If you follow my articles you know that I write of my adventures and the places I have visited around the world. My hope is to lend some insight to help you decide on your next vacation. This article is going to be a departure, this article is going to be on a personal level, this article will hopefully shake you to your core… Global Climate Change is real, I’ve seen it firsthand.
I am not going to delve into the scientific research and the politics of the issue other than to say that I agree with the ninety seven percent of the world’s scientists that state man has played a significant role.
Since 2010 I have spent seven summers working on various cruise ships traveling to Alaska and the Inside Passage. One reason thousands of people every year travel to Alaska by cruise ship is to experience the glaciers, many of which can only be seen by ship.
Having lived in Yosemite National Park and in the Rocky Mountains and I have seen and hiked to a number of glaciers. However, you never really experience a glacier until you are up close and personal from the deck of a ship. From this vantage point you witness its power as immense walls of ice crash into the sea.
I visited my first glacier in Alaska during the summer of 2010. I was working on the Rhapsody of the Seas as we cruised through the Tracy Arm Fjord. As the steep mountain walls narrowed and we approached the Sawyer Glacier I was mesmerized by its size and its beauty. I was only to be brought back to reality with the sounds of massive blocks of ice tumbling into the water.
For the last several years I have visited Glacier Bay National Park and its many glaciers. I have stood silent watching the mile wide Marjorie Glacier in all her glory.
I have observed the Hubbard Glacier, a magnificent seven mile wide mountain of ice advance to the water’s edge only to shed mammoth flakes of its frozen skin.
Although I have witnessed the retreat of many glaciers it is hard to notice the difference when you visit year after year. That changed this year when for the first time in seven years I returned to the Sawyer Glacier.
To say I was shocked is an understatement of what I felt as the ship came to rest several hundred yards away from its face, it was a shadow of its former self. We visit the Sawyer every week and there has been a number of weeks that we could not approach the glacier safely with the amount of ice in the water.
Returning to my cabin I took my book on Alaska off the shelf and began to compare before and after shots. My heart broke, it ached, and my eyes began to tear as I realized two thirds of the Sawyer Glacier had disappeared over a seven year period.
Later that evening I searched my computer for past images of other Alaska’s glaciers that I had taken. I was speechless at what I found, it was happening everywhere and it very noticeable.
Another image in my book was the Lamplugh Glacier. Comparing photos side by side it too had changed dramatically. Easily on third of the glacier had disappeared and the images were a mere three years apart.
As I write we are experiencing a major heat wave in Alaska with many of the ports in the 80’s and Anchorage even topping 90 degrees. The record heat has sparked wildfires though out Alaska and the once blue skies are now a brown haze obscuring the mountain tops.
And it is not only in Alaska, Europe is also setting records with temperatures as high as 114 degrees Fahrenheit in France. News reports have stated that June was the hottest month on record.
Over the past week I have watched a few documentaries on climate change. I’d ask that you watch “Chasing Ice”, the 2014 Emmy Award winning documentary. As you watch what James Balog documents remember it takes 100 feet of snow to make 1 foot of glacial ice.
Is it “fake news” that so many would like you to believe? Or is it really happening like the vast majority of the world’s scientists have proven, what cameras have documented and study after study has shown.
If it is fake news somebody needs to tell the glaciers because they are melting at an alarming rate!
Pai is filled with places to create wonderful memories and places to take beautiful photographs. I have decided to share with you a few of my favorite places for you to explore.
In order to visit these places and to get around Pai your best bet is to rent a scooter. Scooters in Southeast Asia are its life’s blood. Everyone has a scooter. They are usually the Honda Click or the Honda Wave, though there are other brand names and 110cc to 125cc being the average size.
I have seen kids as young as 10 to adults in their 70’s and 80’s all using scooters as transportation in Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. I have seen families of three people being common and up to four even five on one scooter with babies in the arms of their parents.
I have seen them with a couple of objects in the basket to loads of rice, corn and firewood to four or 5 mattresses balanced on the back of the scooter. The locals are master of loading these scooters to haul their every need.
