Santa Cruz, Bolivia

Last week I was in Bolivia, South America doing some work for my nonprofit, Remember Nhu. I thought I'd share some photos from my time that was spent mostly in the city of Santa Cruz. This vibrant city is in the tropical lowlands east of the Andes Mountains and is a cosmopolitan hub for museums restaurants, and nightclubs. Because of Bolivia's poverty and also geographic position as a landlocked country, Bolivia has sadly become a south American hub for human trafficking hence why I was there doing some work for my organization. 

It was a jam-packed four days of work, however I did get to see some great friends and experience a bit of Bolivian culture and the buzzing life of Santa Cruz during my stay, and I thought I would share some photos from the trip!

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Santa Cruz is laid out like a lot of South American cities in 'rings,' where downtown is the central point and then each section of the city is organized in rings spreading out from there. When in downtown you see some beautiful local artwork, busy marketplaces, and classic South American and Spanish-influenced architecture. 

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The Bolivian food is really great, which I know from experiencing some of it at the food trucks in my home town of Portland : ). Bolivia cuisines features a lot of chicken and rice, vegetables, fun fresh juice beverages, and a few mouthwatering local favorites such as empanadas and salteñas. This was my first time trying salteñas, which are savory pastries filled with beef, pork or chicken mixed in a sweet, slightly spicy sauce and also sometimes pees, carrots, or other veggies. They're pretty good!

However all of the fresh produce kept catching my attention photography-wise. So colorful and delicious looking! Below are some of my faves from a Bolivian marketplace. 

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The Plaza downtown is a great place to hang out in Santa Cruz. There are beautiful flowering trees, statues, park benches for watching many passer by's, and a huge gorgeous cathedral / castle. I loved just walking around there and taking in the different scenes. 

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Some of the kids I was with in the plaza were chasing birds around, and then something shocking and awesome happened. One of the local Bolivian girls with us reached up and grabbed a pigeon out of the sky in mid flight! The bird just kept awkwardly flapping but she held on grinning ear to ear. It was hilarious and one of the most random things I'd ever seen! My photos of it weren't amazing because I was mostly laughing and looking at the strange spectacle with my own eyes, but you get the picture...

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Bolivia truly comes alive once the sun starts to set. The sky puts on a show of colors and people start to file out of shops and businesses onto the streets. Like most South American cultures, people eat dinner later than we do in North America and every night the social scene doesn't really get going until about 10pm! You'd be surprised how late people are out and how vibrant things are in Santa Cruz late at night. 

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Again, the real reason I was in Bolivia was to do some work for the children Remember Nhu helps. So naturally I have to include some of the smiling faces of these beautiful children. No matter how crazy things are for some human beings on earth, children are still children and every time I work with kids in impoverished settings I marvel at the joy, love, laughter, resilience, and playfulness I find. These are truly amazing human beings and being around them filled my soul again to overflowing. 

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Lastly, everywhere I go I can't help but photograph the local wildlife or pets I find around me. There were truly some gems this time, my favorite being a colorful parrot named Lauren who could repeat things I said in Spanish, such as "Agua, Por Favor!" hahahaha. Below is a few of the creatures I snapped some quick photos of. 

Bolivia is an amazing country with extremely friendly people, great food, culture and landscape. I want to go back to Santa Cruz again, and also next time go west to La Paz to experience Bolivia's mountainous region, which I hear is pretty epic. Maybe I'll see you there? 

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Crater Lake, OR

Just recently I took my mom on a road trip for her birthday, I’ve been gone travelling for the past couple summers during her birthday and wanted to do something special with her that would involve lots of time together. We were determined to see something in Oregon that we’ve never seen before—and when both of us realized that we had never been to Crater Lake before, we immediately nailed it down as the must-visit for our Oregon Birthday Road Trip.

Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, I can’t believe I had never been here before! I’ve tried multiple times to visit Crater Lake but each time it fell through (long story), and also I guess I’ve seen so many pictures of it that I never got around to visiting it myself for some odd reason. Well, I’ve been missing out. This place was amazing! It’s no wonder that it’s considered one of the 7 Wonders of Oregon.

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Crater Lake is the gem of central Oregon, a 4.5 hour drive from Portland and a 1.5 hr drive from Bend. What I didn’t realize was that Crater Lake National Park is way more than just the lake itself. One of the five oldest national parks in the United States (and surprisingly the only national park in the state of Oregon), the park boasts 286 square miles of raw beauty. There were plenty of plains, forests, and even some pretty mountain peaks (still snow-capped at the end of the summer) to see, so my mom (Debi) and I couldn’t help but pull over for some photos before even getting to the Lake.

