parting shots from the charming Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai
Police ceremony at the central square
Chiang Mai
Proper Israeli graze, malawach with tomato sauce at Sababa
Chiang Mai
Turkish coffee, hummus with falafel and homemade pita

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

For all my blog entries in Thailand, check out the blog: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Chiang Mai, Thailand: Click Here

A Morning with the Monks of Myanmar

Monks, Yangon, Myanmar

I recently had the opportunity to spend a morning with the monks of Myanmar and, as you would imagine, it was an unforgettable experience.

Spending a morning with the monks of Myanmar is a must when traveling through the Golden Land. I headed near the Kabar Aye Pagoda for a morning walk with the monks.

For all the high-resolution photos from this part of my journey: Click Here

Monks
Fresh shaves and burgundy robes

Well, it’s good to be back folks! I’ve been away for awhile handling a few things (parenthood, that sorta thing), however I’m back and hoping to be posting quite regularly from now on. I actually had these photos loaded up and ready to post (you can check out the full high-res gallery on Facebook here) however I just never had the opportunity and then, of course, completely forgot about them after I flew out to Vietnam and then on to Israel. But I digress…

Monks
Squad

The morning started with a ride out to the junior monks’ monastery at around 7:15am.  As a quick lesson in Myanmar Buddhism – Southeast Asia’s second-largest country is about 90%-plus Buddhist and they practice a very ancient form of the faith called Theravada. This type of Buddhism is a bit different than the more familiar Tibetan Buddhism most commonly depicted in Western movies and film.  The primary focus of Theravada Buddhism is on practicing strict personal meditation and finding the monastic path to Enlightenment. This branch of Buddhism uses the oldest recorded teachings of the Buddha and is found throughout Thailand and Sri Lanka with its total number of followers estimated at over 100 million. In Myanmar, monks are venerated and given the title of “U”, as in “U Phil” if I were a monk. They are treated with the utmost respect and live solely off alms and donations from the community. OK, now that  you’re familiar with Myanmar Buddhism, back to the story….

Monks

So it’s pouring rain all morning and when I arrive at the monastery everyone is taking cover and enjoying the cool, brisk air – a rarity in Myanmar. The break in the humidity and punishing heat was a great respite for the junior monks who live here at the compound. The monastery, located just north/northeast of Yangon’s largest lake, Inya Lake, has around 60 novice monks. Every morning before they set out for their alms collecting, they usually get their laundry and places sorted for the day. Myanmar monks have a custom of not eating food or drinking water after 12pm noon so they are on a different schedule than most of us, as you can imagine.

Monks

The purpose of this visit was to film a TV show for Israeli television on the history of sport around the world. Serving as a bit of a guide/translator, my role was support and snapping some photos of the whole process and experience. Accompanied by staff from the Embassy of Israel, we got to take in some local games from the monks and local schoolchildren before the procession. One of the most striking things you’ll notice when visiting the monks is their lack of shoes… and I’m not referring to just being inside buildings as is Asian custom, but the entire procession down the streets are bare-footed occasions. It’s really quite a thing to witness.

Monks

Monks

The following daily march is actually quite a straightforward process – a lead junior monk walks in the front tolling a bell to alert the neighborhood residents the monks are passing by. The narrow roads of Myanmar are nothing new to those that frequent the country but feel especially claustrophobic when you have about 60 children walking through the street, dozens upon dozens of residents passing them food and charity all while cars and trucks pass in both directions.

Monks

Monks
The burgundy robes of Myanmar’s monks are iconic for travelers in Southeast Asia. Orange robes are usually worn in Thailand while the Vietnamese wear brown.

Monks

Monks

Monks

Monks

Monks

Monks

Monks

For all the high-resolution photos from this part of my journey: Click Here

The Immaculate Rangoon War Cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery, Yangon, Myanmar

Amidst the crowded streets and loud ruckus of day-to-day Yangon, the Rangoon War Cemetery is a welcome reprieve

The Rangoon War Cemetery is a perfectly-kept grass rectangle hidden down a dark alley from small street food shops and local car repair joints.

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Rangoon War Cemetary: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Rangoon War Cemetery: Click Here

Rangoon War Cemetery

From time to time I peruse sites looking for new programming on Myanmar as I’m always curious to see what the world is showing about this ‘little’ corner of the world. Recently I came across a BBC program entitled “Burma’s Secret Jungle War” and my first thought was “Oh great, a program demonizing this country during a time of transition from brutal military junta rule towards a liberal democracy… c’mon fellas, leave it.” You see, I presumed that this new program, a two-part series, was based around Myanmar’s (or Burma’s, if you will) decades-long struggle with rebel groups in Kachin State, Karen State, Shan State, etc. Planning to watch it anyways, I quickly realized that it was about the incredibly-brave British fighting force, the Chindits, taking on the Japanese army behind enemy lines in Burma back in World War II. Fears resigned and curiosity piqued, I settle in to watch both hours-long episodes with my Mrs. Of course, fate would have its say the next day as I somehow happened to find myself next to the small cemetery which pays homage to these fallen warriors in the heart of Yangon. More on my part of the story later.

