Mandalay Palace Walls

Mandalay Palace Walls

In the heart of Myanmar’s second largest city lies a large palace of biblical proportions — Mandalay Palace. It’s hard to fully realize the size of Mandalay Palace without seeing it for yourself — it takes the form of a square roughly 5 miles in perimeter. A large, medieval-style moat encircles the historic site, which is roughly 2 centuries old.

Mandalay Palace Walls

At sunset, the wall’s towers are lit up — a beautiful site, especially on a calm night, when the moat’s water is still and reveals a stunning reflection of the structure against a multicolored sunset.

Mandalay Palace Walls

A photo from Mandalay Hill looking onto Mandalay Palace’s walls and moat

If the structure wasn’t impressive enough, it feels even larger when trying to circumnavigate it on a particularly hot day. The day I set out around the palace, the mercury read 112 degrees F (that’s 44 C), hitting a 115 heat index.

Despite that, it’s a great place to sit in the shade, drink [lots] of water, and intermingle with locals. Believe it or not, I was one of perhaps only three or four foreigners I saw on my long walk — like much of Myanmar, Mandalay remains relatively unexplored by outsiders.

Mandalay Palace Walls

A photo from Mandalay Hill looking into the Burmese countryside

Some of the best views of Mandalay Palace can be seen from nearby Mandalay Hill, an elevated area of the city containing several temples, historic sites, and view points. From there, you can see for miles, be it straight down Mandalay’s wide avenues or deep into the Burmese countryside.

It wasn’t until two days later that I had a chance to explore Mandalay Palace itself, inside the massive structure at the center of the city. Check back soon for a full post on Mandalay Palace’s structures.


After my long walk, I quickly found a local outdoor restaurant that served ice cold beer and some delicious fried rice. My dinner tab of two beers and a large plate of chicken fried rice came to a total of about $1.80.

Alaska Glaciers

Alaska Glaciers Glacier Bay

In the last few days of summer, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss something perfect for the summer months: visiting Alaska glaciers! Giant sheets of ice may not be your idea of a relaxing summer, but read on and maybe you’ll have second thoughts.

Alaska Glaciers Mendenhall

The Mendenhall Glacier, seen from a nearby lake

Many people wonder why the heck a glacier would be interesting in the first place. My best answer to that is that they are far more impressive and awe-inspiring in person than you think they’ll be. Some of the larger glaciers dwarf a cruise ship and stretch on beyond the horizon for miles, and when they calve (when a chunk breaks off), it sounds like a clap of thunder.

Alaska Glaciers Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay

Although there are, of course, glaciers in many places around the world (and North America), I’d argue that Alaska glaciers prove the most interesting and accessible for those living in the U.S.

Many visitors to Alaska (myself included) experience it first by going on a cruise with a set itinerary. That may sound inflexible, but there are still several opportunities to see glaciers — almost every cruise itinerary includes Juneau and Glacier Bay.

Alaska Glaciers Mendenhall

Wide-angle view of Mendenhall Glacier (obstructed by fog) and its nearby Lake

In Juneau, the Mendenhall Glacier is about a 10 minute drive from downtown. In addition to being an impressive glacier, it’s setting is absolutely beautiful; it’s on a scenic lake surrounded by landscape that’s protected as a national forrest.

Alaska Glaciers

Ending our bicycle and glacier tour with a brew

Most cruise operators will require you to pay for an excursion to see the glacier, or you can simply hire a cab to go solo. In our case, my friends and I booked a bicycle tour that included Mendenhall and ended in a beer tasting. Our coconspirator Tom even saw a bear near the glacier… Nature. Biking. Glaciers. Bears. Beer. What more do you want?

Alaska Glaciers Glacier Bay

Our ship sails into Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay is a different beast, as there are no places to dock. For that reason, most cruise operators will spend an afternoon circling the bay, allowing for plenty of opportunities to see the glaciers from aboard the ship. If you’re arriving by land, there are ways to see the glaciers on foot, as well. Day trips to the Bay are also available from a few cities in southern Alaska.