The cost of a rental in Pai is around 90 – 100 baht per day which is close to $3US. If you have never driven a motorcycle or a scooter there is no need to worry, they have fully automatic transmissions. The throttle or gas is with your right hand as well as the rarely used front brake. The left hand is used for the rear brake. Usually the person renting you the scooter will give you a short crash course, no pun intended, and you are off.
I cannot stress to you enough to be sure to drive VERY defensively. First if you are an American like I am in Thailand they drive on the “wrong side” of the road. But don’t worry it does not take long to get the hang of driving on the left hand side. Make sure to pay attention to everything going on around you, go slow and take your time and you will have no problem.
I also bought an International Drivers License from AAA before I left the states. After driving for the last four and a half months almost every day in Thailand I have never been stopped or asked by the police to see it. I also bought overseas travel insurance just in case.
Now that we have discussed how to get to Pai and I have given you a couple ideas of where to stay, where to eat and how to get around let’s talk about what to do.
As I was in Pai for 10 days I had a lot of time to explore and I was in no rush to see the area. One my first day I decided to go to a couple of the Buddhist shrines and temple and to the Wat Phra That Mae Yen also known as the White Buddha. It is located about two kilometers from town on a hillside.
The shrine faces west and sits on a large platform of red tiles and a climb of 353 steps it takes to reach the top. It has a spectacular view overlooking Pai Valley best to visit at sunset.
Nestled in one of the canyons outside of Pai is the Land Split. In 2008 a large earthquake shook the region and split the earth creating a crack 2 meters wide and a depth of 11 meters.
A hiking trail has been built ascending a small hill and weaving its way down to the bottom of the crack. Following the trail through the split with the earthen sides towering overhead the trail gently eases downhill and back to the entrance of the farm.
After your hike there is an area to purchase fresh fruit or a drink, vegetables or a salad grown on the farm to be enjoyed. Donations are gladly accepted as an entrance fee and for the food available and used to keep the site open and run the farm.
If you continue to follow the road through the canyon you will also come to a waterfall and further out encounter the Boon Koh Ku So translating into The Bridge of Merit but known to most as the Pai Bamboo Bridge.
The bridge is made entirely of bamboo slats and stretches over 1 kilometer winding through the rice paddies of a wide valley. At the beginning of the bridge there are a couple small cafes to have a drink or something to eat. Along the way there are places that you can stop and sit in covered structures that provide shade from the sun and enjoy the view.
I noticed that most of the people did not follow the bridge until it ended and that was a mistake on their part. At the end of the bridge is a Buddhist Temple that is not lavish but very peaceful and serene set on a hillside forest.
I entered one the temples to find a Buddhist Monk in deep meditation. I watched him for some time, unmoving not even a blink. I sat and meditated in his presence for about thirty minutes before taking out my camera to photograph the surreal scene.
Later while wondering through the rest of the temple grounds one of the monks told me the monk in the temple mediating was one of the most revered Buddhist Monks in all of Thailand. I visited the temple a number of times during my stay in Pai. The distinguished monk was there every time I visited unwavering as if frozen in time.
Another place I liked to visit was the Love Strawberry Pai hilltop café and fruit stand. Overlooking a valley and a small strawberry farm I would sit enjoying a plate of fresh strawberries recently harvested by a small group of workers in the field below.
As I sat on hillside bench relaxing set against the bright blue skies and white clouds were umbrellas hung overhead providing a splash of color and a dreamlike atmosphere.
There is also a small Chinatown outside of Pai known as the Santichon Village or the Chinese Yunan Cultural Village. It is not the typical Chinatown that comes to mind.
The village was settled by the Chinese people that fled the Mao Tse Tung revolution. It is a traditional conservative Yunan village much as it was first built. There are mud and clay buildings, stores and places to try traditional foods.
It has become a tourist destination as of late and you can rent traditional Chinese attire and have your picture taken, try your hand at archery, ride a donkey or take a ride on a large wooden swing.
When you leave the village and continue up the mountain taking a steep dirt and rocky road you will reach the Yun Lai Viewpoint located about 5 kilometers outside of Pai. You can enjoy a cup of tea while witnessing spectacular views of Pai Valley below and the lush green countryside.
