North To Alaska

Summer 2019… My Seventh Summer In Alaska

As I have written and photographed Alaska many times over the last 7 years, I want to focus on maybe some images of Alaska that you have not seen before. Many of these images were taken this past summer 2019.

The summer cruise season is upon us, and there is no place better to cruise at this time than Alaska. I firmly believe that everyone should cruise to Alaska at least once in their lifetime. It is nothing short of magnificent.

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Haines, Alaska sunset

There are many ways to reach Alaska, including driving or flying, but nothing offers the spectacular views, convenience or entertainment of a modern luxury cruise ship. There are no luxury hotels at the ports, but the accommodations on passenger ships range from modest, budget-priced cabins to luxurious staterooms.

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Cruising Alaska for any budget…

 

Depending on your itinerary, there are several ports of call where you can embark, including Seattle, Washington, and Vancouver and Victoria, in British Columbia. Typically, Alaska cruises last seven days, but there is a 10-day cruise leaving from San Francisco. Another port where you can embark or disembark is Whitter, Alaska, for those wanting to visit Denali National Park.

Travelling the Inside Passage through British Columbia and Alaska allows you to appreciate the stunning landscapes and fresh air while relaxing on your private balcony as the ship glides through the calm waters. You may also see an array of wildlife, including orcas, dolphins and humpback whales, as well as bears, mountain goats and bald eagles.

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The Inside Passage north of Skagway

On most cruises, you will visit three ports of calls Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, each of which have their own charm and distinct personalities. Each town has numerous restaurants, places to shop and what seems like an endless amount of tours and shore excursions. Tours are offered both from the ships and from private companies.

I have spent seven summers traveling to Alaska and the Inside Passage as an acupuncture physician on various cruise lines which has given me an insider’s view and perspective. Here are some of my favorite tours:

Two of my favorites are located in Ketchikan, a town of approximately 14,000 residents and Alaska’s first city. It is also the second-rainiest city in the United States, averaging 13 feet a year. Be prepared for downpours, but the majority of the summer season, the weather can be very nice.

Aurora Birds and Bears encompasses all of Ketchikan’s sights and sounds and specializes in custom tours. The owner/operator Rich Lee is a Native American of the Tlingit tribe. He was born and raised in Ketchikan, giving him a distinct advantage over many of the tour operators that are summer transplants.

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Black Bears during the Aurora Birds and Bears Tour

 

During a three-hour tour, you will be offered a history lesson on Ketchikan, enjoy the rainforest and a waterfall and visit “real” totem poles, not replicas. Lee’s biggest expertise, however, is locating wildlife. Many times on the tour, we encountered black bear, deer, bald eagles and, at times, even orca and whales have been spotted from the shore.

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Baby Sitka Deer during the Aurora Birds and Bears Tour

My other favorite is the Deadliest Catch Crab Fishing Tour. If you are a fan of the television show, you might be interested to know that the Aleutian Ballad of season two is now homeported in Ketchikan. Captain/owner David Lethine and his crew of merry misfits are all seasoned crab fisherman of the Bering Sea and share their vast knowledge during the three-hour tour. This hands-on experience enables you to hold live crab, spotted prawns and other creatures of the sea.

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Something he will never forget… holding his first snow crab

The highlight for many is a side trip to Annette Island, where dozens of bald eagles await your arrival. As the boat nears the island, 30 to 40 eagles leave their perches like a swarm of mosquitos as the crew toss herring into the water. It is literally like ringing the dinner bell as the eagles fly within feet of the boat, attacking the water in their quest for a free meal. It is truly incredible to behold and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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Bald Eagles near Annette Island photo taken from the deck of the Aleutian Ballad

In Skagway, I highly recommend taking a flight over Glacier Bay National Park with Paul Swanstrom, the owner/pilot of the Mountain Flying Service at the Skagway Airport. This seasoned Alaskan aviator provides an unforgettable experience with each seat having a window allowing you to witness the grandeur of mountain peaks crowned with white virgin snow. Fly over multiple glaciers as they wind their way through the valleys of the countryside on the way to the sea. Flights range from one to two hours, with the option to land on a glacier or a remote beach.

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Flight over the Marjorie Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park

If you want to see whales, the capital city of Juneau is the port to book your whales excursion. There are numerous tours with a wide variety of options, including everything from private yachts to limited load tours to those offering a salmon bake and wildlife quests.