Rangoon War Cemetery
The Rangoon War Memorial is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Rangoon War Cemetery

The Chindits fighting force was a mix of British and Indian fighters who were deposited behind enemy Japanese lines in the far north of Myanmar in the Shan and then Kachin States during World War II. Fighting a guerrilla war of sabotage against he Japanese, the force encountered not only the harsh resistance of the army but also the powerful monsoon rains, thick bugs and mosquitoes, viral and other sicknesses along with food shortages all piled on top of long treks through thick Southeast Asian jungle. The host of the aforementioned television program Burma’s Secret Jungle War, Joe Simpson, is a renowned mountaineer and author of Touching the Void, and his father actually served in the Chindits as the coordinator of airdrops and as their navigator. Armed with his father’s old maps, diary, and a special permission to enter parts of the country normally closed to tourists, Simpson and guest host/fellow adventurer Ed Stafford attempted to retrace the group’s steps but fail to follow completely as fighting in the area between the Myanmar army and aforementioned rebel groups hit a crescendo during the events of the filming of the show – Myanmar’s first free elections in decades.

Rangoon War Cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery

I won’t give anything further away from the show (you can watch both episodes free on YouTube (Part 1; Part 2) however the last bit shows Simpson touring the Yangon War Memorial Cemetery. Having traveled all around Yangon it was one of the few places I’ve yet to go and the next day while randomly getting my car fixed down a dirty and dark alley (busted motor starters hey?) off the main drag a bit south on Pyay Road, I noticed a sign for the Rangoon War Memorial. Now it wasn’t the Taukkyan War Cemetery featured in the show, however it seemed that fate meant for me to check it out. What are the odds the local car repair joint sits next to a Commonwealth War Graves Commission site?

Rangoon War Cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery  Rangoon War Cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery
More than 74,000 Commonwealth casualties came from the war

Rangoon War Cemetery

The immaculate grounds are in part thanks to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the good work of the British Embassy and a caretaker who resides on site. The Rangoon War Cemetery is open daily from 7:00 – 17:00. The CWGC site is wheelchair accessible and easy to access and meander about. The Rangoon War Cemetery was first used as a burial ground immediately following the recapture of Rangoon in May 1945. Later, the Army Graves Service moved in graves from several burial sites from in and around Yangon, including those of the men who died in the infamous Rangoon Jail as prisoners of war.

Rangoon War Cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery
There are 1,381 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War buried or commemorated in this cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery
86 of the burials are unidentified and there are special memorials to more than 60 casualties whose graves could not be precisely located

Rangoon War Cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery

The cemetery is a lot to take in, however its location off the back road and insulation from the main drags by residential buildings make the cemetery a quiet ground to pay your respects. As a final resting place in Yangon, it really doesn’t get as serene or green as the Rangoon War Cemetery.

Rangoon War Cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery
Layout of the Rangoon War Cemetery
Rangoon War Cemetery
The Chindits
Rangoon War Cemetery
Ed Stafford (l) and Joe Simpson (r)

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Rangoon War Cemetary: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Rangoon War Cemetery: Click Here

Resources:

CWGC.Org

Chinditslongcloth1943.com

Vang Vieng is Animal House in Laos

Vang Vieng, Laos

Jungle parties, rafting on the river, bars and restaurants all around… Vang Vieng is basically the Animal House of Asia

“If teenagers ruled the world, it might resemble Vang Vieng” – The New Zealand Herald

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Luang Prabang: Click Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Vang Vieng: Click Here

To check out my trip in Luang Prabang, click here. For the epic road trip to the Kuang Si Falls, click here. For my photo essay on the Luang Prabang-Vang Vieng trip, click here.

Vang Vieng
The view from our hostel – Karst limestone mountains dot the background of the small city

The party town-for-tourists called Vang Vieng is located midway between the major cities of Luang Prabang (5 hours drive) and Vientiane  (4 and a half hours drive) in the thick of the Laotian jungle and along the banks of the Nam Song River. First settled around 1353 in the midst of a Karst mountain landscape, the quiet little town saw huge changes during the Vietnam War when the United States constructed an air force base complete with an airstrip called “Lima Site 6.” After another quiet period following the war, backpackers started flowing to the city in search of adventure on the Nam Song River.

Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng

The main street of Vang Vieng is packed with cheap hostels and guest houses, bars, cafes, restaurants and tourist agencies. The main attraction, however, is inner tubing on the river. Sure, kayaks are available but let’s be honest – you come to Vang Vieng for the tubing and the parties. Bars, rope swings and zip lines used to dot the banks of the river to serve tourists from all over the world, however injuries and deaths of young tourists have left only a few bars remaining. Nonetheless, the party continues until late in the night. We arrived from Luang Prabang towards nightfall and kicked off the trip in a local pub.

