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: ElepHANTS OMG

There are a lot of elephants around Chiang Mai. Not in the wild– there are hardly any left in the wild– but they can be found at elephant sanctuaries.

Did you know that riding on an elephants back hurts them? Most elephants at elephant sanctuaries are rescued from riding camps, logging farms, and circus-type venues. My cousin and I really wanted to see some elephants, but we were NOT down with animal abuse. That’s where the sanctuaries come in. There are quite a few around Chiang Mai, but we settled on the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. Instead of taking a ride on the backs of one of these gentle creatures, we spent the day feeding them, playing in the mud with them, and messing around in a river. WAY BETTER THAN RIDING.

AND ELEPHANTS ARE THE GREATEST CREATURES. They were kind, gentle, and really funny. One elephant, his name was Peter, was 4 years old and a total trouble maker. He ate all of my bananas before I could give them to any other elephants, and this little fella (who was the side of a car,) would just charge through wherever he wanted. So lovely.

I didn’t have my typical stash of cameras on me, because I knew I’d be working in the mud for the day, so I only brought my phone and Polaroid Cube along. Granted, not the best tools, but I did get a couple decent shots of my new fav animals.

Seriously, elephants are the best.

Here, have some totally self-indulgent photos of me, courtesy of my cousin, Ashley.

 

This was seriously one of the best days of my life. If you are ever in Thailand, I highly recommend the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, or one of the other sanctuaries. And remember: IF THEY OFFER RIDING THEY ARE NOT A TRUE SANCTUARY AND YOU SHOULD NOT SUPPORT THEM. If we want to save these beautiful creatures, we have to break down the riding industry.

Safe travels and happy shooting!

 

Traveling Solo with an Anxiety Disorder

There are two important things about me, the first being something many people already know: I love to travel.

My life is spent planning for the next big adventure, tolerating the moments between when I return from a trip and head off on the next one. I love going to new places, learning about different cultures, trying out new languages and meeting kindred spirits around the globe.

The second important thing about me if I have an anxiety disorder. I’ve lived with PTSD for years, and even with it in remission I still have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder. It makes going out of my “comfort zone” extremely daunting.

Currently, I am traveling solo in SE Asia. I’ve spent the past week in Thailand by myself, but (thankfully) my cousin is meeting up with me tonight. I admittedly need the reprieve from my solo-ness.

The thing about traveling solo is it is extremely empowering. There are moments where I am so overwhelmed with my perceived bad-assery that a smile breaks across my face and I laugh. It’s amazing that I am able to do this, that I was able to get on a plane and go across the globe to a country where I can’t speak the language to live alone and be a tourist all by myself. It’s awesome!

To prepare, I read a lot of testimonies about traveling alone. It’s about reaching out to others, not being afraid to meet new people and just kinda sorta “going for it.” I felt like I could do it. I still believe I can do it.

But traveling solo with anxiety makes it really, really hard to be that person who can go out and be unafraid. Every morning I wake up I have to spend about 2-3 hours psyching myself up to go outside. There is a cycle of guilt: I am in a foreign country, something many people don’t have the luxury to even dream about, and I’m sitting in my apartment talking myself out of doing anything that may make me look like an idiot in a new place.

Sometimes I’m able to trample down the anxiety and leave. Other times I can’t, and I spend the day inside.

This is OKAY.

It is okay for me to spend hours memorizing the train route, learning how to pronounce the names of places I want to go and practicing what to tell a cab driver. It is okay for me to accept that today just isn’t the day to go out and be adventurous, that my brain is wired a little differently and sometimes I need time to get used to a new place. It is okay to tell the guilt to leave me alone, that I know myself and I know my body.

It is okay to travel solo with anxiety. You do not need to push yourself. This is not a blog post about being like “JUST STOMP DOWN YOUR INHIBITIONS AND GO!” Anxiety disorders are not mere inhibitions, but a condition where, no matter how hard you try, sometimes you just can’t. And this is okay.

So, if you have anxiety and you want to travel solo, go for it. I believe in you. But if you do and you feel overwhelmed, try not to feel guilty. That energy is better spent loving yourself and reminding yourself that hey, you’re a bad-ass for doing it in the first place. You will go out and explore the world in your own time.

It’s More Fun in the Philippines: Banaue/Batad

The best decision of my trip to the Philippines was to go to Banaue/Batad. It was seriously the highlight of my trip, and quite easily in my top 3 favorite places in the world.

Researching how to get to Banaue was daunting, but thankfully I had the help from Valerie, my cousin’s lovely partner. She set me up with an amazing guide, Alvin Gabriel, who met me at the bus station in Banaue and stayed with me the 36ish hours I was there.

