Tag Archives: photo essay

Everything You Ever Needed to Know About Ostriches



Long necks, funny faces, pretty feathers, really, who doesn’t love a good ostrich?

In South Africa, you can get your fill of them in more ways than one. Native to the continent, ostrich farms in Oudtshoorn are a popular traveler site where you can pet ostriches, ride ostriches, eat ostriches and learn WAAAY more things about these fascinating creatures than you ever thought you needed to.

My friend Sara and I paid a visit to Highgate Ostrich Show Farm, where for 140 rand ($9) and an hour and a half, we took part in all of the aforementioned activities. Our charismatic guide Danian packed tons of information into our tour. Based on this, please find…

Everything You Ever Needed to Know About Ostriches:

  • Ostriches are used for many things with multiple uses for their leather, eggs, meat and feathers.

  • One ostrich egg is the equivalent to two dozen chicken eggs.

Ostrich Egg

  • Male ostriches have naturally blue skin, female ostriches have pink skin.

Ostrich Blue Skin

  • Ostriches typically have one mate for life.

  • Sometimes a male ostrich will take up with two female ostriches, then the farm has to incubate the eggs themselves to prevent fighting.

Ostrich Trio

  • Ostrich eggs are very strong.

Strong Ostrich Eggs

  • Ostriches are fast and have strong legs, they can break your back and kill you.

  • If an ostrich runs at you, play dead.

  • When you play dead, an ostrich may come and sit on you for awhile. That’s cool, wait it out.

  • Ostriches are extremely fast, and can run up to 43 miles per hour.

  • Male ostrich feathers are the pretty ones, used for costumes and decorating.

  • Female ostrich feathers are better used for cleaning, like in feather dusters (no comment). Ostrich feather duster

Hope you learned something :).




Hemel en Aarde, tasting South Africa’s “Heaven on Earth”


When people think of South African wine country, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Constantia are the first places to come to mind. But wineries actually exist throughout South Africa, including in the Hemel en Aarde Valley next to Hermanus, my favorite mistake by the sea.

Literally meaning “Heaven on Earth,” Hemel en Aarde wineries specialize in pinot grigio and chardonnay. While I’m not particularly wine savvy, I had a great time exploring the best Hemel en Aarde had to offer on my wine tour with Hermanus Wine Hoppers. True to the name, the tour is run in a hop-on, hop-off style, with a circulating safari vehicle that travels among nine different vineyards in the valley. In the interest of saving time (and my liver), I opted for three: La Vierge, Newton Johnson and Creation, where I enjoyed a delicious three-course meal at their award-winning restaurant.

Regardless of whether or not you drink, a tour through Hermanus’ beautiful countryside was well worth the visit.

Below are some photos of the experience:

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An Ode to Hermanus – My Favorite Mistake


I’m a planner. The minute I confirmed my South Africa trip, I immediately purchased a guide book to research and get organized. But one of the best things about travel is that you can’t plan everything. And oftentimes, it’s the unexpected which makes for the most memorable experiences.

Like Hermanus. Hermanus is a small coastal town outside of Cape Town, on the way to, but not quite on the Garden Route. I had stumbled upon it in my reading as the South African destination to whale watch. Unfortunate for my whale-loving heart, I was several months off-season. On the other hand – there was one other sea-related aspect of Hermanus that caught my attention: shark cage diving.

Shark cage diving is fairly unique experience limited to only a handful of locations throughout the world. The excursion involves taking a boat out into the ocean, being lowered in a cage a few feet under water and watching as sharks attempt to eat the chum located just outside the cage. You know, a few feet from your head.

Now, aside from the random bungee-jump excursion, adventure tourism is really not my thing. And while I liked the idea of being able to have said “I was sort of almost eaten by a shark,” my fish-phobic self didn’t know if this was something I’d actually have the courage to do. Additionally, time was limited, and my friends wanted to head straight to the Garden Route. It was looking like I’d have to give it a miss.

But somehow after a couple days in Cape Town, this voice in the back of my head saying “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” got louder. The morning of our scheduled departure date I made a snap decision: I was going to Hermanus. And as my companions didn’t share my adventurous sentiments, I was going to approach these sea predators alone.

I said goodbye to my friends, rented a car and headed east to the Hermanus Backpackers Hostel to await my sea fate. Nervous, I went to check in and book my excursion. I had come all this way, damn it, this was going to happen. I knew not to expect whales, but it didn’t dawn on me that the sharks would be anything but excited to meet me as well.

