November 2013 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Puerto Princesa Underground River: One of the seven natural wonders of the world

The cabayugan river arises at Mount St Paul at an altitude of 100m and flows underground for almost its entire length to an outflow in St. Paul’s bay. This river is 8.2 kilometers long and is said to be the longest navigable river in the world. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and of the new 7 wonders of nature.

Sabang underground river - one of the new 7 natural wonders of the world
The main features of this subterranean river national park are its spectacular limestone karsts and its rich bio diversity. But, as a tourist, you will find any things interesting. First, the ride into the dark river on tiny rafts and seeing the limestone formations inside the cave using searchlights will be very interesting.

Welcome to the underground river of Philippines
Second, you will realize just how wide the cave is and the sheer magnitude of it will impress your imagination. Out of these 8.3 kms, about 4.5 is navigable, but only 2 kms are allowed for the typical tourist. For the full navigable distance, one needs a research permit.

Jungle Trail leading to Sabang underground river, Philippines
The other interesting things are the innumerable number of swiftlets inside the river cave and the thousands of fruit bats inside. You will be cautioned not to open your mouth while staring up at the bats, but that is part of the fun.

Stalactites inside the Saband underground river and a swallow feeding on them
Only people with necessary permits are allowed into this national park that allows a fixed number of visitors per day. These permits can either be pre-arranged through a travel agent or you can go to Puerto Princesa city and get it on your own.  The next step is to get to Sabang, the small beach hamlet from where the boat rides begin to the national park. Sabang is about 76 kms or roughly 2 hours from Puerto Princesa city. There are 3 ways to get to Sabang from Puerto – private vehicle, public bus and public van service. The public van service is air conditioned and fairly comfortable.

Inside the underground river of Sabang, Philippines
You can either explore the underground river as a day trip from Puerto or decide to halt at Sabang, explore its beautiful beaches and go for hikes amidst its mangrove forests. For the underground river ride, you will have to present your permits and ID proof at the checking counter near the boat jetty (anyone can guide you here) and they will help you with the boarding. You will have to pay for the boat charges here. It is then a 15 minute ride across open ocean to the Puerto Princesa Underground river national park.

Entering the world's longest underground river
At the national park, you can read a lot of material about the various flora and fauna living in this park as you walk through the dense thicket of tall tropical trees to the place where you get your life jacket and helmet. Once you all fitted with the protective gear, a tiny raft takes you inside the river. An oarman and a forest guide accompany each raft. The forest guide handles the search light and educates you on all the interesting stuff about and in the cave. So, please pay close attention to what he is saying even if some of them speak with a slight accent. The underground river ride will be over in 45 minutes, but you will marvel at its beautiful formations, the fact that the river upstream has fresh water and at the entrance is more brackish and the eerie like natural setting.

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park
If you wish to photograph inside the cave, do carry a separate flash unit that will work over and above the search light as even the light from the search light will not be enough for even high ISO photographs. And watch out for the rowdy monkeys who are known to steal belongings of the tourist.

Filipino Boatmen taking us to the Sabang underground river
This natural wonder might not come across as truly WOW if you just do the underground river trip as we get to see only a bit of it (as the government is trying to preserve the natural setting and the wildlife), but if you explore the forests, try and understand the flora and fauna, I am sure, you will find the place truly a wonder!

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Travel Photo: Colorful Window inside St. Agustin’s Church, Manila

The churches in South East Asia are nowhere as good as they are in the Philippines. And in my opinion, the St. Agustin’s church takes the icing on the cake. The oldest church in the Philippines has got a lot of class in it. Be its intricately carved altars, classic furniture designs, life-like paintings, heavily worked up on ceilings or its beautiful wooden doors, everything about the church makes you look at it and say ‘WOW’.

Colourful window inside St. Augustine's Church, Manila
Even its colorful windows cast a special glow that decorates the already beautiful church with its colorful light. For some reason, I found these windows really special and ended up clicking some of their effects on the church.

Corridor of colourful windows in St. Augustine's Church, Manila, Philippines
I am sure you will understand what I am saying when you see the pictures and even better if you get to visit this church in the Intramuros area of Manila.

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Georgetown: Enjoy Great Food and Culture in Colonial Times

Penang is Malaysia’s food capital and Georgetown is its colonial hub. Together, they make a combination that very few in the world can match. They allow you to soak in Georgetown’s colonialism and rich history while wetting your palate with some yummylicious Penang food.

An Ornate Door in Penang's Georgetown, Malaysia
Penang is an island located on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia and Georgetown is its capital and located on one corner of it. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site that was founded in 1786 as one of the three straits settlements under the British rule. This British influence can be seen almost everywhere in the old town that exists as a UNESCO heritage site today.

Camera  Museum, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Be it Fort Cornwallis, the cobbled paths so reminiscent of Europe, the Queen Victoria clock tower, St. George’s Church, Church of the Assumption, Penang City Hall, Penang Town Hall and many others, one can feel and see the colonialism effect everywhere.

Entrance to an old house in Penang's Georgetown, Malaysia
But, this is just one side of Penang. Its cosmopolitan population that includes Chinese, Malaysians and Indians make for one interesting mix. And then add Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism into the mix to form a combo that has the potential to amaze the whole world.

