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Santorini: The Greek Island Of Dreams

 

Santorini - Greek Islands - Robyn Around the World

Santorini has been on my bucket list for years. When deciding where to stop first in Europe after Egypt, Greece was high on the list. The tickets were the right price and the flight was short so off I went after my 10 days in Egypt.

Santorini lived up to every expectation I had. The pictures I was able to capture rival those that you find on-line. Honestly, it’s hard to take a bad picture in Santorini. From the beautiful beaches to the hillside homes, Santorini is every bit picturesque and mesmerizing.

SANTORINI’S FAMOUS OIA

I stayed in the slow beach town of Perissa to get away from the crowds of Fira and Oia. That is the one downfall of Santorini. It is one of the most popular islands, which means big crowds from cruise ships and tourists alike. I rented an ATV and went to Oia in the morning. By 11am the cruise ships had docked and the streets were lined with people. There are many great places to take pictures of the hillside, but the best by far is at the Byzantine Castle Ruins. I went during the day to get the best shots. I decided to not come back for sunset, because the area was so small and with all the tourists, I’d be fighting for space to get the epic sunset shot. Not my cup of tea.

Santorini - Greek Islands - Robyn Around the World

Santorini - Greek Islands - Robyn Around the World

Santorini - Greek Islands - Robyn Around the World

Santorini - Greek Islands - Robyn Around the World

Santorini - Greek Islands - Robyn Around the World

Santorini - Greek Islands - Robyn Around the World

PYRGOS VILLAGE

I did get my sunset picture though. I spent an evening over at Pyrgos. This smaller village is not by the water but is less crowded and is every bit as beautiful.

Santorini - Greek Islands - Robyn Around the World

I spent 8 days in Santorini and was everything I imagined it to be. I’d love to come back in low season when the streets of Fira and Oia aren’t so crowded, but was worth it none the less and can’t wait to come back again someday.

 

Santorini - Greek Islands - Robyn Around the World

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Vietnam: A Photo Essay



Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell


VIETNAM: A PHOTO ESSAY


Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

I started my trip in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and motorcycled up the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In order to get to the trail, you need to cross a river on a small boat made for a few motorbikes and foot passengers.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Did you know rubber grew on trees???? They do and there’s a neat process with how they extract the sap from the trees. They make cuts into them then collect the sap in tins and let harden before sending to manufacturing to make your rubber bands.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Riding along the Ho Chi Minh Trail I stopped at a bridge that was bombed in 1972. This bridge was an important route to transport goods during the Vietnam War. It was never reconstructed.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Motorbiking through Central Highlands, I was able to interact with many of the farmers, including stopping at a cashew plantation.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

The women peel cashews one by one, then transfer them to another room where they’re sorted and get prepped for packaging.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Vietnam has beautiful waterfalls and lakes. One of the days, I stopped at fairy pool which is a natural spring pool. The one in blue, was so refreshing to swim in after a steep climb down.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Dray Nu Falls is called the Niagara Falls of Vietnam. Attracted by locals and tourists alike, is a popular spot for selfies and weddings.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Peppercorns are one of the many crops grown in Vietnam. They harvest the plants once a year.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Vinh Son Orphanage in Kum Tum is an organization that helps children find homes. There are 200 children there ranging from one to eighteen years old. They are funded by donations and a few organizations, including HALO (Helping And Loving Orphans) from my hometown of Seattle.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Getting across rivers in the mountain region one has to cross these wobbly bridges made for motorbikes and foot traffic. Yes, I crossed this, slowly with my feet out!

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Riding through Central Highlands is just gorgeous! The green rolling hills are beautiful and go for days. It’s also much cooler in the mountains than it is in the city. Was so nice to get away from the traffic and experience the mountains for a week.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

The people in the hills are very friendly. They don’t see too many foreigners in these parts so are very welcoming and love to talk and share their home with you.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

I had a chance to see some kids in a small village. These children are refugees from Laos. Their families are supported by the Vietnam government and goto school for free.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

There are pineapple farms everywhere! These small, palm sized pineapples are sweet and taste great dipped in chili salt to bring out the sweet flavor. Try it!

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Rice paper is a staple at most meals and if it’s not rice paper, it’s rice noodles. I had the chance to see how they are made. There’s 40 different kinds!