Vang Vieng
Beer pong is a universal language. Beer Lao is a cheap and decent drink
Vang Vieng
A South African, America, Frenchman and Kiwi walk into a bar…
Vang Vieng
Good night, Vang Vieng from the Malany Villa Hostel

Hundreds of tourists were already in the city and backpackers were from all over the world. A jungle party held once-a-month happened to be that very night and it was [redacted]. I woke up the next morning and headed to a local cafe for breakfast. The “Israeli Breakfast” was neither “Israeli” nor would it be considered by any measurable standard “breakfast,” but it did serve its purpose of soaking up the booze from the previous night. We had a long day of tubing ahead of us so a hearty meal was absolutely in order. I ended up eating two of these.

Vang Vieng
The “Israeli Breakfast” in Vang Vieng

Ok so… tubing! Tubing on the Nam Song River began around 1999 and the heavy drinking, zip lines, rope swings, bars everywhere scene came shortly thereafter as backpackers and travelers began to flood the area. In 2011, 22 tourists were reported as dying on the river from excessive alcohol combined with the fast pace of the river (especially after the monsoon season). Drugs being widely available didn’t help the situation either. A huge push from the Laotian government in 2013 saw most of the river and town itself cleaned up and now only a few bars remain. Don’t be dissuaded however, as it’s still an amazingly-fun time cruising down the river, grabbing a rope thrown from a local and stopping off for a drink or two.

Vang Vieng

 

Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng
Tubing at its peak pre-2011
Vang Vieng
Tubing nowadays on the Nam Song

 

Vang Vieng
Getting ready to hit the river

Nowadays, tubing and kayaking are popular activities in the town but so is traveling to the surrounding villages, exploring the local limestone Karst mountains and caves and biking around. Climbing has also become one of the main attractions to adventure travelers. Not just that, but the diversity among the travelers in Laos is quite impressive. We met backpackers from all over Europe, Australia, Korea and more! If you’re in Southeast Asia, Vang Vieng is a must-do on any adventurous traveler’s list!

Vang Vieng

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Luang Prabang: Click Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Vang Vieng: Click Here

To check out my trip in Luang Prabang, click here. For the epic road trip to the Kuang Si Falls, click here. For my photo essay on the Luang Prabang-Vang Vieng trip, click here.

A Crazy Trip to Kuang Si Waterfall in Laos

Kuang Si Falls, Luang Prabang, Laos

The Kuang Si Waterfall is a jungle paradise and a crazy trip

On the way to the Kuang Si Waterfall, we passed two massive water buffalo dead on the street and another monster which squared us down.

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Luang Prabang: Click Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Vang Vieng: Click Here

To check out my trip in Luang Prabang, click here. For the crazy part life of Vang Vieng, click here. For my photo essay on the Luang Prabang-Vang Vieng trip, click here.

Kuang Si Waterfall
Stairway to Heaven

A day trip on a motorbike some 30-plus kilometers away through a winding and mountainous jungle road just to see  a waterfall? Sounds like a legit backpacker’s Wednesday to me – and thus began our journey to what should be a world-famous tourist attraction… but isn’t. The landlocked country of Laos is often overlooked by travelers heading to Asia, and Southeast Asia especially. Its neighbors Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and China are known for excellent tourist infrastructure, fancy hotels and incredible landscapes combined with unspoiled beaches and five-star restaurants. You won’t find any of that in Laos, well, save landscapes that completely boggle the mind.

Kuang Si Waterfall
Rolling mountains covered in almost impassible jungle and at the end of the rainy season, green of all shades
Kuang Si Waterfall
The Mekong River, sleepy in the morning

Located roughly 30km southwest of Luang Prabang, options for transportation through the rolling, thick, lush, hot, adjectives-galore route include tuk-tuk, open-air pickup truck, boat or motorbike. Our group of four chose the latter and to save money took two bikes and shared driving duties.  It was an epic adventure to say the least. On the way to the Kuang Si Waterfall, we drove by two huge, dead water buffalo which had just been ran into by a large Laotian big-rig truck. Ran into, that is, instead of run over… because you literally cannot run over these hulking monsters. Thinking that would be the gnarliest thing we saw, we then came across a herd crowding near the road and one single solitary bull of a male who clearly didn’t give two sh… cares about us wanting to pass through on our bikes. I could describe this in words but pictures seem to tell a more powerful story:

Kuang Si Waterfall
There were about a dozen total, but the thick jungle can hide a 500lbs animal a yard away no problem

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall
Come at me, bro

 

Kuang Si Waterfall
Angle #2 from the bike ahead of us. That’s less than 2 yards from a bull with his head lowered right at us
Kuang Si Waterfall
Too… close…

 

Kuang Si Waterfall
And… exhale… whew

As you can tell from the penultimate photo, the bull is bigger than the two of us and our bike, combined. After that incredible experience we stopped our bikes off to grab some water, talk about the harrowing experience (I cursed, as is my custom) and chat with the locals. The roads of Laos are paved but narrow and are lined with small little bamboo-stilted shops with rudimentary rusted tin roofs. We needed to chill for a moment before continuing our journey and the locals are lovely and welcoming.

