Ba Be National Park


lake ba be national park vietnam


              If your looking for an outdoors adventure in Northern Vietnam then look no further than Ba Be National Park.  Ba Be boasts a pristine lake, beautiful rivers, scenic waterfalls, and prehistoric caves set amid towering forest shrouded mountains.  The national park offers rich biodiversity, unique landscapes, and at its heart, Ba Be Lake, which is the largest and highest natural freshwater lake in Vietnam.  The park can be explored on foot by trail, bicycle/motorcycle by road, or kayak/boat.  Offering great and welcoming homestays, Ba Be National Park is a great place to get way from the hustle of Vietnam. 

Ban Gioc, Vietnam

ban gioc waterfall aerial view dji drone vietnam


              Located in the northeastern province of Cao Bang, Ban Gioc is home to Vietnam’s best-known waterfall.  Surrounded by tree covered limestone mountains that stick out of the ground like spear tips, the Quay Son River ambles through green rice fields and bamboo groves till it pours in a torrent over the three tiers of the Ban Gioc Waterfall.  This off the beaten track location sees very few foreign tourists so its waterfall and cave are left mostly empty, and the area still has its countryside feel.  Due to this, this area is a great get away for those wanting to get away and experience the Vietnamese way of life first hand. 

Yen Tu: A Pilgrimage to Vietnamese Buddhism

dong pagoda mists yen tu vietnam


              Yen Tu has been referred to as the center of Vietnamese Buddhism and, like most of the sacred Buddhist temples, the magic of Yen Tu lies in the journey.  Consisting of a series of temples following the monk king’s pilgrimage to enlightenment, Yen Tu stretches 6000 meters (about 6 hours of walking) from the valley floor all the way up to the cloud-wrapped, mountain top Dong Pagoda, 1,068 m above sea level.

Ha Long Bay

halong bay vietnam


              Ha Long Bay is easily Vietnam’s top tourist destination and brings in thousands of tourists daily during the peak season.  There are many cruise companies that offer 2 day/1 night or 3 day/2 night cruises through the bay and this is by far the most popular way to tour this area.  Known for its beauty, Ha Long Bay is scattered with thousands of forest-topped, karst limestone islands that reach out of its blue waters into the heavens.  Its ethereal beauty is something you would only expect to see on a movie screen and it in fact has been featured in a small handful of movies; namely the recent King Kong: Skull Island.  It has also been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its outstanding geological and geomorphological value, as well as its aesthetic value.  

Cat Ba Island

cat ba island halong bay vietnam


              Cat Ba is a beautiful island set of the coast of Vietnam in the heart of Ha Long Bay.  Many tourists only get to see a small piece of this island when they come ashore as part of their Ha Long Bay cruise, but there is so much more to be had here.  For those independent travelers, Cat Ba is a great place to get away from the normal tourist grind and spend a day or two, or more, to enjoy the amazing views, history, and natural reserves Cat Ba Island has to offer.

Hanoi



              Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is also its second largest city.  Unlike its larger cousin, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi seems to be more in touch with its roots and exhibits a more intimate appeal.  Amidst its cultural and historic background, Hanoi seems to be slowly and grudgingly modernizing.  The streets hum, with drones of motorcycles whizzing through, while between them the buildings still show the historic past of colonization; a charming blend of East and West.

Top 7: Taiwan



1. Fo Guang Shan Buddha Memorial



fo guang shan buddha memorial complex taiwan
Giant Buddha at the Fo Guang Shan Buddha Memorial Complex


              Fo Guang Shan Buddha Memorial easily tops the list as my #1 tourist destination in Taiwan.  This temple complex is the largest in Taiwan and houses, amongst many other things, a Buddha tooth relic.  The whole temple complex is huge and anyone who sets foot in it will find themselves hard pressed not to be amazed and awe inspired by the size and grandeur of it all.  Not only are there numerous temples and statues throughout the complex, but there are also many shows and festivals practiced on a daily basis in the many areas throughout. 

Finishing Up Taiwan


silhouette green island taiwan


              Having finished up our tour of the west coast of Taiwan and getting to see the spectacular Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival, it was time to move on eastward to our final piece of Taiwan.  During what we thought would be our final week (it wasn’t) we hiked through the beautiful Taroko Gorge, almost lost my drone a few times, had the worst day of our vacation thus far in the most beautiful place in Taiwan, and got stuck in Taipei for a while due to a visa snafu.