An interesting place to visit very close to town is the Karen Long Neck Village in Pai. I have mixed feeling about the Karen Tribe Village. It is absolutely a tourist attraction in Pai and not a full village. There is maybe a half dozen of the tribe women and girls sitting in stalls weaving or with goods to sell. There is a donation to enter the “village” and I also slipped a little extra to those that I photographed. On one hand it is a commercial endeavor, on the other hand it is a way for them to make money to support themselves, still I have mixed feeling.
Photographically speaking and one of the most crowded and most popular places you will visit in Pai is Kong Lan or Pai Canyon. Located about 8 kilometers outside of town it is very accessible even though once at the parking location there is a steep climb up earthen stairs to get to the viewpoint.
Once there you are rewarded with the outstretched canyon and a number of trails and places to stake your claim and wait for the sunset. Though the view is beautiful any time of day the sunset is when the crowds are at their peak.
It is truly breathtaking was the sky changes from blues to orange and red and the sun sets behind the distant mountains. I visited Pai Canyon a more than once and every time it was sky transformed into a different scene of colors and hues.
If you are going with photography in mind, I would suggest arriving at least an hour, maybe earlier to look around and decided on which view and image you want to capture. If you wait until the last minute the space is crowded and limited for the best views.
Pai is a wonderful place and I am sure you will enjoy your stay there and I hope you have enjoyed visiting Pai through my mind and my eyes.
Of all the places I have traveled to date in Thailand the small town of Pai is my favorite. It is located in a river valley high in the mountains of northwest Thailand.
Before I discuss Pai let’s talk about how to get there. I flew in from Bangkok, my jump off point that I talked about in a previous posting to Chiang Mai.
Many people love Chiang Mai which is a very large city in northwest Thailand and very easy to access. There is a very large expat community there as well. I really didn’t spend more than a couple days there arranging my travel needs and I also considered it a jump off point, this time to Pai.
I stayed at a wonderful place call the 3 Seasons Boutique Hotel for $31US per night. It is a small hotel with beautiful rooms, a small kitchen area and a great staff. It is very close to the airport and to the immigration offices as I had to extend my visa.
I went to a couple of the night markets and the bus terminal to catch my van to Pai, all not far from the hotel. I enjoyed staying at the 3 Seasons so much I booked them again for my return trip from Pai.
There are a few restaurants within walking distance of the hotel however I would suggest going to the Chiang Mai Night Market for something to eat and a bit of shopping. It is not as good as the Pai Walking Street, a bit touristy and expensive by comparison but worth experiencing. There are a couple different sections and the one I found I liked the food, prices were not too bad, and I was able to barter and got a great buy on a jacket.
In order to reach Pai the you have three alternatives, rent a scooter and drive 4 hours through the mountains or either catch the bus or a private van. I opted for the private van. In some blogs you are discouraged from taking the vans. They say they are driven by madmen and you are taking your life in your hands. I found the exact opposite.
I used the private company Prepracha Transport and could not have been happier. The trick is not to book online, which you certainly can do but you are not able to choose your exact seat until close to the date you are leaving so it is a gamble on where you will sit.
I was in Chiang Mai a couple days ahead of time I took a “Grab Taxl” which is my favorite way to get around the cities in Thailand, to the bus station and booked there. That way I was able to secure the front passenger seat and had plenty of room verses sit three across in the back rows. All seats were the same price of 150 bhat or $4.70US. When leaving Pai I went to the bus station there a few days ahead of time and again secured the front seat.
Pai was once known as the “hippie” community of Thailand. Even though it has become more of a tourist destination as of late and there is still a noticeable “hippie vibe” in Pai. There are numerous places to get a massage, to do yoga and schools and lessons available for both throughout the village.
I use the term “hippie” with some reservation, not that it is a bad thing I grew up in the 60’s. I’d been to the Panhandle and Haight Ashbury of San Francisco. I grew up in Laguna Beach during the days of The Brotherhood and Mystic Arts. I went The Happening all three days and nights with 25,000 other hippies that the Los Angeles Times called the “Woodstock of Laguna”. Years later I hung out with The Mamas and The Papas and Stephen Stills so I know what hippies are, I was a hippie. Okay so that is my rant on hippies, back to Pai.