Kuang Si Waterfall
Camera #1
Kuang Si Waterfall
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Kuang Si Waterfall
Camera #3

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall
Building a bridge with a machete as a hammer

Kuang Si Waterfall Kuang Si Waterfall

Another sprint through the ‘jungly’ roads and up into the mountain and finally we arrived at the Kuang Si Waterfall. We arrived in late October which is at the tail-end of the rainy season which affects all of Southeast Asia. The monsoon rains bring out shades of green that you have to see to believe. Entrance to the Kuang Si Falls runs about 20,000 kip ($2.50 USD) and the visit rewards the lengthy, roughly 1-hour fifteen minutes ride.

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall
A South African, American, Kiwi and Frenchman walk into a bar in Laos…

The first part of the hike up to the top of the waterfall is a famous bear sanctuary  where Asiatic Black Bears (aka Moon Bears, White-Chested Bears) have been rescued from poachers and abusive situations. They are listed as ‘vulnerable’ in some places and endangered in others, as their bile is considered a natural medicine by the Chinese. There are about 20-25 bears in the sanctuary at any given time.

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

After taking in the bears, it was time to get down to serious waterfall-trekking business. There are several tiers to the Kuang Si Waterfall system with pools located all over the mountain. Some are sacred so swimming is prohibited, though others are free and good to go. There are several waterfalls in this system with the biggest measuring almost 200-feet tall (60 meters). The turquoise and blue hues of the water is really quite brilliant and after a hot 30-minutes or so hike to the very top, the pool at the top offers not only unbelievable views but a refreshing swim on the peak of the mountain.

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall
Feels neverending

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall
Straight out of a fairytale

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall
#selfie #nofilterneeded

 

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall
One part of the slippery climb up

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall
Kuang Si Waterfall

Just a brilliant spot to hang out. Flooded pools and fast-moving water… I absolutely recommend the Kuang Si Falls during or after the rainy season. You get the full feeling of a flooded landscape and gain comprehension of just how much water flows through Southeast Asia thanks to these monsoon rains. After kicking it at the flooded campsite, we hopped back on the bikes for the trek back to Luang Prabang and I have to say, I was a bit nervous about the ride back. Our bikes needed some fuel so we stopped for petrol at a small market on the side of the road. Two women were busy chopping meat while the okes purchased the petrol and it didn’t take long to figure out what they were chopping… the water buffalo from the ride up that were hit by the truck. Roadkill = dinner in the Laotian jungle.

 

Kuang Si Waterfall
Roadkill steaks

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

We made it back to the hostel just before sundown and dollar street-food sandwiches and much-needed cold beer was required. When in Laos, make like a Laotian.

Next up is the trip from Luang Prabang down south to Vang Vieng and tubing on the Mekong River.

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Luang Prabang: Click Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Vang Vieng: Click Here

To check out my trip in Luang Prabang, click here. For the crazy part life of Vang Vieng, click here. For my photo essay on the Luang Prabang-Vang Vieng trip, click here.

Cheap Thrills in Kiev Ukraine

A never-ending nightlife and an excellent exchange rate makes for an incredible weekend in Kiev Ukraine

It’s chilly in Eastern Europe and even in March you gotta bundle up to head out and about… that is if you can wake up at a respectable hour after partying all night in one of Kiev’s word-famous nightclubs.

For High-Resolution Photos of my trip to Kiev, Ukraine: Click Here

Kiev

First and foremost, if you go to Eastern Europe you must visit Kiev along the way. Yes it’s cold, yes it’s probably gray and yes, it can get quite depressing… but the nightlife, favorable exchange rate and fun things to do make the trek absolutely worthwhile. Traveling to Kiev from Tel Aviv, Israel, the weather may have been the biggest adjustment but the charm and allure of the historical Ukrainian capital in encapsulating. Start your trip the right way – McDonald’s coffee and, with an exchange rate of 20-to-1, this cost about $4 USD:

Kiev
10 coffees, a McSomething meal, roughly $4 USD

And now you’re ready to rock n’ roll through the capital of Ukraine…

Kiev

Any good day trip through Kiev starts at the Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), famous for many reasons but most recently as the hub of the anti-government and anti-corruption protests which led tot he 2014 Ukrainian Revolution. The plaza of Maidan Nezalezhnosti still has burn marks from tires and other objects set ablaze while snipers shot at demonstrators from the nearby rooftops. The Revolution led to the ousting of then-president Viktor Yanukovych.

Kiev

Kiev

Kiev

Kiev
The President’s House, seen from Independence Square

After the powerful Independence Square, it quickly dawned on me that the only language spoken on the streets of Kiev is Russian. The similar-but-different Ukrainian tongue is spoken as you travel further west towards Europe but it’s clearly apparent that Russian influence still reigns heavy on a country that is now starting to lean towards the EU and away from “Mother Russia.” But I digress… Here’s Khreshchatyk Street which is packed with souvenir shops, historical buildings (feels like walking through an old World War I film) and plenty of monuments.

Kiev

Kiev

Kiev

We walked about 15 minutes through light rain to St. Sophia’s Cathedral, the city’s oldest church. Built in 1017, the UNESCO world heritage site runs about $3 to enter and you can climb the sketchy 200-foot bell tower for a great view of the city. The open-air design means you walk up windy and slippery narrow steps to the very top. Definitely not for the faint of heart.

