Tag Archives: Postcards

Death Valley-3

Postcard: Death Valley

Posted by on February 22nd, 2012

I took advantage of the long weekend and headed out to Death Valley with my brothers and dad for some hiking. The plan was to summit Telescope Peak but heavy snow kept us from reaching the 11,000 foot summit. Still, it was a great opportunity to carry my camera into a National Park and grab a couple of photos.

I love the light you find in high desert mountains. Some of the best light came right after we arrived back at camp from our hike. I was tired but managed to drag myself over to my camera and snap a few pictures of the last sunbeams as they shown under storm clouds (see first image).

Part of the reason I went on this trip was to see how I would do in the rarefied air of Cusco. When I turned back on a saddle below the summit I was exhausted but not dealing with altitude sickness, I’m sorry to say the same can’t be said of my companions who came down with me.  With the fear of altitude sickness lessened, I’m counting down the days until I hit the road for Peru.

Chiang Dao-2

Postcard: Chiang Dao

Posted by on January 2nd, 2012

Our travels (and blog posts) have slowed down during the last few weeks. We rendezvoused with family in Chiang Mai where we spent the holidays enjoying company, eating good food, and seeing the sights. There is plenty to tell about Chiang Mai but I’ll save that for another time.

The only real travel we’ve done since arriving was a two night excursion into the Northern Thai countryside near Chiang Dao. Our first stop was an elephant training center that offered treks through the jungle via pachyderm.

The only other time I’ve ridden an elephant was at the circus. I was young and my memory is foggy but I have a vague recollection of a dark tent, a sad elephant that walked in small circle, and crying because I thought I was going to fall off. Continue reading

Bangkok-8

Postcard: Bangkok

Posted by on December 20th, 2011

I’ve been to Bangkok twice on this trip. The first visit was an off kilter race through the city shrouded in the haze of jet lag. The second, slower-paced visit, lasted about five days. I spent the first half of that time in bed, Sonya did the same with the latter half. Between the jet lag and our collective infirmities, there was a single day of clarity in Bangkok. A day when we got out, saw the sights, ate the food, and managed to remember what we were doing.

Seeing the city that way seemed almost appropriate — maybe even metaphorical. Bangkok is a place blanketed in haze, darkened by the shadows of tall buildings, and obscured by the blue smoke of the motorized masses. The maze of roads, alleys, and canals is disorienting. Here, getting lost in the crowd isn’t an existential worry but a very practical one. When the moments of clarity do arrive, it’s like wiping away a fine layer of soot from a wall, what’s buried beneath seems all the brighter.

When I try to wipe the soot from my own memories, they come back in short vignettes. Grey buildings pass by train windows. Tuk-tuk drivers shout over the roar of busy streets. Gleaming temples reach to the sky while piles of flood debris are strewn around their white walls. Pop music thumps from smokey bars where tourists gather to look at other tourists. Everything moves fast, everything is loud, everything is intoxicating.

I remember riding on the skytrain, looking out the windows while grasping yellow handrails. Below me a war raged on the streets. Taxis, buses, motorbikes, pedestrians, and bicycles scrambled forward, jostling for every inch of pavement and sidewalk.

I remember stepping out of the skytrain into oppressive heat. I remember the smell of food, smoke, and still water rising from the streets. It’s daytime and the sun scorches the pavement in front of me. I wait for someone, anyone to cross the road, thinking it suicide to go alone. A monk in saffron robes steps into the street, I follow him. I reach the other side alive. Continue reading

Siem Reap-11

Postcard: Siem Reap

Posted by on December 13th, 2011

When the throngs of tourists leave Angkor Wat, Siem Reap is about the only place to go. It’s a small town turned bustling city by a steady flow of dollars from eager travelers putting checkmarks on their bucket lists. That influx of cash has made Siem Reap something of a boom town where luxury hotels rise from dusty streets and waves of scooters break around Range Rovers.

For tourists, most activity centers on Pub Street. Located a short walk from the river, Pub Street loosely defines a collection of restaurants and shops that spill into side streets and line pedestrian alleyways. French, Khmer, Vietnamese, Thai, and Indian restaurants compete for diners and proudly display their specials on chalk boards. “Free beer after 3:00.” “Buy one cocktail get one free.” “After they taste our food, they come back.”