Fort Cornwallis, Georgetown, Malaysia
Whether, you are at Jalan Pelang, Lebuah Chulia, Lorong Chulia, Lebuh Pasar, Campbell St, Jalan Muntri, Love Lane or any of the small streets in the heritage zone, you are bound to come across sights that will keep your mind bedazzled for a long while. For starters, you will see many heritage houses and the one that tops the list is the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, which is popularly known as the Rockefeller of the East and JP Morgan of China.

The insides of a Chinese temple in Georgetown, Malaysia
There are many interesting museums too, like the Penang State Museum, but the one that really interested the photographer in me was the Camera Museum that showcased cameras, related accessories and photographs from the yester years.

At the entrance of the Chinese temple in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Then, there is Little India with its loudspeakers, spices, colours and vibrant smells. The Hindu temples, its interesting culture and spicy food are there to appeal to all. The Kapitan Keling Mosque, one of the most prominent mosques of Penang also falls under this zone. Then, there are these beautiful Buddhist temples – Wat Chaiyamangalaram and Dhammikarma Burmese Buddhist temples and the Chinese temples – Hainanese temples and Kuan Yin Teng. It is such an interesting experience to see the culture that is an integral part of these various religions and temples and it is even better if you get to participate in it.

Inside the camera museum at Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Georgetown is all about its food (especially the street food and the night markets), its easy walks around the heritage zone, its religious sites, its colorful markets, especially on Campbell Street and Little India. In my mind, it is perfect for a 3 to 4 day detour from Langkawi, the Thai border, Kuala Lumpur or the Cameron Highlands.

Tri Shaw on the streets of Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
To get here, you can either fly straight into Penang, take the ferry from Langkawi, take the train from KL and take the efficient road network of Peninsular Malaysia.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Travel Photo: Colonial Georgetown

Malaysia’s Georgetown is one of those places that doesn’t look Asian, especially in its UNESCO world heritage zone. Instead, it looks more like England with its rich colonial structures, cobbled paths and well maintained historic buildings. After all, it has had such a rich colonial past.

A colonial building that functions as Georgetown's dispensary
If you were to walk in Georgetown’s UNESCO world heritage site, you will see a HSBC bank in an old colonial building and also the local post office. In fact, its dispensaries and hospitals also make use of the beautiful structures built in the late 19th century. It is quite a sight for the traveler who explores this island town and ends up seeing great sights such as these.

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Travel Photo: Entrance to Angkor Thom, Cambodia

The Angkor Archaeological park is a sensational place with a lot of beautiful temples like Angkor Wat, Prasat Bayon, Ta Prohm, Terrace of the Elephants and more, but sometimes you don’t have to visit these temples to gape in wonder at its beauty. Instead, their walls and gateways can induce the same effect.

Beautiful South gate of Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Cambodia
You will feel such an emotion rush just before you enter the Angkor Thom complex as you will be facing the mighty south gate of Angkor Thom with its insanely beautiful gate entrance. This gate entrance has the same faces on its tower as the Bayon temple and has a whole lane of sculptures of guards in front of that gate. And to add more appeal is the moat surrounding Angkor Thom.

Elephants on the south gate of Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Cambodia
A truly special experience much before you set sights on the top attractions of a destination. Climb on top of this gate through the dirt trail to get an even better view.

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Ta Prohm: Siem Reap's Jungle Temple

This temple was immortalized by the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. It’s giant roots and jungle setting is what brings tourists to it in great numbers. Along with Angkor Wat and Bayon Temple, Ta Prohm makes for the 3 most important and most popular temples in the Angkor Archaeological park.

Mighty tree trunk at Ta Prohm
This temple, built in the 12th century is located one kilometre east of the Bayon temple is today in a state of ruins where there are more tree roots than the actual temple itself. But, that is the aura of this place. The Archaeological Survey of India is helping the local group in setting this temple right to its former glory.

Ta Prohm taken over by giant Banyan roots
Unlike other temples in the Angkor complex where the best times to visit is early morning or late evening, the best time to visit Ta Prohm is around noon time when the sun is straight overhead. This being a jungle temple, it is densely vegetated and very difficult for light to enter in at other times of the day.

The jungle setting of Ta Prohm temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia
But, this is also the time when the temple is the most crowded as everyone knows that this is the best time to visit the temple. If you looking to photograph the key sights and want the place to be clear of people, then you need to wait it out as tourists usually come in clusters. If you want an off-beat photography experience, check out this temple in the early morning hours when you will more or less have the entire temple to yourself.

Ta Prohm - the jungle temple of Siem Reap, Cambodia
This Mahayana Buddhist temple that was originally called Rajavihara is oriented to the east. Unlike other Angkor temples which has stunning bas reliefs, this temple has few few and is very popular only because of its jungle setting and ruins.

Stone of the Ta Prohm Temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Go on and see this UNESCO World Heritage site temple and the fig, banyon and kapok trees that spread their gigantic roots over stones, walls and terraces. Its strange, haunted look will make you feel like you went through a time shift into the ancient world!!

I explored this temple as part of an invite from the tourism authority of Thailand and Ministry of Tourism of Cambodia.

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Prasat Bayon: My Favorite Temple of Cambodia

The temples of Siem Reap have to be one of the best temple clusters in the world. There is the world famous Angkor Wat, there is the jungle temple of Ta Prohm, there is the serene and beautifully carved Banteay Srei, there is the beautiful temples in the Angkor Thom complex. Amongst all of these, my personal favorite is Prasat Bayon or popularly known as Bayon Temple.

