DAYBREAK IN HONG KONG

Hong Kong is one of my all-time favorite cities and if I can only afford it I will move there in a heartbeat. I just love looking at all the giant skyscrapers sitting on top of the most rugged terrain all reaching up for the skies symbolic of the city’s reputation as a center for global economics. When in Hong Kong, it’s always best to stay where one can enjoy the sweeping views of the city so on my most recent visit I stayed at two hotels so I can bask on the iconic views of Hong Kong from both sides of the harbor. The photos in this post were taken from the window of my suite at the fifty-third (53rd) floor of the Island Shangri-La Hotel. I just woke up and was getting ready for breakfast when I noticed the sun slowly rising from behind the mountains as if trying to quietly sneak into the still sleepy city. I used my GoPro Hero 7 Black and iPhone 7Plus to take these photos as there was too much reflection on the glass windows when I tried using my Canon DSLR. By laying the camera flat on the window it eliminates almost every reflection from inside the room. The colors of daybreak are always beautiful and I’m glad to have captured Hong Kong at a time when this dynamic city was at it’s most serene. Once this pandemic is over, I am definitely coming back.

PARK HYATT BANGKOK

The Park Hyatt Hotel-Bangkok was our home away from home during the Thailand leg of our Asian trip fall of last year. We were considering other hotels (Mandarin Oriental, Peninsula and Shangri-La) but being one of the newest hotels in town and having stayed at some of their properties we decided to book our stay with them. This 5-star luxury hotel is located in one of Bangkok’s nicest neighborhoods with access to the sky train making travel around the city highly convenient. The hotel sits on top of a massive shopping mall, which was a great perk for someone who loves to shop, although my favorite part of the complex was the infinity pool with amazing views of the city. The photo above was taken by the pool (yes those are my legs) while the photos below were taken around the hotel as well as inside our suite using my GoPro Hero 7 Black. We booked their Diplomat Suite, which was a huge and luxurious 1-bedroom suite with floor to ceiling windows providing us endless views of the city. The hotel was beautiful and well maintained but the service was unfortunately not at par with other Park Hyatt hotels we’ve stayed at. The hotel staff seemed to lack the warmth, hospitality and even the professionalism expected of a luxury hotel. Some staff had to be reminded repeatedly to deliver basic service, a waitress had to be followed-up 3 times for a cup of coffee while during dinner in one of their restaurants the waiter took away our unfinished bottle of wine (we had to call his attention) then hovered over after giving us the bill as if we were gonna sprint off without paying. They did apologized after we complained but first impressions last. Prior to Bangkok, we were in Hong Kong, Manila and Siem Reap and also stayed at 5-star hotels and resorts and we were amazed by the level of service they provided. Would we recommend this hotel? Most definitely not…the facility is impressive but if you’re willing to spend so much for a hotel stay then there are far better options around Bangkok.

Below are photos of our one-bedroom suite (Diplomat Suite)

ILLUMINATIONS

This lockdown had me looking at my old travel photos, which sadly gave me some untimely travel itch. Unfortunately, we Americans are currently banned in almost every country in the planet so we’re very much limited to just reliving international travel through our old photographs. I was in Hong Kong last year and really enjoyed that part of my Asian trip as I got to satisfy my intense cravings for authentic dimsum aside from the multiple photography opportunities. The hotel I first stayed at, Hotel InterContinental, was right by the harbour with spectacular views of the Hong Kong Island skyline, which provided me with many panoramic photography opportunities. The photo above was taken at the public square right beside the hotel on my way to the pier to catch a ferry that would take me across the harbour to the island side of the city. I love how I captured this iconic view of Hong Kong at night with the colorful building lights reflected on the water while framed by the architectural roof on top and the crowd of tourists below. The rest of the photos were taken while I was on the ferry and around the neighborhood by the pier on both sides of the harbour. Night photos can be quite a challenge to take especially when you don’t have a tripod or when on board a moving object like a ferry. Thankfully, I’ve learned to keep my hand really steady for a few seconds and also managed to be resourceful using rails, garbage cans and posts for the much needed steadying. When I took these photos, I intentionally framed it in a way that it captured the vibrant, bright, energetic, fast paced and exciting city that Hong Kong is. Hope you sense it too when you look at my photographs.

