Welcome to “Country Life in Northeast Thailand” and Nawa, a small farming community where my wife Pla and I live.
Pla and I had such a great response last week from you, our viewers, we decided to show you a little more of our town. Let us take you through a couple other neighborhoods and experience more of the town’s wonderful residents.
See how baskets are made from hand in a couple’s yard, cloth for clothing being made on a loom by a woman outside her home and go inside the Wat Phra That Prasit Temple to the handicraft center where they make traditional Thai clothes and sell in the centers gift shop.
Watch a group of young boys as the try their luck fishing in a small pond next to the road. And walk through the backstreets of town seeing how the locals and the Expat’s from several countries live.
Also enjoy some recent videos about Nawa on the channel. In last weeks video we showed you the street vendors selling everything from bar-b-que pork and chicken to the corner shops in the front of people’s houses where they vegetables from their garden to make a few baht to help provide for their families. And before that video I shared two videos on my morning hike through the rice paddies and surrounding countryside.
Welcome to “Country Life in Northeast Thailand” and Nawa, a small farming community where my wife Pla and I live. In the previous two videos I took you on my morning hike through the rice paddies and surrounding countryside. In his weeks video Pla and I are going to take you through the streets of Nawa showing you the town itself.
You will see everything from street vendors selling bar-b-que pork and chicken to the corner shops in the front of people’s houses where they vegetables from there garden to make a few baht to help provide for their families.
We will visit the open air market where people shop similar to a farmers market in the United States for vegetables, pork, chicken and seafood. Pla shops there every morning to get supplies for her very busy Som Tom Shop in the front of her parents house.
We will show you some of the stores in town like the local pharmacies, electronic shops and where to get handmade clothing and even the jewelry shop where everything is 24 carat gold. Stay to the end of the video and explore the Wat Phra That Prasit, a beautiful Buddhist Temple.
New Post on my YouTube Channel “Travel Guide and Photography”
The overall theme of this week’s video is a continuation of my morning hike. However prepare yourself for a heartbreaking story of determination and life. On my morning hike I met a remarkable man named Lerm and he is one of life’s heroes.
Lerm when he was fishing in one of the irrigation canals that weaves through a rice paddy in the rural countryside of Northeast Thailand. He allowed me to photograph and take videos of him as he fished the canal in hopes of feeding his family. Most of the fish are only 3-4 inches long but if you catch enough it becomes a meal.
Every morning Lerm carefully navigates down the steep bank to his boat. He balances himself and climbs into his small wooden boat partially filled with water and paddles the canal tending to his nets. Upon his return Lerm gathers a small handwoven basket that hold the days catch, places a “peg leg” of a reinforced cast that acts like a prosthetic limb on what remains of his lower leg and climbs back up the steep muddy bank.
Lerm lost the lower half of one of his legs from a venous ulceration years ago. He goes through his days routine of incredibly hard starting at dawn and never a complains. He has accepted what life has brought him without a second thought. I have an immense amount of respect for this man and he has become one of my heroes.
The next day my wife Pla went with me to the canal translate for me as I speak very little Thai. We had a photograph printed 8×12, framed and presented it to Lerm as a thank you. The image is the one used in the thumbnail for this video.
He looked down at the photograph and a smile came to his face. After a minute he looked at us and said “kob khun krap”… thank you in Thai. Then placed the photograph in his boat and offered us some of his fish, which we declined knowing that is food for his family before he paddled away to check his nets once again. It is me that was humbled by his story and I that received a gift from him.
On my morning hike, if the timing is right, I see Lerm working his nets. We wave, nod our heads at one another and go on with our day.
This video is a continuation of the sights and sounds of the previous weeks video of my morning hike through the rice paddies of Northeast Thailand. This is what it is like to live in a small farming community far from the usual tourist locations where most visiting Thailand travel. It is “Country Life in Northeast Thailand.”
