A Travellerspoint blog

March 2019

Halong Bay - spectacularly crowded but uniquely beautiful

The view of Halong Bay from the peak of Ti Top Island; Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the number 1 tourist destination in northern Vietnam

The view of Halong Bay from the peak of Ti Top Island; Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the number 1 tourist destination in northern Vietnam

The macaques were very entertaining but largely ignored the tourists except when they got too close; they knew the kayakers couldn't get onto their island

The macaques were very entertaining but largely ignored the tourists except when they got too close; they knew the kayakers couldn't get onto their island

Kayaking into Ba Trai Dao lagoon was the highlight of my visit to Halong Bay; there is no camping or other accommodation on land available in the bay

Kayaking into Ba Trai Dao lagoon was the highlight of my visit to Halong Bay; there is no camping or other accommodation on land available in the bay

The Chinese tourists were constantly taking photos and acting like they owned the place; they would not queue and were often pushy and irritating

The Chinese tourists were constantly taking photos and acting like they owned the place; they would not queue and were often pushy and irritating

The chef on our boat made fish nets out of large Vietnamese carrots; it was unreal watching the precision required to create such a perfect work of art

The chef on our boat made fish nets out of large Vietnamese carrots; it was unreal watching the precision required to create such a perfect work of art

In Vietnamese, Ha Long means descending dragon; dragons play a prominent role in Vietnamese culture, and the most popular legend has it that one such creature and her children descended from heaven to defend the Viet people from invaders

In Vietnamese, Ha Long means descending dragon; dragons play a prominent role in Vietnamese culture, and the most popular legend has it that one such creature and her children descended from heaven to defend the Viet people from invaders

Hardly anyone was swimming in the water but we had 5 brave souls venture into the water on Ti Top Island; it was at least a nice cool-off after hiking up the hill

Hardly anyone was swimming in the water but we had 5 brave souls venture into the water on Ti Top Island; it was at least a nice cool-off after hiking up the hill

The port area of Halong Bay was non-stop construction as local companies take advantage of the tourist boom; most boats go out at noon one day and return noon the next day

The port area of Halong Bay was non-stop construction as local companies take advantage of the tourist boom; most boats go out at noon one day and return noon the next day

Halong Bay is a 4 hour drive from Hanoi but a wonderful escape from the big city; Vietnam needs to better manage the thousands of boats on the bay to preserve this unique destination

Halong Bay is a 4 hour drive from Hanoi but a wonderful escape from the big city; Vietnam needs to better manage the thousands of boats on the bay to preserve this unique destination

The macaques would come down to the water line to look for mollusks to eat; there were large macaque families present at different places around the lagoon

The macaques would come down to the water line to look for mollusks to eat; there were large macaque families present at different places around the lagoon

There were thousands of people waiting to kayak or take a rowboat but we were able to bypass the line; Halong Bay was just way too crowded!

There were thousands of people waiting to kayak or take a rowboat but we were able to bypass the line; Halong Bay was just way too crowded!

Most of the limestone monoliths had no beaches but Ti Top Island had the largest (and most popular) beach we saw; I read where there is coral around the bay but didn't see evidence

Most of the limestone monoliths had no beaches but Ti Top Island had the largest (and most popular) beach we saw; I read where there is coral around the bay but didn't see evidence

We could either opt to kayak or to go on a boat that would be rowed for us; both options were about $10 but the kayaking allowed us to better explore the lagoon

We could either opt to kayak or to go on a boat that would be rowed for us; both options were about $10 but the kayaking allowed us to better explore the lagoon

Halong Bay has an area of around 600 sq mi, including 1,969 islets, most of which are limestone; the evolution of the karst in this bay has taken 20 million years under the impact of the tropical wet climate

Halong Bay has an area of around 600 sq mi, including 1,969 islets, most of which are limestone; the evolution of the karst in this bay has taken 20 million years under the impact of the tropical wet climate

This view at the top of Ti Top Island was the best in Halong Bay; the bay was probably fantastic 20 years ago before mass tourism arrived

This view at the top of Ti Top Island was the best in Halong Bay; the bay was probably fantastic 20 years ago before mass tourism arrived

At night, Halong Bay seemed like a floating city with the many boats all lit up; the boats ranged from barely seaworthy to luxurious with ours in between

At night, Halong Bay seemed like a floating city with the many boats all lit up; the boats ranged from barely seaworthy to luxurious with ours in between

Ti Top Island is named for a Russian cosmonaut who came here to visit with Ho Chi Minh; the island crowds bore a striking resemblance to Grand Central Station at rush hour

Ti Top Island is named for a Russian cosmonaut who came here to visit with Ho Chi Minh; the island crowds bore a striking resemblance to Grand Central Station at rush hour

In February 2011 a charter vessel sank, killing 12 people; witnesses said a plank simply tore away from the vessel's side; adding to worries about shoddy standards and un-seaworthiness, another vessel sank just 2 months later

In February 2011 a charter vessel sank, killing 12 people; witnesses said a plank simply tore away from the vessel's side; adding to worries about shoddy standards and un-seaworthiness, another vessel sank just 2 months later

The acrobatic jumps of the macaques made us nervous but they never missed a branch; the food on our boat was excellent and professionally presented

The acrobatic jumps of the macaques made us nervous but they never missed a branch; the food on our boat was excellent and professionally presented

Located inside Bo Hon Island, in the middle Halong Bay, Surprise Cave is considered the most magnificent cave in the bay; it can hold 1000 people but is a dead cave

