Category Archives: Location Reviews

4 Can’t-Miss Autumn Adventures in Spokane

Spokane, Washington is absolutely stunning in the fall.  

Though I’m a Seattleite now, the “Lilac City” will always be a second home for me, after living there for several years.  I loved being so close to nature, feeling the stark seasonal changes, and seeing new restaurants and shops open up as downtown grew. 

Every year when the days begin to shorten, I always get a bit nostalgic about my time there.   The heat loses its bite and the city is transformed into a canvas of bright colors as the trees prepare to drop their leaves.  For those of us not lucky enough to live there, it’s a beautiful place for a peaceful weekend away.

Here are some of my favorite autumn adventures to enjoy in Spokane.

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Pavillion By Night by Matt Reinbold is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Marvel over the Victorian houses and bright colors of Browne’s Addition

If you’re visiting Spokane for a short trip, you’ll probably be staying in one of the downtown hotels.  Once you’ve dropped off your bags, a good place to stretch your legs is by walking to Browne’s Addition, which is widely known as one of the best neighborhoods in Spokane, and is just west of downtown.  Spend an hour or an afternoon strolling through its quiet streets, enjoying the stately homes and marveling at the bright colors of the trees lining the roads.  The sugar maples, which blaze in bright reds and oranges throughout the fall, are particularly vibrant.

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EJ Roberts Mansion by Tracy Hunter is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

If you have extra time, stop by the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture on 1st avenue (which is having a Halloween party this year!), or lengthen your walk by heading north, crossing the Spokane River on a footbridge.  From there, head East on the Centennial Trial to loop through Riverfront Park, where you’ll see more dazzling colors, before heading back to downtown Spokane.

Go apple picking at Green Bluff

A fantastic way to spend one of Spokane’s brisk, sunny autumn days is a visit to the orchards.  Greenbluff excursions are a strong tradition in Spokane, and it was always the day trip I looked forward to the most in the fall.  After your morning coffee, pile into the car with friends and family to make the short drive out of town to the north.  After about 30 minutes you’ll find yourself on a plateau, surrounded by a collection of orchards and farms.  Reserve an afternoon to stroll through the trees, filling a bucket with crisp, bright apples.  There’s a reason Washington is famous for this fruit! In fact, more than 100 million boxes of apples (at 40 pounds each) are produced in the state each year. 

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Apples by Shinya Suzuki is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Several Green Bluff orchards also have small presses where you can make a jug of sweet apple cider.  It doesn’t get any fresher than that! Just make sure to enjoy it over the next day or two, since there are no preservatives.  One way to use up that cider is to  try your hand at making a fancy fall cocktail

Taste seasonal beer from award-winning breweries

Though apples are Washington State’s most famous crop, did you know the Evergreen State also dominates the hop industry, producing around 70% of all hops grown in North America?

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Beer Sampler by Quinn Dombrowski is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Though cities like Seattle and Denver are well-known as craft beer havens, Spokane has been quietly been producing award-winning breweries.   There are plenty of good breweries around town, but No-Li Brewhouse on the river in the Logan Neighborhood, and Steam Plant Brewing downtown are great places to start. This time of year is particularly special, because “fresh hop” beers are in season, which is a must-try if you’ve never tasted them before.  

If beer’s not your thing, taste a “farm to table” craft liquor from DryFly Distilling or take a distilling class at Tinbender Craft Distillery

Take a scenic drive to Schweitzer and Lake Pend Orielle

When you think of the Rocky Mountains, what do you imagine?  It’s likely you thought of the wilds of Colorado, or perhaps Wyoming or Montana.  You might be surprised at how close Spokane is to the northern Rockies, which spill over into the narrow neck of neighboring Idaho.  Schweitzer Mountain Resort is a favorite skiing destination in the winter, but it’s also a gorgeous place to visit in the fall, and only about a 2-hour scenic drive.

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Lake Pend Orielle at Sunset by Bjorn is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Pack a picnic and make a detour to Farragut State Park, where you can explore Lake Pend Orielle or go on a hike.  Or, stop for lunch and window shopping in the quaint town of Sandpoint, located at the north end of the lake.  Shortly after leaving Sandpoint, you’ll begin the zig-zagging journey up the mountain, feeling the temperature cool as you climb.  When you reach the resort, stunning views of the mountain range reward you.  For adventurers who’d like an even better view, grab a chairlift ticket to the top of the mountain, where 360-degree views will take your breath away.  

Martha Burwell

Hola, Bonjour, Sabaidee! Having traveled the world, Martha Burwell is a writer and consultant based in Seattle who loves sharing stories about places she’s been. But her heart will always be in the Pacific Northwest, where she explores the nearby mountains on foot, by mountain bike, and by snowboard. Martha regularly writes for www.StreetAdvisor.com, and also consults on gender equity via www.MarthaBurwell.com and blogs about intersectional gender equity at www.EqualiSea.org.

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Staying in one of the classic Santorini hotels offers stunning sunset views before you hit the hay.

10 Places to Catch the World’s Most Beautiful Sunsets

There’s nothing quite as romantic and breathtaking as a beautiful sunset! If you want to travel and catch some of the world’s prettiest views of the sun as it sets, check out the spots below. These places are well-known destinations where you are guaranteed to catch a colorful, beautiful and awe-inspiring sunset.

