Below are some pictures from our trip to Hualien and Taroko Gorge. There are a bunch. It's a big gorge...
Hualien and Taroko Gorge continued...
Loaded with beaches and nature parks, our trip south to Kenting offered plenty of photo ops.
Below are some pictures from our ferry ride from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Okay, at some point I may have mentioned my desire to avoid posting massive amounts of temple pictures. Well, I had said that before I knew I was going to Cambodia -- a country largely famous as a tourist destination for the incredible Angkor temples. Long story short, I'm flip-flopping... wanna fight about it?
Truthfully, these temples were pretty spectacular. I apologize for any lack of specifics, but we visited about seven temples in seven hours and it's a little tough to match temple names with temples faces. What you should really know is the Angkor temples (located outside of Siem Reap) were built by the Khmer empire over an extended period of time between the ninth and thirteenth centuries. Some restoration has taken place, but the "city" of Angkor is still in remarkable condition and maintains the honor of being recognized as the largest pre-industrial city in the world, dwarfing even the largest Mayan city, Tikal. The entire Angkorian city occupies over 1000 square kilometers. Yeah, that's right, even the Mayans had city envy.
So, I've got a lot of friggin' pictures from a lot of friggin' temples. And I spared you -- I have so many more! But they're seriously awesome!
Welcome to the Wat.
Below are pictures from one temple that I can, with complete certainty, tell you the name of: Angkor Wat. Undoubtedly the most famous and well-preserved of all the Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat was built in the early twelfth century for the king Suryavarman II. Although restoration projects detracted from some of the majesty of this amazing temple complex during our visit, it was still pretty damn impressive. Check out these few select images.
To all my New York and New Jersey friends: the pictures below may
inspire some jealousy. I've heard the winter's been brutal for
America's Northeast, so these images from Karon Beach, Phuket may
strike a nerve. Just do your best to live vicariously. That's why I'm
here! Kind of.
Alright, if those pictures of Karon Beach didn't strike the jealousy nerve, these almost certainly will (and I'm not just talking about Tyler and Ben greasing each other up). After a few days in Phuket, we made our way via ferry to Phi Phi Don in Ko Phi Phi. Frankly, it's probably the most beautiful place I've ever seen. It kind of made Phuket look like a pile of puke. Anyway, here are some pics from our first day on Phi Phi Don.
The pictures taken from a higher elevation involved a tremendous hike to the highest point of the island, which we unknowingly committed ourselves to (we were just trying to find the beach!). After over thirty minutes of trekking upwards, we started stumbling across beautiful lookout points, the highest located at about 185 meters above sea level. Getting to the beach actually involved descending via a not-so-beaten and somewhat treacherous path through a dense forest. Once we discovered Rantee Beach, we realized we were four of six people at said beach. We did things the hard way, but it paid off. Needless to say, after over an hour of hiking and another two hours of snorkeling, we took a water taxi back to our side of the island.
Here they are -- the rest of my pictures from Thailand.
Most of the pictures below are from our camping excursion at Maya Bay. Look familiar? Scenes from Danny Boyle's The Beach were filmed there. It was absolutely gorgeous and come nightfall, we had the place to ourselves. Debauchery ensued! (As it tends to.) Gooooood times. Probably my favorite part of the whole Asia adventure so far.
And what trip to Thailand would be complete without elephant trekking? Yep, we rode elephants and it was sweet. So were the elephants! Take a look.
They run tours out of Ho Chi Minh City that will take you around the Mekong River. Along the way, they stop at little populated islands with a way of life quite different than you'll find in the cities. Also, they've got pythons and crocodiles! Sign me up!
Check out these pictures from the sleepy Vietnamese island, Phu Quoc. It's actually Vietnam's largest island, known for some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Truthfully, there wasn't much else to it. Lots of beaches and snorkeling. It was quite beautiful, (I had kilometers of white sand beaches to myself in the north), but quite tame.
