Sunday, November 11, 2012

Photos to Help Storm Relief

This tree loomed over a local road for at least a week.

Finally, a real excuse for not updating the blog in a while - Superstorm Sandy took out my electricity for the better part of two weeks. Conditions weren't really bad for me - it was easy to get food and gasoline and I had plenty of friends who offered safe places to stay - but there are still tens of thousands suffering in the New York metropolitan area even though power has largely been restored.

I've made some of my photos available for download with *all* proceeds going to nonprofits helping with storm-relief efforts. (I sent out the first donation from downloads to Food Bank for New York City today.) You can see the available photos here. There's a few animal shots - wolves, polar bears, and a langur - and a nice Costa Rican beach sunset. If you are interested in a download of another photo you see on the site, feel free to contact me about making it available for a charitable contribution. And of course you can always ignore the photos and just contribute to the nonprofit organization of your choice!

There are a lot of people in need out there. I never thought I'd see Doctors Without Borders setting up a clinic in New York City; turns out it's the first time the organization has done so within the United States. (See a Reuters article about it here.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Monkeyshines in Kuala Lumpur

Hanging out with Nora in Kuala Lumpur

Having recently written a somewhat cautionary post about venturing near monkeys, I figured I'd share some of the benefits of walking, armed only with a camera, among our hirsute cousins.

Nora shows the way
My favorite monkey encounter occurred in Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve, a small rainforest park in the middle of Kuala Lumpur. Located only 2 blocks from a Starbucks, the park is a refreshing taste of green shrouded wilderness in the middle of a bustling city. On my first visit, I stopped by the welcome center to get information. The ranger asked if I had seen the monkey outside. "Monkey, what monkey?" "Nora. She's spends a lot of time near the center." I walked out back toward the trails and sure enough there was a young monkey. She nimbly jumped into the arms of one of the staff, who promptly handed Nora to me. I was a little taken aback, but hey, when someone hands you a monkey, you take the monkey. It's the only polite thing to do.

Nora swung from my hand for a bit, then hopped over to a tree. Later she surprised me by diving right onto my shoulder before balancing on the back of my outstretched hand for a spell. I was thrilled; just remembering the experience makes me break out in a smile. I almost extended my stay in Kuala Lumpur just to have more opportunities to interact with her. I have no idea if Nora is still around now, a couple of years later, or if perhaps she began spending time with the other monkeys that live in that small park.

Mother and child roam the forest.
For more photos of Kuala Lumpur's forest and other sights, please click here.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


A few years back I went on a dolphin-watching expedition in Costa Rica. We eventually found ourselves in the midst of a pod of maybe 20-30 spinner dolphins. There was no land to be seen anywhere; it was just us, the group of acrobatic dolphins, and a vast expanse of beautiful blue sea stretching out to a paler blue horizon. It was a truly exhilarating experience.

So I can't even imagine what it must have been like to be in the midst of thousands of dolphins like a film crew in South Africa recently was. Luckily the fortunate few shot photos and video before sitting back and just enjoying the once in a lifetime show. Photographer Chase Jarvis described the experience in his blog and included information on how to help protect dolphins and their habitat.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bangkok Smiles

Sukhumvit Road vendor

At some point I may write about Bangkok Smiles, my excellent dental clinic in Thailand, but this post features photos of other people showing of their choppers. All of them were taken in, yes, you guessed it, Bangkok. (For more of my Land of 1000 Smiles series, please click here and here.)

New Siam II Guest House

On the Chao Praya River

Salesman at JJ Market. I didn't buy the umbrella hat, so of course it rained later.

Outside Pantip Plaza

These friends called me over for conversation and a meal.

Proud papa

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Book 'em!

Do you really want to lug all these around? Even without the cats?

We all know that iPads and Kindles and the like make it easier to bring books (heck, virtual libraries) with us when we're on the move; now here's an opportunity to stock up for free. has a few hundred free e-books available here. Most of the books on the classics-heavy list can be downloaded, though a few can only be read online. The site also has links to a number of other great free offerings - the free language lessons may be of particular interest to travelers.

Big thanks to my best friend, the human force behind my favorite canine blog, for alerting me to the site.