New Post on my YouTube Channel “Travel Guide and Photography”
I’ve traveled to over 80 countries and hundreds of cities and people often ask where my favorite place is that I have visited. In today’s video we travel to one of my favorite places in the world Rhodes.
We will take a walk through the streets of Old Town as it winds through inner city walls and its myriad of shops, restaurants, and cafes. We will take a tour and explore the Castle Palace of the Grand Master built in the 7th century and which has been converted to a museum.
There are a number of tours for you to enjoy in and around Rhodes. I have visited Rhodes a handful of times and as a photographer I never tire of roaming its streets, walking through back alley ways and exploring the buildings in this wonderful medieval city.
If you are going to travel to the Greek Islands whether by plane or cruise ship I would make sure your itinerary includes Rhodes, you will not be disappointed.
New Post on my YouTube Channel “Travel Guide and Photography”
In today’s video we travel to ancient Olympia, Greece the home of the Olympics and where they started at the Olympia Archeological Site. We will walk through the well-preserved ruins that date back to the 8th Century BC. We will explore the training grounds, the Olympic stadium and the temples of Hera and Zeus.
What really surprised me was its size covering 550 square kilometers that housed approximately 70 buildings. Much of the grounds are shaded and covered with fallen temples, alters and pathways lines with towering stone columns.
For me the highlights were the temples of Hera and Zeus. Another favorite was the Olympic Stadium where the running events took place. It was not an oval track like in today’s running events rather a 192 meter flat surface that is surrounded by a gentle slope on all sides that held 40,000 spectators. I found the excursion to the Olympia Archaeological Site highly enjoyable and well worth taking especially for those interest in history of the Olympics.
New Post on my YouTube Channel “Travel Guide and Photography”
In today’s journey let’s explore one of the possibilities on the island of Crete and take a shore excursion to the Knossos Archaeological Museum. We will walk through the well-preserved ruins dating back to the mid-1500’s BC and the oldest city in Europe. It is the largest of the Bronze Age archaeological sites on Crete and thought to be Plato’s mythical city of Atlantis.
The Palace of Knossos where King Minos reigned still attains a beautiful well-preserved fresco along with several other on the grounds including one of Theseus battling the Minotaur. You will also find the famous Labyrinth built where the Minotaur was kept by King Minos.
I found the excursion to be Knossos Archaeological Museum highly enjoyable and well worth taking especially for those interest in history and Greek mythology.
The Panama Canal — which transverses two oceans through the deep tropical jungles of Central America — is one of the world’s most incredible feats of modern engineering, and the only way to truly appreciate its grandeur is on a cruise ship.
The Panama Canal system is considered to be one of the manmade wonders of the world.Construction of the 82-kilometer waterway was begun by France in 1881.
But due to a series of engineering and logistical problems, as well as a high mortality rate of workers as a result of heat exhaustion and malaria, the project was halted three years later.
In 1904, the United States picked up where the French engineers has left off, and the arduous effort to build the conduit began again in earnest.
Ten years later, the magnificent canal opened for business.
A massive levy system was incorporated that crossed the Isthmus of Panama to raise and lower ships 85 feet above sea level.
This allowed ships to take advantage of Gatun Lake, a manmade lake constructed to shorten the excavation of the jungle and the monetary costs and the deaths associated with construction.
For 93 years, the Panama Canal system carried thousands of ships through its waters.
And in September 2007, a new project began to widen the canal.
When this work was completed in May 2016, the new construction allowed today’s supertankers to take advantage of the canal, which beforehand would have been impossible.
When traveling through the Panama Canal on a cruise ship, you can experience the sights and sounds of passing through the locks and witness the beautiful landscape of Panama.
From the vast surrounding jungle to the expansive Gatun Lake and thrill of passing under the Bridge of the Americas and the Centennial Bridge, it is an unforgettable journey.
Your ship will navigate its way across the Continental Divide by waterway, and you will be able to witness the entire process from the deck of your ship.
Your cruise ship journey will start in one of the ports in Florida or in California, depending on your direction of travel. Along the way you will visit a number of ports, including those in the Caribbean, South America, Central American and Mexico.