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

After riding through Central Highlands, I stopped in Hoi An for a week to relax and enjoy this quaint town.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Women wait for customers to take a ride on the small river through Hoi An.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Central Market is where it’s at! Fruits, vegetables, souvenirs, street food, you’ll find it all here open early morning to late evening.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

A lady selling her goods at Central Market.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

After Hoi An, I flew up to Hanoi where the traffic is just as ridiculous as Saigon. Pedal bikes and motorbikes share the same road.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Long Bien bridge is the only bridge in Vietnam where cars aren’t allowed and motorbikes drive on the right side of the road.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

There is also a running train that uses the bridge to cross daily.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

You will find street vendors on nearly every corner selling goods or food. They even provide stools for you to sit on while you eat.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

And if they’re not selling goods, they’re sitting on the street catching up with friends and taking in the view around them.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Some vendors are mobile and will walk around with their goods on their shoulder, stopping for customers along their path.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Some vendors sell goods from their bicycle and park on the side of a road so that motorbikes can pull up and grab items to go.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Another happy vendor in Vietnam, selling fresh coconut water.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

I took a day to go visit Ninh Binh where my tour stopped at a temple and this guy was dressed up in traditional clothing for the tourists to take pictures. Not one for organized tours, but I do love this picture!
Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell
I took a ride down Ngo Dac River and all the boat women row the boats with their feet!

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

The view riding down Ngo Dac River. They call this river Halong Bay on land.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Riding through trees and greenery.
Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell
Halfway through the ride we stopped at a floating market, where vendors sell good from their boat.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Riding through the limestone caves on Ngo Duc River.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Many locals live on the river and do boat rides as their job.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

This looks like an abandoned train track, but it’s not. A train runs through here twice a day. The locals are used to the train coming through and sometimes position their bikes only inches from the train when it passes through.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Passing through Halong Bay on my way to Bai Tu Long Bay by junk (boat) I saw many fish boats, which I learned and soon saw there is a community of fishing villages in these bays.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

One of the fisherman out for the day.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

I took a 3-day cruise through Bai Tu Long Bay and had the chance to kayak to a private beach and have a BBQ lunch.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

This was my junk. The sails are distinctive of all Vietnam’s junks. Bai Tu Long Bay is only visted by 5% of tourists because they only allow a limited amount of boats to have permits.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Sunset in Bai Tu Long Bay.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

These boat men and women live in the fishing village and give rides to anyone who wants to see their village up close.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

A happy boatman.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

The garbage man. He rides around all day and picks up trash from the bay to keep it clean.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

A woman from the fishing village rides on man-made raft to get her around.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

Locals from the fishing village live on their boat or in floating homes.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

The sails on a junk are raised when there’s a wedding. The family gives the new couple a boat as their wedding gift.

Vietnam - A Photo Essay by Robyn Hartzell

A great way to end 23 days in Vietnam was to cruise Bai Tu Long Bay. If you’re thinking of doing a cruise, I highly recommend it, but get there soon. Vietnam is closing all overnight cruises in both Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay in 2020.

 


Koh Lanta – A Photo Essay

Koh Lanta, Thailand

Koh Lanta in low season is a sleepy island with so much to see.  Staying here a full month, I was able to immerse myself in Koh Lanta and explore the island without a lot of other tourists around. You can drive the whole island in 90 minutes by motorbike. I stayed in Old Town, which is a cute fisherman’s village on the East side of the island.  I rented an overwater bungalow with a motorbike to get to places on my own. Here’s is my month on Koh Lanta, in 40 photos.

 

 

Ferry Terminal - Koh Lanta, Thailand
 Riding in on the ferry from Koh Phi Phi you’re welcomed by shops on stilts at Saladan Town Pier

 

Sunset at Koh Lanta, ThailandThe sunsets in Koh Lanta are beautiful. Everyone goes over to the west side of the island to Diamond Cliff Beach to “see the show”

 

Koh Lanta, ThailandDiamond Cliff Beach is also beautiful during the day

 

Koh Lanta, ThailandWatching the morning sunrise from my bed

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Even in low seasons choppy water you can find locals out with their rods trying to catch fish for dinner

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Even in the rain, fishermen will push their loot home across a low tide

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Long-tail boats and fisherman bungalows in Old Town during low tide

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
It looks vastly different in high tide

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Hermit crabs are one of the many sea critters you’ll see hanging around the bungalows

