Tuesday, December 18, 2012

World of Panorama

This is my RTW camera-Olympus XZ-1

She was my final choice after a thorough comparison with Canon and Lumix. She has been accompanying me through oet good time and bad time, she captured the moment as I travel, on land and underwater. She is my precious.  

I like her because she is light, only 275g. She can fit nicely in my travel bag without feeling a burden. She has a dedicated movie record button to switch from photo to movie instantly, the front dial is used to adjust shutter speed, makes manual setting fast and convenient  She has an eye of an owl under low light condition and a super magnifying glass for macro subjects. On top of her 28mm wide angle eye, she can also captured 2 to 3 photos and stitched them to a panorama photo on the spot, this is my favorite feature of her. Panorama photo gives you a bird eyes view of the shot, gives you a "Wow" impact of the scene.

In this collection, I want to show you the power of panorama. 
**Tips : Click on the photo for better view

Mt. Rinjani, Lombok, Indonesia
This is the toughest hike I ever did. The hike up to the peak @ 3726m from the base camp was torcherest. The soft rubble and slippery path made me slide backward every time I move forward but the reward I get was this magnificent view.

Biggest Tree in the world
The biggest tree in the world, Tule, Mexico
Tule, located 9km off Oaxaca. In front of the church Santa Maria del Tule, stand this enormous tree with the diameter of 9.38m.

Tulum, Mexico
Tulum is the top beach of Mexico, located 2 hours south of Cancun, long stretch of white sandy beach with turquoise sea water.
Hierve El Agua, Mexico
Hierve El Agua means Boiling Water, located 70km east of Oaxaca, the natural rock formation looks like a waterfall that rise over 50m above the valley.
Semuc Champey, Guatemala
A 300m long limestone cascading waterfall, located near the town of Lanquin. Here is the signature view from the top of the hill.
Volcan de Agua, Volcan de Acatenango and Volcan de Fuego, Guatemala
The view of the 3 volcanoes from Volcan Pacaya.
Lago Atitlan, Guatemala
The most beautiful lake I have ever seen, located 50km north west of Antigua,1562m above sea level. Surrounded by 3 volcanoes at the southern side.

Volcan Pacaya, Guatemala
An active volcano lies 30km from Guatemala City. Last erupted on 27 May 2010.
Volcán Concepción, Nicaragua
Concepcion is one of the 2 Volcanoes that form the Island of Ometepe, located in Lake Nicaragua at the altitude of 1610m.

Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, Costa Rica
A less crowded reserve covered with dense cloud forest plenty of flowers, fauna and birds. 

Bogotá, Colombia
Third-highest capital city in South America at 2,625 m above sea level.

Quito, Ecuador
Any space left? The capital city of Ecuador, at 2800m it is the highest legal capital city in the world.
Bartalome, Galapagos
The most amazing landscape of sky, sea and island accompanied by penguins, sea lion, sharks, rays, turtle, birds and iguanas.
Lago Querococha, Huaraz, Peru
Located in the Cordillera Blanca at the altitude of 3980m. A calm and peaceful landscape.

Inka Trail, Peru
Walking at the edge of the cliff, a short Inka Trail along the Urubamba River.
Isla del Sol, Bolivia
Island of the Sun, located in the southern part of Lake Titicaca at the altitude of 3812m. Climbing up the Inka stair case was a killer especially when you have your backpack with you but the sunrise and the trek from south to the north was amazing.
Laguna Colorada, Bolivia
3 days of 4WD brought me here to this red salt lake and lush landscape. The lake contains borax islands, whose white color contrasts with the reddish color of its waters, which is caused by red sediments and pigmentation of some algae.

Laguna Verde, Bolivia
Green lagoon located at the border of Bolivia and Chile at the elevated of 4,300 m (14,000 ft) above sea level. Its colour is caused by sediments, containing copper minerals. Sitting at the at the foot of the Volcano Licancabur.
Salta, Argentina
A heaven for all travellers coming from Bolivia because we find choice of cheese, meat, salad, ice cream, wine and etc in the local supermarket. It is also a shock to our wallet when everything rises to almost 100%.

Talampaya, Argentina
An extra ordinary landscape formation result from the erosion by water and wind in a desert climate, with big difference in temperature - high heat by day and low temperature at night, with torrential rain in summer and strong wind in spring. It is also the land of dinosaurs million of years ago.

Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine, Chile
Lake Nordenskjöld is located in Torres del Paine National Park, the light blue color of the lake is due to the melting glacier water from the nearby glacier. Our 3D2N trek was a torcher with the amount of blisters we collected and struggle thru the freaking cold night with improper equipment.