If your cruise sets sale from Los Angeles, your first port of call will be in Mexico, at Cabo San Lucas, Baja California..
This once sleepy fishing village located at the end of the Baja peninsula, known as Lands’ End, has developed into a busy city and tourist destination.
A key stop for many cruise ships, Cabo has become known for its mild weather, beautiful white sand beaches that stretch for miles, world-class golf courses, hotels and resorts, and its premier sportfishing destinations.
From the myriad of shops filled with trinkets to authentic Cuban cigars to expensive jewelry and activities like fishing, whale watching, horseback riding along the beach, camel rides in the desert, you will never be at a loss for something to do in Cabo. And that does not take into account swimming with dolphins, glass bottom boat rides or scuba diving and snorkeling in the warm crystal clear waters.
Depending on your itinerary, you may stop at any one of the countries in Central America. It could be Guatemala, where you can take an excursion to the colorful city of Antigua, which sits at the foot of a volcano. The little town’s streets are lined with colorful buildings, shops and restaurants.
Or maybe your ship will make a stop in Punta Arenas, Costa Rica, where you may find yourself in a small wooden boat navigating the crocodile, filled waters of the Tarcoles River as you travel through the jungle.
Another frequent stop for cruise ships making this journey is Cartagena, Columbia.
With its rich history, a trip to the old town known as the Walled City or to the colorful Barrio Getsemaní, you’ll find yourself surrounded by numerous cafés and shops.
For those looking for jewelry, Cartagena is known for its quality and reasonably priced emeralds.
If you are not into crowds and prefer nature, try visiting the National Aviary of Colombia outside Cartagena, where you will be treated to over 135 different species and thousands of birds.
Rounding out your Los Angeles embarkation, you will visit the Caribbean and, depending on which ship and itinerary you have, it could be Aruba, Grand Cayman, Curacao or a private island owned by the cruise line.
It is important when deciding on what ship or cruise line to choose that you make sure to research the ship’s itinerary and accommodations.
Your accommodations can range from the basic inside cabin to a spacious luxury suite, depending on your budget. You will also find specialty restaurants, various shops and five-star spa facilities, replete with a beauty salon, massage options and acupuncture services.
And when you consider that your travel, cabin, entertainment and meals are usually all included, the cost of witnessing this extraordinary feat of engineering can be very reasonable.
The 15th century Vietnamese poet Nguyễn Trãi once described Ha Long Bay as “a rock wonder in the sky.” Anyone who has ever seen the place can easily understand why.
A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1994 and the most-visited tourist destination in the Southeast Asian nation, Ha Long Bay is a spectacular cluster of more than 1,600 limestone islands and islets jutting out of a sea of rippled emerald green waters that evoke a sense of eternal ataraxia.
The peaceful serenity of Ha Long Bay — situated in Vietnam’s northern Quang Ninh Province, just 165 kilometers northeast of Hanoi — is echoed in the tranquil lifestyle of those who live and work here, creating a hauntingly beautiful otherworldliness that mesmerizes all that witness the place.
The islands, called karsts, are perforated with hundreds of winding caves and grottoes — the result of millions of years of weathering and natural erosion — that can be explored on junks and kayaks.
If you have the time and budget for it, you can also book a helicopter tour to be able to appreciate the grandeur of the towering verdant jade-green limestone islands from above, or you can opt for an overnight cruise to watch the shimmering waters of the bay as they change colors with the sunset and sunrise.
To the Vietnamese people, Ha Long has great historic and mythical significance. According to an ancient legend, it was here that the Jade Emperor — the ruler of all people — sent down the Mother Dragon and her children to help the Vietnamese ward off foreign invaders from the north. Not only did the dragons spit fire upon the aggressors, but also filled the bay’s waters with giant emeralds that acted as a barrier against enemy ships.