Pai also has a very robust restaurant scene for all you “foodies”. You can find everything from simple local dishes at a very reasonable prices to restaurants that would be considered more for the tourist crowd and where westerners would be more comfortable eating.
I myself from time to time I might indulge at one of the more upscale restaurants but for the most part I eat where the locals eat. I have done this all over the world from Baja, Mexico to Istanbul to Vietnam and now Thailand where I live when not working on a cruise ship. I love eating at food carts and food stands and I think most westerners are afraid to do so in fear of becoming a victim of Montezuma’s Revenge.
The trick is to eat where the locals eat. If you see a certain food cart or small mom and pop restaurant filled with locals, it’s safe to eat there. The lesson to be learned is avoid places that have nobody or only a person or two and head for the crowd.
To that end Pai also has the best and most diverse street food scene that I have been to in Thailand. Yes, Khao San Road in Bangkok and the night markets in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are good they do not compare to Pai in my opinion.
Every night the Pai Walking Street is lined with numerous food carts. You will find everything from sushi to pad thai, fresh mangos with sticky rice to fresh strawberries, chicken wraps and tacos to barbequed meat on a stick. It is all tastes great and very, very inexpensive. There are also a number of great little stores and stalls to shop in as well.
My favorite place to eat was the Pai River Corner Resort and Restaurant which was surprisingly affordable. It is what I would consider upscale and sits right on the river. I ate there several times or just came to have a cocktail and enjoy the view. It is where I spent New Year’s Eve watching the tourist’s light fireworks and let go of flame lanterns as they floated off into the nights sky.
Other favorites are the Duang Restaurant, Dang Thai Café, Krazy Kitchen Restaurant, Sugarcane Restaurant and the Earth Tones Café.
There is a myriad of places in every budget range to stay in Pai. I usually like to stay away from the crowds and being in Pai for 10 days I stayed at two different locations.
The first was 10 kilometers out of town on a rice paddy near the river called the Kalm Pai Resort. There entire property has a wonderful view and a very relaxed atmosphere. The young couple that managed the resort were always very helpful. There was also a nice breakfast buffet that was included in the price which was $23US per night.
I decided to a change of pace and stayed three nights at the Bueng Pai Farm about 5 kilometers out of town. It was twice as much at $42US per night but it was also well worth the price.
My wood cabin sat literally right on a lake filled with fish, if you stepped off my deck as they say you were “swimming with the fishes”. You could also rent a rod and reel and try your luck, which I choose not to do. I did see my neighbor catch several very large fish. All of the cabins there were on the lake and had a wonderful view. The Bueng Pai Farm was very peaceful and you will not be disappointed.
Okay so now you now a little about Chiang Rai and how to get to Pai. You know where to stay and places to eat. In my next post Pai… Part 2 I will talk about where to go, what to see and where to photograph.
I am going to briefly touch on Bangkok that I consider “Jump Off Point”…
First let’s talk about getting around and transportation, do NOT use “Flat Rate” Taxi. You will end up paying much more than you would by using a “Metered” Taxi and they are everywhere. This is especially true at the airports, of which there are two in Bangkok.
If you are flying internationally you will probably be using Suvarnabhumiknown as BKK. If flying domestically it will be Don Mueang known as DMK.
Another option that I use all the time in Bangkok is “Grab” Taxi. They equivalent to Uber, which is no longer in Thailand. Download the app and you are ready to go.
They are usually nicer because they are personal vehicles, the driver usually speaks English better as many are students and it is usually less expensive, so it is a win… win… win.
Both airports are far from most areas of the city. You can expect an hour to where ever you are headed. However, you can tell the driver that you want to use the highway. This will save you time and it is well worth the extra $2 – $3 dollars for the tolls. With tolls I averaged $12 from the airport to Khao San Road and it is about the same form either airport.
I would like to say that many people love the city of Bangkok a great deal and enjoy spending time there. But for me the keyword is “city”. I consider them “jump off points” and usually flying out to somewhere more remote.
Everyone that knows me personally knows I hate cities, any city whether it is in a place I am traveling in the world or if it is in my country the United States, I hate cities.