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Humpback whale bubble net feeding of Juneau

My personal favorite is the Discover Alaska Whale Tour. This limited load and small boat tour has a naturalist on board who will share scientific knowledge and research on whales and other sea life that you may encounter. The windows open in, so even in poor weather you are warm and dry and have ample opportunities to take photographs.

Yet another place to see and photograph whales is in the port of Icy Strait. This is not a common port of call but by looking closely at the different itineraries of the different cruise lines and ship you will find a number that do go there.

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Icy Strait humpback whale at sunset

One of the many reasons people cruise to Alaska during the summer is to experience its glaciers, many of which can only be reached by cruise ship. Words are hard to come by when trying to explain the sights and sounds of these glorious towers laced with blue ice. You will witness history as these living structures march only to terminate at the water’s edge and calving into the sea.

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The Hubbard Glacier calving in Glacier Bay National Park

For more information on cruising to Alaska and its ports, my book “Alaska and the Inside Passage – A Guide to the Ports, Tours and Shore Excursions,” covers this in greater detail, including my favorite restaurants and more excursions to explore.

What I think sets my book apart from most tour guides on Alaska (outside of my wonderful writing and insightful knowledge of the area, of course) is that I have included plenty of my own photographs (not stock photos). Consequently, my book is designed not only a travel guide, but also as a coffee table book. It is visually rich, but is small enough to travel with so that you can always have the information at your fingertips.

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I would like to close this entry with a few more shots taken this year… the summer of 2019.

A bucket list item for me… It took seven summers but I finally was able to photograph the Northern Lights. What sets this image apart for me is if you look close from mid upper to the upper left in the photo is the Big Dipper… just being at the right place at the right time.

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The Northern Lights near Juneau, Alaska

Near Juneau a large meadow in full bloom with the Mendenhall Glacier in the background.

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Mendenhall Meadow and the Mendenhall Glacier
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Living large near Ketchikan, Alaska
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Kodiak Brown Bear near Sitka, Alaska
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Two year old Kodiak Brown Bear cubs fishing for dinner – Sitka, Alaska
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Mountain Goats in the Tracy Fjord
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Spotted Seals in the Tracy Fjord

Maui Wowie…

I recently found myself once again island-hopping the Hawaii isles. My favorite island, Maui, is the second-largest of the chain, and its wonders are well worth taking several days to explore since you will never be at a loss for somewhere new to discover.

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The rugged coast of Maui

The airport in Maui is located in largest city of the island, Kahului, located on the northern coast. Here you will find most of the big car rental agencies, as well as some locally owned rental companies. Being the Maui is a major tourist destination for both U.S. travelers and foreign tourists, and the added population of cruise ship passengers, if you are planning to rent a car, it is a good idea to book your reservation well in advance.

Kahului is the perfect base from which to explore the island. Less than 30 minutes away is the town of Lahaina, a small coastal village is filled with oceanfront restaurants and quaint shops. One of its best known features is the large banyan tree, with its limbs gracefully stretched out, providing amble shade from the tropical sun.

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The thick, lush rainforest at the Iao Valley National Park is crowned by rugged mountaintops.

If you want a close encounter with a rainforest and the chance to see beautiful mountains, the Iao Valley National Park is just a 30-minute ride away from Kahului. It has several short trails to hike. But be warned, whether you opt for make the short ascent to the lookout or the descent to the river, you will be climbing a lot of stairs. If mobility is an issue, there are wonderful views you can enjoy without having to take any trails. Iao is not a large area, so spending 30 minutes to an hour will allow you to cover all there is to see.

Another adventure and one of the best known treks is the Road to Hana. Beginning in Kahului, the road winds its way along the coast and through the dense rainforest, navigating its 52 miles, 59 bridges the 620 curves that have made it famous. There are shirts and bumper stickers available at roadside stands bragging “I Survived the Road to Hana,” as well as drinks and plenty of places to get a bite to eat.

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One of the many waterfalls on the Road to Hana waiting to be discovered

The rugged coast and white sand beaches, are breathtaking, as are the dense green rainforests and scenic mountains. Scattered along the road are numerous waterfalls and cascades, many with banks to stop and to take photographs as the water surges over the edge of a cliff and tumbles down a mountainside.

The other famous landmark in Maui is the Haleakala Volcano National Park. It’s about a 90-minute drive from Kahului, depending on your experience driving steep mountain roads. Along the way, you will pass through the small village of Kula. Make a point of having a meal at the Kula Bistro, where the food is farm-fresh and very reasonably priced (but be prepared for a short wait, depending on the time of day).