Since I was only staying one night, we were very busy. When my bus rolled in at 10AM (after being 2-hours delayed after a break-down at 3AM… it’s always something when I travel!) Alvin took me to get breakfast at a cafe with a GORGEOUS view of Banaue. I drank water, ate a sandwich, and kept marveling how I actually made it to such a beautiful place.

After breakfast, Alvin took me to the trail to Batad via tricycle, with intermediary stops along the way for great photo opportunities. I kept saying “WOW,” because it seemed to be the only word I could remember. I said, “It’s so GREEN!” and Alvin told me “Wait until we get to Batad.”

Now, Banaue is beautiful, but oh my goodness, if you make the trip there I HIGHLY recommend hiking to Batad, because it is even better than Banaue. It’s very remote, I had no phone service and the homestays do not have wifi, but seriously, GO. If you don’t go, you are seriously missing out.

It was raining off and on that afternoon, so our hike was broken up between waiting under awnings and hiking the rice terraces. The weather was so beautiful, a mix of clarity and atmospheric clouds. Seriously amazing weather for photo-taking.

Another lovely thing about the rain was I was able to talk to other travelers while we waited for the weather to break. I met two Columbia University students and an older gentleman from Pennsylvania, and a couple from Melbourne. I’m normally a shy person, so meeting others and actually having fun conversations with them was a highlight to my day.

Alvin took me up to the viewing point, which over-looked the entire valley. It was breathtaking and I never wanted to leave.

After going to the top of the terraces, we went down, down, down into the village to get to the Batad Village Homestay. It was there I met Rona, the wonderful owner of the homestay, and she showed me her traditional house. The traditional house looks like a hut on stilts, and she told me how she was born in that house and she lives there to this day. She explained she didn’t like “modern houses” because the rooms are all separate and inconvenient, unlike her single room home.

She showed me some old statues, which belonged to her parents, which were of rice guardians. Rona said she didn’t believe in the old religion, that she was a Christian, and we talked about our love of God for about an hour before I went to dinner.

The power had gone out, so I ate via candlelight and read a book while Alvin and some of the other guides played guitar. I definitely sang along to “Country Road”. No shame.

The next morning I woke up at dawn and looked out my window, and once again was awestruck at how amazing my life is.

Alvin and I saddled up and hiked down to the Tappiya Falls. There were lots of stairs to go down… So many stairs… But the falls were breathtaking. People were swimming in the river but I decided nah, and drew a crummy picture instead (no, you can’t see.) I had a lot of fun relaxing in the sun, listening to the roar of the water, breathing in the fresh air.

Then we hiked all the way back up the stairs, and I cursed myself for spending the past two years of grad school sitting on my butt behind a computer screen, and promised to get myself to a gym or something because dang, that was difficult. Shout out to Alvin for being patient!

After the falls I was actually kinda sad, because that meant we were going to hike out of Batad and back to Banaue. I didn’t want to leave Batad at all; it was so beautiful and peaceful. The hike back wasn’t without it’s nice views, though, and I snapped some pics of interesting things along the way back.

I left for Manila that evening, already planning to come back in the near future.

So, Banaue/Batad? Definitely go, get Alvin as your guide, and you won’t regret it.

Happy Shooting!

 

It’s More Fun in the Philippines: San Pablo

Nothing says “Bye, grad school, I’m sO DONE WITH YOU,” quite like leaving the country not even a week after graduating and running away to the literal other side of the globe.

#YOLO indeed.

Before I gush about how amazing the Philippines are, we gotta talk about the Taipei airport.

So I had a 4-hour lay-over in Taipei, Taiwan on my way to Manila. The funny thing about my trip was I didn’t really feel super excited or even nervous about traveling. Honestly, I think I was emotionally drained/exhausted/dead inside because of the stress that was the end of my school career. Even on the plane I was like “meh.” However, when we were in our approach to Taipei, when I could see the ground coming up beneath us, it all hit me.

I’m traveling to SE Asia, alone, after completing my MFA in Photography.

I started crying on the plane. The young lady next to me was kind enough to ignore me and not to say anything (thank goodness.)

But then I got into the airport and was enthralled by how amazingly tacky the whole thing was. They had themed gates, and my gate was a HELLO KITTY GATE PEOPLE.

What an awesome airport.

BUT ONTO THE PHILIPPINES

My amazing and cool cousin, Steve, let me stay with him and his partner Valerie in their apartment in Bonifacio Global City, which is in Metro Manila. After I got there, we all left to go spend a weekend in the gorgeous San Pablo.