For the vast majority of my life I have lived in small communities such as Avalon on Catalina Island, in Yosemite National Park, in the Wood River Valley in the Rocky Mountains of Idaho to mention a few.
As for Bangkok I wanted to see a few of the places it is known for like Khao San Road. I spent a couple days there experiencing what it had to offer and to start the cool down period of recuperating from jet lag after a 21 hour flight from Los Angeles.
I decided to stay at the “Derm in the Park” Hotel. I have no idea why they call it that as it is not in a park, it is right on Khao San Road. It was very nice and around $40 per night.
During the day Khao San is relatively quiet, though busy but nothing like you will experience at night. Around 4-5pm the carts and booth vendors start to show up and the road is closed to vehicles for the most part. As the evening progresses It gets nothing but busier and crazier.
There are many food stalls lining the road selling everything from Pad Thai at about 40-50 baht, less than $2 to alligator $10 slowing being roasted on a skewer to snake, scorpions and spiders. Many restaurants also line the road, but they are usually double if not triple the price of the carts.
I personally loved eating at carts and street food and do so in many of the places I have traveled throughout the world. On Khao San I found a couple favorites.
I had a favorite place for Pad Thai 40 baht, one for grilled meat on a stick pork 15 baht, chicken 20 baht and beef 30 baht. And still another for chicken kebab that was roasted chicken breast slow cooked rotating on a skewer, shaved off and placed in a large wrap with lettuce, tomatoes and your choice of sauce for 60 baht. Just so you know 30 baht is roughly $1US
Beer was also very inexpensive and around 30-40 baht which I’m sure contributed to the rowdiness and party atmosphere of the area. By 8pm the place is wall to wall people to the point you can hardly move as you inch your way along the road. It makes Disneyland look like a ghost town. With all that said Khao San is a fun place to visit and recover for a few days.
I have also been to Bangkok on my ship and did go and see a couple to the temples etc. You can certainly do this while staying in Bangkok as well. There are many attractions, temples and if shopping is your thing there are a handful of very modern malls that you can visit.
If you have never been to Bangkok I would suggest staying there from anywhere to just a couple days if you want to experience Khao San Road to a week if you want to explore more of the city.
Okay let’s finish up Cambodia/Angkor Wat area and continue take in the beauty of more temples that surround Angkor Wat.
There are many sources from the Internet to books giving great detail on the temples of Angkor Wat. I have decided to touch on the very briefly.
Built in late 12th century during the reign of King Jayavarman II and remained the capitol until approximately the 17th century. It was one of the largest Khmer cities ever built covering 9 square kilometers.
The Bayon was built in late 12th through the late 13th century during the reigns of King Jayavarman II through King Jayavarman III. This was the state temple and the symbolic center of the empire and of the universe.
Baphuon was erected in the 11th century under the reign of Udayadityavarman II. The three tiered state temple of Yasodharapura is located within the capital city of Angkor Thom. The temple was converted to a Buddhist temple in the 15th century.
THE ELEPHANT TERRACE
The Elephant Terrace was created in the late 12th century during the reign of King Jayavarman II. Additions were made in the late 13th century by reign of King Jayavarman III. It looks over the Royal Square and served as the foundation for royal receptions. It’s modern name, Elephant Terrace comes for the many elephant statues and reliefs along the wall.
THE LEPER KING TERRACE
Built in the 13th century during the reign of King Jayavarman II. Additions were made in the late 13th century by reign of King Jayavarman III. Its name is derived from the 15th century sculpture that was discovered on top of the structure.
I hope you have enjoyed the information and photographs of Siem Reap, Angkor Wat and many of the surrounding temples in the area.
Any and all feedback and questions are welcome… thank you Larry
Okay that was a lot of reading so let’s just rest our minds and let our eyes take in the beauty of some of the other temples that surround Angkor Wat.
There are many sources from the Internet to books giving great detail on the temples of Angkor Wat. I have decided to touch on the very briefly.
Pre Rup origins date to 967 in the 10thcentury under the reign of King Rajendravarman II. Its design follows some of the other temples in the area and considered one of the “mountain temples” which I am sure is due the many towers on its site.