Alaska Glaciers Glacier Bay

These are just two of the many Alaska glaciers you can see. If you’re off the beaten path, I also recommend the LeConte Glacier near Petersburg, Alaska. I haven’t been, but I’ve heard great things.

If you’re interested in a trip to see Alaskan glaciers, the best time is during summer months, as you’ll have the best weather and longer days, plus most operators shut down as the tourist season ends around September.

Cape of Good Hope

Cape of Good Hope Discovery

The Cape of Good Hope, discovered by the explorer Bartolomeu Dias in 1488, is an iconic symbol of exploration, Africa, and travel on the oceans. It also represents the demarcation between the Atlantic and Indian oceans.* If you ever have the opportunity, discover the Cape of Good Hope for yourself by making the short car trip from Cape Town, South Africa.

Cape of Good Hope Discovery

Atlantic Ocean on the left, Indian Ocean on the right

The Cape of Good Hope is wrapped in many layers of history and lore — great explorers like Dias and da Gama as well as the legend of The Flying Dutchman and the Cape of Storms all trace back here.

Cape of Good Hope Discovery

A memorial to the explorer who discovered the Cape of Good Hope sits in the background

As a result, markers and memorials can be found throughout the Cape Point [official site], the area encompassing the tip of the Cape. Many of these celebrate the various explorers who contributed to the history and discovery of the Cape of Good Hope.

Cape of Good Hope Discover

In addition to the history, there is great scenery and wildlife to be found in the area as well. The landscape is unlike any place I’ve been — it almost feels like an alien planet, especially if you’re lucky enough to be there in the low season with few tourists. We also encountered a wild ostrich making its way across the park, and saw evidence of other creatures as well.

To get to Cape Point, you simply set out on the main coastal road heading south from Cape Town. The trip is an excellent opportunity to discover the Cape of Good Hope region, as there are many sights to see along the way, including a penguin colony, and several great coast coastal towns.

Cape of Good Hope Discovery

And, if you’re in South Africa, you should absolutely head to the northeast of the country to see Kruger and find the Big Five animals: elephant, buffalo, rhino, leopard, and lion.

*Okay, okay. If you really want to be technical about it, the official boundary between the Indian and Atlantic Oceans is Cape Agulhas, a few dozen miles to the east. But most people have never heard of Cape Agulhas and fewer have visited, so let’s just call it Cape Point and make everyone happy!

Yellowstone Winter By Car

Yellowstone Winter Car Buffalo

For today’s post, I’m going to bring it back a little closer to home for those of us in the US and talk about visiting Yellowstone by car in winter. One of my favorite things anywhere are national parks, so expect this to be the first of many.

My favorite things also include giant underground supervolcanos and pre-historic-looking creatures, so Yellowstone has my bases covered. Yellowstone is a fairly common destination, but few people know that you can visit Yellowstone by car in winter.

Yellowstone Winter Car

Indeed, the north and northeast entrances to the park are both open during the winter, as well as the road connecting them. Note that this area does not include Old Faithful. If you want to see it, you’ll need to go via snow coach. The park also allows a limited number of snow mobiles via other entrances, if you want to try your luck there.

Yellowstone Winter Car Geyser

Although Old Faithful is out, there are still plenty of thermal features to be seen when visiting Yellowstone by car in winter. Far better photographers have taken far better photos of Yellowstone, so I’ll try to include a few more unique views in here that you may not have seen before, including these up-close shots taken at Mammoth.

Yellowstone Winter Car Geyser

What many don’t know is that the thermal features are driven by an underground supervolcano that lies deep beneath the park and spans about 45 miles on its longest measurement.

Yellowstone Winter Car Buffalo Bison

Another iconic feature of Yellowstone is, of course, its bison. You’re virtually guaranteed to see at least a few during your time there, and watching them move gracefully through the snow just adds to the experience.

Yellowstone Winter Car Buffalo Bison

If you do decide to visit Yellowstone in winter by car, then be sure to plan your trip well. Call the park before you go or check their website on visiting Yellowstone in winter to ensure you have a full picture of what roads are open.

As the world’s first national park, this is place a must see for every outdoor enthusiast. Although summers are beautiful, visiting Yellowstone by car in winter is an experience unto itself.