1. The Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, CA

People might think of Los Angeles as a place with smoggy skies, but it just might be these skies that cause some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world. Book one of the great classic Los Angeles hotels, then head up to the Griffith Observatory around dusk. From the top, you can see not only a beautifully colored sky, but also an unforgettable view of the city and Sunset Boulevard.

2. Oia, Santorini, Greece

Santorini is known for its distinctive white and blue architecture. Set on a craggy cliffside, the village of Oia gives onlookers the perfect spot to watch the sun as it reflects on this stark white buildings, then sets into the Aegean Sea.

3. Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Travel to Rio de Janeiro, and you’re going to want to catch a sunset on legendary Ipanema Beach. The sunset is beautiful in Ipanema because it sets behind the rocky hillsides that border the coast. The beach is also a great budget destination to catch a great sunset due to many cheap hotels in Rio de Janeiro.

4. Diamond Head, Honolulu, Hawaii

Nearly anywhere on Oahu is a great place to catch a sunset, but climb up Diamond Head, a volcano and state monument, and you’ll be able to catch the stunning setting sun over legendary Waikiki beach. If you want to stay near Diamond Head, check out a room at the Hyatt Place Waikiki Beach, which is located close to the foot of the volcano.

5. Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Everything about the Taj Mahal is beautiful, but it has become an international destination to visit at dusk, because of the beautiful sunsets that occur behind it and the stunning colors that reflect around the building.

6. Mallory Square, Key West, Florida

Key West is known for its stunning sunsets. For the best view of the sunset on the island, head to Mallory Square, where people gather each night to watch the sunset together. Sometimes, you’ll be accompanied by entertainers — like jugglers and street musicians — to celebrate the sunset with you.

7. Milovaig, Isle of Skye, UK

The Isle of Skye is an island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland in the UK. While the entire island offers a stunning view of the setting sun, one of the best spots to catch it is the pier at Milovaig, which offers onlookers a multi-colored, breathtaking scene.

8. Parish Church of San Rocco, San Rocco, Italy

High in the cliffs of the Portofino National Park, on the Ligurian Coast of Italy, there is a small town with a cathedral called San Rocco. In that town is a cathedral with a beautiful terrace overlooking the Ligurian Sea, and from there you can catch a breathtaking sunset nightly, over the small coastal town of Camogli.

9. North Cape, Finnmark, Norway

North Cape, Norway is so far north it’s nearly in the Arctic Circle. Thus, during the summer, the sun hardly ever sets. Visitors can take in the midnight sun — or the sun that sets just to the horizon, but never fully sets. Seeing this strange sunset phenomenon can be a once in a lifetime experience.

10. Ao Kao Beach, Koh Mak, Thailand

Located in Trat Province in Thailand, Koh Mak is world famous for its stunning sunsets. Far from the big hotels in Bangkok, Koh Mak features idyllic, serene nature with no skyscrapers or cityscape to obscure the sunset, making the consistent, nightly sunset into the great blue yonder an unforgettable experience.

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The view from our balcony at Magda's casa.

10 Highlights from my First Trip to Cuba!

The view from our balcony at Magda's casa.

The view from our balcony at Magda’s casa.

Hi everyone! I’m Analin Saturria McGregor am very excited to contribute to Oh Hey World as a guest writer. I discovered a new way of traveling 6 years ago when a friend invited me to the beautiful Samaná peninsula in my native Dominican Republic. Growing up during the expansion of the all-inclusive vacation tourism model, I had never dreamed that there could be a more meaningful, engaging and fun way to travel. I’m now an independent traveling convert and have relocated to Shanghai, China with my husband after two years in the Dominican Republic. This first post is about our first big travel adventure together: Cuba!

If you want to go to Cuba, make it happen! Go now, while that charm that has made Cuba famous is still there. The Dominican Republic is an easy place to do it from since travel between the two islands is fairly easy to figure out. If you have the time and the money you can also plan some time in the Dominican and some time in Cuba –two birds with one stone.

10 of my favorite things about Havana:

1) Staying at a casa particular – After seeing how Havana has so many tourist trap places, I have to say staying at a Casa Particular gave us a freedom we would have probably not enjoyed staying at a hotel. Hotels in Havana are, in my opinion, quite overwhelming – you get bombarded with multiple offers from guides, vendors, etc., to do things their way, which usually involves some sort of prepackaged fashion of what they assume is what every tourist should see. We also got to help a Cuban family directly (remember, in Cuba, all hotels are operated by the government through a number of companies established for this purpose. Even the ones who may be operated by foreign chains, such as Melia or Iberostar, are still under a government concession). In our case, Magda has just started with her Casa business and we were one of her first guests. If you want her Casa’s contact info you can message me. We made our own itinerary, took whatever risks we were okay with taking, and were pretty much undisturbed for the whole week. Magda made us breakfast herself every day (even placing the fruit in a happy face shape every morning – adorable), which was an interesting assessment of the food issues most Cubans face. For example, one day there was no bread on our breakfast because bakeries had no flour yet so no one had been able to bake any fresh bread. Also, casas are significantly cheaper than hotels – about half the price than a budget hotel, which allows for spending a little more on attraction fees or nicer dining.