Beautiful faces of the Bayon Temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia
This Buddhist temple, built in the late 12th century by King Jayavarman VII stands right in the middle of the Angkor Thom complex and is special because of its massive size and the 216 faces depicted on its 54 towers. It is believed that this temple was originally a temple mountain conforming to the symbolism of Mount Meru.

The stunning Bayon Faces, Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Cambodia
The best time to visit this temple is an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset. That is when the light is good and you can climb and explore this mighty temple without breaking a sweat. This also allows you to couple a Bayon visit with a Angkor Wat visit as Angkor Wat is best seen during sunrise and sunset.

Bayon Faces bathed in sunshine, Siem Reap. Cambodia
The majestic faces of the Bayon temple can make you go around in circles. Some faces have curving lips, some have a smile, some have serene expressions, etc. and this makes you imagine the true meaning of these faces.

The faces of Bayon Temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia
It is believed that these faces are images of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara and that they signify the omnipresence of the king. The characteristics of these faces – a broad forehead, downcast eyes, wild nostrils, thick lips that curl upwards slightly at the ends combine to reflect the famous ‘Smile of Angkor’.

A smiling face at Bayon Temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia
There are different levels in the Bayon temple. The ground level is full of intricately carved bas reliefs that show fights with Cham warriors and other warriors. festivals with cocokfights, everyday market scenes and more. There are a total of more than 11,000 carved figures over 1.2 kilometres of temple wall. As you climb up to the 3rd level, you will see a lot of apsaras, more bas reliefs and finally the faces of the Avalokitesvara.

War Stories carved on the entrance walls of Bayon Temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Sensational Bayon Temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Go on and explore the Bayon temple, the most striking expression of the baroque style of Khmer architecture.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Noodle Strainer Village of Thailand

There are so many places around the world that are so small that they are hardly visible on the map and definitely not on the tourist map. But, they are big on the work that they do or are truly classy. I found such a place in Central Thailand when I went on a trip as part of an invite from the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Ban Krathong Yam village and its noodle strainers
This village is called Ban Dong Krathong Yam and they are specialists in making the famous noodle strainers of Thailand. The people of this village are actually an ancient tribe and their culture is very unique to this village. Even though they are Theravada Buddhists like the rest of Thailand, their art, sculpture and foods are slightly different.

Young Thai School Girls at Ban Dong Krathong Yam Village, Thailand
This village located in the Prachin Buri province of Central Thailand is one of those destinations you should head to if you like a rural holiday. Their unique culture, their friendliness, their amazing food, their interesting games and deep-rooted spiritual beliefs make for an amazing interaction. And then you have the beautiful and green countryside of Thailand with those swaying green paddy fields that make for scenic and serene nature. All in a all, a great rural holiday destination.

Tribal Woman making noodle strainers at Ban Dong Krathong Yam Village, Thailand
Even though this village is self sufficient, it always helps to some additional money flow in through tourism and this money will help in providing better education to the kids of the village. If you go plan to go here as a tourist and stay in one of their homestays, apart from spending a relaxed holiday, you can also impart some of your knowledge and education to them.

Games played in Ban Dong Krathong Yam village, Thailand
If you wish to indulge in a green rural holiday, wish to meet great village folk and overall, wish to do something that is off the beaten track in Thailand, this is one place you need to look up and I am sure you will end up liking it.

A Buddhist Monk at Ban Dong Krathong Yam, Thailand
I spent only half a day at this village, but was totally bowled over by the truly yummy food that I had here. I have to say that it was some of the best Thai food that I have ever tasted and it is that very taste that might take me to this place again in the near future.

Buddhist Monks walk in Ban Dong Krathong Yam Village, Thailand
And while you are there, do not forget to try one of their favorite games, where you have to balance yourself on 2 separate sticks without touching the ground. It is tough and yet a lot of fun.

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Travel Photo: A different Angkor Wat

Generally, when we see pictures of Angkor Wat, it is the front of the temple we see. And mostly the front during sunrise and sunset and its reflections in the pond in front of the temple. But, that is the not the end of this historical wonder. This massive temple offers a lot to the interested explorer. It has size, its has girth, it has intricate carvings, it has stories, it is important to both Hindus and Buddhists and finally it has a stamp of authority.

Steep flight of steps to the 3rd level of Angkor Wat, Cambodia
While I was there at Angkor Wat recently for the second time this year as part of an invite from the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Ministry of Tourism of Cambodia, I took this shot while waiting for my team members to climb down from the top level of Angkor Wat. This photo is taken from the west side and highlights the 3 levels of this tall temple. The steep stairs are also an interesting experience. I think tnhe West side an especially the view of the 3 levels of Angkor Wat offer a very interesting perspective to the traveller looking to explore Cambodia’s top tourist attraction.

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Friday, November 08, 2013

Bhutan…Here I come!!

Come Sunday morning, I will be on my way to Bhutan. If all goes to plan, I will be in the Himalayas after 2 years and the Eastern Himalayas in particular after 3 years. Both these previous trips were fantastic and were winter trips just like this one. Personally, I love winter trips to the Himalayas as visibility is great, crowd is lesser and you get off season discounts. Just writing about it is making me visualize those blue skies, snow capped peaks and beautiful Buddhist monasteries.

Regarding the logistics, I got a great deal on Spicejet from Bangalore till Guwahati (return) for 8,200 INR and am then taking the train to Alipur Duar. The final journey into Thimphu is by bus after I complete immigration at the Phuntsoling border. Then, I move from the West to the East of this Himalayan kingdom slowly. More details about the trip can be found in my earlier post, ‘Backpacking to Bhutan’.