To my dismay, I learned that not only were there no whales, but there no sharks. In fact, there had been no sharks for weeks, despite it being a year-round occurrence and “why didn’t you call ahead?”. Since the trip cost about $100 and was only exchangeable for another trip if there were no shark sightings, the hostel recommended I explore something else in Hermanus.

No whales, no sharks and no time to catch up with my friends, I looked at my options: a visit to the local township and a wine tour. While not my original plan, I signed up anyway for the next day and headed to town for dinner.

Despite being in a coastal town, the hostel was not actually located on the coast or even visibly close to it. Nestled in a quiet residential street, the same was true for its visible proximity to the downtown. As I followed their map to the city, I really had no idea what I was in for.

And then I saw it.

Straight ahead, green and blue ocean that stretched for miles with white waves crashing against faded orange cliffs all along the shore. To my left a sleepy yet charming seaside town full of restaurants and shops. A small green mountain guarded over everything.

I was in love.

Hermanus 20

The day was fading, so I quickly found a lovely seaside restaurant featuring fresh seafood, local wine and stunning views. The restaurant itself was mostly full, so I opted to dine alone outside and enjoy the view in the cold. As I sat down, I was greeted with a complimentary glass of local sherry and a blanket and immediately began to relax. I ordered the shrimp meal and a glass of pinot grigio, something Hermanus is famous for, and enjoyed one of the most beautiful, delicious and relaxing meals I’d ever had.

Hermanus 6

The next day proved to be equally as incredible as my first impression to the city, with the disjointing experience of a South African slum on the one end, followed by an afternoon of wine tasting and fine dining on the other, a fascinating experience showing both ends of life in South Africa. (Stay tuned for more on that).

As I returned to the hostel, relaxed, slightly tipsy and ready to leave for the Garden Route in the morning, I heard the morning sea report from the staff: they had seen sharks after all.

While I didn’t have the time to wait another day, I decided I didn’t care. Stunning views, incredible food and an eye-opening look at South African life, my spontaneous trip to Hermanus ended up being one of the best mistakes I ever made.

For the sea life, I’ll just have to return :).

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Critter Control and the Adventure of Yoga Crab


I’ve always been drawn to animals, and I’m usually excited when they seem drawn to me too. But not all the time.

During my training at the Association for Yoga and Meditation, I was always delighted to watch the langur monkeys playing in the ashram trees.

Does your yoga class include monkeys?

Does your yoga class include monkeys?

I was even more excited when they would occasionally make an appearance in yoga class itself.

"Downward dog!"

“Downward dog!”

While the monkeys mostly kept their distance, a few other creatures decided they wanted to visit with me personally.

During my time at the ashram, I stayed in a small bedroom on the main floor, half-way between the bustling village outside and the holy Ganges River down the stairs in the backyard.

My mornings were fairly routine. My alarm rang around 5:45 a.m., I would then drag myself out of bed, pull on my yoga clothes, grab a snack and walk sleepily across the hall to 6 a.m. pranayama (breathing) practice.

One day I got up as usual, grabbed my yoga pants off the chair and got dressed. But as I continued getting ready, I noticed a slight scratching sensation in my pants between my legs. In my half-awake state, I didn’t think much of it. But as I continued, pulling on my t-shirt, putting my hair up and grabbing a handful of the trail mix I usually kept on my nightstand, the scratching did too.

Finally, I put my hand below to “adjust” and was surprised to find a strange lump under my pants. In my groggy state, it took me a few seconds to realize what was going on. And when I did, I screamed, yanking my pants off as quickly as possible. My jaw dropped in disbelief as I watched a quarter-sized cockroach scurry away.

Let me tell you, nothing wakes you up quite as effectively as discovering a cockroach in your pants!

The very next day, I got up as usual, checking carefully inside all my clothes making sure there were no additional new friends creeping around. Luckily, the morning went smoothly.

It wasn’t until after breakfast when I went back to my room that I discovered this next to my bed:



Yes inches away from my pillow, less than a foot from where I rest my head at night, stood a six-inch wide crab, about the size of one of my hands. How long he had been in my room and what he planned to do now that he was there was beyond me, (though I think my snacks may have had something to do with it).