Located inside Bo Hon Island, in the middle Halong Bay, Surprise Cave is considered the most magnificent cave in the bay; it can hold 1000 people but is a dead cave

The monoliths had intricate designs with arches, caves, lakes and unique shapes; I tried to imagine the bay with blue skies and turquoise waters

The monoliths had intricate designs with arches, caves, lakes and unique shapes; I tried to imagine the bay with blue skies and turquoise waters

One of the benefits of visiting Surprise Cave was this great view from the exit; one problem is there aren't enough activities for the masses on the tour boats so the few that exist are overcrowded

One of the benefits of visiting Surprise Cave was this great view from the exit; one problem is there aren't enough activities for the masses on the tour boats so the few that exist are overcrowded

Our cabin was better than I expected but the ship was pretty worn; our group had the ship to ourselves which was ideal since many would not have appreciated our karaoke performances

Our cabin was better than I expected but the ship was pretty worn; our group had the ship to ourselves which was ideal since many would not have appreciated our karaoke performances

The view of Surprise Cave as we approached; the name arose as early visitors were surprised at how large the cave was as they went further and further into it

The view of Surprise Cave as we approached; the name arose as early visitors were surprised at how large the cave was as they went further and further into it

We went to Surprise Cave when it opened at 7:30am to avoid the many other tourists which made our visit more enjoyable; most of the caves in the bay are, wisely, not open to the public

We went to Surprise Cave when it opened at 7:30am to avoid the many other tourists which made our visit more enjoyable; most of the caves in the bay are, wisely, not open to the public

There are multiple pearl farms in Halong Bay so we stopped to see how the pearls are made and had the opportunity to buy expensive pearl jewelry

There are multiple pearl farms in Halong Bay so we stopped to see how the pearls are made and had the opportunity to buy expensive pearl jewelry

Vietnam is one of the most important places on earth for primates, with at least 24 species, many of which occur only in Vietnam; Vietnam holds 5 of the top 25 most threatened primates species globally

Vietnam is one of the most important places on earth for primates, with at least 24 species, many of which occur only in Vietnam; Vietnam holds 5 of the top 25 most threatened primates species globally

I thought this looked like a huge boulder had just tumbled out of the middle of the monolith; I found it surprising that so many in Vietnam speak little to no English, even those in tourist jobs

I thought this looked like a huge boulder had just tumbled out of the middle of the monolith; I found it surprising that so many in Vietnam speak little to no English, even those in tourist jobs

There were hundreds of boats all headed out into Halong Bay at the same time;  all of these boats contribute to the bad pollution and hazy skies

There were hundreds of boats all headed out into Halong Bay at the same time; all of these boats contribute to the bad pollution and hazy skies

The scenery was spectacular but I was extremely distressed at the large amount of trash and pollution in the water; I never saw any fish or signs of aquatic life

The scenery was spectacular but I was extremely distressed at the large amount of trash and pollution in the water; I never saw any fish or signs of aquatic life

World Monuments Fund included the bay on the 2012 World Monuments Watch, citing tourism pressures and associated development as threats; the goal of watch-listing is to promote strategies of responsible heritage-driven development for a sustainable future

World Monuments Fund included the bay on the 2012 World Monuments Watch, citing tourism pressures and associated development as threats; the goal of watch-listing is to promote strategies of responsible heritage-driven development for a sustainable future

It looked like an entire new city was being built midway between Hanoi and Halong Bay; there were brand new freeways and lots of growth in this area only 3 hours from the Chinese border

It looked like an entire new city was being built midway between Hanoi and Halong Bay; there were brand new freeways and lots of growth in this area only 3 hours from the Chinese border

Halong City is the gateway to Halong Bay; most Asian tourists prefer to stay in hotels and just go out into the bay for day trips; the Chinese are also buying up real estate to get their money out of China

Halong City is the gateway to Halong Bay; most Asian tourists prefer to stay in hotels and just go out into the bay for day trips; the Chinese are also buying up real estate to get their money out of China

A growing number of tourists are skipping crowded Halong Bay and going to equally alluring Lan Ha Bay; I would have opted for either a longer trip or a trip to Lan Ha to avoid the masses here

A growing number of tourists are skipping crowded Halong Bay and going to equally alluring Lan Ha Bay; I would have opted for either a longer trip or a trip to Lan Ha to avoid the masses here

In 2012, New 7 Wonders Foundation officially named Halong Bay as one of New Seven Natural Wonders of the World; the drive from Hanoi took us past lots of rice paddies

In 2012, New 7 Wonders Foundation officially named Halong Bay as one of New Seven Natural Wonders of the World; the drive from Hanoi took us past lots of rice paddies

Posted by VagabondCowboy 01:24 Comments (0)

Boracay - one of the best beaches in the world!