Unlike my other travels, I am not going to be working at all and am taking a complete holiday. The only gadgets I am going to be carrying with me are camera, my phone and e-reader. Have bought 60 odd books and intend to read as many of them during my 3 week trip and of course plan to click a lot of beautiful pictures.

However, during my absence, the blog will not remain inactive as I have scheduled some posts to keep you occupied and to let those travel juices flow this winter.

I will see you all in the month of December. Cheers and happy travels to all of you!

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Thursday, November 07, 2013

Travel Checklist for Winter Backpacking Trips

Last year, I had written a travel checklist for long backpacking trips. Today, as the winter fast approaches us, I am putting together this travel checklist for winter backpacking trips where the temperatures range from 15 to –15 degree Celsius. Such trips may include short to long winter treks. While most of the gear from normal backpacking trips feature on this list too, this list finds some additions to combat the low temperatures, wind chill factor and of course cold rain or snow.

Travel checklist for winter backpacking trips
Excluding camera and laptop/tablet, try and keep the pack below 10 kilograms.

Note 1: The below list is for a MALE in the early 30s with medium tenacity to cold.

Note 2: Some of the items below are marked optional. Use your discretion.

1) Passport with at least 6 months validity, though more is advised
2) Yellow fever card if you are coming from an infected country – Optional
3) Travel Insurance document for the length of your journey to take care of contingencies and medical emergencies – Optional, though heavily recommended
4) Credit Card – 2 (one for regular use and one for backup) – Optional
5) Debit Card – 2 (one for regular use and one for backup)
6) Forex, as required. Though, you can withdraw from the country using your international debit/ATM card – Optional
7) Flight/Train/Bus Tickets
8) 16 Passport size photographs (for visas and other documentation)
9) Accommodation vouchers, if you have booked in advance – Optional
10) Soft copies of all important travel documents in hard disk, phone and/or on the cloud (web)

Baggage and Important Accessories
1) Backpack (40 –65 L) with rain cover – don’t put stuff into this that you don’t want to check in or leave at your hotel/hostel/guest house
2) Day pack/Camera pack/Waist pack/Lumbar pack with rain cover – put all valuable stuff in it and keep it with you at all times
3) Copy of all important documents in daypack and backpack. Copies include (bills of all camera gear so that you don’t get questioned at customs, passport, visa, travel insurance) 
4) Featherweight Poncho – to protect yourself and valuables from rain or snow
5) 800 Down Sleeping Bag (upto –15 degrees Celsius), preferably small in size and of less weight – is not required if you plan to stay in heated accommodation
6) Collapsible Thermal Pillow – optional

Electronics (Alert: Batteries run out faster in cold weather) 
1) Camera and necessary accessories (charger, memory cards, micro fiber cloth, etc.)
2) Cellphone, its charger and Headphones/Earphones
3) Laptop/Tablet and related accessories (External Hard disk, Charger, etc.) – Optional
4) e-Reader – Optional
5) Universal Travel Adaptor

Important Tools/Gear
1) Swiss Army Knife – Optional, but good to have
2) Headlamp or Hand Torch and Batteries (1 set in headlamp and one in spare)
3) Sunglasses – 1 pair
4) Ballpoint pen - 1
5) Pocket book –1 (to take notes) – Optional 

1) Hiking Boots (preferably waterproof) – 1 pair
2) Bathroom slippers – 1 pair (Optional)

Regular Wear
1) Half sleeve or full sleeve shirt or T Shirts – 4 (Personally, I prefer half sleeves)
2) Thin or Thick Cotton Pants – 2 (Personally, I prefer thin cottons in spite of cold)
3) Night Cotton Shorts – 1
4) Swimming Trunks – 1 (for those crazy enough to get into water during winter)
5) Vests – 6 pairs (Can also double up as sleeping trunks for the night)
6) Bandana – 6 – Optional (I love bandanas and hence this features in my list)
7) Thin Bathing Towel – 1
8) Cotton Socks – 3 pairs
9) Light weight Belt – 1 (Optional, but recommended to hold your pants even while you lose those inches while traveling)

Thermal Wear
1) Sleeveless Down Jacket – 1 (for 0 to -15 degree Celsius)
2) Day-to-Day use thin fleece jacket – 1 (for 0 to 15 degree Celsius)
3) Upper Thermal Wear - 1
4) Lower Thermal Wear – 1 (Optional)
5) Woolen Mittens – 1 pair (for below zero degree Celsius and wind chill)
6) Hunting or Photography Gloves (Mittens) – 1 pair (for 0 to 10 degree Celsius)
7) Cold Weather Socks – 2 pairs
8) Neck Scarf (Woolen) – 1 (Optional)
9) Ski Cap - 1
10) Fleece Balaclava – 1 (Optional)

Toiletries (Small sizes only)
1) Soap bar and Soap box or Liquid Soap
2) Shaving Kit
3) Roll On Deodorant
4) Toothbrush
5) Toothpaste
6) Moisturizer and/or Cold Cream
7) Lip Chap stick
8) Sunscreen – Optional
9) Perfume – Optional 

1) Poly Bags (Trash Bags or Plastic Bags) – to carry dirty laundry and/or for protecting clothes and gear from the elements
2) Zip Loc Bags (for storing  papers, money, important documents, wallet, etc.)