In the end, the Vietnamese people were victorious, and the emeralds were transformed into the lush, verde islands we see today. So great was the love of the Mother Dragon for the Vietnamese, she allowed her offspring to stay on Earth and to live and intermarry with the local people, thus helping them to gain celestial knowledge of agriculture and warfare.
The name Ha Long means “Descending Dragon,” and even today, the Vietnamese people consider themselves to be descendants of the dragon.
Ha Long Bay was also the home of several of Vietnam’s earliest cultures, including the Soi Nhu (18000 to 7000 B.C.), the Cai Beo (7000 to 5000 B.C.) and the Ha Long (5000 to 3500 B.C.).
Over the centuries, the bay was a pivotal point in Vietnam’s wars and power struggles, and as late as the 19th century, Ha Long was still being used as a hub by Chinese and Vietnamese pirates.
But today, Ha Long is a peaceful fishing and farming region, disturbed only by the influx of tourists.
To get to Ha Long Bay, you can either take a four-hour bus ride (which may be overcrowded and include a barrage of local scents, often not very desirable), or hire a car and arrive in about three hours.
Once in Ha Long Bay, take a two-hour ferry ride to Cat Ba Island and use it as your home base. Cat Ba City is a small waterfront community with many hotels, ranging from very basic hostels averaging $9 per night to the four-star Cat Ba Island Resort and Spa for a mere $85 per night. Another high end option the Van Boi Ecolux Island Resort on a private beach and cove at $107 per night. Remember, you are in Vietnam and the dollar goes a very long way.
Yet another option is to spend the night or several on a junk or a luxury boat that cruises the bay. Spending a night or two at sea away from the sights, sounds and light pollution of shore is relaxing. Now, combine that with the calm waters of the bay and the surrounding karsts with a bright full moon or with a dark sky under the stars, and you have a near-magical experience.
If you are an adventurous soul, you could take the path that I chose. I spent the first night in Cat Ba City, relaxing, enjoying a great meal and making arrangements for the next days transportation.
I hired a small boat that was no more than four feet wide and 20 feet long to take me to Cat Hai Island in the the Haiphong Province. The two-hour journey from Cat Ba City took me through a maze of limestones islands and several communities of houseboats scattered through the bay like hidden gems. I witnessed those living in the floating villages doing daily chores, fishing or just relaxing after a hard day’s work.
I had reserved a bungalow at the Whisper of Nature Resort, located in the small village of Viet Hai. Once my boat arrived, I could either walk about an hour to the village or take an official taxi, a scooter. I opted for the later. I joined my driver with my backpack strapped on and off we went for the one-mile drive.
The small farming village is located in the heart of Cat Ba National Park in a wide valley surrounded by mountains. The village is very safe and virtually crime-free, a fact that the villagers take great pride in. Known as a “eco” village, the people of Viet Hai are very friendly and willing to share their lives with anyone they meet. It was easy to make friends.
At the end of the concrete road, I arrived at my destination, the Whisper of Nature. There were a handful of small cinder block bungalows, all adorned inside with beautiful wood paneling, a bath, a comfortable bed a small patio.
There was a central kitchen, serving wonderful food in a large comfortable dining room. To my surprise, there was the best Wifi I had experienced since I had left the United States. Remember, I was three hours offshore in the middle of the mountains and jungle.
The manager also told me of a remote abandoned village down a dirt trail about 45 minutes away. The entire scene was surreal, with the abandoned structures, the mist hovering over the jungle and the sight of a lone villager walking through the fields, dressed in military fatigues and leading a solitary horse.
I spent four days in Viet Hai, walking through the village, the surrounding fields, visiting with locals and observing a day in the life of a “real” Vietnamese village.
Away from the cities and all their trappings, the serene village of Viet Hai left me feeling calm, relaxed and with a new outlook and sense of purpose in life.
There are many ways to explore Halong Bay. Viet Hai is just one of them. ´But whether you follow my path or find your own, you will never forget your visit to this magical place, Vietnam’s mystical Land of the Dragons.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Near Juneau a large meadow in full bloom with the Mendenhall Glacier in the background.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.”