SOARIN’ OVER LANTAU

Lantau Island is one of the largest islands in Hong Kong and is home to the 32-meter tall Tian Tan Buddha, which I featured on a previous post. The shrine is accessible in two ways, by car or via a scenic alternative using the Ngong Ping 360 cable car. During my visit, I took the cable car and even paid extra for one with a glass bottom for an added thrill. I’m not a big fan of heights but surprisingly I enjoyed the ride very much. I believe I also got so engrossed with my photography that the lofty heights didn’t bother me at all. The cable car took me across the bay, over lush mountains and into the Ngong Ping Village where a Starbucks, a monastery and the statue of Buddha are located. The ride took about 25 minutes and you get to see the Hong Kong International Airport at the start of the ride then the giant Buddha sitting on top of the mountain at the end part of the ride. I took a good number of photographs while inside the cable car and here are some of my favorites. The top photo was taken using my iPhone 7Plus while the rest below were taken using a Canon Rebel T6s.

THE GRAND PALACE OF SIAM

The Grand Palace in the heart of Bangkok, Thailand has been the official residence of the Thai monarch since the 1700s. The complex is an architectural masterpiece covered mostly in gold with accents of red, green, purple and blue. The intricate details found in the carvings, mosaics, embroideries and sculptures are equally as magnificent as the structures. This palace is probably the most visited and most photographed place in Thailand with millions of photographs of the halls, pavilions, courtyards and gardens available online. This was my second visit in fifteen years and instead of capturing the palace on eye level, I decided to point my camera upwards towards the beautiful and colorful geometric structures that decorated the roofs. There are actually as much beauty on the rooftops as there are on the ground. Another reason for doing this was also because of the large number of tourists inside the complex. The crowd was just enormous and I thought they took away the magical atmosphere of the place. So here are some of my shots of the palace above eye level and I hope you all enjoy looking at them.

THE FLOATING VILLAGE OF KOMPONG PHLUK

The Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and along its shores are villages that are highly dependent on its ecosystem for their food supply. Two of these villages, Kompong Khleang and Kompong Phluk, have now become major tourist attractions because of the houses built on stilts to stay above water and also due to their proximity to Siem Reap. Our tour guide took us to the floating village of Kompong Phluk, which was the closest at around 15 kilometers from Siem Reap. This was a nice change of scenery after all the trips to the temples. The village sits alongside a river that is snaking its way towards the Tonle Sap Lake and our boat took us to the very heart of this village sailing past humble homes and friendly villagers. We continued sailing towards the lake and passed by a mangrove forest, which I will feature in another post. I’m glad I brought my DSLR with me during this tour for better quality photos as at one point I was so dependent on my iPhone for travel photography and has since regretted doing so. Here are some of the photos I took of the floating village of Kampong Phluk. The muddy water was a beautiful complement to the earthy tones of the wooden stilts and houses. Thankfully, the sun was out that day creating beautiful shadows with the stilts as well as saturating the colors of the water, the houses and the vegetation around the village. I hope you guys enjoy these series of photographs and don’t forget to like and leave a comment. Till my next post…stay safe everyone!

BAYON: THE TEMPLE OF MANY FACES

Bayon is an ancient Khmer temple located in the middle of Angkor Thom, which is the last capital city of the Khmer empire. The temple’s most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and smiling faces carved on the roofs of all the towers in the complex. Interestingly, all the faces look similar and our guide told us that scholars suggested it was a representation of King Jayavarman VII. This ancient city is now part of the modern city of Siem Reap, Cambodia. I arrived in Cambodia on the last days of the rainy season and during my visit to the temples, the skies were leaden with overcast. Although, the sun trying to break through the clouds created a golden haze making the colors of the temple richer. The temple is every photographer’s dream destination from the carved facades, the stone statues, the towers with faces and the bas-reliefs on the galleries, there is just a bounty of subjects to photograph. I took hundreds of photographs in all available angles and these are some of my favorites. Hope you all enjoy looking at them and maybe they will inspire some of you to visit Cambodia in the near future.

THE MANY FACES OF TONLE SAP

A visit to Siem Reap means hopping from one ancient temple to another, however, there is another noteworthy visit nearby…the floating villages of Tonle Sap Lake. The village of Kompong Phluk is the most visited and just a few kilometers from Siem Reap. It offers a very good contrast once you finally had your fill of temples. Our private guide took us there on our last day in Siem Reap. The drive through the Cambodian countryside was truly a humbling experience. Watching people go about their lives in simplicity made me reflect on my life and how I’d like to live it moving forward.

I can no longer recall how long the drive was but I remember us parking beside a river and then hopping on a wooden boat that was to take us to the village. The water was muddy and looked like milk chocolate but with the sun out and bright I thought it provided an earthy and rustic tone to my photographs. As we sailed into the village I saw all these houses on stilts, although I didn’t expect to see a lot of human activity assuming that people stayed indoors to evade the prying eyes of tourists. Instead, we found ourselves cruising through a busy village. People busy with household chores, children playing, women paddling boats with stuff to trade, men fixing fishing nets and families just busy working together. It was fascinating to see all these people living in such an unusual environment. Of course I immediately got busy with my camera. I took a lot of photos of the houses, the river and the edge of the lake but for this post, I am featuring the many faces of Tonle Sap Lake.

THE BRIDGE TO BAYON

Angkor Thom is located in the Kingdom of Cambodia and is the last capital city of the Khmer empire. In the heart of this ancient city is the temple of Bayon, which is known for the multiple carvings of serene and smiling stone faces on its many towers. The city is surrounded by a moat and on it’s south gate entrance is a bridge lined with statues of gods and demons. Thankfully, our guide decided to have us walk through the bridge instead of driving by it so I was able to walk up to the statues and took as many photographs as my memory card can accommodate. It was such a thrilling and magical experience.  I can just imagine the sense of awe people felt as they walked across this bridge many centuries ago.  I’m glad they were able to preserve these archeological sites for us and for future generations to appreciate. Here are some of the photos I took of the bridge, the statues and the entrance gate to the ancient city of Angkor Thom.

BENG MEALEA

The temple of Beng Mealea in Angkor, Cambodia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the many temples built around the Angkor Wat period. After I was told by our guide that we were visiting multiple temple ruins for four straight days, I was worried I’ll eventually get tired of them. To my amazement, every temple we visited was as magnificent and unique as the other. For Beng Mealea, I like that they kept the forest that encroached on the temple complex. They didn’t uproot the trees and the stone slabs were still covered in moss. It felt like we were discovering the place for the first time. This was one of the many archeological sites we visited that I really enjoyed photographing. Aside from it’s beauty, the place was also almost deserted allowing me to take photographs minus the crowd of tourists. Here are a few of the many photos I took during my visit. Enjoy them and I hope you can take time to leave a comment. Thank you.

MEN IN ORANGE

Buddhist monks have always fascinated me…their meditative and simple lifestyles require them to abandon a life of pleasure in order to reach Nirvana. Based on those basic requirements, I obviously am not going to become a monk. LOL! Their orange robes are also very eye catching and mystical at the same time. I saw a lot of them during my trip to Thailand and Cambodia and always wanted to photograph them. I was instructed not to come too close but it was okay to take their photos from a distance. I had so many opportunities to photograph them during the trip but decided not to until I photographed them by accident. I was in Angkor Wat taking photos from across the moat when these two monks walked past in front of me just as I was clicking on my camera. I photographed them by accident and the photo turned out perfectly. It sure was my lucky day. The other photos were taken after the one above during the tour around the Angkor Wat complex. 
I call this photo the Orange Phantom…again I tried to keep my distance when taking their photos but this monk walked too fast and so I ended up with a photo of his back. I do like the mood of this photo with the all the shadows and spot lighting…very mysterious.
These last two photos were taken while driving out of the Angkor Wat complex. There was a brief traffic jam and these monks were patiently waiting for their tuk tuk to start moving.