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand Klong Dao beach is on the west side of the island a rocky beach with a beautiful view

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Most locals own long-tail boats that are used for fishing, tours and transport

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
The locals fish everyday, using homemade crab pots

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
The ribbons on the front of the boats are sacred, they have been blessed by monks for safe sea travel

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Saladan during low season you’ll find most shops boarded up waiting to open again in high season

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Tugboats are used to carry barges across the water to Lanta Yai

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
A little salesman manning his food cart at the car ferry holding area

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
One of the parks on Lanta Yai

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Many tress are surrounded by water during high tide

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
The life of an elephant on the island is a sad one, babies are chained to the side of the road to lure tourists into signing up for a trekking tour

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
At the bottom of the island is the national park and home of the lighthouse

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
At the top of the lighthouse is a breathtaking view, go early in the morning before the tourists arrive

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
From a distance they looked like birds, but once up-close you’ll find super-sized dragonflies

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
One of the many monkeys at the lighthouse eating fruit that looks like candy corn

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
On the drive back from the lighthouse, you’ll find long-tail boats docked anywhere there’s water

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Old Town is a one road street where you’ll find fisherman houses on stilts

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
The street down Old Town is bustling with restaurants and shops

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
From souvenirs to fruit stands you can find anything you need in Old Town

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
These garbage receptors are every few feet on the street and are picked up by the trucks nightly

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
There are many kids playing on the street in Old Town

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
And ducks farms are common

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
In low tide you’ll see families digging for clams

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Some families have cows which are kept on nose leashes

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Soccer is a big sport out here

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Fishing boat docked in Old Town

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Another fishing boat anchored in low tide

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Sunset over Old Town pier
Koh Lanta, Thailand
Many fishermen keep their boats tied just outside their bungalows and during high tide you can see them floating with the tress

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
The most amazing sunrises I saw were right from my bed during low tide

 

Koh Lanta, Thailand
While everyone else is at full-moon parties, I was out capturing the moon on film

 


Kuang Si Waterfalls


Kuang Si Waterfalls, Laos

One of the most beautiful waterfalls I have seen was in Laos at Kuang Si Waterfalls and just a 30 minute Tuk-Tuk or motorbike ride from Luang Prabang. These waterfalls were amazing!  Crazy blue, tiered and just beautiful. There’s 4 different sections you can go to so you can spread out from the crowds.  

The first one you run into has a tree branch you can jump off into the pool of blue water.  I jumped off and was immediately taken back to when I used to quarry jump as a kid, but this was so much prettier. 🙂

Kuang Si Waterfalls, Laos

Kuang Si Waterfalls, Laos

The second section has a bunch of different pools and is the biggest.  It’s where most of the people go.  It’s big enough to swim and there’s plenty of ledges to lay out on, which is what most people do.  The 3rd is the one you see in most of the pictures online if you google Kuang Si.  It’s the most photographed of all the waterfalls here.  There’s signs stating this section is off limits, but you’ll see many people ignoring the sign and going in.  It’s a great photo-op and no one’s patrolling the area.

Kuang Si Waterfalls, Laos

The last section has the biggest waterfall and is designated no swimming, which surprisingly everyone adheres to. Picnic tables are at the bottom where you’ll see buses dropping off tours to eat their lunch and enjoy the view.  You can also hike up to the top of this waterfall.  The steps are steep, but it’s worth the hike.  At the top, there’s another natural pool to swim in and park benches where you can eat lunch or relax from the hike up.  

Kuang Si Waterfalls, Laos

Kuang Si Waterfalls, Laos

There are a few options to get here.  We booked a Tuk-Tuk from our guesthouse and got there at 10 am. When we walked in we noticed the waterfalls were already starting to get crowded.  The drivers gave us 4 hours to see the falls before taking us back, but we could have easily stayed all day.  My suggestion? Rent a motorbike, pack a picnic lunch, grab your GoPro and go early (they open at 8:30am).  If you get there right when they open, you’ll get to enjoy the falls an hour before anyone else gets there.  Entrance fee was 20,000 Kip (as of September 2015).  Well worth the trip and not to be missed if you find yourself headed to Luang Prabang!