This time, I didn’t scream. I did, however, request help. The next thing I know, one of the AYM staff is chasing the little critter around my room with a broom stick, in a fairly entertaining cat-and-mouse routine. Finally, my classmate Janica stepped in to personally return the crab to his home, presumably back to the Ganges.

You can follow his journey here:

Playing catch

Playing catch



The journey to the Ganges

The journey to the Ganges

Almost home

Almost home



In hindsight, perhaps keeping snacks exposed in a hot, crowded climate near water was not one of my smarter decisions. Though, honestly, I think I’m lucky I faced the smaller critters instead of the monkeys ;).

Lumbini: The Birthplace of the Buddha


As the birthplace of the Buddha, Nepal is a popular pilgrimage destination for spiritual seekers all over the world. And as an experimental Buddhist, I knew I had to make the trip as well.

Lumbini, the town where the Buddha was born in 623 B.C., is located near the Indian border, and Naren and I planned it as our final destination before returning to India.

As a town, the Buddha complex is Lumbini’s main event, and the city doesn’t really require more than a day’s visit to experience, unless you plan on staying a few days to soak up the spiritual energy.

The complex is broken into several parts and must be entered and exited through specific locations. To start, visitors begin at International Monastic Zone, a growing collection of Buddhist temples from Buddhist communities around the world, meant to promote world peace.

The development zone is split down the middle with temples from the Theravada tradition on the east side and temples from the Mahayana tradition on the west side. The walk through is lovely, with the two sides separated by narrow roads, a long pool of landscaped water and trees dotted with Buddhist sayings. It’s also a great way to experience Buddhist traditions from different parts of the world.

At the end of the International Monastic Zone, you approach the Sacred Garden where the birth took place. The garden includes the Mayadevi temple, which surrounds an underground excavation that holds a rock that marks the spot where the Buddha was born (unfortunately, no photos were allowed on the inside). The garden also includes the Sacred Pool where Buddha’s mother is said to have bathed before giving birth, as well as the Ashokan Pillar, an ancient pillar identifying the spot as the birthplace.

A visit to the complex is a real treasure, and even if you are not into Buddhism or spirituality, you’ll walk away happy and calm. It’s just that kind of place.

Below are some photos of birthplace of the Buddha.

The eternal flame symbolizes world peace and sits in front of a landscaped pool that separates the Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist traditions in the International Monastic Zone.

The eternal flame symbolizes world peace and sits in front of a landscaped pool that separates the Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist traditions in the International Monastic Zone.

Buddhist Sayings 1

Thai Temple in the International Monastic Zone

Thai Temple in the International Monastic Zone

Korean Temple in the International Monastic Zone

Korean Temple in the International Monastic Zone

Buddhist Sayings 2

Lumbini Road 2

Mayadevi Temple that houses that rock that marks the spot of the birth

Mayadevi Temple that houses that rock that marks the spot of the birth


Buddhist Sayings 3

Prayer Flags

Prayer Flags

The pool where Buddha's mother is said to have bathed before giving birth

The pool where Buddha’s mother is said to have bathed before giving birth

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“Wait, so what are you going to do in Nepal then?”

This would be the standard response I received from fellow travelers upon hearing that I was going to Nepal and *gasp!* would not be trekking through the Himalayas.

As stated before (and I’m sure numerous times throughout my blog), I have a strict anti-trekking policy. No seriously, I hate trekking. Yes, I appreciate nice views and flowers and all that, but spending hours (and days!) climbing uphill through the heat (often), bugs and trees is just not my cup of tea. Trust me, I’ve tried enough times.

Well, I’m proud to say I spent more than two weeks traveling throughout Nepal and successfully managed to entertain myself with a range of non-trekking activities.

Nepal was a relatively short trip compared with the amount of time I spent in other countries, but during that time my friend Naren and I had a lovely time wandering through the temples of Kathmandu, spotting rhinos in Chitwan National Park, chilling out in Pokhara and visiting the birthplace of Buddha (yeah, Trekkers, that is a pretty significant non-trekking component of Nepal ;)).

And, of course, there were the particularly fun moments, like flying over Mount Everest, jumping off Asia’s highest bungy jump, eating endless momos or shopping constantly for hippie clothes and Tibetan jewelry.

I really loved Nepal. When I first set foot in Kathmandu, a crowded city full of colorful shops, busy streets and beautiful temples, I was instantly reminded of everything I loved about India, plus, with only a fraction of the aggressiveness.