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The lake lives up to the hype when you first drive up. It's an amazing view from almost any viewing point because the lake is one giant circle in which no matter what angle you come from, you are at a high elevation looking down upon the lake. Why are you always at a high elevation looking down at the lake? Because Crater Lake was formed by a collapsed volcano (Mount Mazama) about 7,700 years ago, which is pretty freaking cool and you can’t help but picture it when you are standing there staring at it. Another fascinating tidbit on this lake is that it’s also the deepest lake in the United States!

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No matter where you go, the views of the lake are stunning. I love the little “island” in the middle and the vast pops of blue created by the sky / water-surface interaction wherever you go around the lake. A piece of advice: make sure to fill up on gas before entering the park, it’s bigger than you think and there aren’t any gas station options inside the park. During peak season you can find some food options, there was a café near the North Rim entrance that was pretty reasonably priced (called Rim Village Café) as well as some additional fancy restaurant options at the lodges.

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One crazy thing going on when we were there last week was a host of fire fighters that have been sweeping through Oregon, and some ventured in to the park! The smell of smoke in the air was everywhere in the park, and at one pull-out we were able to witness the smoke rising from distant fires and talked to some fire-fighters on the side of the road who seemed pretty over-worked and tired from having to fight the fires!

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The biggest treat of Crater Lake was the sunset, when those orange, pink, and purple colors start to make their way into the sky and water. My mom and I were in photography heaven and it was so gorgeous. Definitely a great place to visit if you’ve never been. But if you go, you MUST schedule a time around either a sunrise or sunset in the park! It really is an ideal place to watch the colors of the sky.

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Priest Lake, Idaho

Over the weekend we stayed at my Aunt & Uncle’s lake house at the very beautiful Priest Lake in Idaho! If you’ve never heard of it, Priest Lake is a huge lake on the northernmost portion of the Idaho Panhandle, about 80 miles northeast of Spokane, WA and just below Canada. This is a gorgeous and pristinely clean lake that is very worthy of adding to your travel/vacation list if you’ve never been! It’s ideal for water sports, boating, hiking and site-seeing. It is a 7 hr drive from Portland & a 6.5 hr drive from Seattle.

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My Uncle Dave and Aunt Kerry are from Spokane and have had a vacation house on the lake for over 30 years. I visited a number of times with the fam growing up, so it holds some great childhood memories for me. But the most amazing part of this particular trip was getting to take my wife and children there for the first time! It was literally a perfect trip filled with all kinds of fun memories and “firsts” for the children.

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One of the biggest “firsts” was the first motor boat ride for our kids (4-yr-old Greyer & 2-yr-old Ruby). My Aunt & Uncle have a V comfy Crownline boat and the kids were so hyped to ride around on the lake—it was perfect! Greyer was constantly looking through the binoculars for local wildlife, which the area boasts classic Canadian-Northwest deer, moose, mountain lion, and even bear!

I do have to point out a cute story about my little Ruby. She is just so adventurous and courageous for a 2-yr-old. Case in point: one night we took the boat to go to dinner at a great restaurant on the lake called Cavanaugh’s (or as the locals call it, “Cav’s”) and on the boat ride back from the restaurant she asked to jump into the middle of the lake! It was cold and almost dark and she was fully clothed, but that didn’t stop us—I stripped down to my underwear and jumped in the lake with my brave little girl! I’m so proud of her.

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The beach at the lake house was perfect for the kids to play, and they literally played all day long every day. Sarah & I’s favorite thing to do was take out the jet ski and sip adult beverages while lying out in the sun, of course. One of the times we were both on the jet ski, I accidentally swallowed a gigantic splash of Lake Water and I proceeded to vomit on the two of us. It was not our most romantic moment as a couple, but it was a very memorable and humorous one to say the least.

I’d like to end by thanking my Aunt Kerry and Uncle Dave for being such a great Aunt & Uncle all these years and for so generously hosting us this last weekend! We had such a good time and it will probably be the highlight of the summer for all four of us. THANK YOU!

Dream Weddings: Bridal Veil Lakes, OR

I think my favorite wedding venue in Oregon is Bridal Veil Lakes, where I recently shot this beautiful wedding for Jessica &  Andy Ashley. It's such a gorgeous and private little fairytale location tucked away in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge, made perfect by canoe access on the lake, secret trails, and blossoming flowers.