Kilimanjaro’s Airports

Kilimanjaro Airport

Kilimanjaro’s airports are the gateway to Africa’s highest mountain, where thousands begin a journey that will take them to the Roof of Africa. In this post, we’ll discuss how to get there — Kilimanjaro’s airports, flights, and starting your adventure.

Many don’t realize there are actually two airports serving the region: Kilimanjaro Airport and Arusha Airport.

Kilimanjaro Airport

The peak of Kilimanjaro looms in the background on the Shira Plateau

For most, getting to Kilimanjaro likely necessitates traveling via Kilimanjaro International Airport, which is served by a number of international carriers, including KLM, Turkish, Qatar, and a few domestic and international African airlines (click here for the most up to date list). Although many will enter the country at this point, I arrived via South Africa, which routed me through Dar es Salaam then on a domestic flight to Kilimanjaro.

Kilimanjaro Airport

Photo of my flight to Dar es Salaam before departing Johannesburg International Airport

If arriving from abroad to Kilimanjaro Airport, expect to have your Yellow Fever papers checked and your visa ready, if applicable. Some fellow travelers waived the Yellow Fever vaccination requirement due to a weakened immune system — if this applies to you, I suggest you work with your doctor and climbing operator.

Arusha Airport

Our flight to Zanzibar begins boarding at Arusha Airport near Kilimanjaro

For the more adventurous, flights also operate out of nearby Arusha Airport, but many of these are small regional carriers, mostly serving Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. I departed from this airport, and, at least then, the airport terminal was about the size of a gas station.

That’s it! You’ve officially started your climb to the Roof of Africa — the continent’s highest peak! Sign up for updates and stay tuned here in the future for more posts on the actual climb, as well as other activities to do in and around the mountain.

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

In the center of Yangon (aka Rangoon), Myanmar/Burma’s largest city, is the Shwedagon Pagoda, a massive golden stupa and the most holy Buddhist site in Myanmar.

Shwedagon Pagoda

Pictures do not do justice to the Shwedagon Pagoda: it is over 320 feet tall and covered in plates of solid gold. You read that right, this is not gold leaf we are talking about here, but think bricks of gold. It is said there’s more gold on the Shwedagon Pagoda than was ever contained in the vaults of Fort Knox.


According to sources, the top is a crown tipped with 5,448 diamonds and 2,317 rubies, including a 76 karat diamond at the very top, but good luck ever seeing it — this thing is so huge that no matter where you stand, it’s difficult to make out its spire.

Interestingly, the Shwedagon Pagoda isn’t what you imagine from a holy site. Although pilgrims and the faithful can be found praying throughout the temple, the overwhelming atmosphere is festive and sociable. I was stopped by no less than 10 local Burmese who wanted to know where I was from and what I thought of Myanmar.

Shwedagon Pagoda

To get to the pagoda, you enter at the foot of a hill and must walk up a large, interior set of steps flanked by merchants. The photo above is only one of at least two or three such corridors. If you look below, you can see the exterior of the corridors climbing up the hill — this gives you some sense of the scale of the pagoda.


Most of this climb is done barefoot (no shoes or socks) due to the religious prohibition of footwear inside temples. For those visiting, plan ahead and bring a plastic bag to carry your shoes in. After exiting, a couple of wet wipes will also go a long way to make your world right before putting your shoes back on.

Shwedagon Pagoda

If you’re going to Myanmar, the Shwedagon Pagoda is a must-see, unlike any other place in the world. If you’re looking for other images of this beautiful country, click here to visit our Myanmar page with a full list of entries.

National Mall Sunrise

National Mall Sunrise

Reflecting back on the past week’s festivities with the 4th of July, today’s post will focus on something much closer to home for those in the U.S.: a National Mall sunrise. To be more precise, this sunrise on the National Mall happened a couple of years ago, back when the Washington Monument was covered in scaffolding (which I’ll discuss later).

National Mall Sunrise Washington Monument

On this particular day, I setup shop on the western end of the Mall, near the Lincoln Memorial, on the edge of the reflecting pool. This allowed me to get the sunrise framed by the Capital as well as the Washington Monument. As a stroke of dumb luck, it also happened to be a beautiful sky.