Nepal, of course, had other differences. The country’s unique blend of both Hinduism and Buddhism provides a fascinating array of temples, structures and beliefs that often blur the lines between the two. The Swayambhunath “Monkey Temple,” for example, is a unique Buddhist and Hindu complex that contains representations of both religions throughout.

On one occasion, Naren and I were privileged to have glimpsed at the eight-year-old face of Kathmandu’s current Kumari, a young girl believed to be a living goddess princess. She spends her days living in a large palace in the city, making daily appearances at her window (no photos allowed) and being paraded around town during important religious events. When she gets her period, she no longer gets to be goddess and a new Kumari is found.

Nepal also had incredible food, a mix of both Indian-influenced curries and rice, mixed with Tibetan-style “momo” dumplings, which were the best I found ANYWHERE in Asia.

Here’s a collection of my best photos from Nepal.

Flying over the Himalayas on the way to Nepal, that's Mount Everest on the left!

Flying over the Himalayas on the way to Nepal, that’s Mount Everest on the left!



A beautiful view near the water in Pokhara

A beautiful view near the water in Pokhara

A Nepali woman sits outside the Jangchub Choeling Monastery in Pokhara.

A Nepali woman sits outside the Jangchub Choeling Monastery in Pokhara.

Enjoying a beautiful day in Pokhara with Naren and our new monk friend, Tenzin.

Enjoying a beautiful day in Pokhara with Naren and our new monk friend, Tenzin.

Chilling near the water in Pokhara

Chilling near the water in Pokhara

Swayambhunath, a unique temple complex that blends both Buddhism and Hinduism

Swayambhunath, a unique temple complex that blends both Buddhism and Hinduism



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Almost Tibet

Almost Tibet

Tagong 1

As I prepared for the last leg of my trip through China and India, I came up with a plan that would enable me to travel throughout China and reach my final destination in northern India, without having to fly.

After traveling counterclockwise around China, I would continue west through Tibet then south to Nepal before reaching Rishikesh in northern India where my yoga course awaited me. Not only would I get through China and India, but I would add two entirely new and exotic places to my trip, all for what I estimated to be the same, if not cheaper, cost of flying. Brilliant!

Nepal had grown as a leading destination of interest after hearing universally rave reviews from fellow travelers. But Tibet, China’s isolated and controversial land in the west, had also risen to prominence after the sheer amount of excitement and curiosity I found in other travelers who also discussed the journey. Tibet, however, like Myanmar, also brought a whole new level of travel concerns.

An ancient land that had undergone centuries of various autonomous and non-autonomous rule, Tibet declared its independence in 1912 after the fall of the Chinese Qing dynasty. In the 1950s, Communist China invaded Tibet in an attempt to reclaim control of the land. Technically, the Dalai Lama, leader of the Tibetan Buddhism and the former political leader of the Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala, India, supports a “middle-way” approach of Tibet being a part of China with a high degree of autonomy, but the issue remains controversial. The Chinese say they are developing the isolated land and saving its people from an oppressive feudal system, while those in support of a free Tibet accuse the Chinese of violating human rights, destroying Tibetan culture and forcing Tibetans to assimilate to the Chinese way of life. The conflict has led to numerous protests both inside and outside of Tibet and restricted access to the land by outsiders, despite growing interest by tourists.

Of course, a mere few weeks before my estimated departure, my brilliant plans were shattered. Protests in Tibet, including several monks setting themselves on fire, caused the Chinese to tighten travel restrictions, eventually prohibiting all tourists from entering the region altogether.

Anyone planning to travel to Tibet knows the borders open and close on regular, and often unpredictable, basis. But as I waited around Chengdu, hoping for a last-minute change, I found myself defeated. Tibet was not going to happen. Not this time.

But I still had more than a week left on my Chinese visa, and I was determined to make the most of it. After discussing alternatives with some fellow travelers, I heard about a small, mostly Tibetan village in Western China called Tagong. Located about 270 miles west of Chengdu, one of China’s last major cities before reaching Tibet, Tagong is a tiny village full of mostly Tibetan inhabitants that would offer a glimpse into the isolated lifestyle that was proving so difficult to experience.

After weeks of massive, crowded Chinese mega-cities, I was ready for a change. So I packed up my bags, bought a bus ticket and headed off.