Almost all visitors arrive to Boracay by flying into Caticlan airport which is tiny and on Panay island; you then take a trike to the ferry for the 15 minute bangka crossing and then another trike to your Boracay hotel

Almost all visitors arrive to Boracay by flying into Caticlan airport which is tiny and on Panay island; you then take a trike to the ferry for the 15 minute bangka crossing and then another trike to your Boracay hotel

Boracay is the top tourist destination in the Philippines with more than 2 million visitors a year; the magazine Travel   Leisure has ranked Boracay the best island in the world

Boracay is the top tourist destination in the Philippines with more than 2 million visitors a year; the magazine Travel + Leisure has ranked Boracay the best island in the world

Definitely one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen; fortunately, the Philippine government is working hard to improve the island and keep it a fantastic destination

Definitely one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen; fortunately, the Philippine government is working hard to improve the island and keep it a fantastic destination

Willy's Rock is one of the most photographed spots on Boracay; it's a tidal island with a statue of the Virgin Mary atop steps carved into the volcanic rock

Willy's Rock is one of the most photographed spots on Boracay; it's a tidal island with a statue of the Virgin Mary atop steps carved into the volcanic rock

Typical scene along the main road in Boracay; I think the island needs to halt new hotel construction until it's infrastructure can catch up with all of the growth

Typical scene along the main road in Boracay; I think the island needs to halt new hotel construction until it's infrastructure can catch up with all of the growth

Wonderful shaded path past all of the establishments facing the sea; it's great that there is no road (and no traffic and noise) near the beach

Wonderful shaded path past all of the establishments facing the sea; it's great that there is no road (and no traffic and noise) near the beach

The island is only 4 sq miles yet handles millions of tourists and is also home to 33,000 locals; almost all of the visitors I saw were Asian with just a handful of Aussies

The island is only 4 sq miles yet handles millions of tourists and is also home to 33,000 locals; almost all of the visitors I saw were Asian with just a handful of Aussies

Typical alley that goes from beach to main road; you have to traverse dirt stretches like this even to reach the nicest resorts that are oceanfront since there is no road along the water

Typical alley that goes from beach to main road; you have to traverse dirt stretches like this even to reach the nicest resorts that are oceanfront since there is no road along the water

With perfect sand, clear waters and great weather, Boracay is an ideal family beach getaway; the island is incredibly photogenic to the point where it seemed more people were taking photos than enjoying the beach

With perfect sand, clear waters and great weather, Boracay is an ideal family beach getaway; the island is incredibly photogenic to the point where it seemed more people were taking photos than enjoying the beach

February is the ideal month to visit before it gets too hot; the dry season is limited to February-May while even then brief showers can occur

February is the ideal month to visit before it gets too hot; the dry season is limited to February-May while even then brief showers can occur

The nicest thing about Puka Beach is that it is free of development; that doesn't keep tons of boats from visiting but it helps

The nicest thing about Puka Beach is that it is free of development; that doesn't keep tons of boats from visiting but it helps

Puka Beach; after the island reopened to tourists in October 2018 not all business establishments were allowed to reopen and tourist influx is still being controlled

Puka Beach; after the island reopened to tourists in October 2018 not all business establishments were allowed to reopen and tourist influx is still being controlled

The first day I did an island hopping cruise but the islands typically visited were still closed for clean-up so we went to Puka Beach, 2 crowded and forgettable snorkel spots and to an overcrowded and trash-filled beach on Panay for lunch

The first day I did an island hopping cruise but the islands typically visited were still closed for clean-up so we went to Puka Beach, 2 crowded and forgettable snorkel spots and to an overcrowded and trash-filled beach on Panay for lunch

I only spent 4 nights on Boracay and would have enjoyed staying longer to explore less crowded parts of the island; away from White Beach, there are relatively quiet areas to escape the crowds

I only spent 4 nights on Boracay and would have enjoyed staying longer to explore less crowded parts of the island; away from White Beach, there are relatively quiet areas to escape the crowds

View from my very nice hotel; like everywhere I've been in the Philippines, you have upscale properties squeezed together with locals living in very primitive conditions

View from my very nice hotel; like everywhere I've been in the Philippines, you have upscale properties squeezed together with locals living in very primitive conditions

The average low temperature never drops below 80 degrees; in the dry season that doesn't feel too bad because of the lower relative humidity

The average low temperature never drops below 80 degrees; in the dry season that doesn't feel too bad because of the lower relative humidity

I saw how crowded the dive boats were and opted to pass; with sandy beaches I wondered if the diving would be worth the time involved

I saw how crowded the dive boats were and opted to pass; with sandy beaches I wondered if the diving would be worth the time involved

The flat, wide beaches of Boracay are great for long walks or runs; the sand is super fine and there are trash patrols who try to keep the beaches clean

The flat, wide beaches of Boracay are great for long walks or runs; the sand is super fine and there are trash patrols who try to keep the beaches clean

Puka Beach gets its name from the shells that used to be harvested here; now they are virtually gone but women still sell the shells along the beach

Puka Beach gets its name from the shells that used to be harvested here; now they are virtually gone but women still sell the shells along the beach

Puka Beach; this beach is on the north side of the island and is supposedly quieter than White Beach except when dozens of island hopping boats all arrive at the same time

Puka Beach; this beach is on the north side of the island and is supposedly quieter than White Beach except when dozens of island hopping boats all arrive at the same time

The island is pronounced with a long i at the end (rhymes with high); the sun is fierce here which is why many Asians have long sleeves and/or tights on

The island is pronounced with a long i at the end (rhymes with high); the sun is fierce here which is why many Asians have long sleeves and/or tights on

Black-banded sea krait; the island has extremely limited grocery stores with few fresh items and the only cereal being Corn Flakes

Black-banded sea krait; the island has extremely limited grocery stores with few fresh items and the only cereal being Corn Flakes

There are plenty of posh resorts on the island, away from the masses, which often have their own private beaches; before taking a bangka or ferry to the island you have to go through a security screening

There are plenty of posh resorts on the island, away from the masses, which often have their own private beaches; before taking a bangka or ferry to the island you have to go through a security screening