Ushuaia, Argentina
The commonly known as the most southern city of the world, even thought Puerto Williams, a Chilean settlement of some 2000 residents is further down south.
Perito Moreno, El Calafate, Argentina
The mother of all glacier, the one we can get as close as touching distance. One of the few that is still growing.
Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, El Chalten, Argentina
One of the most beautiful National Park I have ever been, consist of  47 large glaciers, of which only 13 flow towards the Atlantic Ocean. The ice cap is the largest outside of Antarctica and Greenland.

Fitz Roy, El Chalten, Argentina
My favourite of all peaks and trek, Fitz Roy remains one the the most technically challenging mountain to climb.
Devil's throat, Iguazu, Argentina

The gigantic fall, so big, so powerful, so loud and so stunning. Took me 2 days to visit the entire park.

Turtle Bay Divers, Perhentian Besar, Malaysia
My little paradise island, tranquil, laid back with a hidden underwater paradise. My work place for 3.5 months.

Long Beach, Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia
The white sandy beach with turquoise blue water and calm sea. You will surely fell in love with this place.
Langtang Lirung, Nepal
View of these breathtaking ice capped mountain and glaciers from Kyanjin Ri @ 4773m. The peak of Langtang Lirung is @ 7227m.
Luang Prabang, Laos
The charming town of Luang Prabang view from Phou Si Hill, just a short climb up.
Vang Vieng, Laos
Breathtaking landscape of limestone hills surrounding Vang Vieng.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Vientiane, Laos 3 - 4 Nov 2012

The journey to Vientiane from Vang Vieng was short, only 3 hours. The minibus drop us in town just 2 blocks from our pre-booked guest house. The city is so much quieter compare to the day when we arrived. The festival is over, no more make shift stores on the riverside. Plus there is the ASEAN meeting starting on the next day. Police standing at every junction and the street looks so clean. 

We checked in to our pre-booked guest house, it was clean but the room was cramp with 3 single bed in it. We don't care as it's only for one night. Our final mission today is to visit the Laos golden landmark - Pha That Luang and the Buddha Park.

Pha That Luang
After lunch we negotiated a taxi to drive us to this 2 places. Pha That Luang is a Buddhist golden stupa, not as big as I was expected. It's only 44m tall but the reflection of the golden stupa from the sun makes it stunning. We could only walk around the ground level of the stupa, there were a few displayed rocks and Buddha heads, not much to see. Outside the compound, there was a small garden and a huge golden sleeping buddha.

Buddha Park
We went on to Buddha Park which is 25km from Vientiane, the road condition was bad and dusty due to the sand removal from Mekong river. Lucky we got a taxi instead of tuk tuk, or else we will end up full of dust and backache. The Buddha Park is a sculpture park the size of football field, it contains weird structure built since 1958. The most enormous is the 120m reclining buddha. The is also a giant ball which has 3 stories representing hell, earth and heaven. One can enter through the mouth and climb up to heaven where there is a view point for the entire park. This place is too far from town and it is not worth the ride.

At the airport, we checked in our 2 bags. While we were getting through the security check. They stop me to check my hang luggage. Shit! I forgot my Swiss Army knife in it! I panic as this was a special gift from my friends, I didn't want to loose it. I plead to them badly to pass it to the crew on board so I could take it when I arrive in Malaysia, but the officer said they can't. I was almost crying, finally one of them said I can put it in a bag and try to check it in again. Wow! I was so happy, now I hope Air Asia won't give me any trouble. I am willing to pay for the extra luggage to check it in. I run down and check with the officer at the check in counter with a pity and guilty face, he asked for my boarding pass and said "Would you like to check in in the existing bag or new bag?",  Huh! I thought in my mind, can I check in into my existing bag? Surely I said "In my existing bag pleaseeee....." He took out his walkie talkie and radio to someone to retrieve my luggage and in 5 minutes, my backpack is there for me to chuck in my Swiss Army knife. Yeah! Superb service! I don't know what to say other than repeating the word "Khop Chai" several times. I was really thankful for the office who suggested this option, and he told me that this is the first time they did it. I was very lucky! :-)

8 days was just perfect to see these 4 important sites, it was not too rush or tiring. I like Laos for it's beautiful country site and the people, their friendliness and great hospitality makes me feel uncomfortable at the beginning because I was too used to harassment and rip off from tout  that I am always ready to defend myself, but hey, I came to realise that I don't need to in Laos. Relax! Chill! Even though I was still on alert with my bags and belongings, especially when my brothers leave their bags and walk away. :-(

Well, this kind of wrap up our trip to Laos and also my trip around the world. Travelling with my brothers was easy as we all like to take photograph and enjoy the laid back countryside. I would like to thank my brother Thomas for suggesting this trip, else Laos will still be in my to travel list.