Kuang Si Waterfalls, Laos

Taking the Slow Boat to Laos



Guide to taking the slow boat to Laos - Robyn Around The World

Taking the slow boat to Laos from Thailand is quite the experience! I had a great one (mostly)! I went with two new friends I met at my Workaway in Chiang Mai. Below is how to get there from Chiang Mai and my experience.

*Note: all prices were what I paid for my trip June 2015. Current prices subject to change.*

We took the Green Bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong. The bus leaves twice a day (8:00 am and 2:30 pm) and is a 5-hour trip. The bus is in great shape!  Snacks and water are given throughout the trip too. It also stopped about an hour in at a food stall market so you can grab breakfast/dinner. I purchased our tickets a couple days ahead at the bus station (which I recommend). When you purchase the tickets, you will also pick your seats on the bus. At the time of publishing this post, prices were 406 Baht for the morning bus and 261 Baht for the afternoon bus.

Once the bus arrives in Chiang Khong, you will need to take a Tuk Tuk to your hotel (~30baht). Chiang Khong is a cute small town (one road) on the river with a street market and plenty of choices for food. This town was super cute!  If my visa wasn’t expiring the next day, I could have easily stayed another day or two.

Slow boat to Laos

Before you settle in for the night, you will need to have your guest house arrange a taxi for you. Our guesthouse gave us a ride at 7:00 am for 250 Baht and also had all the immigration forms for us to fill out the night before.  All we had to do was show up, get stamped and walk through.  Super easy.  We stayed at the Day Waterfront Hotel (Aircon and a view of Laos – picture above was taken from my balcony in the morning)

The new policy is you can no longer cross the border by ferry. The new immigration office for everyone that is not either of Laos or Thai nationality is now at the friendship bridge, which is about a 20-minute ride from Chiang Khong. I didn’t see much in the way of hotel options on our drive there, but there may be more options coming as the immigration office was just opened in 2013.

Get to immigration early. I’d suggest at least 45-60 minutes before the shuttle bus leaves. Once there, they will stamp you out of Thailand, and then you’ll get on the shuttle to cross the bridge. The shuttle costs 25 Baht and leaves promptly at 8:30 am. When you get to the Laos side, go directly to the VOA (Visa on Arrival) office and apply for your visa. Take note that they only accept US dollars. The VOA is $30 but will cost an extra $6 if it’s off season for ‘overtime’ fees. After they give you your passport back, head through the gate and grab a songtaew (25,000 Kip) to the slow boats at Huay Xia.

There is only one ticket office, located right at the boats. They take both Kip (220,000 Kip) and Baht (1000 Baht), but you’ll pay a little more if you’re paying by Baht.

Slow boat to Laos

After you have your tickets, drop off your backpacks and grab food for the ride. There are many places close to the boats that will make you sandwiches for 10,000 Kip.

Slow boat to Laos

Once on the boat get a seat near the front. The engine is in the back and is obnoxiously loud. Right before you take off a guy will come on the boat to give you a briefing and try and sell you his hostel. He will tell you the whole town doesn’t have electricity except his hostel and should book his because he has electricity. This is not true, everyone has electricity in the town. There are just some places where it doesn’t turn on until 6 pm, but there are outlets, lights, and working fans in the guesthouses. Don’t book his option.  I heard from a few guests, the accommodation was sub-par at best.  There are plenty of options once you get to Pakbeng. We, unfortunately, picked a bad guesthouse which didn’t have a name (should have taken that as a clue). There were bed bugs and dirty sheets. Glad it was just for one night and it was only $4 for the room.  Split between 3 people, that’s pretty cheap!

Here’s a list of guesthouses that are decent.  Again, this is a small stopover town, so accommodations are not going to be 5 star quality.  The rooms are basic, but keep in mind you’re only staying one night.

Pakbeng Lodge – $35-40/night

Mekong Riverside Lodge – $20-25/night

Sarika Guesthouse – $20-25/night

Slow boat to Laos

We left Huay Xia at 10:30 am and got into Pakbeng at 4:30 pm.

Right at the boat dock is a street market with many food stalls. These stalls open at 7:00 am so you can get your sandwiches made fresh for the next leg of your trip before you jump on the boat in the morning. Your guesthouse may offer to pack your lunch for you too.

The next morning you will get on a different boat that leaves at 9:30 am. Again, get there early to get a good seat. We got into Luang Prabang at 5:00 pm.