First Aid Kit
For a detailed first aid travel kit, look up here.

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Wednesday, November 06, 2013

How to take great travel photos?

It doesn’t matter whether you are using your phone camera, your tablet, your point and shoot, your entry level DSLR or a full frame camera, you all have the opportunity to click great travel photos. Today, the quality of equipment is improving by the day, which means that if you take care of some basics, you have the power to click photographs that scream ‘WOW’. These tips are  what I have learned from my travel photography experiences, from discussions with other photographers, from mistakes I committed and learnings from other travelers I have met during my travels.

And these are beyond the basics of photography, viz. Exposure, Composition, Light, Frame, Shutter, Aperture, etc.

Here are those 12 simple travel photography tips that will help you take those beautiful photos on your next trip.
India's famous elephant safari

1) Always keep the sun behind you
In the morning hours (once the golden sunrise time is over), face west. In the afternoon hours (before the golden sunset time arrives), face east. The idea behind this is to keep the sun behind you and thus ensuring that your object/subjects bathe in good light and you end up making a good photograph.

An evening scene in the western himalayas of India
The opposite would have led to dark objects/subjects against a bright background. The only time the opposite would work is when you want to take silhouettes.
Setting sun from the Channakeshava Temple, Belur

2) Never miss the golden hours
As an individual, I like to sleep late in the mornings, but when I travel, the travel photographer in me forces me to get up much before sunrise. The reason being the first 2 hours of light after sunrise is what is typically referred to as the golden period for photography. The same holds good for 2 hours of light prior to sunset. During this time, the natural light makes for some stunning and soothing pictures.

First rays of the sun on the snow capped Eastern Himalayas of Arunachal Pradesh
Pictures taking during this golden period hardly needs any editing as the light is not bright and there is no distraction. Apart from making for great photos, these golden hours allow you to see different people scenes and stunning landscape views.
Orange hues of this Maasai Mara sunset, Kenya

3) Research, Research, Research
Most of the travel photographers have a lot of time at hand and stay at a location for many days and at different times and this allows them to click those eye catching pictures. Most of the normal travelers do not have that kind of time at hand, but wish to take good pictures. To maximize your potential of your photography output, you should try and research as much as possible prior to arriving at your photography location. Read travel guides, look up the internet, check out post cards, get to know the iconic images and basically create your shot lists.

The famous Angkor Wat Sunrise, Cambodia
Find out what you want to click and how you should prepare yourself for it. Ask questions like do I go in the morning when the market is in full flow or do I go in the evening when the lighting is better. All great pictures were taken when the concerned elements fell in place and thereby a little research from your end can help some of the elements fall in place for you to take your great travel photo.
Banaue Rice Terraces of Philippines - a sight to behold

4) Identify vantage points
Find out those vantage points that make for great photos. You can either do your own research or ask for tips from locals. As a thumb rule, this is one of the first things I do when I enter a city. I start looking for view points.

The smoking Bromo and Semeru in the background, East Java, Indonesia
These view points can be bridges, roof top bars and restaurants, high rise buildings, a view point on the top of a hill that is at the end of a hiking trail, mountain tops, iconic view points (like Hong Kong’s peak) and more. The views from these vantage points might make your best travel photos from that trip.
Koh Nang Yuan - one of the prettiest islands in the world

5) Find out where the action is?
If you like people, portraits, street photography and such related genres of photography, you will need to find the action hotspots of your destination.

Celebrating New Year by leaving floating lanterns into the sky, chiang mai, thailand
These action hotspots can be festivals, live shows, political rallies, public demonstrations, local markets, parties, etc. Pick an event that suits your liking and be present there to take a lot of great travel photos.
Fire Show on Ko Phi Phi Beach, Thailand

6) Make your subjects comfortable
One of the best things about travel is the new people that you meet. Their looks, their mannerisms, their culture, their food, their religion and their lifestyle is possibly the main reasons why we travel. And if you look at the greatest travel photos, they are either destinations or people. Now, the million dollar question is how do you make the best people photos.

Elderly Ifugao Tribal Woman at Banaue Rice Terraces, Philippines
Well, if you ask me, I would say, ‘Make these people comfortable with you’. Ask them for their permission prior to clicking their pictures, respect their privacy, speak at least a couple of words in their language, try to engage in a small conversation with them and if nothing works just keep smiling.

Alit and his 85 kilogram sulphur load - Kawah Ijen, Indonesia
Generally, this makes the people comfortable with you and they allow you to take those smiling photographs of theirs which you want. And once you show them their beautiful smiling picture on your display, they will be more than happy to pose more for you.

Long Necked Karen Women of Inle Lake, Burma
If you want natural photographs and have the big lenses, you can try and skip some of the above techniques, but I would still recommend them. Sometimes people expect a small fee to pose for you. This is typically a small amount and allows you to photograph them in multiple angles and snap them in different moments.