I’m not sure that last one was a special, but it might have been. On the roads around Pub Street, tuk-tuk drivers prowl like sharks circling a school of fish. “Helloo sir, you want tuk-tuk. No? Maybe tomorrow? Very good price.” This ritual repeats every few feet, only punctuated by the occasional offers of having tiny fish eat the dead skin off your feet. In case the thought of putting your feet in a fish tank is unappealing, most have “no piranha,” written on the side. How comforting. Continue reading

Angkor-2

Postcard: Angkor Archeological Park

Posted by on December 12th, 2011

The Angkor area is crowded. The road in is a little like an L.A. freeway if all the cars were replaced by motorcycles pulling carts and the trucks by aging Korean minibuses pumping out clouds of diesel exhaust. The temple area itself is a lot like Disneyland; overpriced food, lack of shade, a souvenir shop always within sight.

Even the people look the same. A group of retired Japanese or Korean tourists wearing matching hats and khaki vests follow a bouncing flag. An American with his gut spilling over nylon pants, wheezes up a nearly vertical staircase. At Disneyland you can plunge fifty feet into water from Splash Mountain, here you can plunge fifty feet onto sandstone from one of the unguarded ledges. Continue reading

Road to Camboida-4

Postcard: The Road to Cambodia

Posted by on December 8th, 2011

The do-it-yourself, budget minded, live out of a backpack kind travel is sometimes like playing with a yo-yo. When it’s up, you find your self in amazing places, meeting interesting people, and having once in a lifetime experiences. But when that yo-yo drops, things can go from amazing to amazingly difficult quick — and when the place you’ve just left was close to paradise, it can seem like a long way to fall.

Our travels to Cambodia started rocky, literally. When we left Koh Kood the waves were bigger and the boat smaller than when we arrived. Our speedboat battled its way through the rollers for two and a half hours. Two taxis and a bus ride later we reached the city of Chanthaburi, famous for fruit and gems, or so Lonely Planet says.

When we flopped our backpacks down in the River Guesthouse lobby we were dead tired. Desperate to get off the road and failing to learn from our experiences in Trat, we gave one room a quick glance before plopping down $7 to stay the night.

When we walked back to the room, we saw what we were really in for. The pipes in the bathroom were broken and leaked badly. To keep the bathroom from flooding, I had to turn the water on and off at a small valve behind the toilet before we could use it, the sink, or the shower. When the water was on, it carried with it a festering septic smell. Dark mold rotted in the bathroom, eating the ceiling and door. Continue reading

Kho Kood-7

Postcard: Koh Kood

Posted by on December 5th, 2011

I’ve spent the last week on a tropical island with white sand beaches and turquoise water. When I was adventurous, I hopped on a motor bike and explored the jungle. When I was hungry, I ate amazing food and drank lovely frozen fruit drinks. When I was lazy, I floated in the middle of a shallow bay for hours on end. The best part? The island was practically deserted. On busy days it took all my fingers and one or two sandy toes to count all the people on the beach. Most days were not busy.

I feel almost guilty writing about it. I didn’t think places like this existed and if they did, I knew I certainly didn’t deserve to visit them. But there I was, surrounded by lush jungle on one side and endless ocean on the other.

I came to Koh Kood(Kut) after four days of hard travel. I had been through Beijing, Bangkok, and a small town called Trat but didn’t feel like I had really seen any of them. In Beijing I was trapped in the airport. Bangkok moved so quickly, was so vast, and so bustling that it seems like a few distant memories of crowded trains, and almost being run down by a wave of scooters. I saw Trat’s bus station, a filthy guesthouse, a small café, and a funky Thai restaurant but that was about it.

On Koh Kood I really had time to soak the place and the saltwater into my pores. For the first time on the trip, the photography came easy. The vistas were so scenic, I could point my camera in almost any direction and end up with a decent shot. My polarizing filter never came off my 10-22mm. It let me capture all the brilliant color in the waves and sky. Continue reading