We're not playing a game; we're reading Dostoevsky. No, really.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

And the Smiles Keep Coming (Prachuap Khiri Khan edition)

Chef, Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park

As I noted before, Thailand is renowned for its friendly citizens. Here's some more shots of people I met on my latest visit. These photos are all from Prachuap Khiri Khan province. Just a few hours south of Bangkok, the province includes the popular tourist beach destination of Hua Hin and less visited sites such as Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park and the city of Prachuap Khiri Khan. It's one of my favorite places in Thailand, easily accessible from Bangkok, with beautiful beaches and relative quiet (if you stay out of Hua Hin, which I do).

I was later told
that those were probably
fighting roosters.
Street fair vendor
Parade watcher
Security guard
Tuktuk passenger

Chinese tourists
(So they're not Thai,
they still have great
Celebrating Buddhist Lent

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Too Much Monkey Business?

When I tell people that I was chased by a monkey, they almost invariably ask, "How big was it?" Like there's some threshold size at which it becomes acceptable to choose discretion over valor when confronted by a disgruntled simian.  I didn't get an accurate gauge of the monkey's weight; I was too busy noting its surprising speed and the huge teeth it seemed awfully fond of displaying.  My completely undignified retreat is pretty funny to picture now - my Teva® sandals slapping on an unevenly cobbled downhill path  as I tried to maintain speed without wiping out - but, as the saying goes, at the time it wasn't so funny.

396 steps of monkeys
(Prachuap Khiri Khan)

It's quite easy to get up close and personal, perhaps too personal, with monkeys in Thailand. Some towns, such as Lopburi, are famous for their  resident troops, attracting tourists who can easily find themselves surrounded by a bunch of swingers in every sense of the word.

Visitors can often choose to do more than just watch the swirl of activity. At some sites you can purchase food to feed the monkeys. While Buddhists may do so to "make merit," others just enjoy taking part in the unique experience. Throwing the food (bananas, corn, nuts) in the general vicinity of the animals and watching their hierarchy noisily assert itself is always a feeding option, but sometimes you can literally hand the food out as if it were Halloween and  a bunch of really short nervous kids all arrived wearing the same costume.

Click below for more photos and the rest of the article.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Lounging in Style

A few years ago I found myself bleary-eyed in the early morning darkness at the Koh Samui (Thailand) airport. After checking in, I trudged into one of the nicest waiting areas I had ever seen and was astounded to find free pastries and drinks. A few minutes later I was happily emailing my parents about the free blueberry juice using one of the area's computers with complimentary internet.

That was my introduction to the wonders of the Bangkok Airways lounge, a first class waiting area open to the masses.  Having used the airline for a quick hop from Bangkok to Chiang Mai the other day, I'm happy to report that the lounge is still a great reason for showing up early to the airport. (Note: both Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok and the Chiang Mai Airport have great lounges. The following describes the Bangkok lounge.)

Friendly workers greeted me at the entrance to the clean and spacious lounge and gave me the password for free wireless (a nice touch, though there were also still computers for use by those not traveling with laptops, etc.)  There were magazines and newspapers, but I was far more interested in the ample spread of food - puff pastries, a mini-sandwich, cakes, a traditional dessert wrapped in banana leaf, and even fresh popcorn - and the (non-alcoholic) drink options, including orange juice and Milo. I settled into a comfortable chair, caught up on email and contentedly grazed until it was time to head to the gate (which still had wireless access, though I don't know if all the gates do - ours was right across from the lounge).

In case the 20 yard walk from the lounge to the gate depleted our reserves, we were served a meal during the flight. Not a snack, but a meal on a flight so short it was mostly ascending and descending. A very hearty chicken sandwich (passengers can select dietary alternatives when purchasing the ticket) was accompanied by yoghurt and fresh fruit. There was also coffee and tea, all provided by pleasant flight attendants spiffily attired in newly designed uniforms.

Bangkok Airways is also notable for its excellent inflight magazine, Fah Thai (which is where I found out the uniforms were new). Naturally there are blurbs about locales the airline services, but there are also interesting general articles with excellent photography. This issue's standouts were articles on an arts organization helping children in Cambodia, some of them through a circus arts program, the tourism boom in Myanmar, and "The Plunder of Asia's Wildlife in Pictures" (a photo essay). It's easy to glean things to do, both mainstream and quirky, from Fah Thai, but clearly it's more than just sugar coated puff pieces on the region.