Young Myanmar girls with Thanaka on their faces
Kids make for great photographs. The best way to take a good kid photograph is to become a kid yourself. Smile, smile, smile, throw some antics, click some pictures and show it to the kids and do something that attracts the kid’s attention.
Smiling Balinese Kids at Sukowati market, Bali, Indonesia

7) Always carry your camera with you
How can you click those beautiful travel photos if you do not have a camera with you. Whether it is a DSLR, a point and shoot, a tablet, a phone or any device that has a camera in it, ensure that you have at least one of them with you at all times. That way, you will not repent for having lost that special moment.
It is not every day that you see a Monk operating an ATM

8) Never say ‘that’s enough’
As a travel photographer, I never stop clicking pictures. But, that doesn’t mean I am making the same frames. I make different frames. Click the same frames at different times of the day. Find different angles and vantage points. Change my objects and subjects. Play with the lighting. Get as many different shots as possible. Sometimes as a person, we are unable to pre-visualize our frame. But, our camera is and we find that out when we see our clicks on the camera’s display. If you stop taking pictures, you will never find that frame. If you are persistent, you will find the image that screams ‘WOW’.
Colonial Building in Yangon, Burma

9) Keep Horizons Level
One of the classiest mistakes that I have seen in the travel photos clicked by amateurs is that they forget to align the horizon and this makes a great frame look ugly. And such mistakes are more common with water photographs or somewhere where that gives you an idea of the true horizon. Either you do the horizon setting (using camera controls and common sense) before taking the pictures or do it in post editing. The choice is entirely yours!
Scenic Pangong Tso Lake of Ladakh, India

10) Plan for the weather
Those turquoise colours in the tropical waters of south east Asia were in all probability taken during the dry months when the sun shines at its brightest. Don’t expect to click such pictures when you are planning to go during the rainy season. Instead, plan for taking clouds, huge waves, etc. Similarly, the green colours come out best after a season of rains and if you go during the dry season, you will see a not so green landscape.
Cloudy afternoon at Choeng Mon Beach, Koh Samui, Thailand

11) Clutter doesn’t look good
When we are visiting those UNESCO World heritage sites and popular tourist attractions, there are many people like us who are clicking pictures and invariably they or someone else come into the frame. These unwanted subjects or objects are what I call clutter. It distracts the people looking at the photograph. In order to avoid this clutter, take frames against the sky or against walls or if you using a camera where you can control the depth of field, use a narrow depth of field and higher background blur.
An elderly Buddhist gentleman from Ladakh, India

12) Respect Wildlife rules
This might not always make great travel photos, but will definitely make you a good travel citizen. As a wildlife lover, a lot of my travels take me to rainforests, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries and here I see normal tourists not respecting the rules of the forest.

Beisa Oryx horns in perfect symmetry at Samburu National Reserve, Kenya
They smoke in a no smoking zone, throw trash around, make a lot of noise and feed wild animals, all of which are a strict No-No.

Wild Buffalo stares at us while attempting to cross the jeep track at Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India
Instead, if you follow the wildlife rules, stay patient and are quiet, you will see a lot of wildlife and if you have the right camera gear, you can also make great wildlife photos.

13) Let your heart rate subside
Finally, remember to let you heart rate subside after a physical activity (climb, trek, brisk walk, run, swim, etc.) before you take the picture. This will help eradicate the camera shake caused by a fast beating heart.

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Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Goodbye stress, hello holiday!

Picture the scene, if you will – a busy train platform, people everywhere, children running around, commuters holding coffee, reading newspapers, then out of nowhere, the calm is spoilt by a slightly manic looking woman, hair flailing, running over everyone’s toes with an oversized wheeled suitcase, wheezing slightly from being a little late …

That manic looking woman is usually me.

Yes, I am that woman running across the train platform, usually late, and unable to lift her suitcase onto the train without help because it’s basically too damn heavy.

I don’t enjoy getting to the airport, no matter how much I enjoy the rest of the holiday, and I usually show up on my first beach day sporting bruises from banging myself repeatedly with my suitcase. Everyone else around me? Yes, they generally have bruises too.

It’s no good for me, and it’s no good for anyone in the general vicinity either.

It’s through one too many of these experiences that I forced myself to find a better way. You can all breathe a sigh of relief now.

Driving myself to the airport means this panic and stress is eliminated, and it’s also much cheaper. Train fares these days are going up and up, and finding a cheap deal isn’t easy. Finding a cheap deal on airport parking however, well that’s just par for the course.

The first time I booked this service I used Gatwick parking, and I found the whole experience fantastic from start to finish. The convenience of taking my time getting to the airport, perhaps stopping off for a coffee, having loaded up the car with my luggage in plenty of time, really was a much less stressful experience, and nobody’s toes were squashed from my suitcase. I also discovered that you can stay at an airport hotel overnight for very little extra. I booked my Gatwick Airport hotels through Airparks and found great value, alongside some fantastic facilities. It was probably the least stressful airport experience I’ve ever had!

I now regularly use this service, and no matter where you fly from you’ll find a service to suit.

Kissing goodbye to those expensive trains, coaches and even airport taxis means more money to spend whilst you’re on holiday, after all, more money means more enjoyment. Nobody wants to be scrimping whilst they’re away, we save far too long and hard for our two weeks’ in the sun, so it makes sense to save wherever possible. Those pennies really do add up into pounds after all.

Check out what’s available at your airport when you’re booking your holiday, whether you’re heading away during winter or summer, and you’ll save yourself stress and money to boot – oh, and you won’t see me running down the platform again either!

About the author: Molly Austin is the content creator for Airparks and she has a passion for fashion, fun and travelling.

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Monday, November 04, 2013

JetWings Magazine features my travel photo

Has anyone of you traveled by Jet Airways in the past month? And if you have, have you read the October edition of their in-flight magazine JetWings? Well, the reason I ask these questions is because one of my travel photos has been featured in the October edition of JetWings, the in-flight magazine of Jet Airways. The photograph is in an article titled “Explore the blue planet” that talks about underwater activities and destinations in India. It is a great article if you like to see how the world looks below the ocean surface.