Ahhh, Nha Trang: quite possibly my favorite place in Asia so far. It's only real claim to fame is that it hosted the 2008 Miss Universe Competition, but it's just beautiful. Gorgeous beaches, amazing mountains, kick-ass nightlife and so much to do.
I met an awesome Swedish girl named Beatrice my second day. We spent some time together on the beach, visiting Ba Ho (waterfalls and swimming holes in the foothills outside of Nha Trang) and at the bars.
Truthfully, I was a little depressed when I left Nha Trang, but I'd like to think I'll make it back there.
Truthfully, I was a pretty bad tourist in Hoi An. As you can see, I didn't take many pictures. It's a quaint, quiet little spot with a nearby beach and some semblance of a nightlife. It's teeming with silk shops, tailors and shoe stores. Yes, I had to get custom-made sandals cause my feet are so damn big. Whatever. Anyway, I spent two nights going from the Before 'N' Now Bar to the Beach Club (I think that's what it's called -- it's a small club and it's on the beach) via a free shuttle. Somewhere along the way, I met Perlee (spelling?), another Swedish girl. Swedes in Vietnam: You can't escape 'em!
There are lots of cool people in Hoi An and lots of great food, but I didn't do many touristy things because I had a lot of writing and blogging to catch up on. Check out these few pictures, which barely do it justice.
Halong Bay is probably Vietnam's most well-known tourist destination. It's an enormous bay in the north of the country (less than four hours from Hanoi) comprised of 1969 islands formed by tectonic shifts... if I understood my tour guide correctly. Or, if you believe ancient Vietnam mythology, the islands are pearls spat from the mouth of a giant heavenly dragon... again, if I understood my tour guide correctly. Dragon pearls?! Friggin' sweet!
This time of year, the bay tends to be misty, gray and ghostly, particularly at night (very Pirates of the Caribbean). In another month, Halong Bay will almost certainly be bright and sunny, but hey, you can't time everything perfectly.
I did a two-day, one-night cruise aboard a junk (yes, it's a boat) called Christina. Yar, and an elegant vessel she was! Archaic pirate-speak aside, Halong Bay is one of the natural wonders of the world because of its countless rock formations, caves, islands and dragons. I figure there must still be dragons there somewhere! You may even see some in these pictures! Um seriously though, don't get your hopes up. I don't want any angry emails complaining about my inability to follow through on promises of dragons.
Ohhhh Vang Vieng -- probably one of the strangest, craziest places I've been. I actually don't have any pictures from the town's most notable attraction (river tubing) because I figured my camera would never survive the river. But here are a few pictures of the country-side and the friends I made during my five nights in a place that can be heaven or hell for backpackers. I think it was something closer to heaven for me, but when that sixth morning rolled around, I was ready to leave.
Erika and Mia probably won't care much for these pictures. Too bad Swedes! Man, Erika looks hammered! But she's not quite as inebriated as she looks... at least in these pictures. For fuck's sake, Erika!
Somewhat unexpectedly, I stayed in Luang Prabang longer than any other place in Southeast Asia so far. As a result, I've got a lot of friggin' pictures! This collection is just from my first few days, before the new year celebration.
It's a pretty random assortment. The first few were taken at Utopia -- a super-chill river-side bar. After that, you can see the monks collecting their rice at 5:30am. Yes, I did wake up that early to see the monk procession. Well, technically Erika and Mia dragged me out of bed, but it still involved some effort on my part.
The rest are from the waterfalls outside of Luang Prabang. I shared a tuk tuk with a random group of guys (Me? Actually hanging out with dudes? Weird.) and we chilled at the waterfall and the swimming pools for a few hours. The sign by the big falls said no swimming, but seriously, screw that.
More pictures from Luang Prabang on the way soon...
Luang Prabang continued...
The first few are just some pictures with new friends Sheree and Danielle. The rest are from Luang Prabang's Royal Theater Ballet. Yeah, I did something cultural. Who would have thought?! Truthfully, I don't know if I'd really consider the performance a ballet by typical standards, but it was definitely interesting to see. The story had something to do with a giant, a mountain, a lizard and one guy stealing another guy's wife. I really liked it cause of the heartbreak and the magic... and the cool masks.