2) Going to local places to eat – In most local places, prices are quoted in Moneda Nacional, which is a lot cheaper than the more widely used in tourist areas, Cuban Convertible Peso. In many places, you can pay with either (1 US$= 24 Cuban Peso/Moneda Nacional, vs. 1 US$=1CUC). Portions are HUGE. First day out we went to this Chinese restaurant in Centro Habana’s Chinatown. We had to go up some stairs and it kind of looked like a place where small-scale mobsters would eat (at least movie mobsters), but the food was great (just like any American Chinese takeout restaurant) and we had enough leftovers for dinner and a bit of a midnight snack post-drinks. Total bill=something like US$5, including drinks). Another day we decided to go to this cafeteria that we had passed by a different day. The important thing here was that the place was PACKED. My husband, a more experienced traveler than me, always tells me: “pay attention to where the locals go. If there are a lot of locals there, it’s got to be good, and probably cheap”. They had no sitting, just tables you stood around, so it really was packed. It was basically as large as 6 feet of sidewalk. Portions? Huge. Finishing my sandwich was a tough task. My husband was nowhere near finishing his plate of rice, beans, pork and salad. If my memory serves me right we paid about $4.50 CUC for that meal. I might have not looked very happy while we were eating (it was hot and eating while standing up is not the best thing after walking all morning) but it was a cool experience. Couple of things: in Cuba you have to pay for any takeout containers – imported Styrofoam (cringe). Also, since you can’t drink the tap water, you should always keep bottled water with you – but buy it in stores away from the tourist areas if you can. Price of a 1.5 liter bottle of water at the local store: about 70 CUC cents. At the touristy area shops, the same 70 cents will just get you a 10-ounce bottle.

View of Havana from the lighthouse binoculars. El Castillo del Morro, Havana.

View of Havana from the lighthouse binoculars. El Castillo del Morro, Havana.

3) Taking our time with Havana and not overexerting ourselves – Initially we were keeping the option of traveling to other cities in Cuba in the back burner, but the city that we were truly interested in visiting was Santiago (second largest city in Cuba anyway) but decided against it due to distance. Domestic flights in Cuba are not exactly reliable (planes are outdated and often flights are delayed due to missing parts) and my husband has already done his fair share of scary domestic flights in Russia. The other option was the bus, but it’s an 11-hour drive. Didn’t really feel like losing two days to Santiago and back since we just had a week. After I came back I remember talking to a friend who had gone to Cuba not long before with a student group, and her comment about how much she deeply regretted not being able to stay put for longer, and just explore. For a weeklong trip, I would probably limit my trip to one or two locations, tops, due to the potential transport delays you could encounter.

4) Visiting El Castillo del Morro – In my opinion, the best attraction in Havana. My absolute favorite. First of all, you have to take a taxi to go there, so great opportunity to take a classic car. We rode in a ’49 Chevy. You can negotiate on price with them and if you ask, they will wait for you until you’re done and take you back. El Castillo del Morro was built to defend Havana and was an important defense point in the 1700s. It’s kept in wonderful shape and has very good exhibits. No need to hire a guide, you’re pretty much free to roam around the fort as much as you want. Save your guide money to pay for lighthouse access (it does cost extra to go up the lighthouse but it is a wonderful, wonderful point to get bird’s eye views of Havana. Getting the whole view of the skyline lets you see the striking difference between Old Havana and the newest districts in the city (most specifically Vedado). You can also get a pretty good idea of what inner city Havana (or Centro Habana) looks like. Get up here with a camera that allows for taking panoramic pictures – you will not regret it.

El Castillo del Morro - view from the Havana waterfront.

El Castillo del Morro – view from the Havana waterfront.

5) The cafeteria at Sociedad Asturiana – the Sociedad Asturiana is located at Paseo del Prado, the gateway to Old Havana coming from the Malecón. It’s a Spanish-founded cultural venue which holds live music, dance classes, etc. We saw a flamenco rehearsal one day. It was so elegant!). I believe we saw their ground floor cafeteria, Zana, on the way home one particularly hot evening. They sell in Moneda Nacional (Cuban peso), so we could get coffee and a “coffee cake” for about $2 CUC in the end). Those rolls were heaven. Not too cakey and not too bready, sweet, delicious and big. They also made great steak sandwiches (or pan con bistec – I’d call this the Cuban equivalent of a Philly Cheese Steak without the cheese and with thicker steak) and burgers.

6) Multiple transportation options, yet very walkable – Havana is a fairly flat city, so walking is not exactly challenging, and the city is laid out on a pattern that makes it quite easy to find your way. Also, if you’re walking, you’re free to take your precious time and look closely to what YOU think it’s important. The Malecón is a fabulous reference point. When you get tired of walking, hop on a Coco-Taxi. Coco-taxis are the clever and heat-proof way to take a motorcycle taxi: it’s a motorcycle with an circular sort of attachment on the back that seats three. They are open on the sides, so if it rains, you might get sprinkled on the legs, but who cares? These transport tourists and locals alike.

Vintage taxi and coco-taxi strolling down Havana's waterfront.

Vintage taxi and coco-taxi strolling down Havana’s waterfront.

7) The photography opportunities! – Even the tattered buildings have indescribable beauty to them, you will get glimpses into the lives of Cubans you will not get or hear from any tour guide in Old Havana. Our waterfront location granted fantastic picture opportunities all day long. During our first three days in Havana, we took close to 3000 pictures. A building that might seem run-down and not worth a picture might change completely under a different sunlight, or once you bother to discover it.

