Today’s #frifotos — Colorful

Joy City Mall, Beijing, China

Rainbow Payphone, San Francisco, California

Dyed Yarn, Marrakech, Morocco

Senbazuru (Thousand origami cranes), Kyoto, Japan


Island Life

part of the BootsnAll Indie Travel Challenge Project

We want to hear what you love about islands, what your favorite indie travel island destination is, which island you’re most longing to see, or why you think islands evoke such strong emotions in travelers. And – you know we have to ask – what would be three things you would absolutely have to have with you if you were stuck on a deserted island?

so here’s the thing. even though i was born in and grew up around Los Angeles, i was never one for the beach, so paradise-y islands were, for a long time, not my thing. i guess that’s why islands to me don’t necessarily mean beaches and palm trees and drinks with umbrellas, but well, just the literal definition of an island.

some of my favorites:

Tokyo on the island of Honshu

One of the islands of Suomenlinna, Helsinki, Finland

New York City on the island of Manhattan

Cambridge on the island of Great Britain

ok, who am i kidding. especially in the winter, who can resist the siren song of laying in a hammock on a beach, soaking in the sun while a warm breeze slowly wafts? the slow pace of life, the great weather, and great seafood you can’t normally get at home are what draw me to tropical islands. (side note — how i wish it were summer now, island or not!)

Hammock on the island of Oahu

there are a couple islands on my bucket list — ibiza and the isle of skye. the former, i think i’m outgrowing, so i’m not sure how much longer that will stay on my list (or i will have to do it soon), and the latter, well, i don’t think will ever lose its appeal. ever since i saw this j.crew catalog years ago, it’s been somewhere i have to go. i can’t put my finger on why, but it’s prettier than say, a beach paradise. *turning on some celtic music*

what three items must i have on a deserted island? hmm. i don’t really like these questions since i don’t think i’m ever happy with my answers, but here goes. assuming there is no way i can ever get off, so not including things like flares or a cell phone, etc.:

  • my ipod with a solar charger
  • a survival handbook
  • a tractor trailer full of food and water that will last until i get my encampment set up

(Nearly-)Religious Experiences in Asia

part of the BootsnAll Indie Travel Challenge Project

If you’ve traveled in Asia, what’s your favorite destination? Share a story of one of your best experiences in Asia, or tell us about a place you love.

really? you’re going to make me choose? i’ve only recently started traveling to Asia (other than a couple trips to Hong Kong growing up, as that’s where my parents are from): Beijing/Great Wall in 2010, the Angkor Region of Cambodia last August, and Japan in November. each of those alone was amazing, and i’m not sure i can pick just one to highlight, especially since my options are limited and those destinations were chosen with the intent of having stories to tell.

there are three places, though, that i could spend countless hours in:


all y’all must get tired of me talking about this, but this is my favorite temple in the Angkor area. it’s like being surrounded by a couple hundred Faces of Boe, but a lot less creepy. in fact, there’s this serene benevolence that adds a palpable sense of mysticism to what otherwise would be “any ol'” Angkor temple.




i did the Hakone Round Course as an overnight trip on my way from Tokyo to Kyoto. i am not sure what it was — the funicular, the ropeway with soaring views of Mount Fuji, the steaming mountainside of Owakudani (eat those black eggs!), the breathtaking Open Air Museum filled with modern sculpture, or the pirate ship ride across Lake Ashinoko — my first impression of Japanese countryside and fall foliage after being in the urban jungle of Tokyo was absolutely breathtaking.

PROTIP: if you want a treat, take advantage of Fujiya Hotel’s Special Hospitality Plan for non-Japanese passport holders. they have a very small (5?) number of rooms set aside for just $133 per night (based on the number of years the hotel has been in existence, so it will change annually). not only do you get to spend the night in a historic grand hotel, but a morning walk in their Japanese garden is a great way to start your day. also, they had the most amazingly fast (free) in-room internet. even up in the middle-of-nowhere-mountains i got speeds faster than i could ever get at home.

From Owakudani to Ubako, Mt. Fuji in the distance

One of a handful of stray kitty cats I saw near the lake


The Okunoin Graveyard and Torodo Hall, Koyasan

walking the two-kilometer path through the forest cemetery (the largest cemetery in Japan) during the day and again at night are two soul-moving pilgrimages. midday, being surrounded by 200,000 tombstones amongst towering grand old trees filtering the sunlight, finally reaching the Hall of Lamps (after passing through many clearly-significant religious sites and devout adherents paying their respects), your heart is filled with awe. at night (be sure to go once during the daytime beforehand so you’re not caught by surprise at the length of the trek), with dim lights illuminating the path every now and then, you’re not filled with dread and fear as much as you are with a sense of reverence and somewhat otherworldly spirituality. combined, it is possibly the closest this devout atheist could ever say he has felt to a religious experience in his life. if you go, definitely stay overnight at a temple: lodging like no other where they serve you food like no other (quite yummy)!

The cemetery

An old mausoleum

Torii, Then and Now

a coworker sent me a link to these stereoscopic animated GIFs made from old photographs of Japan. one of them caught my eye:

i wasn’t going to go to the Fushimi Inari Shrine (near Kyoto) because i wasn’t sure i’d have enough time, but i ended up having the last three hours or so of daylight free one day, so off i went. i’m so glad i did. i wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was absolutely breathtaking, seeing all of those torii making bright vermilion corridors on the mountainside. i love this GIF! after passing through those thousands(? seemed like it) of gates, having this glimpse into the past and getting an idea of how they were constructed adds another dimension to an already fascinating location.

some pictures i took:

and the rest of my japan photos

p.s. i seem to recall the Fushimi Inari Shrine making a cameo appearance in a credit card (visa?) ad from maybe two decades ago (confirmed, iirc, by twitter user @dkmomus). i tried looking on youtube for it but came up empty. anyone?

Today’s #frifotos — #exotic

i have yet to go anywhere truly considered exotic (and i think the list of possibilities in this ever-shrinking world is likewise shrinking), but: