Water for Elephants

During my trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand this year, I visited the Phutawan Elephant Camp where i get a close encounter with elephants. When we arrived at the camp, we crossed the hanging bridge to get to the other side of the river where the elephants are taking their afternoon baths in the river.  One elephant caught my attention…splashing water, rolling around and just being playful while taking a bath.  Here are some of the photos I took on that day:


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Images of my 2013 Gasm Travels

Last year, I was able to travel to 3 countries: United Arab Emirates, Morocco and South Sudan. I went to the first two countries for my holiday break while the last one was for humanitarian mission.  It was my first time to visit these countries.

Here are the highlights of my visits:

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates

One of the things I really enjoyed during my trip to Dubai was watching the spectacular dancing water fountain outside the biggest mall in the world, The Dubai Mall and the world’s tallest man-made structure, the Burj Khalifa. Walking around during the day was not fun at all for me.  I got blisters from walking under high temperature (it was 50 degrees when I was there!).   The best way to see the city is through its metro.  Most of the metro stations are connected to malls and or tourist attractions.  It is the fastest and cheapest way of seeing the city.  As I wandered around, I was fascinated by the contrast of modern architecture to the traditional architecture.  Dubai’s modern architecture can be described as cosmopolitan with unique architectural designs made of steel, concrete and glass.  The traditional architecture uses limestone building blocks and muds as evident in the residential houses, mosques, forts and souqs.   I also enjoyed the various skyscrapers clustered in three different locations: Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai Marina and the Business Bay district. It is advisable to see the skyscrapers during the day and in the evening.   Aside from the skyscrapers, Dubai is the quintessential home of shopping with so many malls to choose from.  I find electronics and jewelries more cheaper in Dubai than in other countries.  Although, there are also various attractions and tourist destinations within and outside the city,  I did a little exploring on my own and got way off the beaten track.  I discovered many unique places such as shops, alleys and secluded beaches.  My visit to Dubai is definitely one ‘gasm’ experience!



My visit to Morocco is more of a photographic journey than a mere holiday trip.  In Marrakesh, I enjoyed staying at the Place Jemaa El Fna, the heart of the old Medina (old city). I spent more time exploring the main square and the nearby souks.  It was hectic and crazy, filled with motorscooters, donkey carts, horse drawn carriages, snake charmers, hash-sellers, fortune tellers, food stalls, cafes, vendors and tourists.  Once I was inside the walled city, I was engulfed in the bustle and flurry of the sights, smells and sounds of Marrakesh and the combination of stunning historical and cultural heritage.  I met a real herbalist and learned a lot about tea, spices and herbs.  Together with my travel buddy, we went on a food trip at the square and ate different variety of tangines, one of the most famous Moroccan main dishes.  We also had a day tour of the city through its city tour bus to see the contrast of the old and new medina.    The old medina has several architectural and artistic masterpieces from different periods in history while the new medina is more of a European modern district with 5 star hotels, big shopping malls, fastfoods and a variety of restaurants.

We also toured Essaouira, a charming and vibrant port and seaport town, about 3 hours drive from Marrakesh.  Despite the strong European influence, Essaouira was able to preserve its 18th century contemporary architecture in a North African context.  I particularly enjoyed walking at the Kasbah’s Sqala, a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site which has a remarkable view of the port and the Atlantic coastline. I also got lost while wandering at the old medina and souks and ended up in a maze of blind alleys where I discovered some of Morocco’s best craftsmen.  Since I came from a landlocked country and living in hardship condition during my humanitarian mission, I spent more time relaxing at a seaside bar by the beach.   Essaouira is watersport’s paradise, a perfect location for kitesurfing and windsurfing.  With its subtle beauty, unspoilt sands and wonderfully slow pace of life,  Essaouira was a great relief from the madness of Marrakesh.

On the way to our Sahara Dessert tour, we crossed the picturesque High Atlas Mountains passing by the Col du Tichka with an altitude of 2260 m.  This part of Morocco looked like another country.  The landscape was amazing.  I felt like I was floating in the air while standing at the highest peak on top of the mountain.  Then we visited Ourzazate, the Gate of the Desert.  People here are mainly the traditional indigenous tribe called Berber.  It is a popular tourist town, home to the world’s largest film studio, the Atlas Film Studios.  Several Hollywood movies including Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator and The Mummy were shot here.  30 km away from Ouarzazate is the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou, another UNSECO World Heritage Site in Morocco. Located at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, the Ksar is a traditional pre-Saharan habitat with houses built entirely of earthen materials with rich red mud plaster.  The houses crowd together within the defensive walls with high angle towers dating from the 17th century.  Its stunning location was where one of the Star Wars movies was filmed.  Most of the tourists find it exciting to walk the same streets as their favorite movie stars once did.  This part of our trip was well worth every minute spent here not to mention the photographic opportunity in each and every corner of the Ksar.