Green Island

rocks ocean green island taiwan


              Green Island might not be a lot of people’s to-do list when visiting Taiwan, but it is certainly deserving of a top spot as one of Taiwan’s most beautiful places.  It’s great for a short get away from Taiwan’s hustle and bustle and offers some great attractions and sights that you will find no where else in the country.  Some strong words seeing that the first day there was possibly the worst experience I’ve had since being in Taiwan (more about that here).

Taroko Gorge

taroko gorge taiwan


              If you enjoy nature, hiking, sightseeing, or just want a way to get out and about, then look no further than Taroko Gorge.  Taroko Gorge is one of those places whose sheer beauty and grandness has caused it to be touted as one of Taiwan’s most beautiful places.  

Finally Leaving Taipei

drinking from teapot fo guang shan buddha memorial kaohsiung taiwan


              My first two weeks in Taiwan having been spent in the capital of Taipei, it was time to leave the big city and start our tour of the country.  Spoiler Alert: This ended up being a huge scheduling mess due to fixed dates for interviews and festivals we had to meet and a tentative date for leaving that we came no where close to meeting.  Our tour of Taiwan was great though and had its highlights, like the largest temple in Taiwan, the most popular festival in the world, and me getting the worst rash ever and having to go to the hospital.

Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival

laterns pingxi sky lantern festival taiwan


              The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival has been ranked highly on global must visit lists by numerous sources like CNN, Discovery Channel, and Foder’s; just to name a few.  This ancient Chinese festival has been reimagined for the modern age with live music and dance shows, coupled with vendors selling all sorts of food and souvenirs.  


Rainbow Village

rainbow village taichung taiwan


              Rainbow Village is more than just a painted neighborhood; it’s one of those places that is beyond ordinary.  It is a home, unique art gallery, historical landmark, and showcases the accomplishment of a peaceful protest done right.

Kaohsiung

fo guang shan buddha memorial compound kaohsiung taiwan


              Koahsiung might be the Heart of southern Taiwan, but it doesn’t have a lot to offer to a would-be tourist.  That being said it is worth a visit if only to go see the Fo Guang Shan Buddha Memorial Complex.  

Teapot Mountain

teapot mountain taiwan


              Teapot Mountain, a four-hour hike, is by far one of my favorite hikes in Taiwan.  Only 1.5 hours from Taipei, it can easily be done as a day trip.  Being located so close to Taipei, many Taiwanese get up early to make the trek up and around the mountain range.  You will often come across older Taiwanese people that will put you in their dust as they walk past as if the trail is no trouble at all.  

How to Travel from Hanoi to Hai Phong


gia lam bus station hanoi vietnam
Gia Lam Bus Station


              Travel in Vietnam is much easier than you might expect.  If your traveling to Hai Phong, the jump off point for Cát Bà Island and cruises into Ha Long Bay, you most likely are coming from the Old Quarter in Hanoi.  The best mode of transportation from Hanoi to Hai Phong is by bus.  The most convenient option for a bus is to talk to your hotel/hostel and have them arrange for a bus to pick you up, which will cost 250,000 VND/11 USD.  If your trying to travel cheaper, then the public bus is your best bet.  

Houdongkeng Waterfall

houdongkeng waterfall yulan taiwan


              Yilan, in northeastern Taiwan, doesn’t have much to offer a passing tourist and you won’t find many that stop there.  But if you are making your way down the east coast and looking for a quick and rewarding hike, look no further than Houdongkeng Waterfall. 

Must Try Food in Taipei


lan jia traditional taiwanese snack taipei taiwan


              Taiwan is full of amazing food, and there is no place better to try it all than Taipei.  Taipei is a city that never sleeps, with bustling streets and lively night markets, the sheer variety of amazing food here is a foodie’s dream.  Everything in Taipei is delicious, but if you want to make sure to hit the best food Taipei has to offer, there are a few things that you must have on your eating checklist.  From sleepless night markets to must try restaurants, I have scoured the streets of Taipei to experience the best Taipei has to offer, bite to bite.  Here are a few of my personal favorites.


