WELCOME TO CAMBODIA… Part 3

Angkor Wat Sunrise…

Just a quick thought on going to Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise. This was my Bucket List item when I decided to go to Angkor Wat. I wanted to do my best to photograph the sunrise and hopefully get a couple good shots.

What time to you get there is important. My tuk tuk driver wanted to leave at 4:30am which would have gotten me to the site at 5am. The grounds open at 5am so that would seem logically. However, everyone knows that so there is a line.

I insisted on leaving at 4:15am and that 15 minutes made all the difference. I was the first to get there on both days that I went. The reason this is important is there are not many places to get the exact view I wanted.

Before I get too far ahead of myself let me backtrack a bit. Do not go to Angkor Wat to see the sunrise on your first visit, unless off course you only have on day. The reason for this is you want to be able to envision your image and where you want to “stake your claim”.

On my first day to Angkor Wat I walked around trying to decide what view I wanted to capture. You can also use this time to photograph the structure during midday or if you go a bit later like I did take advantage of the sunset.

Most people are aware there is a reflection of Angkor Wat and the sun rises behind the structure. What they do not realize unless you notice this beforehand you have two choices of where to set up and both have advantages and disadvantages.

There are two small ponds in front of the main building of Angkor Wat that everyone is familiar. The pond on the left, which most people ran to has the advantage of the sun rising more behind the structure so you get more even lighting. The disadvantage is twofold, at least when I was there.

First the pond does not have as much “clean” water for the reflection as it has more lily pads and weeds. Secondly and more important to me was when I was there they were doing  construction and renovations on the building. That is not what I want to appear in my image.

I opted for the pond on the right. The pond has plenty of “clean” water with some but not many lily pads. I also noted on the day I decided to explore that if you positioned yourself just right you had a clear view of all the towers bordered by palm trees.

This gets me back to my initial point. On the pond on the right if you are not in position at least one of the towers will be blocked. And there is only about a three, maybe four foot area to set your tripod to get the exact image between the palm trees.

A disadvantage would be that the sun does not rise exactly behind the building, it rises to the right. Still I chose this location. You may opt for the other and hopefully there will be no construction. Or it may not matter to you.

Another problem there are very few hardcore photographers compared to the number of those that were there to view or to photograph but not there with the thought of selling or publishing.

This caused a small problem and I’m sure made me look like an ass at times… “light pollution”. Once I very nicely explained the situation most understood. The problem is people are walking up with flashlights. I understand they need to see but they will be waving their lights around illuminating trees, the pond, the building etc.

I would remain calm and would say “please keep your lights on the ground”. Every now and then someone would say “sunrise isn’t for another hour”. I would have to tell them that I am taking photographs now and the light ruins the image, most understood. It’s not that you are being mean or deliberately trying to ruin the image, they just don’t know, they are not photographers.

If you are going to Angkor wat to photograph the sunrise I hope this helps. Here are my favorite sunrise shots.

 

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The First Morning for the Sunrise at 5:30am with a 44 sec. exposure, f/4, ISO 1600
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Second Sunrise Morning at 5:30am with a 69 sec. exposure, f/8, ISO 400
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Second Sunrise Morning at 6:38am with a 1/125 sec. exposure, f/8, ISO 64

WELCOME TO CAMBODIA… Part 2

Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm Temples… Day 1

First one thing I neglected to state on my last post is that everything is done in US Dollars and they can easily be obtained at any ATM.

There are many places and cities to see in Cambodia. The reason I traveled to Cambodia and specifically Siem Reap was to visit and photograph Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples.

I had always heard of the Angkor Wat Temple and it had always been a “Bucket List” item for me to visit to photograph. Learning there were actually numerous temples was just a bonus.

The Angkor Wat Temples are located in Cambodia. They are one of Southeast Asia’s most important archaeological sites and protected by the UNESCO World Heritage Center.

There are numerous books and websites explaining in detail the history of Angkor Wat. I am only going to touch on its beginning briefly.

The Angkor Wat complex is the largest religious monument in the world. It was designed and constructed in the first half to the 12th century and dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu. In the late 12thcentury Angkor Wat transformed from a Hindu cultural center to one of Buddhism and it remains so to the present day.