LADIES OF THE MOAT

I’ve always wondered what my initial reaction would be when I see Angkor Wat for the first time. Would it be a jaw dropping moment? Would it take my breath away? Or would it be a disappointing experience? My anticipation was further built up as the sunrise experience I signed up for was cancelled due to inclement weather. I was able to go later in the day, once the rain stopped, however the sun just made a very brief appearance that day. I was looking forward to photograph every nook and corner of the temple that day but the gloomy weather made photography a challenge resulting to less vibrant shots. The moment I stepped out of the van, my heart started to beat insanely, and got wilder the closer I was to the temple. For a moment, I thought my heart stopped beating when I stepped up to this flatform and saw the Angkor Wat complex rising majestically across this body of water, which I initially thought was a river but later found out was a moat. It was such a magical moment…an experience I would cherish for the rest of my life. In the moat I noticed this boat with four women scooping what looked like reeds out of the water. I got riveted to what they were doing including the pile of reeds on their boat, which I thought made an interesting shot. I immediately pulled out my camera to photograph them while at the same time captured a reflection of Angkor Wat in the water. I was there for less than 10 minutes and I already got myself these magical shots. Angkor Wat is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen and I made sure I took as many photographs as possible, all of which I would feature in my next few posts. For today, photos of these ladies cleaning the moat stole the show from Angkor Wat and will be the main feature of this post.

ANGKOR IN ROUGE

The Banteay Srei is a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva located in Angkor, Kingdom of Cambodia. The temple was built during the 10th century and is smaller in scale compared to other temples around the area but it features the most elaborate carvings making this one of the most beautiful temples in Cambodia. It’s unique color is due to the red sandstone used as primary construction material. It was raining during my visit and the wet walls enhanced the redness of the sandstones. This temple complex is about two hours drive from Siem Reap but is a must visit due to its beauty and unique color. Here are some of the photos I took during my visit using a Canon Rebel T6s.

THE CHEDIS OF WAT PHO

The Wat Photharam is one of the oldest and largest temple complexes in Bangkok, Thailand. It is more commonly known as Wat Pho and is one of the most visited sites in Bangkok. One of the temples inside the complex houses the world famous Reclining Buddha, which is the sites main attraction. However, what most people do not know is that Wat Pho is actually the birthplace of traditional Thai massage, which to this day is being taught inside the complex. After exploring around for hours I treated myself to some foot massage, which was quite a heavenly experience. 

Around the complex are these pyramid-like structures called chedis, which remind me of the pawns on a chess board but much more colorful. These structures covered in beautiful mosaic tiles houses the ashes of members of the royal family. The larger chedis supposedly contain relics of Buddha.  The main photo above was taken using my iPhone 7 Plus while the rest below were taken using my Canon Rebel T6s.

LILIES D’ANGKOR

966AFBDB-F689-4D49-BB50-26443D976273During my trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia, I stayed at the Belmond La Residence D’Angkor Hotel. This luxury hotel is situated right in the heart of town and the lush foliage all over the property makes you feel like you’re in the middle of a tropical forest. Just outside of the main lobby is a pond filled with beautiful purple and white water lilies. As soon as I saw them I knew I needed to photograph such mystical blooms. I took these photos late in the afternoon when lighting was no longer harsh and the sun was casting shadows in the water. I love how the dark pond waters made the color of the lilies brighter and richer. In Cambodian culture, the water lily is a symbol of purity, spontaneous generation and divine birth while for Buddhists, it is a symbol of enlightenment.

PHRA BUDDHASAIYAS

The Phra Buddhasaiyas is the main attraction at the Wat Pho temple complex in Bangkok, Thailand. This golden statue of Buddha in a reclining position is famously and aptly known as the Reclining Buddha and is one of Bangkok’s most visited sites. The temple is always packed with tourists so photographing it can be quite a challenge with so many people competing for the right spot to capture the perfect shot. Thankfully I went early so it wasn’t so crowded and I was able to work on my angles.  

Last time I was in Bangkok was 15 years ago and so much has changed since my last visit. However, revisiting this magnificent statue brought out the same sense of amazement I felt the first time I saw it many years ago. This time though I made sure I had my cameras ready and photographed every inch of the temple’s interior. The first three photos were taken using my GoPro Hero 7 Black with a wide angle setting while the rest were taken using my Canon Rebel T6s. I had to take a number of test shots to capture the perfect lighting, something one can do with a DSLR but not with a GoPro. I wanted to capture the serenity inside the temple at the same time highlighting the “goldness” of Buddha. These are my favorite shots!