Although my stay in South Sudan was work related, I was privileged to be able to see three different states aside from its capital, Juba.  South Sudan was my first humanitarian assignment in hardship location.  To be able to serve the newest country in the world was a humbling experience, something I will never trade for anything else.  It was one of my best if not the greatest experience in my life.  For more of my humanitarian experience in South Sudan, visit this link: Wandering the Road Less Travelled: My Humanitarian Missions.

South Sudan

Categories: Africa, Asia, Dubai, Morocco, South Sudan, United Arab Emirates | 4 Comments

Remembering the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami

On December 26th, 2004, a tsunami generated by a 9.0 earthquake under the Indian Ocean slammed into the coastline of 11 countries including countries from East Africa, South Asia and South East Asia.  The quake created 50-foot waves onto the shores of the affected countries resulting to about 150,000 casualties making it the most destructive tsunami in history.

9 months after the tsunami, I went to Andaman and Nicobar Islands in India, Eastern part of Sri Lanka and in Central Thailand to produce a documentary film on the rehabilitation efforts of humanitarian organizations that have not been given much attention by the international media.

Almost all the countries situated around the Bay of Bengal were affected by the tsunami. In India, the most affected is the Andaman and Nicobar Islands comprising of 572 islands out of which 38 are inhabited.  Andaman and Nicobar Islands is located right at the center of Bay of Bengal just north of the earthquake epicenter causing extensive damage to the Andaman Islands.

In Port Blair, the capital mainland, most of the areas were still submerged in water.

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What was used to be an agricultural land area, the tsunami has turned it into a lake of seawater.  Instead of the farmers plowing their rice fields, they fished for food.

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We also travelled to Little Andaman, one of the most affected islands about 10-hour boat ride from the mainland.  It was my most scariest boat ride ever!  While at sea, we experienced heavy rain, almost like a big storm. I thought we were going to die as big waves splashed through our old dilapidated boat.  People were vomiting everywhere.  I and my crew decided to go up the deck as there was no ventilation inside.  We were drenched from the combination of rain and big splashes of waves (I was imagining how we will survive if a tsunami happens at that moment!).

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At the deck, after the big storm

Little Andaman was not quite lucky compared to other Andaman Islands.  The entire island was ravaged.

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Almost a year after, clearing operation still left unfinished.  It was as if the tsunami has just happened the day before we arrived the island instead of 9 months ago.  There were still fallen trees blocking the roads, debris scattered everywhere and people have no permanent housing built yet by the government at the time of our visit.

Asian Tsunami

Due to logistical challenges, the rehabilitation process was way too slow.  Most of the humanitarian organizations operating in Little Andaman were from religious sectors such as the Catholic Church.

Asian Tsunami

The most primitive tribes in the world live in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.  They have little contact with the outside world.  It was reported that most of the indigenous people have escaped the disaster because they live on higher ground or far from the coast.  Some believed that it was because of their oral tradition which taught them how to flee into the hills or elevated areas if the earth shakes that saved their lives.

Most of the deaths in the islands were recent settlers or immigrants.  We visited some of the affected communities and interviewed some of the survivors. We were also able to reach one of the indigenous tribes but we were not allowed to take photos.

In commemorating the 9th year anniversary of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami today, here are some of the photos of the tsunami victims whose stories of survival, resiliency and hope have touched me immensely.

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Categories: Asia, India, Wandering the Road Less Traveled: My Humanitarian Missions | Tags: | Leave a comment

Weekly Photo Challenge: Horizon

The changes in color of the horizon after sunset is one of my favorite subjects to photograph when I am traveling.  I find it amazing how the sky can yield post-sunset afterglows casting beautiful splashes of red, yellow and orange colors.  But why are some parts of the world more colorful than others?