I thought I would share some of my favorite photos from the day! Congrats to Jessica & Andy on your exciting new life together! (Also, second shooter credit to the amazing Rebekah Lee). 

"Bleisure" Destination: The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess

For those of you who don’t know what “bleisure” means, it is where business meets leisure…and it’s the perfect word for describing our recent stay at the gorgeous Fairmont Scottsdale Princess in Arizona. The purpose of our visit was actually a work trip for the nonprofit I work for, Remember Nhu. We were hosting an important fundraising weekend with donors and wanted them to know how much we appreciate them by having the event at a nice resort, underwritten by an extremely kind board member.

However, when my wife and I realized our “business trip” was happening at a resort…and that the resort was in sunny Arizona…we decided to tack on a few additional "personal" days for some relaxation. In other words: when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. But when life gives you lemonade (and a resort in Arizona), well then…make more lemonade! (And perhaps a Piña Colada?)

Work

The Princess is an ideal setting for a large work trip, accommodated by multiple on-site conference rooms. We met in the Gold Conference Room for main sessions and meals and it was a perfect fit for our group. A great thing about the Gold Conference Room is the nearby Gold Lounge Access, featuring refreshments, big screen TV, and afternoon hors d’oeuvres. The catering at Fairmont Princess is fantastic, easy to work with from the coordination side (operates on basic head counts), and can be served both indoors and outdoors depending on the weather and mood of the meal. They serve a great mix of cultural foods that keep people asking for more!

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Personally, my favorite part about doing a “work trip” at the Scottsdale Princess is that you don’t have to leave the resort grounds or schedule off-site activities in order to experience the uniqueness of Arizona. The whole resort is sprawled across the blooming Sonoran Desert, featuring vast open spaces, lush landscapes, epic Saguaro cacti, green agave plants and colorful flowers against the bright orange and purple Arizona skies. You will find southwestern architecture, Native American décor, and Latin-themed restaurants around every turn. The resort prides itself in providing an authentic Arizona experience on-site, which is very convenient for not having to coordinate large group shuttles into town in order to get a taste of the true surroundings during a work event!

Play

Have you ever heard the old saying, “Work now, play later?” Well my wife & I have learned that can be a great recipe for life, as long as you of course make sure to actually play later! This is where bleisure becomes such a great idea. After the lovely business portion of our trip was over, we most joyously welcomed our two vacation days for some added fun in the sun (and naps in the shade!) at this gorgeous resort. We were fortunate enough to get a room in the newer Sunset Beach portion of the Princess. This pool area lives up to it’s name! The sandy beach, large circular pool, beachside bar, and relaxing beach chaises make’s it feel like you’ve escaped to an oasis in the middle of the desert!

Perhaps the most relaxing part of our stay was our morning massage at the popular Well & Being Spa. We had the Hacienda Massage, which was a blend of oils, scrubs and massage, the kind that makes you truly forget your problems and even fall asleep if that’s your cup of tea (and yes, you can actually get a cup of tea as well, for all of you literalists out there). We were pleasantly surprised to learn that a spa treatment purchase comes with complimentary all-day access to the rooftop pool, high-end workout studios, and various hot tubs within the spa. My favorite was the “waterfall” themed hot tub in a section of the spa that is designed to resemble Havasu Falls in The Grand Canyon. Talk about relaxation!

Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention how easy it was to find food without leaving the resort. The variety of restaurants throughout the Princess reflect the true blend of Arizonan cuisine, featuring the Mexican La Hacienda by Richard Sandoval, Bourbon Steak for when the southwest atmosphere leaves you craving some high-end BBQ, and my wife's and my favorite: Toro, which features a fusion of Latin and Asian favorites. When you just need some straight, old-fashioned American, the Ironwood American Kitchen has your back.

If at this point you are seriously contemplating some “bleisure” at a sunny five-diamond resort for yourself (or just some pure leisure, no guilt in that!) then I’d like to mention that this particular time of year is working in your favor for The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. The summertime features discounted room rates as well as the Princess’ highly anticipated Summer Splash Birthday Bash, which celebrates the resort’s 30th birthday by offering weekly activities and fun events listed here. Why not give it a try? Chances are you’ve earned it.

Glacier National Park, Montana

Two weeks have passed since we got home from our roadtrip to Glacier National Park in Montana. Now that we are finally recovered from some mysterious sickness that circulated throughout our family, we finally have a chance to share more details about our family vacation!

