Tag Archives: travel inspiration

My Favorite Captures of 2015

With February 2016 nearly upon us, I wanted to take some time a reflect on the previous year and share some of my favorite photos of 2015. When it comes to photography, I consider myself to be much more an enthusiast than a professional. I thoroughly enjoy taking pictures just for fun of it. It’s definitely an added bonus when I capture a decent shot of something that means a lot to me.

2015 was one busy year, especially when it came to work. Holding down a full-time job while living in Hong Kong and finding the time to do extensive travel was pretty difficult. Nonetheless, I tried my best to plan my vacation days around public holidays in order to get more time to travel. As such, my travels in 2015 led me to Myanmar, China, Indonesia, and back home to the United States for an early Christmas. According to Adobe Lightroom, I snapped over 2,000 photos during this time so choosing my favorites certainly wasn’t an easy task, but I tried my best to narrow it down to a few from each country. Take a look!

Myanmar

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Reaching an impressive 325 feet into the sky, The Shwedagon Pagoda is Myanmar’s most sacred Buddhist pagoda. Containing various important relics related to the spiritual teachings, it is believed to be the oldest pagoda in Myanmar, dating back to the lifetime of the Buddha. As a result, thousands of pilgrims visit this site every day, making it a unique, lively and magical place to witness.

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During a two hour wait in the extremely busy Yangon Central Railway Station, I was approached by a big family who asked me to sit on their mat while I waited for my train. The mother, in broken English, told me all about her children and introduced me to her son who was more than excited to have a photo taken. You can see them here sporting thanaka, a natural paste made from ground bark that is used as a natural sun screen. These, among many others, were just a taste of the curiosity and hospitality that can be found in all corners of Myanmar.

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Bagan is Myanmar’s most famous destination and it’s easy to see why. This ancient city is home to thousands of Buddhist pagodas and temples dating back to the 11th and and 13th centuries making them nearly 2,000 years old. My friend and I spent the entire day exploring this vast landscape, wandering amongst the temples, and discovering the hidden statues found in the various temples. Bagan is truly magical and it was easily one of the most memorable places I traveled to in 2015.

China

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The Li River which traverses from Guilin to Yanhshuo is considered to be one of China’s most famous scenic areas. Surrounded by towering karst mountains, rollings hills, and hidden caves, it’s the perfect place to catch a bamboo raft and leisurely float down the river. Listed as one of the world’s top ten watery wonders by National Geographic Magazine, it’s a beautiful place to witness as it offers a quintessentially Chinese experience in a mostly natural and untouched setting.

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Named after its moon-shaped hole, Moon Hill is one of Yangshuo’s most iconic and scenic sights. Standing at over 1,200 feet high, Moon Hill offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding area and valley below. The 800 step climb to the top is well worth the view and, for those seeking something a bit more adventurous, why not try one of the fourteen rock climbing routes up the the large rock. Whether you’re an amateur or a professional climber, this scenic destination offers the perfect backdrop for a challenging, yet fun adventure.

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There’s something about water buffalo that completely puts me at ease and sends me to my peaceful place. I could easily spend hours watching these majestic creatures wandering through the rice fields and munching on grass. An odd, the water buffalo have become my my favorite animals. I have witnessed these gentle giants in nearly every Asian country I have visited thus far and I have grown to really appreciate their gentle manner.

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Bali was probably one of the most surprising places I visited. Due its touristy nature, I was expecting it be highly developed, but it’s actually quite easy to find peace and quiet throughout many parts of the island. Case in point, the Jatiluwih Rice Terrace; 700 meters above sea level, this beautiful rice terrace is considered to be Bali’s oldest and most complex agricultural system. Designated a UNESCO Cultural Landscape, Jatiluwih offers a breathtaking panorama and a tranquil retreat from the island’s more developed areas.

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From vast rice fields to relaxing beaches, Bali has a lot to offer as a travel destination. This is the Yellow Bridge which connects Nusa Lembongan to Nusa Ceningan. These two islands are only a short boat ride from the main island of Bali, yet it feels as if they are hundreds of miles away from the busy shores of nearby Kuta and Sanur. The quiet shores of Nusa Lembongan are the perfect place to unwind and relax and live life the way it was meant to be.

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And what is a place without its people? During a four day stay in the palatial Alam Puisi Villa I was invited to attend a New Year celebration which included four traditional Indonesian dances. The dancers were only too happy to be captured, in fact, spectators were invited to join the dancers on stage to welcome in the new year. It was the perfect way to ring in 2016.

The United States

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New York City is a truly unique and unrivaled destination. From the city’s Great White Way to its five distinct boroughs, there a few cities like it in the world. Not to mention, Gotham has one of the most iconic skylines around. There is no better place to catch a glimpse of this glistening skyline than the Top of the Rock. Whether you call it the Big Apple, the Capital of the World, or the City that Never Sleeps, you’ll certainly never run out of things to do.