The first step to reaching Tagong was Kangding, a Chinese city up in the mountains that serves as a jumping off point for many who plan to continue traveling west. The eight-hour bus ride to reach Kangding from Leshan/Chengdu is stunning, albeit, a bit scary at times. Rocky cliffs covered with dense green trees and shrubs surrounded us, topped with hovering mists that let us know we were high enough to enter cloud territory.



When we finally reached Kangding, I was pleasantly surprised to find the city quite charming. Tall green mountains surrounded the neat city streets, full of a combination of Chinese and Tibetan shops. But Kangding offered another surprise for me: it was cold.

I know I’m from Michigan, land of seemingly eternal winters, but I was not prepared for this. After nearly two years of hot weather, including 14 months in Malaysia which is practically located on the equator, this was quite a shock for me. To top it off, it was raining and nothing is as much fun as being cold except for being wet and cold.

So I put on my jeans, my sole long-sleeved shirt, my broken-zippered hoodie and each of the three pairs of almost-never-used socks I brought and hoped they’d be enough. And I set out to find a ride to Tagong.

Luckily I had made a travel buddy in the process. Daniel was from Germany, and after already having spent several days in Kangding, was ready to head to Tagong. So we hailed a share taxi and found ourselves crammed in the backseat of a minibus with two older Tibetan ladies and a Tibetan man. And it was one of the coldest, most dramatic bus rides I had ever been on.

Apparently old Tibetan ladies don’t get out much, at least not in cars, because these women were extremely prone to motion sickness. At an hour and a half, the ride wasn’t really that long, and though we were up in the mountains, it wasn’t that winding either. But for some reason these women insisted on keeping the windows down in the car, despite the fact it was about 40 degrees outside and raining. Daniel was kind enough to share his blanket with me, but even that wasn’t enough and we remained shivering in the back seat. And though we repeatedly asked the driver to talk to the ladies about closing the windows, they were apparently very adamant about not doing so, at one point even opening the windows all the way so it was a complete wind ambush in the back. Meanwhile, the ladies, with their rosy cheeks, braided hair and colorful Tibetan clothing, lay prostrate on the middle seat, like some Victorian English woman in the midst of a fainting spell. If I wasn’t so cold, I would have been very amused.

Once we arrived in Tagong, I was surprised and charmed at how quaint the town was. With a population of only 8,000 people, it was definitely the least populated city I had visited in China, and with an altitude of more than 12,000 feet, it was also the highest point I’d ever reached on land in my entire life.

Main street Tagong

Main street Tagong

Daniel and I opted to stay at Iya Drolma and Gayla’s Guesthouse, a cheap yet delightfully colorful and charming place listed in our guidebook. The only problem was, despite the high altitude and cold temperatures, there was no heat in our building. In fact, there was no heat in any of the buildings.

Trying to warm up at my guest house

Trying to warm up at my guest house

After settling in and enjoying a delightful warm foot bath, Daniel and I set out to eat and soon discovered the Khampa Café and Art Center, a cozy backpacker haven nearby that would become our second home during the next few days. Full of comfy couches, puzzles, books and a delightful combination of Western and Tibetan food, Khampa Café was the place to go to kill time between adventures or just relax and adjust to the altitude. After months of traveling, I was quite happy to bum around and do nothing for awhile.

I’m not going to lie, a significant chunk of my five days in Tagong were spent curled up in a blanket, chatting with other travelers, playing with the kittens, reading about Nepal and just hanging out at the café. And it was delightful.

But so was the town itself. Only a few blocks long, the town contained a few small restaurants, some generic clothing and hardware stores and several, redundant Tibetan scarf and jewelry shops geared at tourists. With my mad traveler shopping skills, I browsed several of the souvenir stores looking for the best deals for gifts to take home. I finally settled on a small shop owned by a young, friendly Tibetan man who, with his limited English, had given me the best prices. I happily purchased three scarves and five bracelets. It wasn’t until he had finished ringing up my scarves that he asked me to sleep with him, making very clear hand gestures of what he hoped would happen. Needless to say, I quickly left the store. And then found out I’d paid about four times what the scarves were worth. Awesome.

The real charm to Tagong, however, was not its town or necessarily even its monasteries: it was its grasslands. I had never seen anything like it before. Surrounding this tiny village on all sides were seemingly endless miles of rich, hilly green land with barely a handful of trees to break up the sea of grass. Every now and then a herd of yaks would graze, prodded along by a couple Tibetan men on horses. It was stunning.

