Top Seven Experiences in Bangkok

View of the Chao Phraya River from Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn,) Bangkok, Thailand

“Pow!” A roasting chestnut exploded right as I walked by, throwing white bits of shredded nut skyward. Startled, I stumbled back in astonishment, my mind spinning in an attempt to comprehend what had just happened. Dusting myself off, my face reddened as I hurried on along my way, noting to myself that a walk down the street in Bangkok, the colorful capital of the Kingdom of Thailand can be quite the experience, and one that on occasion requires quick reflexes to dodge the occasional errant flying foodstuffs.

My travels around the world have taken me to the capital of the “Land of Smiles” twice already, once in January 2011 and again in January 2013, and each time I was blown away by this thriving metropolis.

Let me tell you thing…exploring Bangkok is not necessarily for the faint-hearted. It can get very hot and humid in the city notorious as the setting for ‘Hangover 2.’ The cacophony of noises, sights, and smells can overwhelm many, and the city is as more crowded than most westerners will be used to. But for those like myself seeking adventure, this is one of the world’s greatest cities to do it in, and Bangkok does not disappoint in terms of experiences. So, without further ado, here is my own personal list of the top seven experiences that must be had in Bangkok!

Continue reading

Northern Laos – Lazy Days on the Mekong

Morning over the Mekong River in Ban Houayxay (Huay Xai), Laos

Occasionally in my travels I stumble upon one of those rare places in the world where time slows down, colors sharpen, and I become vividly aware of the interconnectedness of myself with the world around me. Perched above the banks of the Mekong River in a remote northern village of Laos, watching the flaming orb of the setting sun reflected off a golden Buddhist stupa, I became acutely aware that this was one of those moments. All was good in the world, and a warm feeling of calmness drifted over me.

Sunset over Thailand, looking across the Mekong River from Laos

Here, surrounded by curious teenage monks emblazoned in burnt orange robes, I took stock of my life, my family, and humanity. The bothersome minutia that typically flits about annoyingly now faded away into obscurity and I was left with a simple feeling of bliss. By the end of my trip here to Northern Laos, I had been an honored guest in a Laotian wedding, sampled some exquisitely sublime food, and cleared my mind in one of the most relaxing places I have visited to date.

Continue reading

Touring Burma without a Visa

Friendly Ahka villagers near Tachileik, Burma (Myanmar)

A lot has been written about how the country of Burma (officially known as the Republic of the Union of Myanmar or just Myanmar) is the next tourist hot spot. But despite the recent thawing of relations between the military government and western nations, it can still be a challenge to arrange for a tourist visa, and many embassies such as the one in Washington DC are overwhelmed with applications and can take months to process.

The reality is that it is possible for citizens of most Western countries to get into Burma without obtaining a visa in advance, and it can be done at land border crossings. My good friend Joel Oleson and I tested out this process in January 2013 while we were in Northern Thailand, and found it to be relatively easy.

Continue reading

Chiang Rai – Thai Smiles in the Golden Triangle

Wat Rong Khun (วัดร่องขุ่น / White Temple) near Chiang Rai, Thailand

Let me start by telling you how incredibly liberating it is to risk life and limb and ride on the back of a Songthaew. If you aren’t familiar with this Southeast-Asian invention, imagine a pickup truck fitted with two bench seats with a welded frame loosely fitted over the truck bed.

Riding on the back of a Songthaew in Chiang Rai District, Northern Thailand

Now slap a platform on the back and you’ve got an excellent place to hang onto for dear life as your driver whips around the roads and hills of Northern Thailand. I flew around Chiang Rai Province in the hills of Northern Thailand in January, 2013 with my good friend and travel companion Joel Oleson. We were here in between speaking engagements and used Chiang Rai as a launching-off point for getting around to the countries of Burma (Myamnar) and Laos, which I will cover in two separate blog posts. What I discovered was that this side of Thailand was filled with amazing people, fantastic food, and, of course, some mind-blowing transportation options.

Continue reading

Charming Caucasus – Part II – Armenia

Garni Temple (Գառնի) in Armenia, rare example of an intact and unmodified pagan temple in the region

An incomprehensible speech in an exotic language…a stern glance, and the high priest thrust his blade into the fire in front of me. I had stumbled upon a full-blown Armenian pagan ceremony in the oldest intact Pagan temple in the world, the Garni temple, just outside of Yerevan, Armenia. Here, amidst the ghosts of pagans past, I witnessed a full blown pagan ceremony unfold before my eyes. Not some half-baked Disneyfied version setup solely for the tourists, mind you, but a real ceremony by the descendants of ancient pagans. They were gathered here in a 2000 year old temple to perform a rite of passage for one of their members who was entering into the Armenian military.

Continue reading

Charming Caucasus Part I: The Country of Georgia

View towards Narikala Fortress (ნარიყალა) from Old Tbilisi, Georgia

What is it about the crossroads of the world that I find so fascinating? Perhaps it’s the rich history, the battlefields of past dynasties, or the allure of the trade routes that pass through them. But more than anything, I think it comes down to the blend of cultures one finds in these areas. Because of the constant movement of people, goods, and ideas in these areas, one finds a dazzling blend of different art, foods, religions, and languages.  The Caucasus most definitely qualifies as this type of environment, as it historically sits on the crossroads between powerful empires, and has been continuously influenced by them over the centuries.  Subsequently, it has been a fascinating area of the world for me to explore and once I had the opportunity to visit this are of the world in November of 2012, I took it.

Continue reading

Cambodia: Part 2 – Distant Temples, Floating Villages, and a Country Recovering from War

Sunrise over the staircase leading up Phnom Krom, Cambodia

The country of Cambodia is a vast and mystical place, with literally thousands of historical sights and places to visit. A large concentration of these famous temples and ancient cities can be found in the Angkor region, near the city of Siem Reap.  I visited this area in January 2011 on a stopover immediately following a business trip to Vietnam and explored the area in as much depth as I could in the short time I had.