8) Detouring through side streets in Centro Habana – We had read mixed reviews about Centro Habana’s safety, so we didn’t really walk through side streets at nighttime. During the day, however, it was fun to get glimpses of what Cubans’ lives are like: people cooking, hanging clothes, people-watching on their balconies, drinking and chatting, playing dominoes or music, repairing their vehicles with makeshift parts, playing baseball, watching baseball, coming to and from school. We also walked by some smaller businesses and witnessed long lines while people waited for their rations. Go to Old Havana, and all you see is white people.

9) Smoking cigars at the fancy hotels – Talk about a way to feel glamorous Old-Hollywood style. Sipping daiquiris and smoking our Romeo y Julietas while sitting on the Hotel Nacional’s gorgeous terrace overlooking the ocean…wow…straight out of any 60s TV show episode, regardless of your outfit. The fancy hotels will have either a store (at the basement in Hotel Nacional) or a cart (at the lobby at Hotel Parque Central), all run by very knowledgeable ladies that can recommend the Cuban that better suits the type of smoke you want to have.

10) The bomb shelter/tunnel at Hotel Nacional – This hotel, a National Monument in its own right, is possibly one of the most beautiful buildings in all of Havana. You can walk through their halls filled with pictures of celebrities during their visits to Cuba and world leaders visiting with Fidel Castro. Upon walking on their cliff-side gardens, we stumbled upon a shelter built during the Cuban missile crisis. The shelter includes illustrations of how the Cuban army used this secret point to spy on the American ships stationed facing Havana. We got a walk-through by its friendly guide, who will vividly explain the importance of this shelter over and over during the walking tours of Hotel Nacional – worth doing and better yet, it’s free. Make sure to take some change with you to tip guides.

Check back next week for the 11 most surprising part of my travels through Cuba, as well as tips for planning your own trip!

Analin Saturria

Dominican Republic born. Adopted by the Pacific Northwest. A microfinance enthusiast, now training and managing volunteers for Zidisha Inc., and taking my first steps into teaching. Located in Shanghai, China.

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Bangkok’s top 5 off-the-beaten-path attractions

Getting off the tourist trail in Bangkok

Bangkok is one of the world’s biggest, and most bustling cities. It goes by several names, including the official Thai name “Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit” (no joke!). This is the longest city name in the world, or just “Krung Thep Maha Nakhon” for short, translating to City of Angels. Curiously enough, the more westernized name is almost opposite of this, as it is referred to as the “Sin City of Asia” with reference to the busy night life. Being one of the oldest Asian trade cities in dealing with the West, it has had a long term standing accommodating foreigners. This has brought about many popular attractions, and some at high tourist prices!

So what can you do that’s fun, interesting, and not really on the beaten-path? Being such a massive metropolis, there’s hidden gems around every corner in Bangkok. Here’s some of my favourite discoveries:

Forensic Museum

The forensic museum is not your run of the mill museum. This off-the-beaten-path museum is located at Siriaj Hospital, in central Bangkok. This place is crazy… and certainly not for the faint of heart! The Forensic and Pathology Museum takes you through a variety of different exhibits, examining different elements of the CSI related science, and it’s use in Bangkok. The exhibits include coronary studies, head injuries, a Tsunami 2004 exhibit, and even the mummified cadaver of the most infamous serial killer in Thailand. It’s not your run of the mill attraction, but certainly brings with it a heap of information and an inside look at this interesting study.

Thai Barbecue

Perhaps not best to combine this with your day at the Forensic Museum, this is a very popular Thai activity. Similar to a Korean BBQ, the Thai version incorporates a bowl at the bottom of the grill for making a soup with noodles, greens, wontons and of course some drippings from the meat being cooked on the grill above. It’s a do-it-yourself activity, and all you can eat. The typical Thai BBQs run about 120 Thai Baht, and often don’t have time limits dictating your stay. The buffet is immense, with tons of tasty food to try – including salads and desserts! Best if you go with some friends so you have some company to engage with while waiting on your meat to cook to your liking! They can be found all over the city – my personal favourite is Pla Thong located centrally in Bangkok near the Victory Monument sky train station!

Go to the Cinema… in bed

Going to the movies in Thailand may not seem like such a big deal. Sure there’s lots of English choices available, but they’re no different from the movies you can watch back home… except for one detail. A few theater complexes have developed VIP theatres. If you’ve got an extra evening to kill, and you really want to check out that new film your friends back home have been raving about – this is an experience in itself. Often with 3 different seating options, you can choose between the front gallery, where you’ll sit comfortably under the screen in body fitting bean-bag chairs. Moving up a notch going up the sides of the theatre, you will be watching the movie with the comfort of home, in a leather recliner chair – equipped with a blanket for maximum comfort.

And then.. the cream of the crop – Check out the fully reclinable ‘bed’ seats. These ones go up the centre of the theater for the best seating. They have enclosing walls so you and a friend don’t get the distracting sounds from people chatting around you. They also happen to recline almost completely horizontally for the effect of laying in bed. Equipped with pillows and a blanket, this is the ultimate comfort in movie watching.