Visiting Angkor Wat depends on where you are staying in Siem Reap. From most hotels it is a 30 minute ride by tuk tuk maybe more. From Theray’s it was 30 minutes and $10 round trip.

There are several itineraries ranging from approximately $20 for the “Small Circuit” to close to $30 for the “Large Circuit”. I believe the prices to be fair and depending on which you take it will either be a half day to full day.

Your first day you will need to decide how many times you want to visit the temples. The first stop along the way is the government Angkor Wat ticket office. For one day the cost is $37, 3 days is $62 which must be done in a one week period. Being in Seam Reap for 10 days I opted for the 7 day pass which was $72 and could be used over a one month period.

Day One I wanted to see and photograph the sunset at Angkor Wat. Leaving my hotel around 11am gave me plenty of time to explore not only the Angkor Wat temple but Ta Prohm.

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Angkor Wat front view in the afternoon

The first stop was the Angkor Wat Temple. To reach the temple you cross a pontoon footbridge that crosses a moat. I spent the majority of time walking around the outside of the temple. I found this to have best photographic opportunities.

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Angkor Wat early morning north side
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Angkor Wat early morning south side

One warning do not leave your purse, backpacks or food on the ground. They will immediately become the property of one of the numerous monkeys.

Do not leave them on the temple either as I saw monkeys climb the walls, grab the booty and scale the wall back to the ground. You will never get your items back so consider yourself forewarned.

I did enter the inner temple but personally was not as impressed. Others may have a different opinion, I can only offer mine.

After visiting Angkor Wat, I ate lunch at one of the many small restaurants that are adjacent to the temple located near the parking lot. I found the food to be very good and reasonably priced.

I then took a 20 minute walk, you may take a tuk tuk to a Hot Air Balloon Ride. The balloon is tethered and rises for 400-600 feet above the ground depending on weather conditions. I found it to be well worth the $15 to see the temple and surrounding area from this vantage point.

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Angkor Wat from the balloon

After the balloon I took a $5 tuk tuk ride to the Ta Prohm Temple. It is best known as the temple where Laura Croft Tomb Raider was filmed.

One of my favorite photographs is of a large tree in the middle of temple surrounded by the ruins.

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Large tree in the middle of the Ta Prohm Temple

Occasionally you may be joined by a Buddhist Monk that is also enjoying the temple. You should always ask a Monk permission to take his photograph first and never touch a Monk unless they take your hand and bless you. This has happened to me a couple of times. After this photograph the Monk asked me to email the photograph to him which I was more then happy to do.

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Monk in the Ta Prohm Temple

It was an amazing temple and the grounds are quite large with many passage ways, engraved rock walls and ruins to explore.

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Interior of the Ta Prohm Temple
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Interior of the Ta Prohm Temple
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Interior of the Ta Prohm Temple

It may take you less time however I spent about two hours exploring the temple and taking photographs.

By the time I finished exploring Ta Prohm it was getting close to sunset. I headed back to the Angkor Wat Temple for my final photographs of the day.

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Angkor Wat front view at sunset
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Angkor Wat sunset south side
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Angkor Wat sunset southwest corner

On the way back to the hotel I had my tuk tuk driver take me to Pub Street for dinner. By doing so I saved the additional time and money as it was on the way back.

WELCOME TO CAMBODIA… Part 1

Welcome to Siem Reap

My next stop was to take care of one of my “Bucket List” items, to go to Angkor Wat. There is no lodging in Angkor Wat itself so you will stay in the nearby city of Siem Reap.

Arriving from Bangkok I was happy that I had done the research and followed the advice of others and got my Cambodia Visa online. It was a very simple process and will save you a lot of time at Customs and Immigration.

Once out of the airport I took a taxi to my lodging at Theray’s Luxury Villa on the outskirts of Siem Reap. I do my best not to stay in the towns themselves preferring to be close but away from the “tourist zone” as I enjoy peace and quiet.

Theray’s is a small boutique property with a half dozen rooms. The lobby is nice sized with a sitting area, dining table, a variety or books and guides for loan and a “honor” refrigerator with drinks. The rate when I was there in the high season was $34 per night.

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photo credit: Theary’s Luxury Villas

Outdoors there is a pool surrounded by several comfortable lounge chairs and a table and chairs that one could sit and work which is usually my case editing my photographs and writing my blog.