Slow boat to Laos

Slow boat to Laos

Slow boat to Laos

The ride itself is beautiful, green hills the whole way. The 1st two hours of the ride you can see Laos on the left and Thailand on the right. The boat stops off along the way to pick up and drop off locals at their villages. It was so awesome to see the kids running to greet their families and playing in the water. We also picked up someone off a speed boat in the middle of the river!

Slow boat to Laos

Slow boat to Laos

Slow boat to Laos

The ride is about 25% locals and 75% tourists. I loved the slow boat ride down the Mekong River. There are water buffalo and goats all over and grass huts and fishing boats. Between the beautiful scenery and seeing the locals in their country. It’s a photographers dream!  If you’re up for an adventure and have the time, I’d highly suggest taking the slow boat to Laos.  It’s an experience you won’t forget!

Slow boat to Laos

Slow boat to Laos

Slow boat to Laos

Slow boat to Laos


Thailand Hill Tribes


Hilltribes, Chiang Mai

Seeing the hill tribes is something I wanted to do while visiting Thailand.  Me and a friend visited Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village, located just north of Chiang Mai old city. There are 7 hill tribes living here. Karen Hill Tribe, Lahu Shi Bala Hill Tribe, Palong Hill Tribe, Hmong Hill Tribe, Kayaw Hill Tribe, Akha Hill Tribe, and Yao Hill Tribe.

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

There have been a lot of reviews on TripAdvisor calling it a human zoo. One of our local Thai friends said the village is a good thing for the hill tribes and not a human zoo as some tourists have been calling it. On this recommendation, we took a motorbike and went there on our own to check it out. We had a different impression. We went early and got there around 10am before the tour buses arrived. The first thing I noticed when we walked in was how friendly everyone was. Each hill tribe greeted us warmly, and they were happy to show us what they were making, and also invited us in to see their home. One hill tribe even shared their cherries and other fruit with us.

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village    Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

Unfortunately, the older women didn’t’ speak much English, so we couldn’t ask them many questions. But we played with their children and one of the men showed us how to shoot his handmade slingshot equipped with a wooden arrow.

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

We did meet one vibrant little girl from Karen Hill Tribe named Maisie, who was just charming and spoke very good English. Quite the little sales lady too, she talked me into purchasing a beautiful scarf her tribe weaved.

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village   Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

We also met Sek from Karen Hill Tribe and was happy to talk with us at length about the tribes. Although his family is still in the mountains, he was able to go to Bangkok for school and just graduated university with a degree in Public Administration. He said, like him, some of the Karen Hill Tribe also came to this location to be near the city. It’s better for medicine if someone gets sick. If they get sick in the mountains, they rely on herbs to help them get better. Another main attraction to move here is all the children of the hill tribes go to school and get an education. All of the other Hill Tribes that are here also came on their own accord for a better life for their children.

    Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

When asked about the 500 baht entrance fee, Sek did say the fee we paid to get in did not go directly to the tribes. Before I could get in an uproar about it, he let me know that all the tribes live on the land rent-free and all the goods they sell is their money to keep. The compound also provides transportation for the children to get to and from school, free of cost, which is 15km away.

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village     Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

The one thing I was curious about was the Karen Long-Neck Hill Tribe and why they stretch their necks. Sek said the long neck came about as a fairytale. The women thought they’d be prettier, if their neck was longer. They also decide rank by the length of the neck. The longer the neck, the more high up your are, with the longest neck being like a queen. We met one lady of the Karen Long-Neck Hill Tribe who had the longest neck in the tribe. She showed us a picture of herself without the rings. Her neck is strong enough to wear without the rings.

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

The tribes hand make the items they sell. They are weavers, painters, wood carvers, and sewers. All the items they produce are very beautiful. Again, anything you purchase from them goes directly into their pocket.

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village   Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

So human zoo? If you go there, solely to take pictures and stare, without interacting with them. Then yes, I could see how some would call it that. But, if you take the time to stop, say hello, play with the children and ask what they do, you’ll look at it a bit differently.

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

Link to the rest of my photos here:

Baan Tong Luang Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village

 

Morning Ride to Doi Suthep


Chiang Mai Temple

I left early one morning to take a ride up Doi Suthep Mountain to visit one of the most popular temples just outside of old city. The ride up the mountain is windy and long, but so beautiful with greenery the whole way up and parts of the way you can see the city down below. Such a beautiful drive first thing in the morning.