Below are pictures to help you find the article. Happy travels!

JetWings Oct 2014 edition cover
Article where my photograph was featured
My featured photograph - JetWings Magazine

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Friday, November 01, 2013

Top 10 Budget Honeymoon Destinations in South East Asia

Off late and especially after spending 270 continuous days backpacking across SE Asia, a lot of my family and friends have been asking me questions about travel in South East Asia and these questions have more or less revolved around ‘Budget Travel’ and ‘Honeymoon Planning’ and I thought why not merge these two train of thoughts and create a post that caters to this unique, yet highly popular combination. And that’s how I built this list of top 10 budget honeymoon destinations across South East Asia.

The premise behind this list is simple and has been listed below:

1) Each honeymoon destination is close to an airport
2) They have quality accommodation
3) Have enough things to indulge in for today’s adventure seeking couples
4) Don’t drill a big hole in your pockets, and finally
5) It has enough variety in it for all kinds of couples

Here goes the list. I hope that it helps you with your budget honeymoon planning.

Luang Prabang, Laos
Newly Wed Laos Couple in traditional attire
This French colonial town’s quiet, easy and laidback riverside ambience is just the perfect way for a couple to explore together. There are lovely river facing hotels designed in French architecture, there are these golden Buddhist temples, stunning waterfalls, cave temples, pristine countryside, great river cruises and more. And to top it there are many street markets and shopping opportunities.

Perfect for: Honeymooners looking for a relaxed holiday with good cultural experience, lots of beautiful natural sights and lots of good local food.

Best Season: September to March

Nearest Airport: Luang Prabang

Recommended to do/visit: Luang Prabang, the city, which in itself is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Wat Xieng Thong, Mount Funsi, Kuang Xi Waterfall and Ting Cave.

Other Recommended Destinations located close by: Nong Khiaw and Muang Knoi for a quiet riverside retreat.

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
A door in Tirta Empul Temple, Bali, Indonesia
Bali has been a top honeymoon destination for a long time now and it is not surprising that it finds a place in my top 10. But, the catch is that most of the people go to Bali’s beach resorts, which are more pricey and more crowded, but instead, I recommend Ubud, in central Bali, which has a lot of Balinese culture and is away from the heavy traffic of South Bali. The best way to enjoy your honeymoon would be to stay in a private Balinese homestay nestled amidst the paddy fields. Balinese Hinduism culture, its beautiful temples, lots of shopping opps and tons of peace are on offer in and around Ubud and when you feel like hitting the beach, you can head to the coast, which is just an hour away.

Perfect for: Honeymooners looking for a native experience and who are looking to stay out in the laps of nature.

Best Season: June to October and if rains are not a problem, then all the year round.

Nearest Airport: Denpasar, Bali

Recommended to do/visit: Goa Gajah Cave, Pura Ulan Danu Batur temple and Volcano, Pura Tirtha Empul temple, Sukowati Market, many other temples, lakes and mountain side.

Other Recommended Destinations located close by: Kintamani for cooler climes and Kuta, Tanjung Benoa, Nusa Dua for the south beach culture.

Ko Lanta, Thailand
Ko Lanta's oldest lighthouse
The beaches and islands of Thailand have to find a place in this list. And right on top of all the islands lie Ko Lanta, a beautiful and long tropical island that lies in the upper Andaman waters of Thailand. It has all the ingredients for a perfect beach holiday minus the crowds. It’s waters are great for scuba diving and snorkeling, there is good night life with lots of parties and clubs, it has great sea food, its national parks and caves offers incredible trekking and bird watching opportunities and finally its long stretch of blue seas and green forests are easily visited on a cycle or motorbike. Ko Lanta’s friendly people are just the icing on the cake.

Perfect for: Honeymooners looking for a beach destination with some land adventure, apart from underwater sports.

Best Season: All year round, except for Mar and April, when it gets a bit warm, but such weather brings in great underwater visibility and offers the perfect excuse to be in the water.

Nearest Airport: Phuket

Recommended to do/visit: Scuba Diving, Snorkeling, Relaxing on the beach, Beach Parties, Staying on the beach and watching the starry night from on the beach while sipping cocktails and tasting fresh sea food.

Other Recommended Destinations located close by: Ko Phi Phi for more scuba diving, Krabi for rock climbing and Phangnga Bay to see the stunning limestone karsts jutting out of the ocean.

Chiang Mai, Thailand
Celebrating New Year by leaving floating lanterns into the sky, chiang mai, thailand
Thailand is not just about beaches, and no place justifies that statement like Chiang Mai. This city located at the foot of the mountains is known for its vibrant festivals, its temples, its night markets, its tiger temple and all the national parks and tribal settlements located close to it. The food here is sensational too. And when you feel adventurous, the couple can rent a super bike and explore the sensational mountains of north Thailand.

Perfect for: Honeymooners looking for a place that is cosmopolitan in outlook, but offers tons of opportunities to understand culture, while indulging in some adventure.

Best Season: All year round, except for the rainy season. The city rocks during the Loi Krathong Festival and during New Year’s eve.