This is like flying first class, minus the turbulence, and with a giant state of the art screen and surround sound system, to comfortably transport you to a far away land. Oh.. and did I mention they deliver popcorn and drinks directly to your seat? The seating runs about 300-1000 Thai Baht – cheaper than a night out back home, and in much more class and comfort. The Paragon Cineplex in central Bangkok is perhaps the most state of the art if considering this fun option.

Chatuchak Weekend Market

This is about as full on as markets get. At the very end of the sky train and subway lines, it’s easy to get to from nearly every central point in Bangkok. This market is probably the largest of it’s kind that I’ve ever been to. It’s definitely the biggest in Bangkok. It’s so big in fact, there’s maps available showing you the different areas to visit, and how to navigate to them. It’s roughly 4 city blocks in size, and easy to get caught up in and just spend the day browsing! You can get just about anything here – from clothing, to food, to art work, and even pure bred puppies! Once you’ve finished your shopping, or just need a break, there’s a massive park right next to it that you can go and lounge in and examine your loot! You’ll find some of the best prices here, and is a great option for buying souvenirs.

Visit Refugee Prisoners at the Immigration Detention Centre (IDC)

Now this can be a tough one for some people. It doesn’t exactly sound like the beaches and temples vacation you had originally planned on doing, but may be one of the most rewarding off-the-beaten-path experiences in Bangkok. There are countless people who have been imprisoned for overstaying their visas or living here illegally as refugees. They live with very little, and lack some basic necessities, such as vitamins, carbohydrates and hygiene products. There are a few NGOs in Bangkok who, for a very small fee of about $15, take you to visit some of the refugees and bring them these products with your donation. When you get out of your comfort zone and try to help others in need, you quickly learn the benefits of love and adventure that come from changing people’s lives for the better.

Ian Ord

An explorer since birth, Ian has now spent the better half of his life travelling. Spanning all 7 continents, and leaving no stone unturned, he continues to pursue discover new cultures, festivals, foods and all the other riches the world has to offer.

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White Temple - The Main Temple

Chiang Rai’s White Temple: This is a Must-See in Thailand!

The White Temple of Chiang Rai

There is a general ‘tourist trail’ that most people follow when heading to Thailand for the first time. This usually includes a trip to the beaches in the south, pit-stops in Bangkok, and a trip up to one of the northern provinces of Chiang Mai. It is a fair bit less common for people to venture much beyond that, as the city of Chiang Mai holds so many relics and activities already. This being said, for those adventurous enough, a short 3 hour bus ride to the northern most province of Chiang Rai can be well worth the time. Amongst the mountains, rice patties and natural beauty, amidst the ancient history and old cities, there lies another incredible – and bizarre – attraction: The White Temple.

White Temple - The Main Temple

The White Temple

Locally known as Wat Rong Khun, the unconventional temple is a tourist attraction for locals, foreigners, and even monks alike. Though completely different from the usual temples you may see in the north, it is still considered a place of spiritual worship for practicing Buddhists and should be treated as such.

White Temple - Buddha's everywhere

Buddha’s everywhere

Before  arriving to the gates, you can already tell that there’s something truly spectacular about this place! The immense complex of the White Temple is, as the name states, almost entirely white, with small reflective mirrors ornately decorating it.  It’s is a beacon of light to all those within even the slightest bit of an eye-shot away from it, luring them in with it’s beaming glow.

White Temple - Guardians of the bridge

Guardians of the bridge

This modern temple began it’s construction in 1997. You may say it’s a work in progress, as you can see new structures going up even to this day. With that said, however, there are already a myriad of temples and stupas found on the holy grounds which already completed.

The reason the White Temple is a little ‘different’ from your traditional temples is because it has completely modern elements, which lack in the older temples you may visit. It brings in an unusual contrast of good vs evil. Evil being represented largely in part by sins, modern warfare, and funny enough – Hollywood movies.

White Temple - Crossing Over

Crossing Over the bridge of Purgatory

With a mixed bag of appearance such as Neo (from the Matrix), Superman, Osama Bin Laden, and even Sponge Bob Squarepants, there is no shortage of recognizable characters in the stories being illustrated. Completely decorated with murals, statues, and even bridges crossing over purgatory, you find yourself becoming part of the journey to enlightenment.

White Temple - Still a place of worship

A place of worship

To anyone thinking of visiting outside the regular tourist trail, this is a highly recommended, and unique, destination to consider. You should give yourself about 3 hours to walk around, and another 30 mins in each direction getting to and from the temple from the city of Chiang Rai’s centre.

Please note: You should dress appropriately while visiting the White Temple. Although it’s bizarre, it is still a place of worship, and should be treated as such.

Ian Ord

An explorer since birth, Ian has now spent the better half of his life travelling. Spanning all 7 continents, and leaving no stone unturned, he continues to pursue discover new cultures, festivals, foods and all the other riches the world has to offer.

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LasPozas

Las Pozas: An Architectural Wonderland in the Jungles of Mexico

When I was younger, I spent a lot of time travelling in Mexico, since I lived there for about a decade. I always associate the country now, with my youth, and as such, there’s something of a magical aura that surrounds the place. The specific place that stands out in my memory like a towering inferno of the strange and surreal is a place called Las Pozas in the mountain village of Xilitla. It’s referred to as a surrealist sculpture garden, but in my mind, it’s so much more than that. It is 80 acres of the most fascinating juxtaposition of tropical forest and concrete structures I’ve ever seen. And hardly anyone, at least outside of Mexico, has even heard about it.

