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Faces and Phases of Kansai

June 13, 2017

Considered as Japan’s heritage hub, the Kansai region offers something quintessentially Japanese—the seamless fusion of traditions and modernity. Among the region’s major cities are the port town of Kobe and the ancient capital of Kyoto.

Lining the northern coastline of Osaka Bay, Kobe served as one of the archipelago’s first gateways to the world, playing a key role in the exchange of ideas and goods with nearby nations.

Kyoto, on the other hand, was once the seat of imperial Japan. Often tagged as the country’s cultural heartland, the city hosts some of the finest Shinto shrines and Buddhist temple complexes in the country.

2.jpgPort of Kobe

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Torii of Ikuta-jinja

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Nunobiki Falls

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Minatogawa-jinja

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Grandpas of Kyoto

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Kinkaku-ji

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Faces and Phases of Ho Chi Minh and the Mekong Delta

June 8, 2017

No other city in Viet Nam can best depict the country’s post-war renaissance than in Ho Chi Minh. The city, more popularly known as Saigon, is also the gateway to the Mekong Delta, the country’s most agro-productive region.

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Early morning pho

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Notre Dame Cathedral

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Saigon Central Post Office

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Granite mountains of An Giang

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Faces and Phases of Luang Prabang

May 31, 2017

At the heart of Lao PDR’s mountainous north is the sleepy town of Luang Prabang. The mighty Mekong and its small tributaries—the lifeblood of this landlocked nation—pass through this ancient city. Roughly an hour boat ride away from the city are the blue-green pools of Tat Kuang Si waterfalls and the Buddha-filled caves of Pak Ou.

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Wat Xieng Thong complex

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Mekong x Nam Khan sunset

20.jpgTat Kuang Si

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Cascading turquoise pools of Tat Kuang Si

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Tham Ting Cave

More photos here.

Faces and Phases of Bandar Seri Begawan

April 18, 2017

The coastal city of Bandar Seri Begawan is the capital of Brunei Darussalam. Heavily reliant on its oil and gas industries, this tiny sultanate on the northern part of Borneo is among the world’s richest. The country is also known for its generous welfare system. Education and healthcare, for instance, are subsidized. Residents are also not required to pay taxes while public transportation is almost non-existent since almost everyone owns a car.

Most Bruneians—if not all—are devout Muslims. In fact, travel guides usually include a footnote that strict sharia laws are implemented. Alcohol is absolutely banned and, to some extent, so is the consumption of non-halal food.

Brunei also has the most elegant mosques in the region. But the country’s most important landmark is the floating village of Kampong Ayer. This water city covers thousands of houses, markets, schools, and even mosques on concrete and wooden stilts—a stark contrast to the grandiose opulence expected of a petro-kingdom.

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Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

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Jame’asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque.

6Kampong Ayer

16The gilded royal chariot of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah

19Pasar Malam Gadong

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Faces and Phases of Singapore

April 18, 2017

One can easily be overwhelmed by the fast-paced cosmopolitan life in one of the world’s most affluent cities. But there’s more to Singapore than the urban sprawl.

This island city-state was once a key port in the region’s most important merchant route bringing in the best of both the East and West. A random stroll beyond the glitzy malls and high-rises, for example, will treat your senses to a variety of smells and tastes—be it the faint smell of durian or burning incense in Chinatown, pooja flowers in Little India, or sizzling satays and newly brewed teh tarik along Arab Street.

Singapore’s well-planned urbanization is evident in the city’s efficient transportation system and creative use of public spaces. Separated by a few subway stops are the green Singapore Botanic Gardens, manmade beaches of Sentosa, and massive biodomes of Gardens by the Bay.

1Chinatown

3Sri Mariamman

8Little India

12Marina Bay Sands x Merlion

33Gardens by the Bay’s Cloud Forest

39Supertree Grove

30Tanjong Beach

More photos here.

Faces and Phases of Kathmandu

March 8, 2017

While much of Kathmandu is still reeling from the massive earthquake of 2015, the Nepali capital is as vibrant as before. The quake may have shaken the region to its core but life goes on in this valley full of cultural and natural wonders. The fact still remains—no other city in the world best captures the soul of the Himalayas.

Post-quake Kathmandu is as busy as ever. In fact, I arrived in the city in the most Kantipuri of welcomes—traffic, from the long dusty drive across the city’s streets, the busy KTM airspace, to the epic 2-hour immigration queue.

Also, only the city’s finest drivers can manage to make their way through the small alleyways packed with walking pedestrian, motorbikes, rickshaws, construction trucks, et al. and at the same time avoiding the revered cows and dogs.

The city is also home to a number of important religious sites—Boudhanath, Swayambhunath, and Pashupatinath to name a few. This is a city where Hindus, Buddhists, ethnic Newaris, and even animists can harmoniously coexist.

Nearby cities around the Kathmandu valley also showcase other captivating sights. Bhaktapur offers a glimpse to how villages look like in the distant past while Nagarkot provides pristine views of the iconic Himalayan mountain ranges.

25.jpgKathmandu skyline

17.jpgKathmandu’s Durbar Square

12Boudhanath

24.jpgFuneral ceremonies in Pashupatinath Temple

36.jpgSwayambhunath

39.jpgSadhus of Swayambhunath

Processed with VSCO with hb2 presetWith the newlyweds and RRDP family

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Faces and Phases of the North Island (Te Ika-a-Māui)

January 31, 2017

New Zealand’s North Island offers a glimpse to the country’s unique and awe-inspiring landscapes. Just minutes away from the cosmopolitan cities are large expanses of green pastures, verdant mountains, and captivating beaches.

This is the reason why Auckland, the country’s largest city, is among the world’s best places to live in. Similarly, the multicultural city of Wellington is as vibrant as it can be. The way of life in these cities is largely shaped by the islands’ strong Pacific roots with influences of colonial Europe and the growing migrant communities—making them distinctly Kiwi.

A drive up north of Wellington—through the coastal highway in the island’s western edges—is the university town of Palmerston North. Off the coast of Auckland is the island of Waiheke known for its picturesque vineyards. Further up north is Mangawhai, a popular holiday spot for local Aucklanders because if its charming surf beaches.

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Auckland by the bay

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Windmills of Wellington

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Palmerston North clock tower

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Vineyards of Waiheke

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Kaiwaka sunset

06.jpgMangawhai Heads surf beach

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Auckland Harbour Bridge

More photos here.