Top 10 Things To Do: Taipei


teapot mountain taiwan


              Taipei, the sprawling capital city in northern Taiwan, is well worth a visit for any traveler wishing to take an amazing city vacation in a far away land.  Taipei offers world renowned food, transportation, hospitality, and experiences and should be on anyone’s bucket list of cities to visit.  Whether you have only a few days or weeks to spare, you can easily fill your time with awesome experiences, great sites, and amazing food.  If you are looking for what to do here is my list of the top 10 things to do in Taipei.

First Two Weeks in Taiwan


taipei taiwan elephant mountain
Taipei 101 and downtown Taipei from the top of Elephant Mountain

              Having finished our tour of the Philippines, we boarded an Air Asia flight and jumped across to Taiwan; the second country in our Southeast Asia tour.  Since Taiwan is a fairly small island we had planned on only spending two weeks there, but of course that didn’t happen (currently on day 18 and still have about a week of things to do).  The trip was going to be quick and easy we thought.  Since having a friend that lives in Taipei, the capital, we had planned to stay with him and use his house as a base of operations to go out into the rest of the country.

Top Cities in the Philippines


top cities buscalan philippines

              During my one-month tour of the Philippines I traveled across a lot of the country, visited many of the islands, and stayed in a lot of its major towns.  Some of the towns were simply stop overs to other things, but others demanded my attention.  Here is a list of my top 7 favorite cities in the Philippines and how they rank. 


Top 10 Things to Do: Philippines



top 10 philippines boracay beach philippines

              The Philippines is full of fun and exciting things to do; so many it’s hard to do them all in just one trip.  So, to help you decide on where you should focus your vacation time, I have compiled a list of my personal top 10 favorite things I did while in the Philippines. 


Philippines Promo

         My tour of Southeast Asia started off strong with a month-long trip to the Philippines.  The Philippines might have been one of my favorite places I have visited.  A country made of 7,641 islands, the Philippines has something to offer for everyone.  Whether you want to relax on the beach in Coron, island hop in El Nido, party in Boracay, swim with sea turtles in Dumaguete, or make an adventure in Bohol, the Philippines has it all.  To celebrate the completion of our tour of the Philippines, I wanted to share this video posted by my girlfriend from 'The Jade Parade.'



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Bohol



tarsier monkey bohol philippines
Tarsier monkey


              Bohol, an island located in south central Philippines, may not be as famous as some of the other islands in the Philippines, but it is well worth a visit.  Most famous for its Chocolate Hills and Tarsiers, Bohol also offers an array of other highlights for those wanting either an adventurous or beach vacation.  This tropical paradise has it all from white sandy beaches to tropical forest covered mountains. 

Dumaguete

sea turtle snorkeling apo island dumaguete philippines
Sea turtle at Apo Island


              Dumaguete is a vibrant city in south central Philippines known as the “City of Gentle People.”  A university town, thousands of students pour into the city everyday to attend one of its great universities.  Not only is Dumaguete a jump off point for snorkeling and diving trips or travel to the eastern and southern islands, but it offers up some great sightseeing, food, and entertainment itself.

Bais



manjuyod sandbar bais philippines
Manjuyod Sandbar

              Bais is a small town in south central Philippines known mainly for its large sandbar and dolphin watching.  Though the town itself may not have a lot to offer tourists it is a good day trip town from Dumaguete or to overnight in for an early morning excursion.  

Tibiao


kawa kayak inn tibiao philippines
Kawa baths

              Tibiao may not be on most people’s radar, but it’s truly a worthy addition to anyone’s vacation.  Known for their kawa hot baths, Tibiao might be one of the most relaxing places in the Philippines.  The kawa baths are large metal pots that are heated from below by large wooden fires.  As the water heats they add herbs and flowers which, as they release their oils into the water, creates essentially an herbal hot tub. 

Boracay



i love boracay white beach philippines
I Love Boracay sandcastle on White Beach


              Boracay, a small island in central Philippines, could possibly be the Philippines largest tourist draw.  The number of tourist here could be a turn-off for those wanting a quite getaway.  Hyped as the Philippines party capital, it truly lives up to its name, but it has far more to offer than just its nightlife.  

nightlife hooka beer bucket white beach boracay philippines
Hooka and beer bucket on the beach

Palawan: A Video Compilation


              Palawan, the most beautiful island in the world, is truly a site to be seen.  From the UNESCO subterranean river to the amazing beaches, Palawan is in a world of its own.  Trying to capture all Palawan has to offer, I have compiled a short video to showcase this amazing place.