The history of Las Pozas is actually quite strange. It began with an English poet-artist’s single ambition. The man was named Edward James, born to a wealthy family, and it was rumored that James was the bastard child of Prince Edward, who would later become King of England. Having inherited money at a very young age, James, who was interested in art, used much of his funds to patronize up-and-coming artists, like Salvador Dali and Renee Magritte.

Eventually, James had a vision, in which he wanted to construct a real-life “Garden of Eden.” He traveled to many different places to find the perfect spot to lay out his dream. His original plan was southern California, but when he traveled through Mexico, he changed his mind. He declared his location in a remote area in central Mexico known for its lush tropical forests, strange flora and fauna, and, of course, its delicious home-grown coffee. James hired an indigenous Mexican, Plutarco Gastelum, a young manager of a telegraph office at the time, to help him with the actual construction. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I visited Las Pozas when I was quite young, maybe fifteen or sixteen, but the experience was absolutely life-changing. My family and I actually stayed at Edward James’ former residence, built by Plutarco, which has now been converted into a bed and breakfast style guest house run by Plutarco’s descendants. It is difficult to explain Las Pozas, without resorting to photographs. The most obvious thing about the structures is the Surrealist influence. There are stairs that lead to nowhere, there’s an eerie pet cemetery where James buried his parrots and other exotic pets, and there’s even a hollowed cement resting spot, created from James’ impressed body, which oddly resembles an angel with its wings spread out. Here, James would lie down and look up at the jungle’s canopy, among the misted trees, waterfalls, and his beloved pets–and simply think.

Although now Las Pozas has become an increasingly popular tourist attraction for Mexicans, it is still a mostly obscure place, considering that it takes a measured amount of courage and willingness to travel to such a remote location, especially in the Mexico of our current time. In any case, for those who love art and strange architecture, for those looking for an adventure, Las Pozas is the place to be.

Aside from the pictures, for a more intimate glimpse of what the Las Pozas experience can entail, the following is a poem written by Edward James, while he was living in Mexico:

I have seen such beauty as one man has seldom seen;

therefore will I be grateful to die in this little room,

surrounded by the forests, the great green gloom

of trees my only gloom – and the sound, the sound of green.

Here amid the warmth of the rain, what might have been

is resolved into the tenderness of a tall doom

who says: ‘You did your best, rest – and after you the bloom

of what you loved and planted still will whisper what you mean.

And the ghosts of the birds I loved, will attend me each a friend;

like them shall I have flown beyond the realm of words.

You, through the trees, shall hear them, long after the end

calling me beyond the river. For the cries of birds

continue, as – defended by the cortege of their wings –

my soul among strange silences yet sings.

**Photo via eyeconart.net

Naples – Good or Bad?

I feel like Naples has a constant stigma of being a mafia safe-haven and unfriendly destination to visit. But, as with everything else, there are two sides to every story — I just read a post written by Jessica Spiegel on Twenty-Something Travel about Naples that gives the positive side of the city.

During my first trip abroad back in 2005 following graduating from University of Washington, my buddy and I were in Naples for 2 nights and 3 days on our way over to Greece from Rome. What do I remember about that city?

  • Motorcycle drivers are insane – I remember walking through narrow streets and seeing motorcycles speeding through intersections at close to 40 miles an hour. If a person had mistakenly walked across one of those intersections? They’d be plowed over without any regard. How drivers survive on a daily basis driving at those speeds through crowded, narrow streets is beyond me.
  • Guards with guns – when walking downtown and visiting the main mall, there were guards with machine guns on the streets outside. At the ripe age of 22, I have to admit it was a little intimidating.
  • Se7en – I had never seen this movie until we watch it at our hostel in Naples; I didn’t sleep well that night.
  • Capri – a short boat trip from Capri, totally worth the day trip. We tried to do a boat tour around the island, but missed it — TWICE. We were bummed, but we had a train to catch to Brindisi to catch a long overnight ferry to Patros.

All in all? I thought the city was worth visiting, but wasn’t even close to my favorite spot in Italy having just came from Rome and Cinque Terre. I’m sure the city has changed in the 6 years since I’ve been there, so maybe it’s a little more friendly.

Drew Meyers

Drew Meyers is the co-founder of Horizon & Oh Hey World. He worked for Zillow.com from September of 2005 to January of 2010 on the marketing team managing Zillow’s API program and various online partnerships. Founder of Geek Estate Blog, a multi-author blog focused on real estate technology for real estate professionals, and myKRO.org, a blog devoted to exploring the world of microfinance. As passionate as you get about travel.

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Some Thoughts after a Month in Kenya

I’m leaving Kenya tomorrow and wanted to share a few thoughts that have been slowly compiling over the past month.

Internet in NaorobiReliable wifi does exist at Nairobi thanks to the iHub! I don’t know what I would have done without the internet time I spent there; well, actually I do – not gone online much & paid a heavy premium for the time I did spend online.