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Christmas in New York City is a magical experience. From ice skating in Central Park, viewing the windows along 5th Avenue, or taking in the sights of the world’s most famous Christmas tree, the city certainly goes all out for the holidays as it transforms itself into a twinkling winter wonderland, making it one of the best of times to visit the Big Apple.

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The September 11th memorial is an unusual one for this list, it’s not exciting, it’s not a major tourist attraction but it is a picture I hold in high esteem. This image depicts the beauty of the memorial and the importance of such a space in the city of New York to both its citizens and its visitors. The tone of the memorial is hardly morose, but pensive, a reminder of what so many have lost and what we must never forget.

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Wander Pi Wednesdays: Sunrise Over Borobudur

Every Wednesday, I’ll be sharing one of my favorite photos from my travels.

Located on Indonesia’s island of Java, Borobudur is home to the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Three-hundred years older than Angkor Wat, the temple was built between the 8th and 9th century and is positioned between twin active volcanoes which makes the view from the top even more impressive. With a total of 504 Buddha statues and various stupas built throughout the monument, the structure itself is the perfect frame.

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Lost in Translation at the Andong Mask Dance Festival

If you’re looking for a unique Korean experience, there’s no better place to start than the Andong Mask Dance Festival. Andong is home to the largest number of cultural artifacts in Korea which help paint a vivid picture of the peninsula’s storied past. Famous for its traditional folk village and annual Mask Dance Festival, Andong is an interesting place to explore Korea’s rich history.

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Masks have long played an integral part in Korean cultural, with natives believing they ward off evil spirits. Once a year, Andong preserves this tradition by celebrating the historic masks through exhibition and folk dance. Visitors to the festival can enjoy various traditional mask dances, folk performances, and hands-on experiences, including conventional mask making and mask dance learning.

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Our visit to the festival began with an early morning bus ride to the festive grounds where various cultural activities could be experienced. We started off with mask making and chose traditional designs to decorate our twenty-first century cardboard cutouts. We felt almost childlike as we shaped our masks with floam (brightly-colored, sticky foam balls). While it was a bit too crafty for my taste, I have to admit it was enjoyable.

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We spent our afternoon exploring the Hahoe folk village, a beautiful place to wander as it is nestled in a lush valley between the Taebaek mountains. From here, various traditional dwellings can be explored. It’s easy to see why this quaint little village was recently designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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After wandering around the village, the late afternoon was spent watching various traditional mask dances. The performances were an interesting sight to witness. The choreography mostly involved various men strutting and prancing around the stage. I personally found it quite comical, yet a bit baffling when a man dressed as a woman squatted mid-stage and “peed” and then one of the other characters proceeded to scoop it up and smell it. It was definitely lost in translation as the story was told in Korean which is a language I’m still not very familiar with.

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The festivities concluded with with a traditional fireworks display along the river, one of the most unique displays I have ever seen. It was more of a fireshow than a fireworks display as flaming bushes were thrown off the cliff’s edge into the river below and lit charcoals were strung across the river creating a rainstorm of sparkling embers.

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For those interested in checking out this year’s festivities, the Andong Mask Dance Festival will take place in late September, Friday 25th to Sunday, October 4th. If you’re in Korea during this time of the year, a jaunt to the festival is well worth the journey. For more information please visit the official Mask Dance Festival Website.

Sunsets of Palawan

The famous author Bill Bryson once said “The greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time.” Nowhere did I find this to be more true than the time I explored the Palawn Province of the Philippines. My trip to Palawan changed me in a way that’s difficult to describe. Nearly everything I encountered seemed to be out of this world, including the friendly locals and the magical sunsets.

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Simple everyday interactions and events were amplified by the untouched nature of the region and its genuine people. There was a magic in the air that is hard to define. From pristine beaches to untouched coral reefs, Palawan is, for me, a timeless destination. It’s a place where everyday things truly are experienced. Something as simple as a sunset in Palawan can bring a wealth of emotion and imagination and bring to life the earlier quote.

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The stunning sunsets alone are well worth the flight to Palawan. Each day at dusk, the skies are transformed into magnificent canvases of color. No two sunsets are ever the same in the Philippines, as I noticed during an island hopping adventure from Coron to EL Nido.

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Living in a city like Hong Kong, something as simple as the Sun’s movements become totally irrelevant to daily life and, as with most things, it isn’t until you find it again that you realize what you have been missing. It truly brings about a sense of jealousy aimed at the people who get to appreciate the transition every day.

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My fondest memories of Palawan were of sitting on the beach with a pineapple-rum filled coconut, watching the fisherman retire for the day as the dusky orange sky began to illuminate with the first dusting of stars.