Kiev
St. Sophia’s Cathedral in downtown Kiev
Kiev
Plaza outside of St. Sophia’s Cathedral
Kiev
St. Michael’s Cathedral down the road

Kiev

St. Sophia’s Cathedral features original mosaic flooring and tapestries from over 1,000 years ago. Museum exhibits and more are worth a gander to escape the rain and just five minutes down the road is the St. Michael’s Cathedral, also worth a quick trip to catch a bit of Ukrainian religious history.

Kiev
Putin not trending well at the moment…

Kiev

Kiev

Kiev
Panhandlers clip pigeon’s/dove’s wings and charge tourists to ‘wear’ them for a photo
Kiev
Hot coffee-to-go? Yes please!

Kiev

Kiev

Kiev
One of Kiev’s many Cathedrals

I’ll be back with tips for Kiev’s night life!

For High-Resolution Photos of my trip to Kiev, Ukraine: Click Here

Real Myanmar Nature at Hlawga National Park

Hlawga National Park, Myanmar

Hlawga National Park is a great way to see some Myanmar nature while in Yangon

About an hour and a half north of the hustle and bustle of Myanmar’s largest city and former capital of Yangon is the Hlawga National Park. The jewel of a Myanmar nature preserve is flush with free-roaming monkeys, deer, elephants and more.

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Hlawga National Park: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Hlawga National Park: Click Here

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The Myanmar nature reserve is divided into two parts: a walk-through zoo and a drive-through safari area. The zoo area features several types of bears, deer, full-grown monkeys, alligators, exotic birds and much more. The zoo has plenty of animals running around like monkeys. Be careful around these animals as they are absolutely wild and can be friendly one minute for some free snacks and then hyper-aggressive due to their territorial nature. Feeding the bears is quite fun as is tossing fresh leaves to the deer. As far as zoos go (especially in Asia) these animals have quite large and clean habitats with plenty of resources to stay cool and comfortable in the hot sun.

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The Asian Sun Bear
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Bears love fruit

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The drive-through safari is a dream but as a tip, for sure don’t take the local bus. The local bus is usually crammed with people, lacks air-conditioning and is so crowded and slow that locals hang from the outside just so they don’t have to walk in the oppressive Southeast Asian heat. Spend a few extra thousand Myanmar kyat (an entrance fee of around 3-4,000 kyat or $2-3 USD plus private mini-bus or ‘tuk-tuk’ fee of 5-6,000 kyat or $4-5 USD) is absolutely worth it. With the private vehicle you can stop off and feed the animals, interact with them and even hang out at a petting area and get up close and personal with some deer and monkeys. Elephant rides are also available but as a conscientious traveler I usually refrain from these activities. It’s hard on the animals and immoral due to their training and ‘breaking-in’ process.

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You also have the option of taking your own private vehicle through the park but I wouldn’t recommend it (unless you drive a beater!). The dirt path is narrow, wildly uneven and contains debris that may scrape your undercarriage to a nerve-wracking point. You can toss out treats to the animals (purchasable around the park) but visitors tend to throw any old food at the animals. Not a great idea and absolutely not recommended.

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Myanmar Nature

The whole experience is great and is very family-friendly. Independent travelers in Myanmar can have a great time as well and it’s definitely worth the drive if you have a free afternoon. Buses head this way as well and are frequent from Yangon. During the hot and dry season you’ll need to pack plenty of sunscreen and down copious amounts of water.

Myanmar Nature

Myanmar Nature

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Hlawga National Park: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Hlawga National Park: Click Here

The Mysterious Mitta Oo Pagoda in Myanmar

Mitta U Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

The Mitta Oo Pagoda is a local temple complex located down the road from the Kyain Thit Sar Shin Pagoda

One of the things I love about Myanmar is that the dearth of available information (in English anyway!) on the internet makes travel around the Golden Land so fun and fascinating. The Mitta Oo Pagoda is a perfect example of that.

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Mitta Oo Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Mitta Oo Pagoda: Click Here

Mitta Oo Pagoda

I know I’ve written that many times before but a day trip out to the Kyain Thit Sar Shin meant not only the opportunity to check out a giant, unique and unknown pagoda but also another pagoda hardly mentioned to the outside world: the Mitta Oo Pagoda.

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Yangon is flush with ‘smaller’ pagodas and while everyone knows about the Sule and Shwedagon Pagodas, few know of the Chaukhtatgyi Reclining Buddha or Ngahtatgyi Pagoda, no-one writes or discusses the ‘off-the-beaten-path’ pagodas. There are just too many of them, and this is just one more example of the many and vast compounds that dot Southeast Asia’s second-largest country and the reason why Myanmar is affectionately known as the “Golden Land.”

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Like the majority of pagodas in Myanmar, the Mitta Oo Pagoda contains many golden stupas along with statues depicting various stages of the Buddha’s life. Each one is captured in brilliant detail which pays real testament to the artistry of the Burmese. This particular pagoda has some years on it and it shows, however I wouldn’t describe it as “being in a state of disrepair.” Some upkeep could be needed however it plays hosts to children playing all sorts of games, from cards to the local chinlone and football. Footvolley on dirt with a decrepit net adds some real local character to the pagoda.