Mount Kilimanjaro – I’m so glad that Dan and I decided to undertake the adventure, but I can tell you for certain I have no desire to climb another mountain in the near future. 5 days without a shower wears on you pretty quickly, especially in after hiking all day in high altitudes in which the accumulated sweat drying on your body at night – for 5 days straight – as a result of the freezing overnight temperatures.

Microfranchising – It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of microfinance, but I also think there is a large opportunity for microfranchising to help bring people out of poverty. Not everyone is entrepreneurial; so if businesses can be built that employ a significant number of people and pay them enough to keep them out of poverty on a monthly basis, then that’s certainly a step in the right direction. You can read more about my visit to Kito International over on myKRO.org.

Orphanages in Kenya – My buddy Dan and I painted for 4 days at the Saint Monica’s Children’s Home, which my friend Rocky Turner is heavily involved with via her Mothers Fighting for Others charity — and saying “heavily involved is probably an understatement of her commitment. Saint Monica’s is home to 34 orphan girls, and the space they are renting is fantastic (and cheap). The facility has enough room for all the girls, yet I heard that other Kenyan orphanages put 3 times the number of children into the same space and sleep 50 in one room. I also heard that there are still Kenyan babies abandoned regularly or left outside a church for a priest to attend to because thee mother can’t provide for the child. Clearly there is a great demand for quality orphanages in Kenya, and it was great to see & learn first hand how a great Kenyan orphanage is run (and help them out a bit in the process).

The developing world in general – I know I’ve said it before somewhere on my personal blog, but I can’t stress enough the importance of actually seeing the world with your own two eyes. Seeing poverty on television versus seeing it in real life are not the same thing — far far from it actually. Once you see how the majority of the world lives on a daily basis, your life will never be the same.

Drew Meyers

Drew Meyers is the co-founder of Horizon & Oh Hey World. He worked for Zillow.com from September of 2005 to January of 2010 on the marketing team managing Zillow’s API program and various online partnerships. Founder of Geek Estate Blog, a multi-author blog focused on real estate technology for real estate professionals, and myKRO.org, a blog devoted to exploring the world of microfinance. As passionate as you get about travel.

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My London 2005 vs My London 2010

I’ll be honest — London was one of my least favorite cities I visited while backpacking all over Western Europe (13 countries in 2 months) in 2005. But I made it back here for a few days, and I certainly have a better impression of London this time around. In 2005, London was the first city I ever visited outside of the US, so it’s probably safe to say a bit of culture shock contributed to some of my disappointment. However, I now have a half dozen trips abroad under my belt — meaning I have a better idea of what to do when backpacking. In 2005, my buddy and I made the mistake of not getting a map and got lost in London for hours and hours, so this time I picked up a map and the city is actually surprisingly easy to navigate. This time around, I also got to mingle a bit with locals – I had lunch with Jamie from Zoopla the other day and met some fascinating local folks (@xperiencefran, @academyblog, @propertyowl, @jamesdearsley, @kyreniaj, @AhmCharles) from the real estate field at the Thursday Property Tweetup organized by Ben Edwards. Additionally, I got to meet Becky Berg (daughter of Kris Berg) for traditional English tea and go sightseeing yesterday with my friend Liz, who I met in Santorini this summer. It’s always better visiting a city when you can hang out with the locals instead of just a bunch of tourists…

Regardless, I’m a fan of London this time around and I think it’s a safe bet I’ll be back here at some point in the relatively near future — maybe for the 2012 Olympics!

Drew Meyers

Drew Meyers is the co-founder of Horizon & Oh Hey World. He worked for Zillow.com from September of 2005 to January of 2010 on the marketing team managing Zillow’s API program and various online partnerships. Founder of Geek Estate Blog, a multi-author blog focused on real estate technology for real estate professionals, and myKRO.org, a blog devoted to exploring the world of microfinance. As passionate as you get about travel.

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Some Backpacker Tips for Southeast Asia

I was writing up some notes for a couple of friends who are heading to Cambodia and Southern Vietnam from the backpacking trip Drew and I took to SE Asia a couple years ago (Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Hong Kong), so I thought I’d share them here.  Overall, all four places where amazing, I don’t think I would change anything from this trip.   These are just (censored) notes for Cambodia and Vietnam, but I would recommend going to all four places.

In Ho Chi Minh city, we stayed at the Yellow Hostel, which is pretty centrally located to everything and is also near the train and bus station. The hostel was pretty welcoming; we stayed in an 8 person room, but I believe they had smaller rooms on the upper floors. We ended up leaving a day early and cancelling our last night’s reservation, and, although they weren’t very happy, they were accommodating. There are plenty of good places to eat along the street right outside the hostel, although nightlife wasn’t too crazy. One night that we went out we went to the Marriott Hotel bar with a friend of ours who was working there, which had a great view of the city. The drinks were a little pricey, but worth it for the view if you are just going for one or two (but not 8 or 9). There are three other main hotels that also have sky bars, so I know a lot of people try to visit all four. Our last night we ended up going to one of the main clubs, Apocalypse. It was a cool bar, although I’m pretty sure it was all tourists and hookers. The place played some good music and had a small but comforting dance floor. I have no idea where it actually is, but if you tell any cab driver, they know how to get there. If at all possible, I would avoid taking cabs, take the little motorcycle guys instead. They only hold one person, but it is better/quicker than taking a cab, not to mention the ride is pretty exhilerating.