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photo credit: Theary’s Luxury Villas
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photo credit: Theary’s Luxury Villas

My room was on the second floor and nicely appointed. It had a patio that overlooked the pool and the shaded grounds along with a table and chair. There was also a large window on the opposite side of the room overlooking a rice field. It was air-conditioned with a couch, small refrigerator, large flat screen television and a couple tables. The bed might be the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in and the large bathroom had a rainfall shower with great pressure.

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photo credit: Theary’s Luxury Villas
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photo credit: Theary’s Luxury Villas

The staff was very friendly but spoke no English. Luckily the young couple managing could translate and were very helpful. They had a few tuk tuk drivers that were ready within a few minutes notice. This was important as the location is not near any restaurants though there is a convenience store within walking distance and a nice air-conditioned coffee shop but it serves no food.

I always try to be completely truthful in my blog so I feel I must say that my only regret with Theary’s was the food. Breakfast on the morning I tried was adequate and cost $3 for rice and eggs. I tried the dinner one evening of rice, vegetables and chicken for $6 but I only took a few bites, it just was not good so I decided to take a tuk tuk to Pub Street instead. The next morning I informed the manager that I was not comfortable with paying for dinner, which was not a problem. Please do not let this stop you from staying here, it truly is a great place.

To get to restaurants it is a $5 tuk tuk ride roundtrip to Pub Street and the Siem Reap Night Market. Unlike Bangkok there are very few street food vendors other than those selling ice cream, fruit shakes and drinks.

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Pub Street downtown Siem Reap

There are however many restaurants that covers a several block area. As I was in Siem Reap for ten days I tried many of them but ended eating most of my meals at V Design Restaurant. Do not be fooled by the sign stating there is Japanese food, there is everything from sushi to pizza to the Cambodian staples. I found the food well prepared, delicious and the prices were fair. The V Design Restaurant is located on the left corner of the above photograph.

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Pub Street downtown Siem Reap

Another favorite of mine the Yellow Mango Café which is located on the street paralleling the canal a couple blocks from central Pub Street. It is on the second floor and overlooks the canal and the Artist Night Market on the opposite bank. There is a large menu and I found the food to be fresh and properly prepared. The costs were approximately the same as V Design.

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Bridge over the canal to the Siem Reap Artist Night Market

There are many restaurants in the area and food ranges from Mexican to Cambodian and from burgers to steaks and crocodile. You can be assured that you will find something to your liking.

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Rice, Grilled Chicken, Soup, Fresh Spring Rolls and Ice Tea… $8

Most of my meals ranged from $6-$8 but could range higher depending on your selection. I typically ate fresh spring rolls, a selection from the variety of soups or curries offered and a beverage.

As a closing note I did not like Cambodia, or at least Siem Reap. It is a very dirty both in the city and in the surrounding areas with trash everywhere. I cannot speak for other places as I was only visited Siem Reap but other travelers told me of the same problem in the places they visited.

That is one of the many reasons I love Thailand, it is a very clean country. I have traveled to many regions and from small villages to towns to large cities. Everywhere I have gone it is very clean, almost pristine. You very seldom see any trash anywhere. It is as if the Thai people have a great respect for their homes, community and country. I like that.

PLEASE NOTE: Photographs were taken with a Panasonic /Lumix DMC-DS5 not my usual camera the Nikon D850… thus the difference in the usual quality but I wanted to give you something to see. Also I only use my photographs but was remiss on photographing Theary’s so I used their photographs with credit give. Credit given where credit is due…

thank you Larry

WELCOME TO Southeast Asia…

WELCOME TO THAILAND…

I am on vacation and traveling in Southeast Asia. The next few posts will be on Thailand and Cambodia in the order of my visits.

My first post is on Na Wa located in the Isan Provence of Northeast Thailand. Na Wa is a small town surrounded by a number of even smaller villages. My best friend from Med School, Cormac Ferguson has been living there for approximately 12 years with his beautiful wife Mae.

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On a hike with Cormac near his house

Cormac has been trying to get me to visit and move here for years. I contacted him this past summer and told him I will be arriving in November. My plans were to travel throughout Thailand for a couple months. I was also coming to explore the idea of moving to Thailand, specifically Na Wa.