This week’s photo challenge features the horizon, the space or line where the sky meets the earth.  There are many places where the sky meets the earth around the world.  So in today’s post, I am showcasing my favorite photos of horizons in different countries taken just before or after the sun sets.  Let me know which one do you like best.

The Colors of Africa


The Classic Colors of Western Europe


When the sky meets the earth in Asia-Pacific

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Categories: Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tags: , , , | 22 Comments

Dubai: A Desert City

Ever wondered how a desert city looks like?

Here is a bird’s eye view of the gleaming metropolis of the city of Dubai in one of the driest places on Earth…


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Some Facts about Dubai:

 1. Dubai is not a country.
2. It is a city located at the Emirate (state) of Dubai.
3. It is not part of Saudi Arabia. It is one of the emirates that constitute the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the eastern Arabian Peninsula. UAE is a country consisting of seven emirates (states): Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain.
4. Dubai is not the capital of UAE. Abu Dhabi is the capital of UAE. Dubai is the commercial center of UAE.
5. UAE is located on the Arabian Peninsula, south of the Persian Gulf.
6. Arabian Peninsula is not part of Africa but is located in the continent of Asia.


Categories: Asia, Dubai, United Arab Emirates | Tags: | 10 Comments

The Almost Perfect Cone Volcano in the World

A tragic day in Albay. The bodies of 5 mountain hikers who died during the Mayon Volcano ash explosion were recovered today.  Four of the casualties are foreigners (3 Germans and 1 Spanish, a resident of Germany) and a local guide.

Yesterday, May 7, 2013, the Mayon Volcano in Albay, Philippines belched out ashes declared to be as phreatic explosion. The steam-driven explosion spewed a towering cloud of ashes hundreds of meters above its summit.  About 30 hikers were approaching the summit when the disaster happened.

I am currently on my holiday break in the Philippines and was in Albay when the imminent volcano eruption happened.  On that same day, I woke up early and decided to have a walk. Around 6:30 am, I stopped at a rice field with a good view of the volcano.  It was a clear beautiful day.  There were no clouds covering the volcano, no signs of impending disaster.

I was surprised to hear from the news that the Mayon has exploded at 8 am, an hour after I came back from my morning walk.  I immediately went to Legazpi City to have a glimpse of the volcano.

 These are the photos I have taken around 10 am, two hours after the explosion:


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Categories: Asia, Philippines | Tags: , | 11 Comments

An Early Morning Surprise

I was having coffee in the garden one morning when I saw a unique little creature crawling along an orchid’s stem.
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I went closer.  I was not sure what it was…a caterpillar perhaps?


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Categories: Asia, Philippines | Tags: | 11 Comments

Modern Buddhist Heritage of Sri Lanka’s South



The Weherahena Temple situated close to Matara town in the southern part of Sri Lanka, is famous for its iconic 39 meters high Buddha Statue which sits in the samadhi or squatting position in front of the temple.  A 600-foot tunnel is decorated all over with paintings and murals that describe the life of Buddha.  The temple is a multi-story building with lots of Buddhist statues created in the modern era.  The ancient nature of the place gives a calming and peaceful setting and an amazing view from the top.  The short ride from Galle to the Weherahena Temple passes through a picturesque road to Matara where one can enjoy a long stretch of beach flanked by swaying coconut trees along the way.  

Categories: Asia, Sri Lanka | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Unusual Design of Ordinary Things #1

dior shop


I was window shopping at Marina Bay in Singapore when i saw this Dior shop. I was attracted with the black and white interior decoration that it looked like a massive billboard. Indeed, just looking at this image i took, it does look like a billboard ad! Tricky, huh?

What do you think?

Categories: Asia, Singapore, World's Unusual Design of Ordinary Things | Tags: , | 4 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Home


This week’s Photo Challenge is about places where people live or a more abstract representation of a place we call home.  I chose a photo I took in Maguindanao, Philippines.  This family is a member of the Teduray tribe, one of the major Indigenous People of Mindanao.  They are known as peace-loving people with a unique culture and a strong family ties.  However, since 1970, about 10,000 Teduray families fled their homes due to armed conflicts as well as displacements from massive logging, floodings and mining activities.   Until now, Tedurays do not have permanent places to live in.  Despite of their abysmal living condition, this Teduray family shines through this image of smiling faces, filling their home with laughter amidst their suffering and difficulties in life.

Categories: Asia, Philippines, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tags: , | 3 Comments

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