Viva la France! Road-trip Foolishness Pt. 6: Chamonix

The crowning jewel of our trip to France was Chamonix.

Chamonix, located near where the borders of France, Switzerland, and Italy meet, is a resort-town. We drove in mid-afternoon and spent the evening wandering around finding dinner before heading to bed for an early night.

In the morning I woke up, made some coffee, and bundled up to go sit on the balcony and enjoy the view of Mont-Blanc, the highest summit in France. Once everyone was up, a few of us walked over to the cable-car that would take us up the mountain. The cable car was cheaper than was listed on the website, and ended up costing us only 15 euros round trip.

If you’re making the hike up to Lac Blanc, I highly suggest taking the cable car to cut time off of your trip up the mountain. The hike up (sans cable car,) is barren, boring, difficult, and quite frankly, a waste of time. You would have to wake up hella hella early to even make it to the Lac Blanc refuge at the end of the hike, and even then you may get there after dark. So, be smart, and take the cable car.

Our early-morning hike was pretty interesting, as it was extremely cloudy. I didn’t mind, and neither did my companions, as the higher we went, the thinner the clouds became and leT ME TELL YOU, there are fewer things as sublime as hiking the side of a mountain and looking over your shoulder to see a break in the clouds and THERE THEY ARE, THE MIGHTY AND MAJESTIC ALPS. It was like peek-a-boo, only epic instead of weird.

The hike up to Lac Blanc Refuge wasn’t too difficult, the hardest part being the incline at the beginning. Now, I’m not the most active person, as I’m just mostly on my feet all day and I run some mornings (I’m not a marathon runner–hell, I’m not even a mile runner,) so when I say it is do-able, I really mean it. There is a part of the hike where you have to rock scramble up, but as long as you have the proper shoes the worst that will happen is you get a nice leg workout.

When we reached the refuge, the cloud cover pretty much cleared up, and we were able to take in panoramic views with our own eyes and cameras.

We hung out at the refuge for a while, ate some granola bars and apples, and took lots and lots of selfies. Eventually we knew we had to hike back down to the cable car, as it stops running at a certain time and we did not want to be stranded in the French Alps. The hike down took a while, as we had to be careful coming back down the rocks, and that incline from the start of our hike became the craziest decline– I definitely slipped on my ass a few times, and I wasn’t alone.

We ended up having to wait in line for about 45 minutes to catch the cable car down, mais c’est la vie. My group and I kept taking turns to hold our place in line to take pictures, and when you’re in the company of friends, 45 minutes waiting for a cable car in one of the most beautiful places in the world isn’t bad at all.

When we got back down to the bottom of the mountain, we walked back to town to meet up with the rest of our group. As we debated our dinner choices, we stopped and saw an aerial performance mother-daughter duo, who were using bungees to do stunts in the spaces between buildings. It was a little thing that made an already special day that much more excellent.

We all stayed up talking before we went to bed that evening, and the next morning we woke up to explore the town some more and do some last minute souvenir shopping. We came across an older gentleman who was selling dog key chains, except they were made out of pipe-cleaners and the man made them himself. I practiced my French a little because I wanted to get his photograph, and I opened the conversation with “Hello, how are you today?” and he just responded with “No, don’t ask me that!” I laughed and he let me take his picture when I asked. Not the best quality image, but still one of my favorites from the trip.

After our shopping trip we had to leave this gorgeous place and make the drive to Lyon. We were genuinely sad to leave and most of us shared that we would definitely make an effort to return and spend more time in the area.  So, if you’re ever in the east of France, check out Chamonix. There are hikes for everyone, skiing, and a charming town with an old guy making awesome key chains.

Safe Travels, and Happy Shooting!

Viva la France! Road-trip Foolishness Pt. 4: Tours, Cher River, & Auvergne

If you are ever crazy enough to take a road-trip through France, a good place to stop is Tours. It’s known for the Loire River Valley, which a lot of people stop through to see all kinds of fantastic castles. For us, Tours was a stop between traveling from Mont Saint Michel to Marseilles.

We got in to Tours from MSM at about 7PM, where we found our AirBnB and crashed for the night. The next day we decided to go exploring, walking around and getting lost. We stopped in some small mall to look for a swimsuit and some tennis shoes, and we found the Cathedrale Saint-Gatien, which was one of the most beautiful churches I have been in.

My group and I wanted to see some sort of castle, but we weren’t too keen on doing a castle tour. I looked into our options and I found the perfect thing– kayaking around Chateau de Chenonceau. We booked in advance with Canoe Company. Now, they don’t really have online booking, but if you are traveling internationally and email in advance, they will reserve a spot for you and you can pay on arrival.

We really had a magical kayaking trip down the Cher River. We arrived at around 4PM and the four of us were split into two canoes. The trip towards the chateau was really funny, as we were shit-talking each other and kinda racing. I say kinda because we were actually a hot-mess, trying to coordinate our paddling to move forward. One of the highlights was when we got up to the chateau and were able to kayak underneath it and back. IT WAS SO BALLER.