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Cormac at the Tuesday Farmers Market in Na Wa

I arrived in late November a month or two into the “high season” for tourism in Thailand. The first thing I want to address is there is no tourism in Na Wa. It is a rural community consisting mainly of rice paddies, rubber tree farms and harvesting fresh water shrimp and a variety of fish.

I personally prefer being in the mountains in an area like Pai.

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View point overlooking Pai, Thailand

However I find there is also a draw to Na Wa as well.

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Rice paddy outside Na Wa

One obvious factor is having one of my best friends for the past 25 years nearby that has lived in the area and knows the ropes.

Another definite plus is Cormac has introduced me to a core group of expat friends that also live in the area. Some are full time residents, some show up at various times throughout the year for weeks or months at a time. They come from Finland, Sweden, Germany, Scotland, the UK, the States and I’m sure I am leaving someone out.

Like all friends each has his own idiosyncrasies and quarks, me included. They are a great group of guys that I enjoy sharing a beer, meal and general bullshit sessions on a variety of subjects.

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Cormac and the guys having a laugh at Brunos

This was usually occurred at Bruno’s Resort which consisted of a half dozen small independent rooms, a small kitchen and a long table where we would gather throughout the week. The kitchen supplies us with drink and fantastic food cooked by Bruno’s wife Nan.

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Another meeting another great meal supplied by Nan at Brunos

All those that know me know how much I like to hike. I found myself getting up each morning grabbing my camera and setting out to explore the countryside. I wondering along rivers, through rice paddies, along the shoreline of lakes and through the jungle and forest anywhere from 2 – 5 hours depending on my mood.

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On a hike with Cormac near his house

My first hike was along a river. I found a dirt road that turned into a trail and off I went. It was not long until I came across two women wading in the river fishing. They had large nets that were attached to a bamboo structure that they would lower into the water, let them sit and then raise them to see what they caught. They were usually successful but the fish were extremely small, a little more than minnows but if you caught enough of them it was a meal.

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Woman fishing the river near Na Wa

I continued down the trail, rounded a bend and found a monk walking towards me. He stopped and speaking very little English asked where I was from and I replied America.

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Monk on a trail near Na Wa

He took my hands, said a prayer blessing me with good health and peace. I responded with the two phrases in Thai that I know… Sa Wat Dee Krap (a polite greeting or goodbye) and Khaawp Khoon Krap (thank you) both with the male version ending in Krap, the female is Kha.

The next morning again I grabbed my camera and set out in a different direction on a different trail. This time I passed through rice paddies and several rubber tree farms before heading back to Brunos where I was staying.

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Rice paddy near Na Wa

On another hike I came across a large man-made lake used for irrigation of the surrounding rice paddies and a canal where villagers were fishing This was done by the throwing of nets from small dug out canoe.

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Fishing near Na Wa
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Success!!!

On still another day I followed a trail that led me through the forest. After about an hour or so I came across a river with several large fresh water shrimp boats with their nets held high above the water made of bamboo.

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Fresh water shrimp boats own a river near Na Wa

Following the trail along the river bank about 30 minutes later I came across a group of 5-6 fisherman in the dug outs fishing the river. Every now and then they would abandon their boats for a quick dip in the water to escape the heat of the jungle sun.

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Fishing with your best friend on a river near Na Wa

One day I set out for a long hike following a dirt road. I traveled through a forest, along river banks and farm land eventually coming across a small village. People in these villages live a very simple lives and make what they need from what is available from the land and nature.

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Water buffalo

They farm rubber trees and harvest the rubber.

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Rubber tree farm near Na Wa

They raise stock from pigs to cattle.

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Cattle being moved to a different field near Na Wa

They fish the rivers and lakes.

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Fishing near Na Wa

They buy fresh vegetables grown on the farms and fresh cooked foods at the weekly market.

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Tuesday Farmers Market in Na Wa
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Tuesday Farmers Market in Na Wa

And they prey and worship at the Buddhist Shrine that is in each village.

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Village shrine near Na Wa

It did not take me long to decide that I was going to move to Na Wa next year in the fall after my next ship contract. I plan on staying in Thailand from September until February give or take a few weeks. Those months are the best weather months in Thailand. It is followed by a few months of very hot weather which is followed by the monsoon season.