We stayed at a bed and breakfast, owned and operated by the legendary Patis Tesoro. Patis was lovely and kind, and her home is FABULOUS. Patis is very into recyclable materials, so her house is made from recycled woods, second-hand tiles, etc. It’s really amazing.

If you are ever in the San Pablo area, I highly recommend making a reservation at Patis’s Garden Cafe.

Another highlight to my stay in San Pablo was visiting the Villa Escudero. Steve and Valerie took me to have lunch in the waterfall there, where we literally got to go into the water to get our food. It was super cool, and it was fun watching everyone enjoy the water.

It was a great weekend.

Happy Shooting!

Times in Washington D.C.

I just realized I never posted the photos from my trip to Washington D.C. on this blog o’ mine!

In the middle of January, I hopped on a bus and traveled to D.C. to see my favorite nerds, who I went on a cross-country road trip with this past spring. My bff Sean lives there, and my other bff Dana flew in from Cali. It was literally two weeks of us enjoying each other’s company, but I made a lot of pictures.

We went to a lot of the Smithsonian Museums (because knowledge is power!) and went to some historic sights. The last time I went to D.C., I was in middle school and I was a little punk who didn’t know the Charters of Freedom were in the National Archives.

Embarrassing side-note: My friends and I went looking in the Museum of Natural History for the Declaration of Independence. I’m still disappointed in myself.

One of the most interesting aspects of the trip was seeing everything being set-up for the presidential inauguration. Barring how depressing it was going to be, I was still geeked to see the clash of classical monuments with modern day technology. It’s so funny to see the background work of the pomp and circumstance.

We also took a trip out to Arlington National Cemetery and Gettysburg.

While in Gettysburg, I visited the site of Alexander Gardner’s famous “Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter” photograph. I hunted around for the Devil’s Den for a long while, and when I finally found it, the lighting was awful, and I had to wait a solid 45 minutes for a cloud to cover up the sun. I was determined because DANGIT I HAD BEEN LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS AND GROSS HARSH SHADOWS WERE NOT GOING TO RUIN THIS FOR ME.

The famous photograph:

Image result for home of rebel sharpshooter

I got to see my besties, saw some historical things, created a photo series making fun of the future president… Good times all around.

Happy Shooting!

 

So I Went to Niagara Falls Randomly

This has been a summer of grand adventures for me!

Last week I took an impromptu trip to Niagara Falls, Canada. Yes, that’s right, I went to the Canadian side. It’s only a few hours from where I live, and my mother and I had been planning on taking a short trip there for years, and we finally did. It was lovely AND kitschy– two of my favorite adjectives!

The thing about Niagara Falls in Canada is it’s almost like a Las Vegas, but for kids. It has really interesting buildings and lots of things to do for children, like the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! museum and haunted houses and wax museums. I didn’t do any of those things (I did, however, go in the “Upside Down House,) but I did take pictures of the tacky, charming things along Clifton Hill.

The best part of the trip was the tour we went on, where we went behind the Horseshoe Falls, over the whirlpool on the Niagara River, and on the Hornblower boat, to go right up to the falls. Going up to the falls was the most fun, mostly because I was entertained by all of us in our red ponchos, trying to take pictures in the dense mist. I was laughing and I felt happy– everyone wants that!

 

The whirlpool was pretty insane. There is a 90 degree bend in the Niagara River, so it is impossible for the water to, y’know, just casually turn. So it whirls and whirls. Apparently at night, it rotates in the opposite direction (like counter-clockwise instead of clockwise.) We went in an aerocar suspended on cables and went right over it, and stopped.

Now, I’m okay with heights. Heights do not bother me. I’ve been repelling down cliff faces, jumped off of cliffs, and I will most likely go skydiving one day. However, I absolutely do not like being on a man-made structure over water. Like bridges. Or steel cables suspended over one of the most dangerous rivers in the world.

Even though I was internally panicking, I still managed to get a lovely shot, which is one of my favorites from my trip.

It was really hot the day we took our tour, and the sun was shining bright (which made taking good photos difficult… damn shadows.) But the sun did bless me with this: while we were all waiting to board the Hornblower, the sun was shining through our ponchos. It was like a stain glass window. A super cheap, tacky, plastic, stained glass window.

It was an awesome trip. It was certainly special, and I highly recommend going on the Canadian side. I’m sure the view is nice from the American side, but man, the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side are just incredible. I can’t fully explain how majestic it was, and pictures can only do so much.

10/10 Highly Recommend!

Happy Shooting!

Bonus images: my mother and I, totally drenched from the falls but still lookin’ phresh af.