On our way back, we noticed a field of sunflowers on the shore. We dragged our canoes up the bank and spent a good amount of time frolicking, taking lots of pictures and avoiding bumble bees. The sun was beginning to set so the light was perfect. To top it all off, hot-air balloons were inflating in the distance. It was one of those afternoons where things just got better and better, where everything felt like a dream and my non-stop smile made my face ache in a pleasant way.

Once we docked, we headed back to our AirBnB where pasta was made, laundry was finished, and sleeping commenced. We woke up very early the next morning for our 9-hour drive to the south coast of France and to the gorgeous city of Marseilles– but before we get there, I have to tell you all about a little place off of the beaten path in Auvergne.

Our half-way marker was at the Jonas Caves in Saint-Pierre-Colamine. The caves, also known as Grottes de Jonas, were an ancient troglodyte village back in the 14th century. It was a bit of a drive up the mountains to get to it, but it was so neat to get out of the car, stretch our legs, and explore caves that people used to sleep, eat, bake their bread, and die of the plague in. There were stairs and doorways and windows and lots of picture opportunities. Additionally, there were faux animals along the mountainside, so if you’re into kitsch, 10/10 highly recommend.

If you decide to visit, know that there is a chance no one will speak English. When my group and I went, the lady at the tour office spoke only French, and the signs on the pathway were also in French. It was fine for my group, since 3/4 of us spoke the language. However, it’s very easy to mime wanting a ticket (which was like 3 euros.) Even though you may not be able to understand the signs, it is still a really cool experience and if you’re like me and crazy about photo ops, there are plenty to be had.

So that is the half-way point of our road trip across France. Keep an eye out for our adventures in Marseilles, Chamonix, and finally Lyon.

Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

 

Adventures in Thailand: Taking Tours Solo Pt. 1 (Damnoen Saduak)

You have to be pretty adventurous to be a solo traveler, but everyone has their limits.

My stay in Bangkok has been pretty great, solo-wise. I’ve been all over the city, trying new things, all by myself because I’m brave dammit. But, there are just some things that I wanted to see outside of the city.

Which left me two options: take a bus/train/whatever to the places I wanted to go and try to work out how to get to the sites, or take a damn tour. Seeing as I don’t speak Thai very well (or at all, ขอโทษ,) and I’ve never been to these places, and I’m a young woman alone, I decided to do the latter.

Now, sometimes you can’t take a tour as a solo traveler. However, if you contact the tour company in advance, they’ll usually be super accommodating and slide you in a group tour– this is exactly what I did for my tour to the floating market, Damnoen Saduak.

Damnoen Saduak is a 1.5 hour drive south west of Bangkok (I took a GREAT nap, since the pick-up was at 5:30AM,) and is in the country side. I learned that most of the economy is generated by this floating market for the village.

You may ask, “Deo, what IS a floating market?

I think the best way to explain is to just show you!

The protocol in a floating market is to pay a small fare to end up in one of the long boats. You take the boat down the canal, past the stalls, and if you see something you like, you ask the boatman to stop. From the comfort of your boat, you can haggle with the shop-keeper and purchase your goods.

There are also stalls around the canal, so you can go shopping without taking a boat-ride. I took the boat ride (came with my tour package,) but was too shy to ask to stop for anything. To be honest, I was just enjoying the novelty of it all, and chatting with my new friends from Taiwan.

One of the fun things about traveling solo is meeting new people. A father and his daughter, both visiting from Taiwan, noticed I was alone and adopted me. They fed me fruit and made sure I was with the group when it was time to leave. That’s them in the last pic up there– I hope the rest of their time in Thailand was lovely, as they deserved it!

So, that was my first test in traveling solo in a not-so-solo-setting. Keep an eye out for Pt. 2, where I talk about my bike-riding adventure in Ayutthaya!

Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

Adventures in Thailand: In the Jungle

What do you think of when you hear the word, “jungle”?

I think of a couple of different things. I think about The Jungle Book, with tigers and bears and Mowgli. I think about Tarzan and apes and wildcats. I think about density, heat, unknowns, and stars beyond the canopy.

After visiting Ao Luek Tai in Krabi, I think about huts, cats, mountains, mosquito netting, and adventure.

We stayed at this amazing AirBnB in Krabi, and I cannot recommend this place enough. Our host picked us up from the docks and drove us the 45 minutes to the place, which is a compound of huts. You sleep on the top level, and the bottom level just kinda has a changing room. Toilets are in a separate hut, and showers and sinks in another. And it’s in the jungle, which was super cool in its own way.

Minus the GIANT blue and pink centipede. Nope nope nope.

They had cats and kittens legit everywhere, and I love kitties, so that was awesome. One of the kittens went after the centipede, but then freaked out when it realized how big it was, and then ran away. Smart kitten.

The main spectacular thing was the view I woke up to the mornings I was there:

One afternoon, we went kayaking through a mangrove forest, and it was AWESOME. I wanted to take so many pictures, my cousin got on my case about not helping with the rowing, and we got stuck in the roots a couple of times because of it… Sorry Ashley, I love you!