Tagong Grasslands

Tagong Grasslands

I figured the best way to experience the land was on horseback and signed up for a day-long horseback ride with two other girls. Unfortunately, it had decided to rain the day of the trip, and I found myself, once again, piling on every layer of clothing I had to stay warm. The morning was brutal. My gloves, feet and most of my pants were soaked within the first 30 minutes, and I had no idea how I would last the day. The best part came around noon, when we got to have lunch in the tent of a Tibetan nomadic family.

As we entered the tent, the girls and I were quickly welcomed by the older Tibetan lady, her daughter and her young grandson and we crowded around the fire to warm up. Like many Tibetan people, the family were yak herders and moved their tent around the grasslands to coincide with the care of their yaks.

Life was simple. A kettle heated up over a small fire, while piles of blankets, clothing, buckets and food supplies were strewn around the surrounding grass. Though we could not verbally communicate with each other, the family was extremely hospitable. We enjoyed a basic lunch of Tibetan staples: bread, yogurt and raisins, Tibetan butter tea and tsampa, a not-so-flavorful soup of barley, yak butter and boiling water. Not so different than tsampa, Tibetan butter tea is a savory tea made of yak butter melted into a pot of tea and yak milk. While many Westerners don’t care for the taste, I thought it tasted like liquid brie, and I loved it. Apparently the heavy, salty tea and soup provide great nutrients for life in the cold, windy temperatures of the high altitude, and I’ve read that Tibetans can consume up to 40 cups of yak butter tea a day!

Our hosts

Our hosts

As we left the warm comfort of the nomad tent, we were rudely jolted back to our earlier mission of exploring the grasslands. It was even colder now and the rain had picked up, and we still had six hours to go! With our feet numb, clothing soaked and eyes half shut against the rain, we asked our guide if we could just head back. It was far too miserable to enjoy the grasslands. But we had gone too far and the only way back was to follow the original plan, so on we rode trying our best to remind ourselves we were on the adventure of a lifetime.

Thankfully for us, the weather gods showed us some mercy around mid-afternoon. Though it never got warm, the rain stopped, the sun came out and we found ourselves surrounded by nothing but sprawling green hills and grasslands. At that point, I think we were all glad to have stuck around.

But my happiness was short-lived. Apparently, the nice weather had energized my horse as well, who then decided to go for a vigorous run by himself. Now, I enjoy horses and prior to China, I had ridden them several times throughout my life, though rarely going more than a short trot or canter. While my heart raced with excitement to test my horsewoman skills, this horse had a mind of its own. My attempts to lean back on the reigned paired with “whoa” (I knew nothing else to say) only caused the horse to pause before taking off again even faster. When we approached a rocky area, I was reminded of Asia’s relaxed helmet policy and started to scream.

Our guide was not happy about this. Though he could barely speak English, I quickly understood that I was not supposed to scream at the horses. So things calmed down and we tried again. Sure enough, a few minutes later my horse decided, yet again, he needed to go for a run, and I found myself once more clinging on for dear life and screaming.

Me and my misbehaving horse

Me and my misbehaving horse

Now my guide was angry, but so was I, and I managed to communicate to him that he needed to get this situation under control. Luckily, we had come across one of his buddies who was herding yaks, and I found myself on a horse “leash,” with the yak herder holding on to my reins in addition to his. This ended up being amazingly fun.

Though my wings were clipped, I got to trot along with the yak herder as he did his job. When a few of the yaks strayed, I chased after them with the yak herder to get them back with the group. When they got distracted or slowed down, I found myself whistling along with my new guide to get their attention. While I was merely the tag-along, I felt like I, too, was herding yaks. And it was super bad ass.

By the time we made it back we were cold and exhausted yet exhilarated by the amazing adventure we’d had. I ended up paying for that adventure with a nasty cold over the next few days. But as I headed to the Chengdu airport – indeed, to fly to Nepal – I was grateful that, after weeks of experiencing the “mainstream” Chinese mega cities, I had found a little patch of rural China and experienced a little bit of Tibetan culture. Even if it was, only, almost Tibet.

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The Great Wall


It seems so cliché to go to China and visit the Great Wall, but like the Taj Mahal, it’s one of those things that you just have to see if you have the chance.

With most of these kinds of sights, I always expect it to look just like the pictures, plus a million annoying tourists. But, I gotta say, seeing the Great Wall in person is so much better!