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Looking around the immediate area, you find people sharing the scene, local youths playing football on the beach, couples lying in hammocks, cooling off from the days excursions. It’s a peaceful and relaxing vibe that makes you realize even more how vital traveling is to life.

The Wonder of Coron

One of my favorite destinations in the world is located in the Palawan region of the Philippines. There are few places in the world that feel so remote and untouched. It is one of the handful of unexplored and untapped tropical paradises left on Earth. From stunning limestone cliffs to deserted beaches, Palawan is unlike any place I have explored. I love it so much I have traveled to the province on four separate occasions. There is something about the area that always calls me back. Perhaps it’s the jungle-clad mountains, pristine beaches, unspoiled coral reefs, remote lagoons, friendly villagers and magical sunsets. Palawan is such a picturesque paradise that I almost feel a bit guilty sharing it with the rest of the world in fears that it will be become the next Phi Phi Islands. Even so, it’s a magical place that must be explored.

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Most travelers to the region often decide to explore El Nido which is home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and serene secret coves, yet, another area definitely worth checking out is Coron. Located in the most northern part of Palawan, Coron is just as stunning as El Nido and offers some of its own unique sights which set it apart from its more popular neighbor to the south. Many also argue that the underwater life in Coron is much more impressive than El Nido’s, and I would have to agree. The paradise is home to the eastern half of Busuanga Island, all of Coron Island, and fifty other smaller islands and islets.

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All the islands in the region are part of the Calamian Archipelago. This archipelago is home to some of the most impressive natural wonders in the world. From crystal clear fresh water lakes to pristine coral reefs, Coron has a lot to offer as an island destination. Most journeys to Coron begin in Busuanga at the Francisco B. Reyes Airport where the tarmac often has to be cleared of cattle. This tiny airport is the gateway to the area’s many destinations. Landing here is a unique experience and the ride to town is even more surprising. Driving along the cattle surrounded empty dirt roads, I knew I was going to love Coron.

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The town of Coron is about a forty minute bumpy, yet scenic ride from the airport. The town itself is authentically Filipino, you won’t find any massive hotels or resorts here. Instead, visitors can enjoy the local culture as it was meant to be. I personally preferred the town of Coron to El Nido as it wasn’t as touristy. I really enjoyed the local vibe that could be felt in Coron. The only downside to the municipality is that all beaches in the area can only be accessed by boat. Still, most of the beaches are only a short boat ride away and there some natural sites that can be experienced right in town.

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Some of the most popular places to visit in town are Mount Tapyas and Maquinit Hot Spring. Climbing Mount Tapyas is an easy endeavor as it’s more of a hill than a mountain, measuring some 680 feet high, even so, the views from the top are stunning. It’s the perfect place to photograph the town and surrounding islands. I highly recommend hiking up just before sunset.

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Maquinit Hot Spring is another popular place to visit. Only minutes from town, the hot spring is the perfect place to unwind after a day of island hopping. Hidden amongst a mangrove forest and right on the ocean, it’s definitely worth checking out. I really enjoyed spending an evening here under the stars with a beer in hand and relishing in the peaceful environment.

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Coron is home to numerous island hopping tours. One of the most popular and my personal favorite is the Coron Island Tour. This full day excursion makes stop at Kayangan Lake, Blue Lagoon, Siete Pecados, Banol Beach, Quin Reef, and the Coral Garden. The untouched nature and abundant sea life witnessed on this journey is unparalleled. It’s one of the many reasons why I have returned to Coron three times.

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Kayangan Lake is Coron’s most popular destination for it is simply one of the most beautiful places on Earth. This hidden freshwater lake is nestled within a mountain that is surrounded by the sea. The crystal-clear water of Lake Kayangan is unlike anything I have ever witnessed. The location makes it even more magical as it seems worlds away from civilization. It’s difficult to put into words the feeling I got when I swam out to the middle of the lake and I floated on my back and gazed up at the limestone cliffs surrounding me. It was truly one of the most amazing travel experiences of my life. The underwater views are really beautiful, including a moon-like landscape and hundreds of tiny fish.

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Another highlight of Kayangan Lake is the steep, yet short climb to the lake. From here, visitors can enjoy views of the sea and the stunning Blue Lagoon. This is probably one of the most photographed spots in Palawan. It’s a picture perfect sight that looks almost too heavenly to be apart of this world.

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In addition to the Coron Island tour, another island hopping circuit I highly recommend is the Island Escape Tour. This excursion takes you to Malcapuya Island, Banana Island, and Bulog Dos Island. While a bit further out than Coron Island, these islands are well worth the two hour boat journey.

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Malcapuya is a remote island with one of the country’s most pristine white sand beaches, easily rivaling the sand of Boracay. It is locally regarded as the “ultimate virgin beach” and it’s easy to see why; the sand is perfect and water is crystal clear. Most importantly, the island isn’t developed and you won’t have to fight others for prime real estate on the beach. It’s the perfect place to enjoy some fresh coconut juice and sunshine.