Let the new year festivities commence!
Before coming to Luang Prabang, I knew nothing about Pii Mai and the huge party that ensues. It was pure coincidence that my trip through that city coincided with the new year. Essentially, the celebration is all about the water spirits. As a result, everyone runs around with water guns and buckets of water and soaks each other. The town turns into an enormous water fight! I'm not quite sure how throwing flour at people or coating them with different color paints fits into the tradition, but they do that too.
I think part of the beauty of the whole scene is how the Laotians openly and affectionately interact with the tourists. I hadn't seen anything like it in any other Southeast Asian country. Everyone parties together, everyone soaks each other, everyone says, "Sabaidee, Pii Mai!" before drenching you.
This whole celebration was definitely one of the highlights of my trip.
I'll never forget Pii Mai in Luang Prabang or the people I shared it with.
At last, my few remaining pictures from Laos. Most of these are from the drum show at Utopia. Risto, Roscoe and I had never played together before earlier that day and, not surprisingly, none of us had much experience playing on the "instruments" provided -- missiles, rockets, cluster-bombs, oil cans, buckets, empty liquor bottles and one conga drum. During the show, there was a thunderstorm and a blackout, making the whole spectacle of three drummers playing on whatever they could find that much more effectively primitive and tribal. The audience was dancing and loving it. A few people even thought we were a touring act. They were shocked when we told them we'd never played together prior to that morning.
The other pics are just a few random images of the beautiful scenery around Luang Prabang.
I have to give Luang Prabang credit for providing me with some of my fondest memories during my trip. I frickin' love that city!
Ten of my twelve days in Malaysia were spent on Pulau Kecil, the smaller of the two major Perhentian Islands off the coast of northeastern Malaysia. During my time there, I managed to get my PADI open water diving certification. Aside from that, I pretty much just hung out with a great group of people, the majority of whom I met right on the island. Here are a few pictures from this small slice of paradise.
My second stop in Indonesia (after the regrettably unimpressive and uninspiring Kuta) was Gili Trawangan, one of the three small Gili Islands off the northwest coast of Lombok. I'd love to say my time there involved nothing but diving, cocktails and relaxing on the beach, but I somehow managed to fall incredibly ill on my second day. Of my five days there, I was pretty much bed-ridden for about two and recovering for the remainder. However, after a visit to the island's only medical center (and its resident "doctor"), I started sucking down antibiotics and found myself improving steadily.
My last day there, I decided to walk around the island in its entirety. My illness had kept me confined to the main strip and I knew there was more to see than that. So, I grabbed my camera and went for a walk. It took me nearly three hours to make a full circle around the island, but I think the photographs speak for themselves. I believe they're some of the most beautiful pictures I've taken during my travels. And trust me, that has very little to do with the photographer.
My last five days in Indonesia were spent in Ubud, a beautiful town located in central Bali. Ubud is largely known for its high concentration of legitimate Balinese culture (perfectly contradictory to a place like Kuta), its fine arts and handcrafts (there are countless galleries all over town, each boasting magnificent work), as well as its monkey forest and surrounding Balinese Hindu temples. Did I mention the food's amazing, too?
There's a little something for everyone in Ubud... except those looking for a beach. But after all the paradisiacal beaches I'd seen in the past few months, I was willing to sacrifice the sand and surf for some true culture. And as luck would have it, Ubud turned out to be one of my favorite locations in Southeast Asia.
These pictures are sort of a mishmash. The first few were taken just around my guest house. As you can probably guess, the ones involving monkeys and a forest were taken at Ubud's Monkey Forest. The remaining were snapped at the Gunung Kawi temple outside of Ubud, on the way to Tampaksiring. Mike (a Canadian chef working in Ubud who I first met in Kuta) was kind enough to show me and Anja (a Norwegian girl I'd previously met in Malaysia) around. And no, I'm not wearing a dress in the one picture -- it's called a sarong and both men and women must be wearing one to enter the temple. God, don't be so ignorant!