We took a day trip outside of Ho Chi Minh to the Khao Dai temple and the Cu Chi Tunnels. The Khao Dai temple was a quick stop. I’m not quite sure whether it was worth the money, but I liked it. We stopped at the temple during prayer and it reminded me of a Islamic temple, but way more organized. The Cu Chi Tunnels were the highlight of the trip. For us it was cool because it talked about the US/Vietnam war, so it had significance, but even if it didn’t, it was defintiely worth the time and money.  They showed us some of the jungles where the Vietcong would hide, including their tunnels and the traps. You even get to crawl through the tunnels which is insane — you’ll understand when you see how small they are!

Not sure how you are getting into Cambodia, we flew from Phuket, Thailand into Phnom Penh. The airport in Phnom Penh is one of the smallest I’ve seen, but I gotta say, it was kind of cool when we got money from the ATM and it gave it to us in US dollars. That shows you how poor the country is, they don’t even give their own currency. Phnom Penh was good, you can find guesthouses all over. The one we stayed at (can’t remember the name) was in a shady area, but the staff was extremely nice, and they even had a guard at the door, so we felt safe in the hostel. There is quite a bit to do in Phnom Phen, from the palace to temples to parks. There is the main temple which you have to check out, it’s pretty big and has some great archictecture. We were pretty excited to see the national museum, but were disappointed with the result. If you are really a history buff, then I’d say check it out, if not, it’s not that great. I think it was really cheap, so for the price it was fine, it just wasn’t that big or interesting. When in Phnom Penh, you definitely have to check out the Killing Fields and SR21. We took one of the Tuk Tuks (ricksaw with a motor), it’s about 15km outside of the town. It is one of those places that you have to see, but you most likely won’t say anything after you leave, it’s very powerful. Depending on the tuk tuk, you might get dropped off at SR21, which was the torture prison. Walking through this place is pretty sad and disgusting, so I’d make sure you have the stomach for it.

We didn’t really go out in Phnom Penh, mainly stayed around the hostel, but we did get some “happy pizza.” I think it’s some weird loophole, but there are a couple of pizza shops along the canal in the main part of town that have happy pizzas, aka pizzas made with weed baked into them. It’s just like a normal pizza, they have a bunch of different kinds, but an hour later, you ‘ll be feeling it quite nicely. When you order pizza, just make sure to mention “happy”.

I do have to warm you about street crossing. Rules don’t apply here. I know a lot of places are like that, but the cambodians take it to a whole new level. If you try waiting at a crosswalk, good luck! In the beginning, there were a couple times where we definitely stood there for like 5-10 minutes. In Cambodia, you just have to walk. Doesn’t matter if cars or motorcycles are coming, you just go. The trick is to not stop. When you start walking, keep a steady pace, that way the drivers know what you will do and can go around you. Don’t run or stop. You will die. Just kidding…well, maybe. The first couple of time will be really intense, but after a couple times, you’ll get the hang out it. We had so much fun doing it, we crossed the street more than we actualy needed to, hahahaha.

Our other stop was Siem Reap, which is where the Angkor Wat temples are. For those going to Cambodia, you have to go here; Angkor Wat is one of the coolest places I have ever been to! It’s is so serene and peaceful. On our way up there, we took the boat from Phnom Penh. It was about 6 hours and cost more than the bus; if you are strapped for cash, it’s not worth it, but if you can afford it, I’d say boat one way and bus back the other way. Both are worthwhile experiences. At one point, the boat would stop in the middle of the river and little motorboats would swarm at us with little 5 year old kids who spoke better english that I did, who were selling soft drinks and snacks. There are plenty of nice guesthouses to stay at, and the area is a lot safer than Phnom Penh because it is so touristy. Most people get Tuk Tuks to see the temples, but we got advised to just get two motorocycle drivers to take us around, which was definitely the best way to do it. They took us to some very cool temples, even some that were farther away than those on the normal route. Angkor Wat is huge, one thing you need to do is to decide how long you want to stay and how many temples you want to see. We did about a day and a half, and saw all of the main temples. We were going pretty quick and were exhausted, but it was a good tempo. As far as Siem Reap, there is a cool area called Bar street, which is true to it’s name; it’s packed full of bars. We spent all night at Angkor Wat, which was a cool international bar with a lot of young backpackers.  It was actually St Patricks Day when we went there, which we had no idea of until we saw backpackers with green painted faces drinking green beer. It was quite the party drinking buckets of rum and cokes. After we stumbled back to the guesthouse, we ended up drinking with some of the people who worked there. The next morning, we had to head back to Phnom Penh and were super hung over from St Pattys day with a 5 hour bus ride ahead of us. The bus was playing crazy cambodian music, filled with natives, and there were blue curtains over the windows, so it had a eerie blue tint. Were were the only foreigners on the whole bus — I wish I had a picture from the front of the bus with all natives and the Drew and me sitting there looking out of place listening to our ipods. I’m fairly certain the bus was driving down the middle of the street the entire way! I think the driver had the mentality of “I’m bigger than you so get the fuck out of my way.” It was a pretty crazy bus ride back weaving through gigantic potholes and cows crossing or standing in the street.

Overall, Cambodia was one of my top three countries I’ve ever been too. The people there are extremely nice and helpful, and the culture is just so relaxed, particularly considering all they have been through.