National Mall Sunrise Washington Monument

For those interested in planning a National Mall sunrise themselves, here are some answers to common questions I had when researching this trip:

  • The Mall is open to visitors 24/7
  • Tripods and other camera equipment are allowed (although larger equipment may be restricted inside confined attractions, such as the top of the Washington Monument. Check the official website for details on specific attractions)
  • The National Mall is under the purview of the National Park Service, and is routinely patrolled by park rangers. Even with expensive camera equipment in a dark, deserted part of a major city, I never felt unsafe. That said, use your better judgement as you would anywhere.
  • Parking is abundant around the Mall. Although it fills up quickly during the day, you shouldn’t have any issues if arriving at or before sunrise.

National Mall Sunrise Washington Monument

And, last but not least:

  • Dogs are allowed and will almost certainly try to chase the ducks in the reflecting pool.

National Mall Sunrise Capital

As you’ll see here, scaffolding covered the Washington Monument — this was part of a repair process in the aftermath of an earthquake that hit DC a few years ago. Personally, I liked the look of the scaffolding, thanks to the brick-like design they adopted for it. If you do too, then there is also another set of scaffolding currently covering the Capital dome, and it’ll be there awhile longer.

Sunrise national mall

If you’re planning to make a day your National Mall sunrise, I suggest you also look into going up to the top of the Washington Monument. If you’re on the Mall for sunrise, you should have enough time to pick up a coffee or quick breakfast (depending on the season and when the sun rises), then come back to pickup tickets, which are given away for free. I’ll write about that experience in a separate post.

National Mall Sunrise

There are, of course, many other sights to be seen at sunrise on the National Mall and the surrounding area, including the Vietnam, Korean, MLK, and World War II memorials, which are all within walking distance.

Rome’s Magic Dome

Sightseeing in Rome Painted Dome Church

Rome is the most photogenic city I’ve ever seen. The city is practically littered with historic sites, ancient ruins, and ornate churches. And that doesn’t even include Vatican City. You can’t go wrong sightseeing in Rome, but there are some lesser known landmarks that are easy to miss.

Sightseeing in Rome Painted Dome Church

The city is most known for the Colosseum, the iconic Roman Forum, the Parthenon, or its many ornate public squares and fountains, but there are many other gems in the city as well. This post will focus on just one of them: the Church of St. Ignatius (Sant’Ignazio if you parli the Italiano).

Sightseeing in Rome Painted Dome Church

Of course, many of Rome’s churches are beautiful, but this church’s most fascinating feature is easily missed. The fact that it’s easily missed, in fact, makes it even more fascinating. You’d probably even miss it if you were sightseeing in Rome and didn’t know what to look for.

Believe it or not, the church in the photos above has no dome.

Sightseeing in Rome Painted Dome Church

Believe it or not, the church in the photos above has no dome. What looks like a dome is actually a flat surface that’s been painted with a perspective so it looks like a dome when you first walk in. As with most things, it would have fooled me if I hadn’t had a smarter (and more well-versed) guide to point it out to me [hat tip to Lindsey].

Sightseeing in Rome Painted Dome Church

From this perspective and with a close-up zoom, the dome looks more two dimensional.

He’s a closer look at that dome from standing directly under it with a zoom lens. From this perspective, it looks a little more two dimensional than it does from the entrance. Neat trick.

Story goes that during construction, the church ran out of money to build a dome, so they hired a painter to create the effect of a dome, and he obviously did a great job.

Sightseeing in Rome Painted Dome Church

The rest of the church is, of course, equally stunning. I spent easily 5 minutes just taking photos of the way this light hit this one chandelier. The ceiling and architectural details are amazing as well. It’s impossible to take a bad photo in this place.

If you are sightseeing in Rome, I highly recommend you add this to your list. It’s centrally located, easy to find, and — bonus for us with crowd phobias — is likely to be fairly empty, as few know about it. It was also cool and comfortable on a hot day.

Stay tuned here for more posts on other places for great sightseeing in Rome, including, of course, its more well-known sites.