TIAN TAN BUDDHA

I visited Hong Kong in the fall of 2019 and despite the protests occuring around the city, I went ahead with the trip and glad that I did. A friend who lives in Hong Kong told me I should be fine as I will be in the city during the week and most of the protests occur on weekends. True enough, I had a great time in this amazing city with no untoward incidents during my stay. One of the highlights of my visit was a trip to the Tian Tan Buddha, which is considered one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. Located in Lantau Island, this famous landmark is best accessed through a cable car ride with amazing views of the HKG airport. This famous landmark sits on top of a hill and one has to climb almost three hundred steps to get close to it. At first I thought this was an ancient shrine but after a quick Google, I found out this was just built in the early 90’s. Still it is quite a magical experience climbing up the steps and coming face to face with Buddha. The photo above was taken inside the cable car as it was approaching the final station close to the statue. The photos below were taken at the steps during my climb as well as on the base of the statue at the top of the hill. By the way, I was told it was bad luck to look back during the climb so I didn’t. I’m not superstitious but I adhered to the instructions just to be safe…I didn’t want any protests/riots to spoil my vacation.

TA PROHM

The ancient temple of Ta Prohm was the first archeological site I visited in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The complex was just breathtaking with the roots of trees growing out of the ruins. In fact, this temple looks exactly in the same condition in which it was found. During this leg of my Asian trip, I hired a tour guide to show me around for five days and he was very informative about the places we visited. Unfortunately, I was too busy taking photos that I immediately forgot the trivias he told me as soon as we left the ruins. Yikes! The only thing I remember about Ta Phrom was it being used as set for the film Tomb Raider. Here are some of the hundreds of photographs I took around this magnificent complex.

THE GUARDIANS OF PHRA MONDOP

The Phra Mondop (The Library) is an architectural masterpiece located inside the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. The building’s intricate decors plus the abundance of gold is the perfect representation of Thailand’s amazing culture. When I visited this magnificent royal compound three months ago, I thought I was going to run out of memory space in my camera. Every nook and corner was a photographers delight. Every inch of the compound was worth becoming a subject. I went for expansive angles to capture entire structures at the same time zoomed in to capture tiny details such as the materials covering the walls. In this series I am featuring the guard-like statues erected around the building. Their presence must have been intimidating to visitors especially those who saw these for the first time more than two hundred years ago. These statues actually look like they are ready to hit you with their clubs in case you misbehave. I admit that I envy the Thais for their colorful culture and I also salute them for ensuring that they remain preserved and protected for future generations to enjoy.

THE PEAK

A trip to Hong Kong isn’t complete without visiting Victoria Peak, an elevation on the island side of the city with breathtaking views of the metropolis and the harbor. The Peak, as locals call it, is accessible by a funicular tram from Central Hong Kong as well as by vehicle or by hiking up the hill. I took the tram as the station was just a short walk from my hotel. The Peak also happens to be the most visited place in Hong Kong and is probably every photographer’s dream spot for a bird’s eye view and panoramic shot of the city. Here are some of the photos I took using my Canon Rebel T6s during my trip to this fabulous city last month.

GIRLS OF ANGKOR

Siem Reap, Cambodia was one of the cities I visited during my trip around Southeast Asia. Of course Angkor Wat was in the itinerary and it was quite an experience seeing the temple ruins in person but I will feature my photos of the temple at a later post. For now, here are photos I took of these local girls in their traditional dresses posing with the tourists around the temple. Their costumes are just beautiful especially the golden headdresses…very exotic…very mystical.

AYASOFYA

The Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya in Turkish), which means Holy Wisdom, is a grand piece of architecture that beautifully defines the Istanbul skyline. According to our tour guide, it was originally an Orthodox church which was turned into a mosque and eventually converted into a museum. It was truly a humbling experience to stand before this ancient wonder and be able to walk along its endless halls and explore its grand chambers.  Inside was generally empty except for a few relics and lighting fixtures, however, the walls and ceilings are covered with a spectacular array of religious artwork. It was fascinating to see Christian and Muslim symbols beautifully complementing each other. I think the world can learn from the walls of Ayasofya on how to coexist harmoniously despite our differences.  Sadly though, recent developments in Turkish politics may eventually lead to reviving this museum back into a mosque. I just hope the people of Istanbul decide to retain this as a symbol of secularism where people from all faiths can enjoy the beauty and wonder of this great human achievement both in construction and architecture.

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