Almsgiving, Doi Suthep Mountain, Chiang Mai

What I wasn’t expecting on my ride up the mountain is to run into almsgiving. I heard of almsgiving happening at the local temples inside old city and had planned to go see it one morning, but was excited and surprised to run into it happening on my drive up the mountain. Almsgiving is a morning ritual where the monks walk down from their quarters to get their daily offerings from the locals. There is also tables set-up with bags of food and water to give out. The monks will get their days worth of food this morning. Some will give directly to the monks then will kneel and pray while the monks chant a prayer in unison to them. After staying for 30 minutes, I jumped on my bike and rode the rest of the way to the temple.

Almsgiving, Doi Suthep Mountain, Chiang Mai

Almsgiving, Doi Suthep Mountain, Chiang Mai

Almsgiving, Doi Suthep Mountain, Chiang Mai

Surprise! There were more monks coming down Doi Suthep to get their morning almsgiving. I caught the tail end of it then walked up to the temple.

Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai   Almsgiving, Doi Suthep Mountain, Chiang Mai

There are 306 steps to get to the top. The bottom half of the steps is lined with vendors selling food and souvenirs. Once you get to the bottom of the main steps going up, you are greeted by Hmong kids dressed in traditional clothing. They are adorable, but also know their game. They won’t look at you unless you give them money. I caught this girl off guard with my long lens 😉

Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai

Once at the top you pay your entrance fee and get access to the temple that is made of gold. It’s exquisite and beautiful with the morning light shining on it.

Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai    Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai

Part of the temple is getting ready for reconstruction. There are roof shingles with blessings piled up to put on the roof once it’s ready. While there, I saw some of the monks coming back from their almsgiving,

Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai    Monks, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai

From the temple, I decided to keep going up the mountain because I saw signs for Hmong Village, which is one of the six hill tribes in Thailand. The ride was down a long windy road with lots of potholes. Once to the village I was greeted by an open market, but a completely different feel than the ones in old city. The markets were right outside the village homes. It was pretty awesome to see all the kids and families together. Some of the kids were playing with Legos, and some of the mothers were teaching their children math in their down time. It was so cool to walk around the streets and see a different side of markets here in Thailand.

Hmong Village, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Hmong Village, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Hmong Village, Chiang Mai, Thailand

On my drive back down Doi Suthep Mountain, I stopped at Wat Umong where monks go to meditate. So many statues and moss growing everywhere. I was told there’s a waterfall there, which looks like it would be cool, but it was dried up.

Wat Umong, Chiang Mai, Thailand   Wat Umong, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Wat Umong, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Such a great day! I was only expecting to see the temple, but it turned into a day of great surprises seeing beautiful Thailand culture.

 

Thai Elephant Conservation Center

 Save the Elephants

When you visit Thailand, you hear about many different tourist attractions that you must do while you’re here. One of them is spending a day at an Elephant Park. Through learning about which one to go to, I discovered that not all elephant parks are created equal. Many parks still abuse the elephants, but there are a few that treat the elephants well. The house I stayed at frequents the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, and I went along with them one day to check it out.

Thai Elephant Conservation Center; Olympus OM-D EM-1

 

According to my housemates, the Thai Elephant Conservation Center is a highly recognized organization that works to protect and look after the animals giving them the best possible care. All the money raised by tourists going to see the elephants goes back into helping maintain the park and giving the elephants the best care, including having an elephant hospital and nursery on premises.

Thai Elephant Conservation Center; Olympus OM-D EM-1       Thai Elephant Conservation Center; Olympus OM-D EM-1

The Thai Elephant Conservation Center has an elephant show which was the first thing we did when we got there. I am not a fan of animal shows to begin with, don’t even get me started on Sea World, so I had mixed feelings about this show. It showcased the dexterity of the animals where a young elephant, Bai-Tong, rang a bell and raised a flag without her mahout (elephant handler).

Thai Elephant Conservation Center; Olympus OM-D EM-1 Thai Elephant Conservation Center; Olympus OM-D EM-1

The older elephants showcased their strength by pulling and pushing logs with their trunk. We also witnessed 3 of the elephants create paintings. There’s been mix controversy over this, including my own feelings, so I did some research.