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From the top of the volcano, you can get a spectacular view of the island amid a moonlike landscape of multi-hued rocks

The O’o Coffee Farm is about a 10-minute drive from Kula and definitely worth a visit. After short walk up a gentle slope, follow a dirt road which leads to a rustic farm building and the gardens.

Here you will be met by one of the farm’s very knowledgeable workers, who will describe the different types of award-winning coffee grown at O’o while you enjoy a complimentary sample. (You can also buy a bag or two of the farm’s brew to take home with you.)

Continuing toward the volcano, the road beings its long ascent to the summit. You will travel through lush green valleys and rainforests and a layer of clouds as you make your way to the 10,000-foot crest. The terrain at the peak resembles a moonscape of various colored volcanic rocks that are millions of years old, having been expelled during the mountain’s fiery rein.

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The island seems to be eternal swathed in a blanket of white clouds

Slightly lower in elevation is an additional parking lot and visitor center. Here you can take a steep hike to the top of hill with wonderful views of the crater on one side and the valley on the other.

Most of the time, the valley will be obscured by an ocean of white clouds as far as you can see. This view is particularly beautiful at sunset, as the sky changes color from blue to yellow to deep orange when the sun dips below the false horizon of the clouds.

Here’s a tip: On your way to the summit, take note of the several lookouts. To avoid traffic and a slow descent down the mountain, leave 20 minutes early and then stop at a lookout to marvel at the sunset.

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Nothing is more spectacular than the setting of the sun over the false horizon of clouds viewed from the volcanic summit.

Also bear in mind that if you decide to come for the sunrise. you must leave very early and also make a reservation well ahead of time. Those without a reservation will be turned away.

Whatever itinerary you choose to follow in Maui, you are sure to find some unrivaled natural beauty that will leave you saying “mahalo.”

Tahiti… Paradise Found

I found paradise in Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora…

When you close your eyes and imagine white sand beaches, warm crystal blue water, rugged mountain tops and lush green valleys, what specific place comes to mind? For me, it is the Society Islands of French Polynesia.

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For many, life in Tahiti has changed little since Captain James Cook landed in 1769

The Society Islands consist of the nine islands and five atolls, and contained within the archipelago are Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora. They were named in honor of the Royal Society by Captain James Cook, the English explorer, after his visit to the islands in 1769, and this overseas territory of France received partial sovereignty in 1977.

Today, it is an overseas collectivity of France.

The largest of the islands is Tahiti, which hosts Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, with a population of 184,000 inhabitants.

Tahiti is the buzzling economic, political and cultural hub of French Polynesia, and is usually the first port of call for foreign tourists since it has the only international airport in the collectivity.

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The island of Tahiti taken from Moorea

If you are planning on purchasing black pearls during your visit, Papeete has the largest selection and some of the most reputable dealers (although prices are usually somewhat lower in Moorea).

French Polynesia is world renowned for its black pearls, known for their dark, iridescent shades of black and silver, capturing the entire spectrum of colors of the rainbow.

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Once you get away from the hustle and bustle of Papeete, you will find that most of Tahiti is calm and relaxing.

Tahitian pearls are not actually black, as they are often referred to. Instead, the majority of Tahitian pearls are gray, silver, charcoal or shades of shimmering green, blue and gold.

And although it is true that they take their name from Polynesia’s most well-known island, Tahitian pearls are, in fact, not cultivated in Tahiti, but rather elsewhere throughout the waters of French Polynesia.

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Sunset at the Tahiti InterContinental Resort

Black pearls, which are named for the lip of the oyster (pinctada margaritifera-cumingi) that produces them and not for their own hue, can come in almost any shade, including peacock green, metallic gray, cobalt, cherry red and bright aubergine.

Although some colors tend to be more popular than others, the value of a Tahitian black pearl is determined by its luster, size and shape, rather than its hue. Unlike Asian or freshwater pearls, Tahitian pearls are rarely round and can come in very unusual forms, including elongated drops and asymmetrical pear shapes.

Because the black-lipped oyster is very large, Tahitian pearls tend to be quite large, In fact, they are usually between 8 to 16 millimeters long, although they can be as large as 20 millimeters long.

Personally, I would not recommend staying in Papeete since it is rather rundown. I have also had more than one taxi driver tell me there are a fair amount of unsafe areas in the city.

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You can find lots of hidden coves and beaches across the island.

That is not to say that the rest of the island follows suit. Within its 1,042 square kilometers, Tahiti has plenty of beautiful beaches, lagoons and a lush interior with numerous hiking trails to explore, as well as Mount Orohena, towering 2,241 meters above the sea.