This is Crocodile Island which lies just off the southeast coast of Boracay; it does look like the profile of a crocodile but the island was closed when I visited still undergoing clean-up

This is Crocodile Island which lies just off the southeast coast of Boracay; it does look like the profile of a crocodile but the island was closed when I visited still undergoing clean-up

The wide beach that runs the length of the west side of the island is called White Beach; to help with where things are along White Beach (there are no addresses since there are no roads), there are 3 numbered boat stations

The wide beach that runs the length of the west side of the island is called White Beach; to help with where things are along White Beach (there are no addresses since there are no roads), there are 3 numbered boat stations

Note the name of this nice restaurant!; sorry Donald, but I never saw anywhere on the island with your name on it

Note the name of this nice restaurant!; sorry Donald, but I never saw anywhere on the island with your name on it

The island hopping tours all seemed to stop at the same spots to snorkel so you were constantly having to move for boat traffic; the water was deep and there wasn't much to see

The island hopping tours all seemed to stop at the same spots to snorkel so you were constantly having to move for boat traffic; the water was deep and there wasn't much to see

Tourists have destroyed virtually all of the nearshore coral but supposedly efforts are underway to repair some of the damage; even the coral in deeper waters wasn't impressive

Tourists have destroyed virtually all of the nearshore coral but supposedly efforts are underway to repair some of the damage; even the coral in deeper waters wasn't impressive

There are quiet beaches on the island such as Diniwid Beach; it looks more upscale and may not even have roosters!

There are quiet beaches on the island such as Diniwid Beach; it looks more upscale and may not even have roosters!

This was one of the island's more popular hotels which burned down last year; given traffic congestion on the island, I wouldn't expect great response time from fire or ambulance services

This was one of the island's more popular hotels which burned down last year; given traffic congestion on the island, I wouldn't expect great response time from fire or ambulance services

During peak season (Dec-May) the winds blow from the east and White Beach is smooth as glass while windsurfing is popular on the east side of the island; during rainy season the situation is reversed

During peak season (Dec-May) the winds blow from the east and White Beach is smooth as glass while windsurfing is popular on the east side of the island; during rainy season the situation is reversed

Six bar wrasse; like the rest of the Philippines, there are roosters everywhere (and they are constantly loud) and a cockfighting arena (what is the attraction?)

Six bar wrasse; like the rest of the Philippines, there are roosters everywhere (and they are constantly loud) and a cockfighting arena (what is the attraction?)

Crystal Cove is normally a stop on the island hopping tours but was still off limits; I feel like I should be able to distinguish which Asian country people are from but I'm still struggling

Crystal Cove is normally a stop on the island hopping tours but was still off limits; I feel like I should be able to distinguish which Asian country people are from but I'm still struggling

Posted by VagabondCowboy 19:50 Comments (0)

Super Ultimate Island Tour in Coron, Philippines

Giant grouper hiding in giant barrel sponge; I think this grouper has found an awesome home and he's just porching watching the happenings outside

Giant grouper hiding in giant barrel sponge; I think this grouper has found an awesome home and he's just porching watching the happenings outside

Clownfish are sequential hermaphrodites, meaning they develop into males first, and when they mature, they become females; if the female clownfish is removed from the group, such as by death, one of the largest and most dominant males becomes a female

Clownfish are sequential hermaphrodites, meaning they develop into males first, and when they mature, they become females; if the female clownfish is removed from the group, such as by death, one of the largest and most dominant males becomes a female

This is supposedly the most photographed spot in the Philippines at the entrance to Lake Kayangan; the view was definitely worth the climb up but the lake itself was nothing special

This is supposedly the most photographed spot in the Philippines at the entrance to Lake Kayangan; the view was definitely worth the climb up but the lake itself was nothing special

Copperband butterflyfish; many of my excursion mates had visited El Nido too and we all agreed that we preferred Coron for better scenery and smaller crowds

Copperband butterflyfish; many of my excursion mates had visited El Nido too and we all agreed that we preferred Coron for better scenery and smaller crowds

Chocolate chip sea star; my bangka for the day trip was named Jemimah (that didn't seem very politically correct and when I asked who Jemimah was the workers didn't know)

Chocolate chip sea star; my bangka for the day trip was named Jemimah (that didn't seem very politically correct and when I asked who Jemimah was the workers didn't know)

Razorfish; this unique fish adopts a head-down tail-up position as an adaptation for hiding among sea urchin spines and eats mainly small brine shrimp and other small invertebrates

Razorfish; this unique fish adopts a head-down tail-up position as an adaptation for hiding among sea urchin spines and eats mainly small brine shrimp and other small invertebrates

The egg ribbon of a Spanish Dancer nudibranch corresponds to the size of nudibranch so it's quite a large sea slug (about 8-12 inches long)

The egg ribbon of a Spanish Dancer nudibranch corresponds to the size of nudibranch so it's quite a large sea slug (about 8-12 inches long)

This magnificent coral looks more like a painting of a delicate flower; it really makes you appreciate the beauty that many never see that lies underwater

This magnificent coral looks more like a painting of a delicate flower; it really makes you appreciate the beauty that many never see that lies underwater

In Hollywood-style, Coron has its name in big letters above the town; you can also hike up 700  steps to the top of Mt Tapyas for a great view

In Hollywood-style, Coron has its name in big letters above the town; you can also hike up 700+ steps to the top of Mt Tapyas for a great view