Banteay Srei origins date to 961 in the 10thcentury and the only temple that was not built by a monarch. The temple was dedicated to the Hindu God Siva. Its name, Banteay Srei means Citadel of Women or Citadel of Beauty. Its designed and built of red sandstone which is easily carved forming many of the temple’s beautiful reliefs.
East Mebon was also built under the reign of King Rajendravarman II in the 10thcentury. And dedicated in 953. The temple was also dedicated to the Hindu God Siva. It is built in the style of Pre Rup housing towers and in addition has several elephant statues acting as the temple’s guards.
Ta Som is a smaller temple then most and was also built under the reign of King Jayavarman VII at the end of the 12thcentury. It was dedicated to his father Dharanindravarman II who was King of the Khmer Empire from 1150 to 1160.
Neak Pean is a small monument that sits on a small island in the middle of a small pond. It was also built under the reign of King Jayavarman VIIat the end of the 12thcentury. The temple or monument itself is not very impressive. If it were not for the lake that you cross on the way in my opinion it is not worth seeing. The lake is absolutely beautiful and believed to possess miraculous healing powers and the source of four great rivers.
Preah Kahn was also built in 1191 by King Jayavarman VIIto honor his father Dharanindravarman II. It was his largest project having a flat design in the style of bayon. It is believed to be a Buddhist university with over 1,000 teachers.
I have had a number of friends ask what my process is of taking and editing photographs. I like many could write a book on the subject but instead I will try and be brief. And there are much better and more educated photographers then myself, but this is my take.
When I grab my camera like many I shot a large number of photographs of a given subject. My goal from any one shot is to get just one or two photographs that I think I could either publish or sell regardless of the number of images I take. It is a lot harder than you think.
When I get back from the shoot I always upload them to the computer and do a quick edit. If I have time I do a “hard” edit. I am looking for detail, focus, exposure, depth of field, shadows and which angle I like of the subject. When photographing wildlife or sports you are always hoping that everything is in focus because you are not photographing a static subject.
I use Lightroom and when doing my initial edit. If I think the photograph has merit I will give it one star and eliminate the others from my hard drive. During a second edit I review all that I kept and compare any that are similar, decide which I want and toss the others.
Next I take it into the darkroom and see if I can obtain what I was seeing in my mind when I took the shot. If I can I continue to develop the photograph and if not, I toss it.
Then I make a decision which is always hard for me. If I think I can sell the photograph, print the photograph or publish the image I keep it and give it four starts, if not I toss it. And if the image is one of my very favorites I will give it five stars. If it sells I will add the color blue to it.
I can’t remember if it was Scott Kelby, Anthony Morganti or another’s opinion that I had read but if you are not going to do any of the above why keep it and take up room on your hard drive.
Now with that said I do have a small number of photos that I consider “snaps”. These are the “been there done that photos”, pictures of family and friends etc. and I do keep those for memories.
In closing I like many of you I am sure have thrown thousands of photographs away. Every now and then I do a very hard edit to get rid of things that I thought I would print, publish or sell but on review they do not reach the bar.
Recently I decided to give my choices another look. I had close to 13,000 images that I thought met the bar I had set. Then I decided I was going to do an EXTREME EDIT. I went through every single photograph and if it was not in absolute focus whether I like the shot or not I tossed it. I went hardcore and if I was ever going to publish, sell or print the image, I tossed it. You can see where I am going with this. In the end I tossed another 6,000 photographs. This process literally took me 2 months working on it almost every day. Now I believe that every photograph I have kept has potential.
To hopefully alleviate having to do this again I have now promised myself that I will do the extreme edit right away. Usually I do the edit within the day or two of the shot. Then once I think I have it a day or two later I go through it again and go “extreme”.
I find this works for me. So far on this latest adventure in Cambodia and Thailand I have done an extreme edit on everything and I have kept 370 images. I have also thrown away at least triple that if not more.
I hope this has helped you make a decision on what to keep and what to toss. The key is DO NOT behind as it takes forever to get caught up. I have gone through multiple very hard edits over the years and have still found images to toss. I have literally thrown away 40-50,000 photos in the last 10 years.