One of the top must-sees in Tahiti is Fautaua Waterfall, a natural sparkling water cascade that towers 985 feet into a large pool. But be warned, it is a long and ambitious trek through steep slopes and tropical jungle to get to, so if you decide to go, bring comfortable hiking shoes and plenty of mosquito repellent. (Also, the falls are sometimes closed to tourists due to heavy rains and other climatic concerns, so check if they are open before you go.)

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Even if you don’t make it to Fautaua, there are plenty of little waterfalls tucked into the Tahitian landscape that you can explore.

If you are a surfer, Tahiti’s Teahupao is known as one of the best surfing beaches in the world. The island is also ringed with small villages and a range of lodging from budget hotels and guest houses to private home rentals and exquisite luxury resorts, my favorite being the Tahiti InterContinental Resort and Spa.

Moorea is the second largest island and only a 30-minute ferry ride or a 10-minute flight from Tahiti. There is no city on the island, but you will find a number of small villages and hamlets. There are many tour guides on the island that can show you the sights at a very reasonable rate. The advantage of a guide is you will not miss any of the highlights and you will learn of the rich island culture.

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A village church in Moorea.

Another option is to rent a car and explore on your own. The advantage here is that you are on your own schedule and are able to stop and swim, have a picnic, dine at a café on the beach and take as much time as you like at any one location.

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The beautiful coastline and the blue waters of Moorea.

Moorea is the favorite of many visitors to the Society Islands. The only drawback is there are not many sand beaches to spread out a blanket on and enjoy the warm tropical sun. Instead, you will find a vast variety of lagoons to enjoy a swim along its coast. If you are an avid diver, you will certainly appreciate the multiple reefs surrounding Moorea that are inhabited by an array colorful tropical fish.

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Moorea is known for its breathtaking black-sand beaches.

Those with an adventurous spirit might want to try diving with sharks and stingrays, one of the highlight tours of the island.

You may also decide to drive inland up a steep, well-marked road to the Belvedere Lookout. From this exceptional vantage point, you can get a bird’s-eye view of the island’s lush green Opunohu Valley 790 feet below and the surrounding mountain top of Mount Rotui towering above. The overlook also affords a wonderful view of Cook’s Bay, where Captain Cook first set foot on the island’s twin bays.

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Belvedere Lookout in Moorea overlooking Cook’s Bay

Smaller still than Moorea is the island of Bora Bora, which for many is considered the Pearl of the South Pacific. Each time I have been here, I have chosen to rent a car and take a leisurely drive the 22 miles of road that wind gracefully around the Bora Bora coastline.

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Palm lined coast and crystal clear waters of Bora Bora

There are two Avis car rentals on the island and the prices start at $100 for a small car. If you decide to rent a car, I’d advise making the reservation online well ahead of time since this is a port of call for many cruise ships and availability is often limited.

Each of the islands has its own unique personality, and unlike Moorea, Bora Bora has many white sand beaches to lay on and soak up the sun. Here too are large crystal clear lagoons to snorkel and wonderful reefs just offshore to dive and explore.

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One of the many resorts lining the shoreline of Bora Bora

The Lagoonarium, a massive outdoor aquarium specializing in lagoon fish and marine life, offers close encounters with sharks and stingrays in a controlled environment for those who didn’t want to risk an open-sea meeting in Moorea.

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Bora Bora is the smallest of the three islands, but its beauty and grace are seemingly endless.

The beauty of French Polynesia is eternal and has forever been captured in the post-impressionist paintings of Paul Gauguin. But just between you and me, there are still so many unexplored nooks and crannies on the islands to dive the reefs, surf the waves, climb the mountain peaks and just lay on the beach and soak up the rays of the warm tropical sun that Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora can become secret personal Edens for every person who visits them.

And that’s what makes for a true paradise found.

Someone Needs Tell The Glaciers

SOMEONE NEEDS TO TELL THE GLACIERS…

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.

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Tracy Arm Channel – Alaska – May 2010

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.

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Marjorie Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park – Alaska – Aug 24, 2017

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.

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Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park – Alaska – May 19, 2016
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Hubbard Glacier “Calving”, Glacier Bay National Park – Alaska – May 19, 2016

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.

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Sawyer Glacier, Tracy Arm Fjord – Alaska – May 15, 2012

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.

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Enter a captionSawyer Glacier, Tracy Arm Fjord – Alaska – May 31, 2019

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.