Spotted cod (aka coral trout); Coron is only about 50 miles north of El Nido

Spotted cod (aka coral trout); Coron is only about 50 miles north of El Nido

Scribbled pufferfish; this solitary species contains tetrodotoxin - an extremely toxic sodium channel blocker which protects it from predators

Scribbled pufferfish; this solitary species contains tetrodotoxin - an extremely toxic sodium channel blocker which protects it from predators

The vivid colors of a nudibranch signal its predators that the animal to be preyed upon has a toxin that may become distasteful when eaten; the potency of the toxin is not lethal but is primarily focused as a chemical defense mechanism

The vivid colors of a nudibranch signal its predators that the animal to be preyed upon has a toxin that may become distasteful when eaten; the potency of the toxin is not lethal but is primarily focused as a chemical defense mechanism

Occasionally I'd see huge schools of juvenile fish like this and I'd wonder how they avoid bumping into each other; I guess the claustrophobic fish leave the security of the school and probably get eaten (survival of the fittest)

Occasionally I'd see huge schools of juvenile fish like this and I'd wonder how they avoid bumping into each other; I guess the claustrophobic fish leave the security of the school and probably get eaten (survival of the fittest)

This is the entrance to Twin Lagoon which allowed barely enough room to snorkel; the Coron island hopping tours featured many cool geologic formations and they weren't that far from Coron town

This is the entrance to Twin Lagoon which allowed barely enough room to snorkel; the Coron island hopping tours featured many cool geologic formations and they weren't that far from Coron town

A field of black long spine sea urchins; for those who forgot to bring water shoes these sea urchins were everywhere and convinced tourists to buy or rent a pair

A field of black long spine sea urchins; for those who forgot to bring water shoes these sea urchins were everywhere and convinced tourists to buy or rent a pair

A banded Friant's sea star with a pattern more appropriately found on a snake; it was fascinating to see how species differed just in the short distance between Coron and El Nido

A banded Friant's sea star with a pattern more appropriately found on a snake; it was fascinating to see how species differed just in the short distance between Coron and El Nido

Sea squirt couple; in the van both coming and going from the airport in Coron the driver had an old Kenny Rogers CD playing (I wonder if it was the only CD he had)

Sea squirt couple; in the van both coming and going from the airport in Coron the driver had an old Kenny Rogers CD playing (I wonder if it was the only CD he had)

This is the main road in Coron (notice there are no cars); there is a hot spring nearby overlooking the sea that is quite popular but I didn't care to go

This is the main road in Coron (notice there are no cars); there is a hot spring nearby overlooking the sea that is quite popular but I didn't care to go

Purple finger coral reminds me of Thing from the Addams Family; I saw no other examples like this during my visit

Purple finger coral reminds me of Thing from the Addams Family; I saw no other examples like this during my visit

The coral gardens we visited were in excellent condition despite periodic typhoons here; the water visibility was great as this scene is probably 30 feet down

The coral gardens we visited were in excellent condition despite periodic typhoons here; the water visibility was great as this scene is probably 30 feet down

My budget lodging in Coron had an all-in-one bathroom; the room had a comfy bed and good AC so I could make do

My budget lodging in Coron had an all-in-one bathroom; the room had a comfy bed and good AC so I could make do

I encountered this enormous jellyfish while my group was having lunch; it had long tentacles and was (fortunately) the only one I saw that looked like this

I encountered this enormous jellyfish while my group was having lunch; it had long tentacles and was (fortunately) the only one I saw that looked like this

The excursions were more adventurous than I expected and required decent swimming skills; I was typically the oldest guest on each day trip

The excursions were more adventurous than I expected and required decent swimming skills; I was typically the oldest guest on each day trip

This type of golden sponge was frequently spotted in the waters around Coron; the water temperature was 82 degrees which felt refreshing but some got cold, after swimming, sitting in the shade and wind on the bangka

This type of golden sponge was frequently spotted in the waters around Coron; the water temperature was 82 degrees which felt refreshing but some got cold, after swimming, sitting in the shade and wind on the bangka

Black spotted pufferfish; Philippine peso bills start with a 20 denomination which is only about 40 US cents which is nice because you tend not to accumulate coins

Black spotted pufferfish; Philippine peso bills start with a 20 denomination which is only about 40 US cents which is nice because you tend not to accumulate coins

Barracuda; many locals have really bad teeth and/or are missing teeth, even young people

Barracuda; many locals have really bad teeth and/or are missing teeth, even young people

It can be challenging telling corals from sponges sometimes but this is the first sponge I've seen that actually looks like what one expects a sponge to be

It can be challenging telling corals from sponges sometimes but this is the first sponge I've seen that actually looks like what one expects a sponge to be

The largest (and only stadium) in Coron is not for soccer but for cockfighting; that explains why roosters are everywhere and noisy day and night

The largest (and only stadium) in Coron is not for soccer but for cockfighting; that explains why roosters are everywhere and noisy day and night

Titan triggerfish; I saw this species often but they were typically camera shy and would swim away as soon as I got close

Titan triggerfish; I saw this species often but they were typically camera shy and would swim away as soon as I got close

In addition to typical American junk food, there are Asian flavors that I'm sure my friends would try; I've discovered that locals don't eat cereal to my dismay

In addition to typical American junk food, there are Asian flavors that I'm sure my friends would try; I've discovered that locals don't eat cereal to my dismay

Posted by VagabondCowboy 07:28 Comments (0)

Luang Prabang - Laotian city of Buddhist temples

Wat Pha Bang is the temple for the former Royal Palace; every morning, hundreds of monks from the various monasteries walk through the streets collecting alms