We had barely finished our coffee when the clouds gave way to the misty mountains of northern Thailand and we landed in Chiang Mai. I made it to the lobby of my hotel before 10am, energized (well, ok, bloated) and ready to spend a full day in a new city.

There are many easy and inexpensive options for traveling long distances in Thailand - trains, busses, ferries, mini-vans, taxis (not inexpensive for a long haul, but it might be fun to one day shock a Bangkok taxi driver with a request to go to Chiang Mai), etc. - but if time and comfort are concerns and maintaing a shoestring budget isn't, Bangkok Airways is a great choice.

Booking Tips: Make sure you check the websites of individual airlines (whether it's Bangkok Airways or Thai Airways or AirAsia, all of which I've used), as they may have much better fares than those shown on aggregator websites. For this flight, I booked a few days in advance at and got a one way ticket for about $75, which I thought was quite reasonable. It's low season now; for in-country travel during the high season winter months, I'd book in advance as I'm sure flights, especially to tourist destinations like Chiang Mai and Koh Samui, fill up.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Journey of 1000 Smiles...

Chief of security and proprietor, Bangkok cafe

Thailand easily lives up to its reputation as "the land of 1000 smiles." A tourist who smiles will most likely be warmly rewarded in kind, as I alluded to in a previous post. It'd be difficult to capture the spontaneous smiles I've received, so here's a few shots taken immediately after encountering the subjects for the first time.
Ban Pu, Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park

Vegetable vendor, Prachuap Khiri Khan

Honey vendors, Prachuap Khiri Khan

Students, Prachuap Khiri Khan

Prachuap Khiri Khan

Ok, so I'm not sure if that last guy is smiling, but he seemed happy...

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

It's a Tough Job, But...

Wildlife photography is demanding work. It takes research and knowledge about an animal's habits and habitat, patience and perseverance through long hours of stalking or staking out prey, and mental and physical stamina to withstand the harrowing demands of the field, which include lugging back-bending quantities of bulky equipment through often horrible conditions while waiting for what might be one fleeting opportunity to capture your subject in an aesthetically pleasing manner. What follows is the true tale of one successful mission.

It was early afternoon on a hot and humid day when I sat down to what I knew would be a delicious lunch at an open air restaurant in Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, a few hours south of Bangkok. As I idly gazed across the creek from my thatched roof-covered picnic table, movement in the trees caught my eyes. Apparently a monkey had decided to take his lunch at the same time as I had. (photo above) Putting down my cold soda, I grabbed my camera and shot away until he finished his meal and slowly walked away down the creek bank. Before I could take a bite of my food, the retreating monkey inadvertently flushed a pair of kingfishers that had been resting out of sight in a bush. I again picked up my trusty Nikon, then trekked the grueling 5 yards to a nearby table for a better vantage point and clicked away.

I had barely returned to my now-cooling lunch when I was disturbed by some turbulence in the creek. Upon closer investigation, it turned out the creek was home to several mudskippers. They swam, stalked prey, and ventured onto the mudflats as I filled my camera's memory card.

It began to rain as I finally finished my meal, so I headed back to my guest house, the excellent Blue Beach Resort. I stopped outside my room for a quick chat with Ricky, one of the friendly people who run the place, when a couple of green birds flew up and perched in a tree a few yards behind him. They seemed too large to be bee-eaters, a quite common species in the area, so we angled for a better look, discovering they were some sort of parrot Ricky had never seen before in all his years in the area. While he kept track of their locations, I ran the 10 yards to my camera and managed to grab a few shots before the pair flew off.

Ten minutes of incredibly dexterous internet searching yielded an identification: the pair were relatively rare Alexandrine Parakeets. What a great way to cap off a successful photographic expedition. And just in time for my afternoon nap.

Yeah, maybe sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Thailand By The Numbers

Trips really weren't made to be quantified, unless they're birding expeditions or the like, but just for fun, let's run the numbers so far on my latest visit to Thailand.