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Lamplugh Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park – Alaska – May 16, 2016
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Lamplugh Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park – Alaska – May 25, 2019

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.

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Cruising on teh Carnival Legend near Ketchikan, Alaska – July 7, 2019

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!

 

 

 

WELCOME TO THAILAND… PART 3

The Sights of Pai

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.

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Honda Wave photo credit honda

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.

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Wat Phra That Mae Yen… The White Buddha

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.

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Exploring the trail in Land Spilt

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.

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Boon Koh Ku… Pai Bamboo Bridge

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.

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Buddhist Monk at Boon Koh Hu Temple

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.

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Meditating Buddhist Monk

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.

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Buddhist Monk at Boon Koh Hu Temple

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.

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Strawberry Field at Love Strawberry Pai

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.

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View of Pai Valley from the Yun Lai Viewpoint
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View of Pai Valley from the Yun Lai View Point

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.

Long Neck Girl
Village Girl at the Karen Longneck Village

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.

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Afternoon at Pai Canyon

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.

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Late Afternoon the same day at Pai Canyon

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.

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Another Day at Pai Canyon

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.

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The Third Day at Pai Canyon

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.

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Working on images from my cabin at the Bueng Pai Farm (iphone photo)

Enjoy…

WELCOME TO THAILAND… PART 2

Chiang Rai and Pai…. Part 1

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.

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Mountain Top View of Pai Below…

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.

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3 Season Boutique Hotel – photo credit 3 Seasons

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.

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Chiang Mai Night Market – Food Court
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Chiang Mai Night Market – Food Court
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Chiang Mai Night Market – Food Court

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.

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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.

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Pai Walking Street at sunset getting ready for the nightly crowds

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.

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Shop and the artist that hand painted a t-shirt that I bought for my brother… they are hanging overhead

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.

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Blue Lemonade Cocktail at the Pai River Corner Resort and Restaurant

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.

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Kalm Pai Resort about 100 yards from the river at sunset …
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Sunset over the rice paddies from my deck at the Kalm Pai Resort

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.

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Lake Front Cabins at the Bueng Pai Farm

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.

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Sunset from my deck at the Bueng Pai Resort

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.

Enjoy… larry

WELCOME TO THAILAND… PART 1

Bangkok… My Jump Off Point…

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.

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One of the many Buddhist Shrines throughout Bangkok

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.

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My favorite street vendor for BBQ…”meat on a stick”

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

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My favorite cart for Chicken Kebab

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.

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Monks of Wat Biwonniwetwiharn Ratchaworawiharn

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.

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“Let Sleeping Monks Lie”… Wat Chana Songkhram Rachawora Mahawiharn
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Temple Shrine Restoration
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Temple Shrine

 

 

WELCOME TO CAMBODIA… Part 5

OTHER TEMPLES in the ANGKOR WAT AREA… Part 2

GOODBYE CAMBODIA…

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.

ANGKOR THOM

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.

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Approaching Angkor Thom

BAYON

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.

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Lion guards new the entrance to Bayon
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Inner gallery of Bayon
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Stone face towers of the upper terrace
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Buddha statue near the north entrance of Bayon

BAPHUON

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.

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The pavilion at the east entrance of Baphuon
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Northeast library within Baphuon
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Three tiered temple mountain of Baphuon

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.

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Elephant statues of the Elephant Terrace
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Elephant Terrace reliefs
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Guardian of the Elephant Terrace

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.

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Reliefs of the Leper King Terrace

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

Next stop is Thailand.

WELCOME TO CAMBODIA… PART 4

OTHER TEMPLES in the ANGKOR WAT AREA… Part 1

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

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.

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The Central Tower flanked by two other towers and the cistern in the foreground.

BANTEAY SREI

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.

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View of the Central Shrine and the Mandapa
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Another View of the Central Shrine and the Mandapa

EAST MEBON

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.

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Stairway to the Central Tower
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One of the elephant temple guards throughout the site

TA SOM

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.

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Strangler Fig at the East Gopura (entrance)
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Interior of Ta Som
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Interior of Ta Som exhibiting intricate Apsara Reliefs

NEAK PEAN

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.

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Lake at Neak Pean
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Lake at Neak Pean
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Lake at Neak Pean

PREAH KAHN

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.

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An entrance to Preah Kahn
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Interior of Preah Kahn and intricate reliefs
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Interior of Preah Kahn and intricate reliefs

MY WORKFLOW PROCESS…

My Workflow Process…

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.