Wat Pha Bang is the temple for the former Royal Palace; every morning, hundreds of monks from the various monasteries walk through the streets collecting alms

Wat Mahathat; Luong Prabang gained UNESCO status for unique and remarkably well preserved architectural, religious and cultural heritage, including the French colonial influences during the 19th and 20th centuries

Wat Mahathat; Luong Prabang gained UNESCO status for unique and remarkably well preserved architectural, religious and cultural heritage, including the French colonial influences during the 19th and 20th centuries

Wat Sensoukarahm; most of the temples also had smaller temples, stupas, schools, libraries and/or other auxiliary buildings on the grounds

Wat Sensoukarahm; most of the temples also had smaller temples, stupas, schools, libraries and/or other auxiliary buildings on the grounds

Monks were a common sight around town; most of the temples had resident monks including many who were quite young (the minimum age to become a Buddhist monk is 8)

Monks were a common sight around town; most of the temples had resident monks including many who were quite young (the minimum age to become a Buddhist monk is 8)

Wat Xieng Thong is Luang Prabang's best known monastery and is centered around this 1560 ordination hall; mosaics covered all the buildings with this tree of life mosaic being especially impressive

Wat Xieng Thong is Luang Prabang's best known monastery and is centered around this 1560 ordination hall; mosaics covered all the buildings with this tree of life mosaic being especially impressive

This bamboo bridge crosses the Nam Khan River with the Mekong on the far left; there is a small charge to cross the bridge during the day but at night it is free; they rebuild the bridge every year after monsoon season

This bamboo bridge crosses the Nam Khan River with the Mekong on the far left; there is a small charge to cross the bridge during the day but at night it is free; they rebuild the bridge every year after monsoon season

Wat Sopsickaram; it amazed us how such a small place could support so many temples (some temples were right next door to each other; maybe they are different sects)

Wat Sopsickaram; it amazed us how such a small place could support so many temples (some temples were right next door to each other; maybe they are different sects)

Wat Sibounheuang; the Lao currency is the kip and currently $1 USD = 8586 kip; the smallest bill I've seen is for 500 kip or 6 US cents

Wat Sibounheuang; the Lao currency is the kip and currently $1 USD = 8586 kip; the smallest bill I've seen is for 500 kip or 6 US cents

The view from the top of 490 ft high Mount Phou Si; with the smoke and smog, we were disappointed that the view wasn't spectacular like my guide book promised

The view from the top of 490 ft high Mount Phou Si; with the smoke and smog, we were disappointed that the view wasn't spectacular like my guide book promised

Wat Pa Phai; one of the oldest temples in the city dating from either 1645 or 1815 that has ornate murals inside reflecting sequences from the lives of ordinary Laotian people

Wat Pa Phai; one of the oldest temples in the city dating from either 1645 or 1815 that has ornate murals inside reflecting sequences from the lives of ordinary Laotian people

There was actually a decent supermarket here that had Quaker Oatmeal Squares and Froot Loops; there were plenty of authentic local foods as well

There was actually a decent supermarket here that had Quaker Oatmeal Squares and Froot Loops; there were plenty of authentic local foods as well

Wat Syrimoungkoun; entering Laos from Thailand you can buy a visa on arrival for $35 USD if you bring a passport photo (it's $1 more if they have to provide the photo)

Wat Syrimoungkoun; entering Laos from Thailand you can buy a visa on arrival for $35 USD if you bring a passport photo (it's $1 more if they have to provide the photo)

Wat Siphoutthabath Tippharam; Luong Prabang was the royal capital and seat of government of the Kingdom of Laos, until the Pathet Lao takeover in 1975

Wat Siphoutthabath Tippharam; Luong Prabang was the royal capital and seat of government of the Kingdom of Laos, until the Pathet Lao takeover in 1975

Painted wall inside Wat Xieng Thong; there are no multinational fast food outlets in Laos but, in addition to popular street food, there were some nice, high-end restaurants here

Painted wall inside Wat Xieng Thong; there are no multinational fast food outlets in Laos but, in addition to popular street food, there were some nice, high-end restaurants here

The Lao language is pretty impossible to decipher but many (far from all) signs are also in English; the locals typically have very limited English language skills despite the large number of tourists

The Lao language is pretty impossible to decipher but many (far from all) signs are also in English; the locals typically have very limited English language skills despite the large number of tourists

Chapel hall at Wat Xieng Thong; with 3 nights at the same hotel it was easy to have laundry done here (and cheap at $1 for every 2 pounds)

Chapel hall at Wat Xieng Thong; with 3 nights at the same hotel it was easy to have laundry done here (and cheap at $1 for every 2 pounds)

Wat Tham Phu Si; this temple is located in a cave on the side of Phu Si hill that contains one of the oldest statues of Buddha, done in Pha Kachai style

Wat Tham Phu Si; this temple is located in a cave on the side of Phu Si hill that contains one of the oldest statues of Buddha, done in Pha Kachai style

Wat Pha Bang hosts the most sacred Buddha image in town; several in our group went bike riding and/or got cheap massages

Wat Pha Bang hosts the most sacred Buddha image in town; several in our group went bike riding and/or got cheap massages

Wat Sensoukarahm (1718); the town was the scene of many events during WW II and was occupied by several foreign countries (Vichy France, Thailand, Imperial Japan, Free France, and Nationalist China)

Wat Sensoukarahm (1718); the town was the scene of many events during WW II and was occupied by several foreign countries (Vichy France, Thailand, Imperial Japan, Free France, and Nationalist China)