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Another stop on this circuit is Banana Island. While the beach here is not as impressive, this stopover offers some spectacular snorkeling. The coral here is mostly undamaged and there is plenty of sea life to witness. Banana Island offers a few beach huts and cottages where visitors can escape the heat of the island.

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Altogether, Coron is a stunning island paradise that I highly recommend exploring. The destinations highlighted above are definitely worth checking out if you’re in the region. There are plenty of options when it comes to lodging. From low budget hostels to more lavish hotels, there is something for everyone. During my visits, I stayed at the La Natura Resort and the Gran Vista, both of which I can definitely recommend. Coron will surely please and inspire any and all that visit, but remember to protect this slice of paradise and to leave nothing but footprints behind!

Wander Pi Wednesdays: An Untouched Paradise

Every Wednesday, I’ll be sharing one of my favorite photos from my travels.

For this Wander Pi Wednesday, I wanted to share my own experience of Paradise. During a five day expedition from Coron to El Nido, I was taken to this beautiful beach. Only about fifteen minutes from El Nido, Nacpan Beach is an untouched and unspoilt tropical paradise that is a must see for travelers in the Philippines. There are no restaurants, bars, or vendors, and most importantly for a place like this, no crowds. It’s the perfect place to spend the afternoon sunbathing and snorkeling on one of the world’s few remaining natural beaches. Nacpan will surely delight and inspire any that visit, but remember to respect this alluring environment and leave nothing but footprints behind!

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All Aglow at Seoul’s Lotus Lantern Festival

Every year, one of Asia’s biggest celebrations takes place in the months of April and May. This major celebration is known as Buddha’s birthday. Buddhism plays a dominant role in many Asian countries including Korea, where every spring the country turns aglow in honor of the birth of Buddha. This also happens to be one of my favorite festivals.

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There are few places in the world that can match Korea’s love for Buddhism and bright lanterns. Nearly fifteen percent of the Korean population practices Buddhism which makes up the largest spiritual group in the Land of the Morning Calm. The celebration is one of the biggest of its kind in the world and they call it the Lotus Lantern Festival.

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Depending on the time of year, Buddha’s birthday can fall any time between the beginning of April to the end of May. At this time, the Korean peninsula magically transforms as it prepares for the celebration. From city streets to mountaintop temples, lanterns begin to appear just about everywhere. The displays are charming and intriguing and the capital city of Seoul pulls out all the stops to make sure it’s a celebration Buddha would surely approve of. For two weeks, the city becomes a mecca of everything Buddhist. The city’s streets, parks, and temples become even more special during this time of year as hundreds upon hundreds of lanterns are hung throughout the city.

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According to Buddhist beliefs, lanterns symbolize wisdom and light in the world. The hope is to bring more prosperity and peace to the world. It is an important ritual in Buddhism that honors the founder of the spiritual teachings. The lantern lighting in Korea began more than a thousand years ago and still continues to this day. The festival attracts people from all over Korea and the world. There are an array of festive programs scheduled throughout this two week period, everything from a luminous parade to traditional lantern making.

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The festival begins with the Lighting Ceremony on the first day in Gwanghwamun Square where various large sized lanterns are lit. The next major event is the Buddhist Cheer Rally which take takes place at Dongguk University. This event is an exciting celebration that is full of songs and rhythmic beats. Later that day, the main thoroughfare of Seoul is shut down to make way for the festival’s oldest and largest event, the Lotus Lantern Parade.

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The parade is considered by many to be the highlight of the celebration as tens of thousands of lanterns are carried by various Buddhist congregations. It is truly a magical thing to witness as all the lanterns are being paraded down the streets of Seoul. You can expect to see brightly lit lanterns in the shape of dragons, pagodas, white elephants, lotus flowers, and more. All this lasts for nearly three hours and concludes with a festive celebration on the streets which I found to be inspirational and a lot of fun.

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The following day, various traditional and cultural events take place along the main street in front of Jogyesa Temple. Here visitors can learn more about Buddhism by participating in an endless amount of cultural experiences. With more than one-hundred booths set up by Buddhist Monks and Nuns; there is something for everyone, whether it be traditional lantern making or learning proper meditation techniques. My friend and I really enjoyed crafting traditional lanterns of our own.

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Seoul’s Lotus Lantern Festival is a unique cultural experience and one of the most beautiful festivals I have witnessed yet. I highly recommend visiting Seoul during this magical time, you’ll surely enjoy taking in all the whimsical sights and sounds that the celebration has to offer. For those interested in checking out the festival, this year’s festivities will take place from May 15th to the 17th. The festival’s program can be found at Korea’s Official Tourism Website.