The Sea Gypsies


In the far southern tip of Burma, there lies a a span of remote islands largely untouched by the outside world. Known as the Mergui Archipelago, it consists of some 800 islands and is largely closed to outsiders. These islands are empty of outside development and unpopulated by all but one group: the Moken, also known as the sea gypsies.

Moken Sea Gypsies Boat

The Moken sea gypsies have lived in this region for centuries, historically traveling from island to island on live-aboard boats, occasionally making temporary huts. Moken men are known as some of the best free divers in the world, able to hold their breath for 5-8 minutes underwater while diving to catch fish.

Moken Sea Gypsies Village

Some still follow the traditional, nomadic way of life — sailing from island to island on small boats as their ancestors did. Others have taken to living in small villages spread throughout the region. These towns allow children to attend school and give shelter and better care for the sick and elderly.

Moken Sea Gypsies Boat

Even here, however, you see few young men. They often set out on fishing trips for several days, or longer, as their ancestors did before them.

The Mergui Archipelago

If you’re going to live the life of a sea gypsy, you could not pick a more beautiful place to do it. Above and below are a couple of photos of the surrounding region — the color here hasn’t been altered; this is actually what these sunsets look like.

The Mergui Archipelago

To get into the Mergui, you must first find a tour operator with a license to enter the archipelago. Then, upon entering, your tour operator obtains a permit for you and the Myanmar government closely checks the paperwork, then holds onto your passport during your time in the archipelago. If you do visit, you’re bound to see at least a few boats of the sea gypsies in your time there.

The best entry points for the Mergui Archipelago are Kawthaung, Myanmar and nearby Ranong, Thailand.

The Leg Rowing Fishermen

Leg Rowing Fishermen Inle Lake

Inle Lake is unlike any place you have ever seen, in person or through photographs. Traditional leg rowing fishermen, floating gardens, hotels on stilts, and water taxis are the norm here, and although the lake draws plenty of tourists, you won’t find crowds or big tourist attractions.

Inle Lake Leg Rowing Fisherman

Far from the busy, modern cities of Yangon & Mandalay, and in a radically different microclimate, it is easy to feel like you’ve stepped into a distant world. Most people come here to see the lake and experience its unique people and culture.

I never thought I would be “dusted” by a couple of monks on a motorboat!


A couple of monks leave us in their dust. This was simultaneously awesome and extremely humbling, like getting passed by a 90 year old in a Cadillac on the highway because you’re driving too slowly.

There are many ways to explore Inle, but the best is to stay on the lake itself. Once you get there, likely from Yangon or Mandalay, you find yourself in a water taxi to your destination. This was, by far, the most fascinating taxi I have ever been on. Monks, leg rowing fishermen, weavers, gardeners, and foreigners alike crisscross the lake on elegantly-shaped long tail boats. I never thought I would be “dusted” by a couple of monks on a motorboat!

Most accommodations on Inle Lake take the form of "floating hotels".

Most accommodations on Inle Lake take the form of “floating hotels”.

Many of the accommodations on the lake are “floating hotels”, like ours pictured here. The only way in or out is via water taxi. As someone who loves water, but isn’t much of a beach-goer, this had the best of both worlds. The only downside is the locals hit the water with motorboats as early as 4am, which is about as tranquil as a runaway freight train, but you can’t have it all, right?

Inle Lake Leg Rowing Fisherman

Inle Lake’s iconic leg rowing fisherman learn to balance on one leg, row with the other, and operate fishing equipment with both hands all at the same time.

Our best experience while there was actually the least structured: hiring a water taxi to leave before sunrise so we could photograph nature and the iconic leg rowing fisherman as the day started. Most of my favorite photos were taken on this trip, including the featured image at the top of this post, were taken during this early outing.

Inle Lake

While there, we also took a tour of one of several local villages built on the lake. For us, this included the floating gardens, a trip to the monastery, and a tour of a lotus silk weaver — people in this region are well known for their textiles. There are several other cultural attractions depending on your interests.

After a couple of days, it was time to move on to the next stop, which in this case involved an elephant sanctuary. If you want to read more about Inle Lake, there is a separate post on how to get there.