Mixay Guest house - 150,000kip fan with shared bath and wifi.

Taxi to/return Pha That Luang and Buddha Park 250,000 per car
Entrance to Pha That Luang - 5,000 each
Entrance to Buddha Park - 5,000 each

Taxi to airport - 60,000kip

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Vang Vieng, Laos 1 - 3 Nov 2012

From Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng was just 6 hours, the shortest road journey for us so far. 

Vang Vieng is a tourist oriented town, with guest houses, hotels, restaurant, bar, travel agent and cafes lined the streets. This place as written on any website or travel book is famous for tubing and kayaking plus mushroom shakes, loud music and loads of drunken tourist. But we were here for the beautiful limestone carve mountains and the laid back countryside.

Bountang Hotel
I didn't research much about this place as it was not part of our trip itinerary. We have got a free day after Phonsavanh and Luang Prabang so we decided to make a pit stop here while making  our back to Vientiane. Last minute preparation, I just checked out the map and find out roughly where we should stay. When we arrived at the bus terminal, we decided to walk to town while looking for a nice place to stay. It was about 20 minutes walk, and we found a pretty awesome place by the riverside road(no road name) walked straight to town from bus station and keep right, take the first right turn after the huge temple. As there weren't many tourist around, we were able to bargain and get the best room (top floor with full height sliding window) facing the limestone mountain. The room was the cheapest we've got for the whole trip yet the BEST. We stood and stared from our balcony for the longest time, the view was just breath-taking. We had yet another stunning sunset just from our balcony.

After the sunset, we had a stroll and dinner in town. The famous FRIENDS sitcoms were playing in a few bars/restaurant. We picked one that was playing Gang Nam Style music, with a few groups of foreigners but not the party type. I was expecting something worst than this but it was pretty quiet. Not sure if it was due to the low season or the recent news of the Government closing down bars by the river. Anyway this works for us! :-)

"The early bird catches the worm" My brother Thomas who is awaken everyday at 6am spotted a hot air balloon flying by. It was super cool! We could hear the sound of the flaming fire firing up in the balloon. The ride take about 40 minutes at the price of US$70. There is only one company that does this in the entire Laos. (http://www.laoballooning.com/)

After breakfast, we stroll around Saysong Island. A little island size of a football field that formed in the Nam Song river connected to the main land with 2 wooden bridge. The island is filled with chalets and guest houses but the scenery around it was nice to photographed. 

We continued to the paddy fields on the north of the town, taking tons of photographs. November is the end of harvesting season, most of the paddy are ready, yellow or gold in color. That makes a beautiful view with the background of the limestone mountain. The heat was killing us, by noon we got back to the hotel to chill out.

After 2 hours rest, we now headed to the south. This time across the Nam Song river. There were many kids playing by the river, some were fish hunting with a diving mask, some were  jumping off from wooden boat, some were catching fish or shrimp with a net, some were playing in the mud and some were floating on a tube. The kids were adorable. They reminds me of my childhood time. We were also playing in streams, catching fish or just out and about in the afternoon. 

We finished the day with another amazing sunset and a eventful day. This little town has it's charm that captured my heart. :-)

The next day we took the earliest minibus back to the capital city-Vientiane.

Bountang Hotel (http://www.bountanghotel.com) - 110,000kip (Tripple) with attached bathroom, aircon, wifi, coffee and water refill.

Toll fees to cross the bridge (2 way) - 4,000kip each

Minibus to Vientiane - 40,000kip each incl pick up

Friday, November 9, 2012

Luang Prabang, Laos 29 Oct - 1 Nov 2012

The journey from Phonsavanh to Luang Prabang was long, we took the minibus option because it will be faster than the bus but it still took us 7 hours. The guy sitting next to me was vomiting the whole way, yuk! He is a local. I thought as a local one should be used to the local road. :-( All 9 other foreigners in the minivan were ok. The 7 hours ride was bumpy and windy, passing top of mountains with amazing scenery. We arrived to the minivan station, 5km from town. The Lao government is pretty smart in creating opportunity to the local, they built the station far away from town so to create work for the tuk tuk and taxi driver. Good thing is they don't quote us crazy price like any other place in SEA (except Myanmar) we don't have to bargain very hard, sometime it's even reasonable to pay that amount.