Posted by VagabondCowboy 18:02 Comments (0)

Chiang Mai - Thailand's famous, authentic second city

Each temple, like Wat Phra Singh, has multiple buildings and monuments with the significance of each being very complicated; even at temples where we had a guide the stories behind the different elements remained confusing

Each temple, like Wat Phra Singh, has multiple buildings and monuments with the significance of each being very complicated; even at temples where we had a guide the stories behind the different elements remained confusing

The most impressive feature of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is the chedi towering 79 feet; this gold plated spire is typical of Northern Thailand with its heightened octagonal base, ringed spire, smooth spire, and tiered chatra (umbrella) at the top

The most impressive feature of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is the chedi towering 79 feet; this gold plated spire is typical of Northern Thailand with its heightened octagonal base, ringed spire, smooth spire, and tiered chatra (umbrella) at the top

Wat Phan Tao is the most atmospheric temple in Chiang Mai's old city; the highlight is an enormous prayer hall supported by 28  gargantuan teak pillars

Wat Phan Tao is the most atmospheric temple in Chiang Mai's old city; the highlight is an enormous prayer hall supported by 28 gargantuan teak pillars

Construction on Wat Phra Singh began in 1345 when King Phayu,:226–227 the fifth king of the Mangrai dynasty, had a chedi built to house the ashes of his father King Kham Fu

Construction on Wat Phra Singh began in 1345 when King Phayu,:226–227 the fifth king of the Mangrai dynasty, had a chedi built to house the ashes of his father King Kham Fu

Wat Chiang Man; the rest of the group was taking a cooking class which I skipped to visit the most famous temples in Chiang Mai

Wat Chiang Man; the rest of the group was taking a cooking class which I skipped to visit the most famous temples in Chiang Mai

We had a 13 hour journey on the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai; it was an efficient and authentic experience and I actually slept pretty well (though Jonathan didn't)

We had a 13 hour journey on the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai; it was an efficient and authentic experience and I actually slept pretty well (though Jonathan didn't)

The Phra Buddha Sihing statue inside Wihan Lai Kham at Wat Phra Singh; Chiang Mai was the former capital of the kingdom of Lan Na (1296–1768)

The Phra Buddha Sihing statue inside Wihan Lai Kham at Wat Phra Singh; Chiang Mai was the former capital of the kingdom of Lan Na (1296–1768)

The city pillar shrine at Wat Chedi Luang is supposed to protect the town; a festival in honor of the city pillar is held every year in May and lasts 6–8 days

The city pillar shrine at Wat Chedi Luang is supposed to protect the town; a festival in honor of the city pillar is held every year in May and lasts 6–8 days

The construction of the temple at Wat Chedi Luang began in the 14th century but wasn't completed until the mid-15th century; it was then 82 m high and had a base diameter of 54 m, at that time the largest building of all Lanna

The construction of the temple at Wat Chedi Luang began in the 14th century but wasn't completed until the mid-15th century; it was then 82 m high and had a base diameter of 54 m, at that time the largest building of all Lanna

The original gold plated chedi at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is the most holy area of the temple grounds; within the site are pagodas, statues, bells, a museum, and shrines

The original gold plated chedi at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is the most holy area of the temple grounds; within the site are pagodas, statues, bells, a museum, and shrines

The view from Wat Phra That Doi Suthep shows the serious air pollution problem Chiang Mai incurs every year during the dry season

The view from Wat Phra That Doi Suthep shows the serious air pollution problem Chiang Mai incurs every year during the dry season

There are scheduled times at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep where visitors can observe monks at prayer; everyone taking photos of people praying struck me as disrespectful but obviously the temple uses this to draw paying tourists

There are scheduled times at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep where visitors can observe monks at prayer; everyone taking photos of people praying struck me as disrespectful but obviously the temple uses this to draw paying tourists

Chiang Mai has several night markets where sidewalk vendors line many city blocks selling all manner of goods; some of the items were quality, locally made items while others were cheap Chinese items

Chiang Mai has several night markets where sidewalk vendors line many city blocks selling all manner of goods; some of the items were quality, locally made items while others were cheap Chinese items

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep was an impressive temple complex but I felt it was too Disneyfied and lacked authenticity; there are elephant sanctuaries nearby but we didn't have time to visit

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep was an impressive temple complex but I felt it was too Disneyfied and lacked authenticity; there are elephant sanctuaries nearby but we didn't have time to visit

Wat Chedi Luang was my favorite temple complex in Chiang Mai's old city; the temple hosts monk chats every day - tourists are invited to speak with monks (usually novices) and ask them anything about Buddhism or Thailand

Wat Chedi Luang was my favorite temple complex in Chiang Mai's old city; the temple hosts monk chats every day - tourists are invited to speak with monks (usually novices) and ask them anything about Buddhism or Thailand

Each temple, like Wat Phra Singh, had lots of places where you could make donations; the temples in Chiang Mai were much more visited by tourists than by people going to pray

Each temple, like Wat Phra Singh, had lots of places where you could make donations; the temples in Chiang Mai were much more visited by tourists than by people going to pray

Monks are often very well educated because they can attend university for free; monks were ubiquitous walking around the city

Monks are often very well educated because they can attend university for free; monks were ubiquitous walking around the city

Wat Phra Singh is dominated by this enormous, mosaic-inland sanctuary; the prosperity is plain to see from the lavish monastic buildings and immaculately maintained grounds