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

For high-resolution images from my trip to the Mitta Oo Pagoda, click here and don’t forget to ‘like’ our Facebook page for more stories and updates!

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Mitta Oo Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Mitta Oo Pagoda: Click Here

Sderot, Israel, and the Gaza Border

Sderot, Gaza, Israel

Sderot, Israel, is one of the most troubled cities on Planet Earth

There are few places in the world that suffer as much terror and missile fire as Sderot, Israel

For more posts on Israel: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Sderot, Israel: Click Here

Sderot, Israel

The “Bomb Shelter Capital of the World” in Israel is a hell of a place to visit. Sderot (pronounced S-de ROTE) is an Israeli city in the western Negev desert located right next to the Israeli border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The formerly vibrant community shows the scars of years of rocket and mortar fire from the neighboring Palestinian enclave which under the terror group has become a hub of conflict and war. For a bit of history, the Gaza Strip was vacated by Israel in a unilateral move in 2005 which led to the relocation of some 10,000 Israelis from 21 Jewish communities. The controversial move was even more so disheartening as Hamas took over the territory from the Palestinian Authority in a bloody coup shortly thereafter. Since then, the 24,000-strong city of Sderot has seen continuous rocket and mortar fire numbering over 20,000 (some estimates have this number much higher due to the recent conflicts between Hamas and Israel).

Sderot, Israel

I was shooting from a disposable back in July 2007, about 18 months after the disengagement, when I visited the already-weary small town. I took a few quick snaps of some bomb shelters from our bullet-proof tour bus and was quickly prompted by our decent English-speaking yet thickly Israeli-accented tour guide to hold off. “You will run out of pictures if you photo each bomb shelter.”

Yeesh.

The first place we stopped off upon our arrival to Sderot was the Sderot Media Center to learn more about the conflict and current situation of the Gaza-border communities. The center is located inside a bomb shelter which quickly makes the experience much more real and serious (as if it wasn’t enough already)!

Sderot, Israel

Sderot, Israel

With our information session out of the way and with hundreds of questions on my mind, we headed out for a tour of the city and were confronted with the day-to-day reality of life in Sderot. On one side of the street you can see a beautiful house while the other side of the street has a house that’s been bombed-out. Upon reflection, this is the very reason why the Iron Dome missile defense system is such an invaluable part of the defense of the State of Israel – residents have less than 30 seconds to reach a bomb shelter after the siren blares before impact.

Sderot, Israel

Sderot, Israel

Sderot, Israel
A synagogue sits between a home being rebuilt after a rocket attack and a bomb shelter (orange-brown building) on the right

After driving around parts of the city, it’s clear why, according to Realtor Yaakov Levy, property values in Sderot have dropped between 30 and 50 percent. It actually got worse as we made our next stop at a children’s playground. Due to the lack of warning time and frequency of attacks (during periods of conflict around 8-10 attacks would occur per day) there are bomb shelters built into children’s playground. Studies have found that at least 75% of the children raised in Sderot ages 4-18 suffer from post-traumatic stress including sleep disorders and severe anxiety.

Sderot, Israel

Sderot, Israel

Sderot, Israel

For a taste of what it’s like in Sderot, you can watch this video on YouTube. I don’t want to dive any further into this as it’s a tough subject to tackle online. In any case, it’s not all doom and gloom in Sderot. We went to a local market for some lunch and the strong, determined community was out and about like any other ‘normal’ day. As an agricultural community, you can image just how many fresh fruits and vegetables are available for purchase. We ate local and it was delectable. Not quite “Bangkok street food level” but delicious nonetheless. Street fried chicken. Yum.

Sderot, Israel

 Sderot, Israel

As this was our last stop in the city of Sderot, I made sure to chat up a few locals to get their feelings on things. They told me to visit the Gaza border lookout less than a mile away. I obliged and convinced our driver and tour guide that we had to see it. After a few minutes of conversation and convincing in broken Hebrew (for me) and English (for them) we came to an arrangement and headed up a small hill. The view of the 41 km (25 miles) long Gaza Strip is truly something to see. There aren’t many words to describe it, however it’s quite incredible that the tiny enclave garners so much of the world’s attention.

Sderot, Israel

Sderot, Israel

Sderot, Israel

Sderot, Israel

And that’s that for my visit to Sderot and the Gaza border. I’ve heard that the best surf in the Middle East is the Gaza coast and one day when peace breaks out in the region I hope to return.

Until next time…

For more posts on Israel: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Sderot, Israel: Click Here

Photo Essay: People & Places of Bagan, Myanmar

Shwezigon Pagoda, Bagan, Myanmar

The powerful people and picturesque places of Bagan, Myanmar

World-renowned and recognized by UNESCO though visited by a fraction of the tourists which make their way to Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Bagan, Myanmar is a must-see for anyone making their way to Southeast Asia.