Days in Thailand: 2
Different 7-11s visited: 4
Different 7-11s sighted: Too numerous to keep track of
Umbrellas purchased: 3
Umbrellas lost through carelessness: 2
Rainstorms walked through when perfectly good umbrella was back in room: 1
Umbrellas deliberately left behind for housecleaning: 1

Temperature (high): 89
Bowls of soup consumed: 2

Hours spent at Weekend Market: 3
Songs by The Carpenters heard: 7
People at market: A gazillion
Past photo subjects sought: 5
Past photo subjects found: 4
Past photo subjects reacting to gift of photos with slight embarrassment: 2
Past photo subjects reacting to gift of photos with loud expressions of glee: 2

Number of times I looked the right way first before crossing the street: 1
Number of times a bus came barreling down the wrong side of the street: 1
Number of times death narrowly averted: 1

Signs written in Thai that I read and translated: 1
Days it took to translate: 2
Words in sign: 2

Photos taken by me of strangers using their phone: 3
Photos taken of me by strangers using my phone:1
Photos taken of me by strangers using their phone: 0

Bookstores visited: 3
Number of times I was mistaken by a clerk for another farang (westerner): 1
Percent discount clerk subsequently gave me: 10

Smiles exchanged with strangers: Too numerous to count.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Kuala Lumpur Photologue

I thought the beginning of Ramadan would be a good time to put up a photologue of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from a couple of years ago. I didn't have a lot of time to explore the city before heading off to Penang, but I greatly enjoyed my few days there.

To access the photologue click here or visit my website and look in the photologues section.

Ramadan Kareem to all who celebrate!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Unpaid Urban Tour Guide

Grand Central Terminal, NYC

“You’re just two stops after us,” the woman semi-confidently told the group of tourists puzzling over their subway map.  Since she was consulting her own map, I figured she was a tourist too. New Yorkers don’t carry maps. We just continually squint at the in-car maps when forced to venture to the exotic lands that lie on subway lines less taken.
Maybe I shouldn’t have interfered with an adventure in the making, but my stop on our uptown-bound train was still a minute away so I stepped over and asked where the group was trying to go.
“Soho,” came the response as we pulled into Union Square. I grimaced and barked, “Come with me if you want to live!”
Actually, I didn’t say that, though in retrospect it would have been funny, at least to me. Instead, as the brakes squealed I quickly explained that they had missed their stop when our train had unexpectedly gone express and skipped a few stations. At my urging the group followed me out of the train. In short order I led them past potentially confusing signage to the appropriate platform and then headed out alone into the sunny spring afternoon.
Brief detours into nonprofit urban tour guiding like these always make me think back to an overheard comment a few years back in another capital city (whaddaya mean NYC isn't the capital?).  I can’t remember the speaker’s name, but I remember his voice or at least the way he talked. He was kind of rough around the edges, with an authentic New Yawk accent – not the type of guy I was expecting to encounter at Kap’s Place, a guesthouse in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. But there he was along with the rest of us – either planning an adventure within the country or wistfully waiting for the flight home the next day. 
The woman at the desk at Kap’s had been amazingly friendly and efficient in handling multiple questions from guests, especially about finding our way around the poorly marked streets of the somewhat sketchy neighborhood. Unfortunately, she had gone off duty minutes earlier, replaced by someone who proved far less prepared to deal with information-seekers. When the New Yorker cheerfully asked for directions to the nearest bus stop, her response was far too vague for the neighborhood. He politely asked for clarification on his map, but all he received was a sullen look.
It was pretty surprising, especially given how helpful the earlier clerk had been and how service-oriented Kap’s Place was (this was a few years ago and I’d certainly stay there again – the experience was overwhelmingly positive). New York took it in stride though. He just ruefully smiled and told her, “You know, if you were in my city, I’d walk you to the stop myself.”
I don’t know if the clerk understood him enough to be appropriately chastened, but I’ve never forgotten his words or the calm, matter-of-fact manner in which he delivered them. I have no doubt that New York meant what he said (and that he realized that the clerk was probably just having a bad night), though I doubt that he would have expected his words to be so memorable.
It’s not like the incident made me repent the error of my ways; I hadn’t previously been stiff-arming beseeching tourists out of my path, even on the few occasions I had made the mistake of attempting to maintain a reasonable walking pace through Times Square. But it did make me think twice about striding past people who look lost, and about the advice I give them. I’m a lot more likely now to take the time to lead people, usually tourists but not always, to their destinations if they appear to need the extra guidance. Sure the detours have on occasion cost me a missed train connection or the opportunity to grab a bite to eat, but they’ve never failed to make me smile and think to myself in my best New York accent, “Hey, you’d do the same if it was your city.”
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Gotta Gettaway by Josh Lewis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.