The sights I visited in Cambodia were so numerous and so picturesque that I made the decision to break this blog entry into two posts.  The first post detailed my visit to the temples in the Angkor region, including the famous Angkor Wat temple complex. This second post covers some of the temples further afield, as well as my visit to Tonlé Sap lake to visit a floating village.

As I discussed in my earlier post, these temples and city complexes were constructed around a thousand years ago during the Khmer Empire, and rivaled other famous architecture forms of the time in terms of beauty and balance. After visiting the temples in the Angkor region on the first part of my trip, I headed further east of Siem Reap to visit two particularly interesting temples, Banteay Srei and Beng Melea.

Continue reading

Cambodia: Part 1 – Angkor Wat and the Lost Cities and Temples of the Angkor Region

Early daylight shining on the towers of the Center Temple at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

The jungles of Cambodia are home to one of the largest concentrations of ancient ruins in the world. Massive city and temple complexes in the Angkor area, built in the time of the powerful Khmer Empire are are believed by historians to have supported upwards of a million people, making this area the largest pre-industrial age city complex in the world. After the fall of the Khmer empire, the cities and temples fell into decay, and many were quickly lost to the encroaching jungle. Re-discovering the ruins of this lost civilization is a major goal for many modern tourists, and my trip there in January of 2011 was most definitely a major highlight of my travels.

Because of the enormous breadth of sights I saw on this trip, I have divided my travel experiences in Cambodia into two unique blog posts.  This post, the first one, deals solely with my visit to the famous Angkor Wat temple complex, Angkor Thom and its temples, and the nearby temples in the immediate Angkor Area.  The second blog post deals with my visit to the faraway temples of Banteay Srei, Beng Melea, and also my trip to visit the Floating Village of Chong Kneas on Tonle Sap Lake.

Continue reading

Nepal – Buddhist Stupas, Rice Paddies, and Everest Flights


Kathmandu, Nepal. If there was ever a place that invoked a sense of wonderment simply by invoking its name, this is it.  The proximity of Nepal to India was one of the reasons we decided on a tour of Northern India, and we factored it into our plans for our crazy, 2500km cross-India trip that I covered in Parts 1 and 2 in previous blog entries.  After taking a dip in the Ganges in Varanasi, the crack team of Joel Oleson, Neo (Majid) Favarshan, driver Ashok Kumar and I headed north to the border of Nepal, the mountain kingdom!

Because we are all slightly crazy (or at least Joel and I are)…we drove through the bulk of the night yet again. This final night drive was the most bizarre, however, as we passed through remote northern Indian villages in the inky darkness of the middle of the night. In the dark, we could catch glimpses of thousands of people in the street dancing and celebrating a festival as we slowly drove through. Their dancing bodies were reflected in the light of bonfires, the only source of light aside from our headlights. It was as surreal of a moment as you could get, and reminded us that we were truly in a different world here.

Continue reading

Incredible India – Part 2: Truck Stops, Sacred Rivers, and the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal Mausoleum, Agra, India

In case you missed it, Part 1 of this blog post details the first portion of this trip, which involved a visit to a temple swarming with rats, car breakdowns in the desert, and a long drive across Rajasthan.  We pick up where we left off in this blog, on a crazy journey 2500km across Northern India and Nepal with my friends Joel Oleson and Neo (Majid) Favarshan.  After an incredible ride through Rajasthan, we once again drove straight through the night, this time headed for Agra, India, and the famous Taj Mahal.

Continue reading

Incredible India – Part 1: Rat Temples, Street Cricket, and the Palaces of Rajasthan

View of the Blue City of Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India from the top of the Mehrangarh Fort

India. Just saying the world itself conjures up images of a mystical place, full of smells, sights, and tastes that are foreign to the rest of the world.  For a world traveler such as myself, it was a place that simply had to be visited.  And, not surprisingly, my trip there in September 2009 ended up being one of the classic ones I still speak glowingly about to this day.

It all started with an invitation for me and Joel Oleson, a fellow Microsoft SharePoint speaker, to speak at several cities in Southern India.  The speaking schedule allowed for a break of around six total days in between speaking locations as well.  This was our chance to see some of what India had to offer!  We jumped on the opportunity, and hatched a plan to travel across Northern India and Nepal, seeing as much as we could in the time we had.  Joining us would be SharePoint MVP Neo (Majid) Favarshan from Iran, a good friend who unwittingly got himself involved in an insane journey halfway across the sub-continent.

Continue reading

Bali – Monkeys, Bats, and Paradise on Earth

Monkeys at Uluwatu Temple, Bali

There is just something about monkeys that brings a smile to your face, whether it’s at the zoo, in the wild, or running loose around a temple in a tropical paradise. The latter applies to numerous locations on the Indonesian island of Bali, a place I had the good fortune to be able to visit after an Australian speaking event back in May of 2011. It was a short stopover, but I saw an amazing amount in that period of time.

To understand Bali you must first understand its history. Bali is the home to the vast majority of Indonesia’s Hindu minority.  While a minority in the country as a whole, on the island they comprise over 90% of the population. This is no small accident, but the result of the fall of the Hindu Majapahit Empire, whose intellectuals, artists, and Hindu religious leaders fled from the island of Java, where Jakarta is located, to Bali. This exodus led the Balinese people to be very strongly attached to their Hindu roots, as many of them still are today.  For example, nearly every house on the entire island has its own personal temple.

An example of a pura (Hindu temple) within the confines of a home in Bali

Continue reading