For more information from our Travel Guide on Bagan: Click Here

More on Bagan: Brilliant Bagan Sunrise in Myanmar: Click Here

More on Bagan: The Extraordinary Plains of Bagan: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Bagan: Click Here

Bagan, Myanmar
Mandatory Thanaka to blend in with the locals
Bagan, Myanmar
Some things never change
Bagan, Myanmar
Myanmar Chinlone “Footvolley”
Bagan, Myanmar
Traditional Bagan Palm Wine. Delicious and does the job!

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar
Foaming at the teeth in Nyaung-U
Bagan, Myanmar
Hey bro, for sure get outta the way!
Bagan, Myanmar
Modern products are still made in the traditional methods
Bagan, Myanmar
Traditional everything at Bagan
Bagan, Myanmar
Locals believe Thanaka leads to beauty
Bagan, Myanmar
Off-the-grid Buddha Image at a worn-down Bagan Pagoda
Bagan, Myanmar
After taking in the Bagan sunrise, locals gather to pitch their wares to tourists
Bagan, Myanmar
Travelers and backpackers taking in the beautiful views from Shwesandaw Pagoda
Bagan, Myanmar
Watermelon fresh and cheap
Bagan, Myanmar
Kyaw (pronounced Joe), our guide
Bagan, Myanmar
Shwezigon Paya through the Ray Bans

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar
Gautama Buddha images of all shapes, sizes and styles are found throughout the thousands of temples of Bagan

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar
Famous hand-drawn sand paintings at Dhammayangyi Temple
Bagan, Myanmar
Famous hand-drawn sand paintings at Dhammayangyi Temple

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar
Bagan is well-known for lacquerware products
Bagan, Myanmar
There are plenty of lacquerware workshops and shops to visit in Bagan
Bagan, Myanmar
This cottage industry dates back to 12th Century A.D and runs in Burmese families where fathers pass it on to their sons as a tradition
Bagan, Myanmar
Hand-made lacquerware guitars a future purchase for sure

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar
South African backpackers hey

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

For more information from our Travel Guide on Bagan: Click Here

More on Bagan: Brilliant Bagan Sunrise in Myanmar: Click Here

More on Bagan: The Extraordinary Plains of Bagan: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Bagan: Click Here

The Dead Sea is Alive and Well (Mostly)

Dead Sea, Israel
The Dead Sea is a one-of-a-kind lake in-between Israel and Jordan

Facing Jordan to the East and Israel to the West, the Dead Sea is a destination spot for tens of thousands of travelers each year and certainly doesn’t disappoint.

For more posts on Israel: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Dead Sea: Click Here

Dead Sea

The road from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea is a wild and winding one, filled with intermittent security checks, gas stations with camels  you can ride, Arab, Jewish and nomadic Bedouin villages and more as the big capital city turns into the dessert. Nice and clean roads help with the smooth hour-plus ride and the scenes are absolutely breathtaking. Commonly referred to as “the Dead Sea” due to the high concentrations of naturally-occurring salt in the water prohibiting any animals from living in it, it is the lowest point on Earth and a unique and stunning place to visit.

Dead Sea
Jordan shares the other and more undeveloped coast of the Dead Sea

The high concentration of salt makes you so buoyant you can float for days on the water. You wouldn’t want to, however, as the salt stings and burns everywhere! PRO-TIP: Men don’t shave your faces, ladies don’t shave  your legs. Any open cuts or nicks will leave you stinging like nothing else. Also be sure to NOT dunk your face under the water. Your eyes will snap shut and you’ll be begging for fresh water to rinse them out.

Dead Sea

Dead Sea
Try it with your sandals! Everything floats!

Huge chunks of salt lay at the bottom so make sure you don’t cut your feet! You can pick up chunks as large as a basketball all around the Dead Sea. It’s really something to see. So after you get your float on, your skin will feel velvety smooth and it’s time for the famous Dead Sea Mud Bath. It’s supposed to be amazing for your skin, not so sure about that but it does feel great. After the mud dries, head back to the water to carefully (read: carefully) rinse it all off. There are fresh water showers all around the beach so hit that afterwards to get all the salt off your burning body.

Dead Sea

Dead Sea

Dead Sea
The sand was brutally hot!

After you rinse off the mud, you’ll feel baby-skin smooth. People come from all around the world to the Dead Sea for its healing attributes and the uniqueness of it all. I’ve been several times and each time I go it’s as good as the first time. Just make sure you rinse all over (ALL OVER) when you finish there. About 2 hours is good, as once your… private areas… start burning you’ll be aching for a cold shower. Next time I visit I plan on hitting it from the Jordanian side. The Israeli side has been developed much more however I’ve heard great things about hitting the Dead Sea from the east side of the sea.

Dead Sea

Dead Sea
Fancy a camel ride? The SUVs of the desert
Dead Sea
Mountains of the ancient Judean Desert
Dead Sea
The same in any language
Dead Sea
We opted for ‘al aish’, Hebrew for barbecue

For more posts on Israel: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Dead Sea: Click Here

Bangkok Style: Sunday Drive in a Tuk Tuk

Tuk Tuk, Bangkok, Thailand

When in Bangkok, one must Tuk Tuk

Known as a rickshaw in the west, the tuk tuk is the east’s primary form of transportation when facing the choking traffic of Thailand’s capital of Bangkok.