This time frame works perfectly as my contract is seven months long which covers the worst weather period. Then I can arrive for and live in Na Wa for the five months when the weather is typically like Southern California.

If you come to Thailand on vacation I would not come to Na Wa. It is a sleepy community, there are no tourist resorts, no elephant rides, no rivers to float. But for me it is going to be a nice place to live, relax and visit with friends.

Catching Up…

CATCHING UP…

First I must apologize, I have obviously fallen well behind on posting as I have not done so for a couple months. Part of this because I was so busy at work and on my off time I was in port taking photographs. Part of it was I did not spend time on shore writing a posting again because I was out taking photographs. And partly because the internet on the ship was not working much of the time and when it was it was not working very well… So again, I apologize and will try to do better in the future…

In order to get up to date as I am now on vacation and traveling in Cambodia and Thailand. I have decided the best way to do so is to post from more of a photojournalistic point of view and let the photographs speak for themselves.

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Ashi Lake with Mt Fuji, Japan in the background
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Shrine at the Fukushuen Gardens in Nawa, Japan near Okinawa
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Fortress in Seoul, Korea
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Yehlui Geopark outside Taipei in northern Taiwan
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Nan Lian Garden in Kowloon, China port of Hong Kong
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Halong Bay, Vietnam
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Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam
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My Khe Beach in Da Nang, Vietnam

A quick note on My Khe Beach also known as China Beach during the Vietnam War. China Beach is where an large American airbase was located. The 20 mile beach was used for R and R (Rest and Rehabilitation) for soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors. The base is not in use and closed today due to toxic levels of dioxin. Dioxin or as it was known during the Vietnam War “Agent Orange” was stored in vast amounts at the airbase in Da Nang.

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Marble Mountain outside Da Nang, Vietnam
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Hoi On, Vietnam
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Lon Co Bay, Vietnam
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South Vietnam Headquarters during the Vietnam War in Saigon, Vietnam… now known as Ho Chi Minh City

 

Hello Hiroshima…

Miyajima Island…

Everyone knows or should know the history of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as it ended World War II’s war in the Pacific and advanced the surrender of Japan. One of the most relevant shore tours available is going to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park which contains a museum, monuments constructed to the memory of those that lost their lives in the nuclear attack and what is left of buildings that were destroyed by the detonation of the atomic bomb.

During World War II my grandfather fought in the Pacific and instead of going to the Peace Park I opted to go to Miyajima Island which is a short twenty minute taxi ride from the port and an even shorter ferry ride to the island itself.

As you approach the island the Otori Gate welcomes you as the massive structure during high tide sits just offshore.  On the day and time that I arrived the Otori Gate could be reached by walking to it on the sandbar revealed during low tide.

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Otori Gate

Once onshore one of the environmental problems becomes quite evident and even more so as you walk through the town. The island has a large population of nihonjika deer. The island is overrun with them and they are everywhere including the small town itself.

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Nihonjika Deer

I have lived in Yosemite, the Sierras and the Rocky Mountains and I know what healthy deer look like and these deer are not healthy. There have been numerous articles written in numerous magazines and websites about the “starving deer” of Miyajima. They lay in the shade during the heat of the day their heads hanging low, they approach the tourists begging for food, it is truly sad.

On a lighter note the small town that greets you as you debark the ferry has many small shops for you to explore. There are also many restaurants which traditional noodle dishes and fresh seafood. If you run out of yen there are also places that you can exchange your currency.

The island of Miyajima is strewn with numerous monuments and shrines. It would take a day or two if not more to see all but unfortunately I only had a few hours. My first stop after having an enjoyable sushi lunch, those that know me know that I am a “sushiholic” I visited some of the many stores lining the streets before heading to the Itsukushima Shrine and the Otori Gate.

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Five Story Pagoda

The Itsukushima Shrine is a large complex and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is best known feature is the Otori “floating” Gate mentioned above. The Otori Gate is believed to have been erected in the 6thcentury. It has been destroyed many times in the past and the present form was erected in the mid-16thcentury and thought to follow a design from the 12thcentury.