Thai Elephant Conservation Center; Olympus OM-D EM-1

Thai Elephant Conservation Center; Olympus OM-D EM-1

According to “Do Elephants Have Souls?” by Caitrin Nicol, in The New Atlantis, Winter/Spring 2013. “Zoo elephants have occupied themselves with doodling in the sand, and, given art supplies, have used them to draw.”

Thai Elephant Conservation Center; Olympus OM-D EM-1

Still not sure the reason why you would need to teach elephants to paint other than to make an attraction that would bring people in, so I asked for more information. What I learned what was different about the Thai Elephant Conservation Center versus other parks is the elephants here that are taught to paint are rewarded with sugar cane, not abuse. The animals that are trained, only do the shows for a few months then are rehabilitated back to living on the conservation grounds. The money from buying their paintings goes directly back to the conservation and helping the elephants, not for profit.

Thai Elephant Conservation Center; Olympus OM-D EM-1

The hospital was the next place we visited. There were two sections one for infectious animals and one for non-infectious. The two elephants we saw in the infectious section had a skin disease and an eye infection they were treating.

Thai Elephant Conservation Center; Olympus OM-D EM-1

Our last stop was at the nursery. Where we saw two sets of mama’s with their baby. Here we had a chance to feed them fresh bananas for 20 baht.

Thai Elephant Conservation Center; Olympus OM-D EM-1

Thai Elephant Conservation Center; Olympus OM-D EM-1

How do I feel about the Thai Elephant Conservation Center after visiting?

After hearing about all the other animal parks, I’ve found that this is one of the top 3 that treat the elephants best. The alternative being poached in the wild or abused at other parks with hooks and sticks. I’m not sure I would go back knowing that there are better parks out there.  I did find a place that is a dedicated rehabilitation center (no rides, no painting, no shows) and hope to go there soon. Overall, I’m glad I did go to the Thai Elephant Conservation Center to get educated on how elephants are treated in Thailand and can use this knowledge to make better choices on which elephant parks to visit in the future.

Thai Elephant Conservation Center; Olympus OM-D EM-1

You can learn more about the Thai Elephant Conservation Center and decide if you want to go  HERE
Thai Elephant Conservation Center; Olympus OM-D EM-1

Check out the rest of my elephant pictures:

ELEPHANT PICTURES

Temples of Bali

 Bali Temples

Bali has thousands of temples, called Pura, where locals worship and give daily offerings. Pura’s can be found on Balinese family compounds (family temple), in town (village temple) and professions (functional temple). I saw many while I was in Bali, my favorites of the public temples were Uluwatu, Ulun Danu, and Taman Ayun.


LUHUR ULUWATU


Luhur Uluwatu Temple

Uluwatu was my favorite temple, explicitly for the view. The temple sits on top of a cliff with crashing waves below. This temple has monkeys roaming free, like monkey forest, but they were more aggressive here. Even with me being the only visitor for the first hour, one showed his teeth, letting me know he didn’t care to have his picture taken. 😉 Lighting was really strong the day I went, even for 8am. I needed to do some Photoshop magic to get the colors and highlights balanced.

Luhur Uluwatu Temple  Luhur Uluwatu Temple


ULUN DANU 


Ulun Danu Temple   Ulun Danu Temple

When I think of temples in Bali this is the one that comes to my mind, Ulun Danu. It’s the one that I see the most pictures of on the Internet. Although after going there, I didn’t expect it to be so small. There are two temples on the small island it inhabits. I got there around 10am, and it was packed with visitors taking selfies. If you don’t want a selfie, you can hire one of the many cameramen selling souvenir photographs to take one for you. You can also rent canoes and paddle boats to tour the lake and there’s a small playground for kids to play on.

Ulun Danu Temple    Canoes and paddle boats at Ulun Danu Temple


TAMAN AYUN 


 Taman Ayun Temple

Taman Ayun is dubbed the floating temple because it’s surrounded by a big fish pond. You’re welcomed onto the temple grounds entering through a beautiful garden. Once inside, the temple was a little hard to photograph because it’s surrounded by a big concrete wall. This left little room for mobility and angles, so I played around with taking some shots through the holes in the wall.

 Taman Ayun Temple   Taman Ayun Temple

 Taman Ayun Temple

All the temples charge a minimal donation to go inside. The temples I visited charged a donation between 15,000 – 30,000Rp ($1.50-$3.00 USD)

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