For more on the Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace: Click Here

For more on the Wat Arun and Temple of the Dawn: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Wat Phra Kaew: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Wat Arun and Temple of the Dawn: Click Here

Tuk Tuk

The Tuk-Tuk is synonymous with Bangkok. Named for its motor’s distinctive ‘tuk tuk tuk tuk tuk’ sound, it’s the best way to cruise through Thailand’s capital… as long as you don’t mind the choking-from-smog air. There’s no seat belt, no door, usually no-side gate for extra safety (though it succeeds in only making you ‘feel’ safe) and generally no rules. So I point, click and enjoy. And now through my lens, you can too!

Tuk Tuk


Tuk Tuk
Tuk Tuk

Tuk Tuk

Tuk Tuk

Bike for Mom weekend was in full swing during this weekend in Bangkok. The Thai people love their Royal Family and they celebrate their birthdays in all sorts of ways. This year contained bike rides for the King and Queen whom they refer to as “Dad and Mom,” respectively. The ride took place on Sunday morning and thousands upon thousands of participants took part in it.

Tuk Tuk
Tuk Tuk

There are so many shopping options in Bangkok, making it a central hub for travelers and tourists from all around the region. For backpackers, the ability to engage in adventure travel in the heart of a big city is priceless… though you needn’t worry as those on a tight budget can get by on a few dollars a day.

For more on the Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace: Click Here

For more on the Wat Arun and Temple of the Dawn: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Wat Phra Kaew: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Wat Arun and Temple of the Dawn: Click Here

Off the Grid in Yangon: Wijuwedo Paya

Wijuwedo Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

Day-trip to the Wijuwedo Pagoda and you won’t forget it!

Close to Yangon but still ‘off-the-grid,’ the Wijuwedo Pagoda stands tall in the jungle.

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Wijuwedo Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Wijuwedo Pagoda: Click Here

Wijuwedo

The phrase “off the grid” in Myanmar is a very relative term – meaning that if you travel just a hop, skip or jump outside Yangon you are pretty much traveling into areas unknown to the West. Now, this doesn’t mean that no one outside of the locals have traveled there, but it means that you cannot find any information online (especially in English) about the sites you will come across. For this very reason, I have started this blog and dutifully maintain it to show the outside world just how much there is to see in this incredible country. Think that’s an exaggeration? Let’s consult Google Maps on the Wijuwedo Pagoda:
WijuwedoWijuwedo

So how did we find Wijuwedo Pagoda? While touring the incredible Meilamu Pagoda we came upon the murky and untamed Pazundaung Creek. Quick aside – the creek, though more of a river, typifies the absolute raw nature of Myanmar and how close the jungle really is to the newly-built modern civilization. Yangon is, for the most part, a city growing within a tropical rainforest. As soon as you step outside into the outskirts of the city, you find yourself entrapped and mystified by its sheer beauty and natural state. But I digress. Seeing several shining stupas in the distance I quickly inquired with a local restaurant owner about what the location was and they told me “Wujiwedo Pyay,” the Pagoda of Wujiwedo. With nothing on the internet or maps depicting its location, we knew we had a mission on our hands.

Wijuwedo
Wujiwedo Pyay across the Pazundaung

Upon exiting the Meilamu Pagoda, we found a taxi who was familiar with the area and, to our luck, knew enough English to understand where we wanted to go. The language barrier in Myanmar is enormous, however it isn’t surprising – after all, the country formerly known as Burma had been cut off from the Western world for almost 60 years. Cutting through the banned-in-Yangon proper motorcycles that line the streets, drive on the curbs and skim through traffic, we made our way across “Industrial Road Bridge” over the river and hung a right onto a dirt path lined on both sides with thicker than thick jungle bush. At the end of the dirt path, however, was the Wujiwedo Pyay.

Wijuwedo

There are very few tourists in Myanmar and only a handful of westerners, so my Ethiopian-Israeli wife and my whiter-than-white freckled features draw attention everywhere we go. Here, however, we seemed to be the first visitors to ever visitor the place. Whether that’s true or not, everyone seemed more than happy to guide us around the grounds and show us the different buildings that line the area. Unlike some of the more famous sites in Yangon such as the Shwedagon Pagoda and Sule Pagoda, this is not a tourist attraction.  Paved areas are at a minimum and there isn’t a lick of English in sight.

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Seriously, how does no one know about this place? And those photos of from just the FIRST stupa. It’s mind-boggling the detail on each pillar, doorway, ceiling and shrine is unknown and not publicized. This is just one example of the hundreds of locations not toured by outsiders. And one more reason to share with the world the beauties of Burma.

Wijuwedo
Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo
Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo  Wijuwedo

With about 7 total buildings and the sunlight fading, we needed to make haste in order to see the entire compound. Of course, who can refuse a nice photo op? Or three?Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

 Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

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Wijuwedo  Wijuwedo

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Wijuwedo

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Wijuwedo  Wijuwedo   Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo
The locals believe ringing the bell brings good luck

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Wijuwedo Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Wijuwedo Pagoda: Click Here