Top 5 Things You Must Do in Palawan


             Palawan has been rated the most beautiful island in the world and it is easy to see why.  With so many white sandy beaches, crystal clear water, coral reefs, and tourist attractions it’s hard to decide just what to do.  So, I have put together a short list of my personal ‘top 5 things you must do in Palawan.’


5. Street Food

 

street food el nido palawan philippines
  

Puerto Princesa



Underground river puerto princesa philippines palawan

              Puerto Princesa, located in the center of Palawan Island, is known as the greenest (due to the fact that they have four annual tree planting festivals) and cleanest city in the Philippines.  Whether you are in the mood for floating down an underground river, having a chill night walking the Bay Walk, or visiting a local craft brewery, Puerto Princesa should be your port of call.  

El Nido



island hopping el nido palawan philippines
Island hopping in El Nido

              El Nido is one of the most visited towns in Palawan and possibly the Philippinesas a whole.  It’s located on the northern end of Palawan Island in western Philippines. Palawan Island has been rated the most beautiful island in the world and El Nido is its defining city. 

First Week: Philippines



justin jade twin lagoon coron philippines palawan
Jade and I in the Twin Lagoon, Coron, Philippines


              I started my new travels in the Philippines and have been at it for a little over a week and this is my story.  It’s a simple story of the confusion of arrival in a new country, excursions on tropical islands and beaches, and that one time we slept outside in the bottle storage area on the porch of a ticket office (yea that happened).  

flight texas philippines
Flight from Texas to the Philippines

Coron from a Drone

Compilation of drone footage taken at Twin Lagoon and Bahul Beach in Coron, Philippines.  Enjoy!!!



Coron Island Hopping


banul beach el nido philippines palawan
Banul Beach from the drone

              The town of Coron may be a sleepy little town for tourist’s standards, but the islands that surround the area are far from it.  The most prominent of these islands is the island of Coron (not to be confused with the city) just across the bay.  The island of Coron was the original site of the town till it was moved to its current location for more space.  The Tagbanua tribe still inhabit the island and have a title of Ancestral Domain over it, so all tourist that enter must pay a fee.

Coron


pano coron philippines
Panoramic of the bay from my hotel
            
              Coron is located in the northern most island of the Palawan island chain and is amongst the most visited areas by tourist in the Philippines.  The town itself is a sleepy little town with not a whole lot to offer in the food/nightlife/tourist scenes, but the tours outside of town are first-rate and are why Coron should be on everyone’s to-do list. 

Tagaytay


taal volcano tagaytay philippines
Taal Volcano in the distance from Tagaytay, Philippines

              Located about 56 km from Manila, Tagaytay is the first stop for many tourists on their way through the Philippines.  The cheapest option for traveling there is by bus; costing 65 pesos ($1.30).  Tagaytay’s most prominent point of interest is the Taal Volcano.  Sitting in the middle of Lake Taal, Taal Volcano is the worlds smallest active volcano and the Philippines second most active.
 

My Next Adventure: Southeast Asia



trip southeast asia
Planned trip through Southeast Asia

              Having finished my Peace Corps services in Madagascar and having some down time with family and friends during the holidays, I am now leaving for my next big adventure.  This trip will take me to the other side of the world and through most of Southeast Asia.  Equipped with what I could fit in a backpack I have set out to chronicle the best of what Southeast Asia has to offer.  Travel along with me to read about my adventures to find out the top things to see and do and get travel tips for all of the places I see.

sitting at the airport
Charging our stuff and using wifi at the Manila airport

I start this trip with a three-leg flight to the Philippines, where I will spend one month (the extent a regular travel visa will allow).  Once I leave the Philippines, and continuing through the rest of this trip, I do not have any concrete plans on how long I will spend in each country but will stay either till my visa expires or till I am ready to move on.  Leaving the Philippines my plans are as follows: Taiwan-Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia-Thailand-Myanmar-Bangladesh-Bhutan-Nepal-India-Sri Lanka.  
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