The nature was stunning, and I could have spent more time in the area, making pictures and enjoying the peace and quiet. We also explored a cave, which is apparently famous in the area for some prehistoric cave drawings. It was super neat-o.

We also spent some time at a construction site– sounds not-fun, but stay with me. Our host has a friend who is building a new Buddhist temple, and they let us explore. I felt like a kid in a candy shop. I mean, it’s not very everyday you visit an under-construction-holy-site. We oftentimes don’t even think of holy places as things that had to be built, even though they obviously had to have been, and there is this tension when walking around the space. I loved every second of it, but my favorite was the Buddhas wrapped up in cloth, waiting to be prayed to.

On our last morning, we visited a jungle pool… a natural, fresh-water pool in the jungle. No other way to describe it besides tell it like it is. There was a natural rock slide, and the water was refreshing and cool. It was a minor thing, but it was a lot of fun regardless. It kinda felt like I was in The Jungle Book, kinda felt like some terrifying snake would come slithering out of someplace and eat me, but y’know. Fun regardless.

If you’re going to southern Thailand and hitting up Ko Phi Phi and Phuket and the area, I recommend making time to go hang-out in the jungle. Just be sure to avoid the centipedes.

Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

Adventures in Thailand: Chiang Mai

If you ever go to Thailand and you want to see temples, go to Chiang Mai.

This city in northern Thailand is just an hour plane-ride from Bangkok, and is home to over 43 temples. They also have HUGE night-time weekend markets, which are full of life and fun.

My cousin and I spent 4 days in Chiang Mai, though one of those days was spent playing with elephants. The first day we were there, we checked in to our hostel and immediately got lost searching for temples to explore. Like, seriously lost, so lost that we just kinda gave up and walked in any old direction– and we found lots of cool temples in the process!

On one of our temple-exploring adventures, we got caught in a torrential downpour. A young monk invited us inside and we watched television with him– Kawpkoon-ka!

The temple we were aiming for was Wat Chedi Luang, which is a giant complex with the old temple in the center, which is ruins. It was really beautiful, and while we were there we heard chanting coming from inside one of the newer complexes– there was a ceremony happening, and we were able to sit and watch for a bit. I wish I knew more about Buddhism to tell you what it was we were watching, but I can describe it to the best of my ability and maybe some of my Buddhist followers can teach me a thing or five:

There were about five monks, all sitting and holding onto a white string, which was quite long. There was a statue, a Buddha, that someone had brought in perhaps to be blessed? After the ceremony they loaded it onto the back of a truck and sprinkled water on it, so maybe.

It was super dope to see.

Chiang Mai isn’t a huge city like Bangkok, and it is surrounded by super old walls on all 4 sides. It’s such an awesome, historical place, and my cousin and I got lost numerous times–and every time we did, we found something amazing. One evening, when we got so lost we hailed a tuk tuk to take us back to our hostel (gosh, we’re terrible,) we saw a festival going on and asked the driver to please drop us off there instead. It was a cultural festival, representing different dances, music, and performances from the different northern provinces of Thailand. Best accidental discovery ever!

There were also a LOT of pigeons hanging out by the stage.

I mentioned earlier that Chiang Mai had some delightful night markets– we went to the Saturday Night Market, and spent hours getting lost wandering around, looking at the wares. There was a combination of typical tourist trinkets, food, and some original handmade gifts. One of my favorite stalls was selling very unique and very gaudy sunglasses– think lots of rhinestones, flowers, cat ears, etc!

There was a lot to do in Chiang Mai, and I could probably write a book all about it, but I’ll leave you with this: GO TO CHIANG MAI YOU WILL NOT REGRET IT I PROMISE. Even if you don’t have a plan, go, because I can 1000% assure you that you will find something absolutely incredible.

Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

 

Adventures in Thailand: Bangkok Pt. 1

I’ve been in Thailand for nearly a month now, and it’s been amazing. Thailand is such a beautiful country (if scorching hot in the month of June,) and there is no shortage of sights in the capital, Bangkok.

Currently, I’m staying at an apartment I rented out for the month through AirBnB. I’m location east of the center of the city in the Phra Khanong district (are they called districts here? neighborhoods? uhm?) which is a little ways away from the Imperial Palace and the famous Reclining Buddha. However, the BTS SkyTrain is located just down the street from me, so I just hop on that to get wherever I wanna go.

My first week here was spent exploring the area where I live and the Siam area. Siam has a HUGE shopping center and the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, lots of people, and lots of interesting spaces to photograph. I especially adored the BACC, which had floors of contemporary art (my fav.)

I also went to the famous Chatchuak Weekend Market, on the city’s north side. I totally got lost… Very, very lost. It took me two hours to find my way back out, probably because I wasn’t trying too hard. The market was awesome, with all the tacky souvenirs a person could possibly want. I took lots of pictures, haggled, and just got caught up in the sights and sounds.

Bangkok is a huge place and I’ve barely scratched the surface of it. I’ll be checking out the Palace and the more famous temples later this week, so keep an eye out!

Safe travels and happy shooting!