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Itsukushima Shrine

After walking around taking photographs of different pagodas and shrines I started to climb a flight of stairs. About one third of the way up I spotted a trail leading off to the side. Being an avid backpacker one thing that I discovered over the years if there is a side trail there is probably a reason to follow it. In this case as most I am very happy I followed my intuitions.

As soon as I rounded the first bend I was greeted with a handful of stone monks. As the trailed continued a handful turn into dozens and then hundreds. After I got back to the ship and researched them online it stated that there are approximately 500 of these 18 inch wonders.

Each monk seemed to have a different look or air about him. Each was donned in a robe and all of their heads were covered by brightly colored knit hats resembling berets.

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They were clustered in groups…

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They lined the path…

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And some surrounded a deity…

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Some had a stainless steel mess bowl that was meant for coins after rendering a prayer.

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I could have spent an entire day photographing the stone monks. Everywhere I looked, each angle I peered at through the lens I saw something different.

I was excited about what I saw and the images I was capturing. But at the same time I was overwhelmed with a sense of serenity.

When in Hiroshima I would highly recommend visiting Miyajima Island, in fact I would suggest staying there for a night or two if it is possible with your itinerary.

Hello Asia…

FIRST STOP YOKOHAMA…

The Alaska summer cruise season is over for my ship a little earlier then normal. The season ended early because we have crossed the Pacific and we are in Asia headed to the South Pacific then a stop in Hawaii on our way back to Los Angeles. I had seen 75 countries before Asia. I have not seen much of Asia which is the reason I had requested the Coral Princess.

Our first stop was to be Osaka, Japan but due to a typhon we were not able to go to that port. This made Yokohama our first port of call in Japan. On my next contract starting February 2, 2019 Yokohama will be my “home port” and I will travel the majority of the islands of Japan with 6 stops in South Korea and two in Russia.

On my first day in Yokohama and I escorted a shore excursion to Mt. Fuji. It is a very long ride from the port and we spent less than an hour to enjoy the view of this iconic mountain. We also passed through Tokyo along the way although we did not make a stop.

One of the guests on the tour had said that he had tried 14 previous times to see Mt. Fuji and this was the first time it was not covered by clouds.

I had always assumed that Mt. Fuji was covered by snow year round as every photograph I had ever seen showed it crowned with snow. Well that is just not the case. When I return in the spring on my next ship I will again make the long journey to see Mt. Fuji how I had always seen it in photos, cover with snow.

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Mt. Fuji

Due to fuel issues we actually spent two days in Yokohama. I got up early to beat the crowds and took a taxi to the Sankeien Gardens. The gardens were once the private home of a wealthy silk merchant Tomitaro “Sankei” Hara. He donated the gardens to the city of Yokohama and it was opened to the public in 1906.

I prefer to take photographs without anyone in them which at times can be a challenge. Arriving before any of the tour buses gives me the best chance before it became too crowded making it impossible. Once the crowds arrive getting the photograph I want becomes like two of my other favorite pass times… poker and fishing, they are also a game of patience.

I was lucky enough to have a couple arrive when I was photographing and elderly woman sketching in her note pad. It was a very tranquil scene as she sat at the foot of a foot bridge with a pagoda in the background.

The couple were dressed in traditional clothing and celebrating their recent wedding. They crossed the foot bridge stopping half way. I was able to capture on of my favorite photographs that day with the couple starting their life together and the old woman at the foot of the bridge.

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Tradition

Sankeien Gardens is a place I will highly recommend you seeing while in Yokohama. I spent three hours exploring the grounds. There are a number of trails to follow leading to different pagodas, temples and shrines.

There are a number of ponds to stop and feed the numerous koi or you can relax at the water’s edge and enjoy the tranquil scene.

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Koi

You can climb one of the trails up a hill to the Tomyoji Temple a three tier pagoda and take another trail down past statue of buddha and different deities.

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Tomyoji Temple (three tiered temple)

Another trail leads to another temple nestled within a grove of trees

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Temple in grove of trees

Yet another area of the grounds led to Rinshunkaku villa that once stood on the banks of the Kinokawa River. It was originally built in 1649 and moved and rebuilt in the Sankeien Gardens from 1915-1917.

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Rinshunkaku Villa

I hope you enjoy my travels to Asia…

Our next port was Hiroshima.