Wat Phra Singh is dominated by this enormous, mosaic-inland sanctuary; the prosperity is plain to see from the lavish monastic buildings and immaculately maintained grounds

Each side of the square base of the main chedi of Wat Phra Singh features the front half of an elephant emerging from it; after it was built in 1345, the chedi was enlarged several times

Each side of the square base of the main chedi of Wat Phra Singh features the front half of an elephant emerging from it; after it was built in 1345, the chedi was enlarged several times

Wat Chiang Man contains the oldest known Buddha image created by the Lanna kingdom, cast in 1465; Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand with 1.2 million people in the metro area

Wat Chiang Man contains the oldest known Buddha image created by the Lanna kingdom, cast in 1465; Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand with 1.2 million people in the metro area

Wat Phra Singh is Chiang Mai's most revered temple; pilgrims flock here to venerate the famous Lion Buddha

Wat Phra Singh is Chiang Mai's most revered temple; pilgrims flock here to venerate the famous Lion Buddha

The Thai sleeper train is quite different from others I've taken; the car had upper and lower berths with a curtain for privacy and quite dated communal bathrooms

The Thai sleeper train is quite different from others I've taken; the car had upper and lower berths with a curtain for privacy and quite dated communal bathrooms

Our tour guide enjoyed taking group photos so he could show how much fun we were having; the poses were not of our choosing

Our tour guide enjoyed taking group photos so he could show how much fun we were having; the poses were not of our choosing

Wat Chiang Man is Chiang Mai's oldest temple and was established by the city's founder sometime around 1296; Thais drive on the left (like the British) but the traffic flow often seems very confusing so I wouldn't want to drive here

Wat Chiang Man is Chiang Mai's oldest temple and was established by the city's founder sometime around 1296; Thais drive on the left (like the British) but the traffic flow often seems very confusing so I wouldn't want to drive here

Wat Chiang Man; at each temple you have to take your shoes off and often shoulders have to be covered (the rules are more strict for women)

Wat Chiang Man; at each temple you have to take your shoes off and often shoulders have to be covered (the rules are more strict for women)

Our tour group going through a Buddhist prayer with the monk at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep with the monk then giving the group his blessing; the temple is said to have been founded in 1383 when the first stupa was built

Our tour group going through a Buddhist prayer with the monk at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep with the monk then giving the group his blessing; the temple is said to have been founded in 1383 when the first stupa was built

Wat Chedi Luang; practically every other shop in the city offers some variety of Thai massage at very low prices (I didn't challenge them to work on my broken body)

Wat Chedi Luang; practically every other shop in the city offers some variety of Thai massage at very low prices (I didn't challenge them to work on my broken body)

There were 306 steps up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep; this sacred site to many Thai people is 15 kilometers outside of Chiang Mai

There were 306 steps up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep; this sacred site to many Thai people is 15 kilometers outside of Chiang Mai

In 1800 King Chao Kawilaalso planted three dipterocarp trees at the city pillar shrine, this shrine has been the only one on the trip where females were not allowed

In 1800 King Chao Kawilaalso planted three dipterocarp trees at the city pillar shrine, this shrine has been the only one on the trip where females were not allowed

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep can get 120,000 visitors per month, with numbers being higher during holidays like Songkhan and Visakha Bucha Day when local people climb the mountain and sleep on the esplanade of the temple to commemorate the birth of the Buddha

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep can get 120,000 visitors per month, with numbers being higher during holidays like Songkhan and Visakha Bucha Day when local people climb the mountain and sleep on the esplanade of the temple to commemorate the birth of the Buddha

Murals at the city pillar shrine at Wat Chedi Luang; even in early March, the temperature today was 100 degrees and I was constantly drinking Coke Zero and Gatorade

Murals at the city pillar shrine at Wat Chedi Luang; even in early March, the temperature today was 100 degrees and I was constantly drinking Coke Zero and Gatorade

Parts of Chiang Mai at night are reminiscent of downtown Las Vegas; there are chain restaurants, street vendors and lots of tourists

Parts of Chiang Mai at night are reminiscent of downtown Las Vegas; there are chain restaurants, street vendors and lots of tourists

Every element of a Buddhist temple is a work of a art such as this door from Wat Phra Singh; most temples are free but some charge small admission fees (typically $1 or less)

Every element of a Buddhist temple is a work of a art such as this door from Wat Phra Singh; most temples are free but some charge small admission fees (typically $1 or less)

Construction of Wat Phan Tao began in the late 14th century; the monastery is a monument to the teak trade

Construction of Wat Phan Tao began in the late 14th century; the monastery is a monument to the teak trade

In Wat Phra Singh, Wihan Lai Kham was built in 1345 to house the Phra Buddha Singh statue and it is a prime example of classical Lanna architecture

In Wat Phra Singh, Wihan Lai Kham was built in 1345 to house the Phra Buddha Singh statue and it is a prime example of classical Lanna architecture

The reclining buddha at Wat Chedi Luang; tuk tuks were a very affordable way to get around with old city fares of about $3 per trip

The reclining buddha at Wat Chedi Luang; tuk tuks were a very affordable way to get around with old city fares of about $3 per trip

The murals of the wihan at Wat Phra Singh are exceptional; they tell Buddhist stories and impressed me with their detail and vibrant colors

The murals of the wihan at Wat Phra Singh are exceptional; they tell Buddhist stories and impressed me with their detail and vibrant colors

Posted by VagabondCowboy 17:15 Comments (0)

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