Nearest Airport: Chiang Mai

Recommended to do/visit: Doi Inthanon National Park, Tiger Temple, Doi Suthep Temple, Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phantao, Sunday Night Market

Other Recommended Destinations located close by: Pai, Mae Hong Son and the land of 1864 curves

Ko Rong, Cambodia
Your own private Long Beach on Cambodia's Koh Rong Island
The beaches of this island have been voted as one of the best in the world. The waters here are known for their photo phosphorescence. And long stretches of white sands are as remote as they can be. This has to be one of the top romantic, yet rustic beach destinations where you swim, lie on the beach, go for a hike, swim some more, watch starry skies and eat good food. The other thing you can do is go for fishing, take boat cruises to discover more of the island and indulge in some scuba diving, though it is not necessarily the best.

Perfect for: Honeymooners looking for an off beat beach destination that is remote and insanely beautiful

Best Season: All year round, except for the rainy season.

Nearest Airport: Phnom Penh

Recommended to do/visit: Long Beach, Hikes, Fishing Trips, Boat Cruises, Watch Photo Phosphorescence on no moon nights and understand the local culture

Other Recommended Destinations located close by: Sihanoukville for its parties and great sea food, especially the baby squids.

Hoi An, Vietnam
Clothes and tailoring can be seen everywhere in Hoi An, Vietnam
2 UNESCO World Heritage sites, tropical islands nearby with white corals, a river that runs right through it, beautiful paddy fields and countryside and insanely close to the South China sea and the beaches. That is how I can simply describe Hoi An. Located in central Vietnam, this place has it all and hence irrespective of your interests, you are always bound to find this place special. You can go cycling through its countryside, you can go enjoy the beaches located a 30 minute bicycle ride away, you can do tons of shopping, you can eat lots of local food and enjoy the overall cultural experience.

Perfect for: Honeymooners looking for a full on holiday experience that has a bit of everything.

Best Season: All year round

Nearest Airport: Danang

Recommended to do/visit: Hoi An Heritage Area, Dine by the An Hoi riverside, the ruins of My Son, Marble Mountains, Cham Islands and stitch yourself a suit.

Other Recommended Destinations located close by: Danang, Hue and the Tam Coc river near Ninh Binh.

Langkawi, Malaysia
Skybridge at Langkawi cable car, Malaysia
Malaysia is blessed with a lot of islands and beach destinations and the one that truly stands out as a honeymoon destination is Langkawi. Its beautiful beaches, offshore islands and dense tropical forests make it a tropical favorite. This place is ideal for those people looking for some adventure, but not too much. There are mangrove forests, watersports, view points, great dining options and lots of shopping opportunities.

Perfect for: Honeymooners looking for a beach holiday that is more relaxing and low on the adventure scale

Best Season: All year round, except for the rainy season of June, July and August.

Nearest Airport: Langkawi

Recommended to do/visit: Mangrove Forest tour, Fishing Boat Trips, Langkawi Cable Car and Duty Free Shops

Other Recommended Destinations located close by: The UNESCO World Heritage site of Penang. 

El Nido, Philippines
Scenic Corong Corong Bay view of Palawan
Philippines has lots of beach holiday destinations, but the one that makes to this list is El Nido. Located in the northern part of the thinly populated Palawan Island, El Nido is famous for its island hopping, scuba diving, snorkeling and stunning sights. It’s parties are not on the range of Boracay, but they are good nonetheless. The dining experience here is also pretty special.

Perfect for: Honeymooners looking for a beach holiday that means lot of opportunities of getting into the water, seeing beautiful mother nature and enjoying great sea food.

Best Season: All year round, except for the typhoon season of August to October.

Nearest Airport: Puerto Princesa City

Recommended to do/visit: Island Hopping, Fishing Boat Trips, Scuba Diving, Snorkeling, Beach Parties, Motorbike rides through the country side

Other Recommended Destinations located close by: Dagmay Beach, Nacpan Beach, Puerto Princesa underground river.

Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, Borneo, Malaysia
Western Tarsier at Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, Sabah, Malaysia
It would be unfair not to see a Borneo rainforest destination in this list. A lot of couples these days love to spend their honeymoon in the wild. And the rainforests of Borneo offer a perfect platform for such an experience. Boat cruises on the Kinabatangan river and day and night treks allow you to see some of Borneo’s rare wildlife like the orangutans, proboscis monkeys, the silver langurs, the tarsiers and those amazing hornbills. If you feel more adventurous, you can go kayaking in these crocodile infested waters. A river facing bungalow inside the rainforest will be your honeymoon abode here.

Perfect for: Honeymooners with passion for the wild.

Best Season: All year round, except for the rainy winter months

Nearest Airport: Sandakan

Recommended to do/visit: Boat Cruises, Wildlife Sighting, Birdwatching, Day and Night Treks

Other Recommended Destinations located close by: Sepilok Orangutan Re-Habitation Center

Inle Lake, Myanmar 
Near the floating gardens of Inle Lake, Burma
A lot of people would be surprised to see a Myanmar destination in this list, but the country has opened up quite a bit in the last couple of years and Inle Lake, one of the country’s hottest destinations finds its way in here. It’s unique culture of hydroponic farming, fishing with the legs, lotus stem thread based textile industry and its Cheroot industry make it a huge draw. The Shan food available here is one of the best cuisines of Burma.

Perfect for: Honeymooners with interests in going to an off beat country.

Best Season: October to March

Nearest Airport: Heho

Recommended to do/visit: Boat Cruises, Indein Temple, Local Tribes, Trek from Inle to Kalaw (for the adventurous), Floating Markets

Other Recommended Destinations located close by: the temples of Bagan

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