There are lots of places, especially around Beijing, to see the wall, but I opted to join a tour at the Beijing Downtown Backpackers Hostel that does a 6km hike on the wall between the cities of Jinshanling and Simatai.

It was perfect.

I have heard a lot of stories about overly touristy Great Wall destinations like Badaling or Mutianyu, where everywhere you look people are trying to sell you t-shirts and drinks. But on this hike, there were about 20 of us on our tour and only a handful of others that we encountered the entire afternoon.

We could not have asked for a better day. Above us, the sun was shining, with only a few clouds creating a perfect 70-something temperature for a hike. All around were absolutely stunning views of lush greenery and mountains. I had no idea the Great Wall of China would be this pretty!

My visit to the Great Wall was definitely one of my absolute favorite experiences of all of China and maybe of my entire trip. I hope you enjoy the photos!

Great Wall

Great Wall 2

Great Wall 3

Great Wall 4

Great Wall 5

Great Wall 6

Great Wall 7

Great Wall 8

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Breathtaking Bagan


There are a few times in life when everything just seems to come together to create a truly incredible experience. For me, that was Bagan.

Situated in Western Myanmar, Bagan is THE destination to visit in Myanmar and definitely a highlight of all Southeast Asia. While itself just a small town, Bagan is famous for having possibly the world’s most concentrated collection of temples, pagodas and stupas, most dating from the 11th- 13th centuries. In fact, more than 2,500 temples are scattered among a 13 by 8 km area, leaving endless opportunities for exploration.

While in itself Bagan is a spectacular destination, what really made the experience incredible were the people. For this trip, I was able to meet up with my former India travel buddies, Gloria and Sirisha, as well as a few new friends, Waldo, James and Tom. Together, the six of us spent an incredible three days, cycling around the temples, arguing over what time to get up for sunrise, getting lost and, eventually, cycling back together, four out of six bikes with flat tires (a special thank you to Waldo for cycling back with me in the back seat WHILE carrying my bike when both my tires went flat!). There were also plenty of fun non-temple moments, watching movies, cutting up “80s” t-shirts, and making a strange pact to volunteer to dig up dinosaur bones in Utah with the paleontologists we met at breakfast…

At the end of the day, Bagan is much better seen than described, and below I have the best pictures of the temples, and fun, of Bagan.

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Unglorious Food


Much to my father’s frustration, I’m not food adventurous.

I don’t eat weird parts of animals. I don’t eat weird animals. I won’t go anywhere near seafood. And, at the end of the day, if I can’t identify it, I’m not going to eat it.

This sort of limits my sustenance options when traveling Asia (and is probably why I will never get my own travel show :/).

That being said, I certainly have observed a lot of strange foods here, particularly in Laos, and have had one close call almost eating something I really did not want to try…

My second day in Vang Vieng, my German friend Marcel and I decided we would go explore one of the caves nearby. As we headed toward the entrance, we saw a row of women selling what looked like grilled honeycomb.

“I love honey,” I thought. “What a great chance for me to try local Laos food!”

Apparently, Marcel was thinking the same thing, so we both headed off to buy one.

Luckily, we decided to share.

Wrapped in pandanas leaves, straight from the grill, this new dish looked pretty good. But as Marcel slowly started to unwrap the honeycomb, I looked back at the grill and noticed something strange: there were bug larvae on top of those honeycombs.

Shocked, I looked at the grilling lady and pointed, trying hard to physically communicate the fact that her food was essentially covered in maggots. Seeing my reaction, she too communicated without words: she picked one up and popped it into her mouth.

As I turned back to Marcel, we began to look more closely at our snack. Instead of honey, we found that every single hole was filled with bug larvae! In fact, some of them were still wriggling around!

That was pretty much game over for me. Marcel, however, after his one bite, informed me the bug babies had an interesting nut flavor (he would not learn until later that many of them were still alive).

Please enjoy a lovely photo essay of our find plus a few other curious, apparently edible, things I’ve found around Laos.

Grilled Bug Larvae

Wriggling grilled bug larvae nestled between honeycomb

Chicken and Fish on a Stick

Chicken or fish?

Feces Soup

There are no words.

Little Fish on a Stick

Little fish on a stick in Four Thousand Islands

Monk Food

Alms made to monks in Luang Prabang

Eggs on a stick

Strangely, these eggs had no yolk in them...

Grilled Frog

Grilled frog in the Four Thousand Islands