Ban Vat That street
We found a guesthouse at Ban Vat That street, here almost every house is converted to a guesthouse. Looks like the only income is from tourism. The family of the guesthouse was very nice and humble people, in fact the daughter was married to a Malaysian, she could speak malay with us. :-) What a coincident! We settled down and Thomas is already in patient to go take his sunset shot at the Mekong river. The best thing about this place is that it is near to everywhere in town. 50m to the left is the Mekong river, 50m to the right is the Alms ceremony in the morning and 100m away is the night market yet it still lies in a quiet and charming little street. We highly recommend this guesthouse to everyone who is visiting Luang Prabang.

The Mekong river and Nam Khan river made a peninsular out of this town. That means in most direction you walk you will end up at the river bank. :-) Mekong is the 7th longest river in SEA. It runs through 6 countries - China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. I wonder if there is a boat cruise that leaves from Yunnan, China where the river begins and finished in South China Sea.

Night market
We had a beautiful sunset by Mekong river and stroll to the night market. Wow! Now I understand why the Night Market is so famous here. There were lines of stalls, hundreds of them selling souvenirs, handicraft, tea, painting, stones, etc. All at a very reasonable price depending on your bargaining skill.

Alms ceremony
On the 2nd day, we woke up at 5:30am in the morning to see the well known Alms ceremony. Just before dawn, hundreds of locals and some tourist lined up on the street kneeling down to prepare for the alms ceremony. They prepared food like rice, fruits, cookies, sweets, cakes, etc to offer to monks. There were only about 100 monks from several different monastery came walking in line. Each of them have their alms bowl filled with food, they even have extra to give to kids that were following them with a huge basket (the basket is bigger than the monk's alms bowl)

Vat Xieng Toung
We then rented a bicycle for the day, I don't remember having seen my brother Thomas on bicycle. :-) Good thing is everyone ride gently and politely here, so even thought Laos is a Left Hand drive country, we could still manage. We visited the oldest monastery in town - Vat Xieng Toung and just cycled around town to take photos. In the evening, we hiked up to Phou Si Hill to see the sunset. The top was packed with tourist waiting to take a good shot of the sunset. The local food market just by the entrance of the night market has some really awesome food at 10,000kip per plate, fill it up as much as you can.

Luang Prabang from Phou Si Hill

The 3rd day, we rented a scooter to Kuang Si Fall, about 29km south of Luang Prabang. As usual, we had our daily noodle soup breakfast and local coffee before heading out. The way to Kuang Si Fall was very straight forward, we just missed one turn and the local already shouting at us "Kuang Si Fall" pointing the the correct direction. :-) We arrived at the entrance full of souvenirs stalls, parked at the "secured" parking spot, even though we could just park it by the street.

The park is well kept and maintained, we took the jungle path to the fall where it lead us to the Bear Rescue Center, it has an enclosure for endangered Asiatic Black Bears that have been rescued from poachers. They are much bigger than the Sun Bear in Malaysia. We saw one of the bear relaxing in the huge hammock, that must be Kayasin, the oldest and the biggest in the care center.

Kuang Si Fall
We proceed to the waterfall, pass several turquoise blue pools, picnic area before arriving at the main fall with a 60m cascade. The area is surrounded by thick forest, really nice to chill out and spend the day. We took our time taking photos of the fall, pool and insects hidden in the forest. On the way back to town, we decided to go to the golden temple that we saw across from Phou Si Hill. It wasn't difficult to find it as it was on top of a hill. In the temple, there were display of hundreds of golden Buddha statues.

Today is a big festival day called Awk Phansaa Festival and also a public holiday in Laos.We were told that it is the 2nd biggest celebration day after the Lao New Year. Everyone is celebrating the big day, they made many banana leave boat to be lighted up at night and release into the river. There was a parade at night where lines of banana leave boats were lighted up by candles followed by music, fireworks and offering of incense and small flower boats that were release into the river. Some believe that the offering is an act to pay respect to nagas that lives in the rivers, while others send the lighted boats down the river to ask for blessing and to float bad luck of the past year away enabling the good luck to flow in. This colorful ritual was an eye opening event to me.

Banana leave boat

This ended our 3 days in Luang Prabang, we are moving on to Vangvieng, a small town which is famous with young foreigner partying and drunk, floating down the river. But we are not there for this, stay tune and find out more about our next destination.

Wat That guesthouse (http://watthat.weebly.com/) - 130,000kip (tripple) with aircon, attached bathroom and wifi

Bicycle rental for the day - 35,000kip for 3 bicycle
Wat Xiang Thong entrance - 20,000kip each
Scooter rental for the day - 140,000kip each
Kuang Xi WF entrance - 20,000kip each
Parking at Kuang Xi WF - 2,000kip each

Tuk tuk from Minivan station to guesthouse - 40,000kip
Tuk tuk to bus terminal - 30,000kip
Bus to Vangvieng - 150,000kip each