As a lot of you have probably noticed, Ian and I don’t take our kids on every trip we go on, and there are many reasons for that which I may blog about sometime… But we do end up taking the kids on about 2-3 trips a year and after our successful road trip from Portland to San Diego last summer, we thought this would be the perfect year to take the kids on a short ten-hour drive to Montana. Ever since Ian was little, he’s dreamt of going to Montana to see animals haha. Add in that he is now a photographer, there was even more reason for him to want to visit Glacier National Park where mountains, lakes, and wildlife are abundant! Well, Greyer is now just as much of an animal lover as Ian is, so a visit to Montana became one of his dreams too. Ruby and I were just along for the ride haha.

Ten hours is a short drive for most road-trippers, but an eternity when you are two or four years old. Because of that, we decided to break up our drive by stopping six hours northeast of Portland in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Coeur d’Alene is a small lake town that most Pacific Northwesterners are familiar with and fond of, which is why we chose to stay there of all places.  After enjoying the small town charm the next morning (more on that in another post), we were off to our final destination: Whitefish, Montana. The last four hours of the drive were honestly so incredibly breathtaking. Picture trees on top of trees, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls, rolling green hills speckled with animals, lonely red barns surrounded by green… it felt like we were driving through a painting!

Because of the shorter drive that day, we were able to check into our hotel (Lodge at Whitefish Lake) during daylight and then go out and explore some of Whitefish and plan out how we would spend the rest of our visit.

Unfortunately, most of Going-to-the-Sun Road (the 50-mile route across almost the entirety of GNP) was shut down still do to heavy snow and we could only drive in approximately 11 miles from the south entrance.  Although what we were able to explore was breathtaking, we really didn’t see much wildlife other than some deer, prairie dogs, and elk. We were really hoping to see those giant white mountain goats or maybe even a bear (from the car LOL)! So, if you really want to experience the whole shebang, we recommend going in the summer and always double-checking Going-to-the-Sun Road conditions before you make the trek. Once we were in the park, there were a bunch of side roads that were open for exploration which led us through a small area called Polebridge which is where we happened upon witnessing our first “kill”. Well, technically the animal had already been killed, but walking right up to an unidentifiable carcass sure was eerie and the highlight of Greyer’s trip! Haha! We suspected it was a female elk that had been attacked by coyotes because of how scattered the body parts were.

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Our favorite spot to hang out as a family was at Lake McDonald. There are a bunch of turnoffs you can hang out at, but our favorite was right outside of Lake McDonald Lodge. There was a dock, a couple small beaches, and no fear of predators! The kids threw rocks in the water and waded until their toes turned to raisins, while Ian and I just watched. Relaxing by Lake McDonald was the first time in a loooong time that I really didn’t have a care in the world. It was just so quiet and simple and nothing mattered because we were all content.

Montana is one of the states I’ve kind of always forgotten about, but has now become one I will always remember fondly!

Dracula's Castle, Transylvania

One of the coolest tourist things I did so far this year was visit Dracula’s Castle in Transylvania, Romania last month. If you’re anything like me, you’re thinking, “Wait! That’s a real place?!?

Well the answer is yes…and no. Transylvania is a historical region in modern day central Romania, Europe. It’s a huge region in the mountains of Romania encompassing multiple cities. One of those mountain cities is Bran, home to Bran Castle, a gothic fortress associated with the legend of Dracula.

As far as we know, there never was an actual historical “Dracula” figure, but this is the only castle in the region that fits the description of Dracula’s Castle in Bram Stoker’s classic novel. Moreover, Romanian history actually notes at one point in its history a blood-thirsty monarch who ruled the region and was famous for his barbaric torture methods. Rumor has it that word spread throughout Europe about this insane Romanian leader, and he was described as a sort of “demon” who was “thirsty for blood.” Well, we think the ancient world’s version of the old telephone game evolved these rumors into what we now know today as Vampires, the mythological creatures who are literally thirsty for blood!

Any way, I found all this fascinating and it was SO, SO, COOL to visit and tour this famous castle. If you’re interested in going yourself one day, it’s only a 2.5 hour drive from the main Romanian city of Bucharest, and it’s a beautiful drive through the mountains where you’ll see plenty of other amazing things along the way. The city of Bran is amazing and the tour of Bran Castle costs about $7. There are day tours available by bus from Bucharest, or you can drive yourself. More insights below!

The outside of the castle is breath-taking and super gothic / creepy feeling, which I loved for some morbid reason. It features an epic water-filled moat. You then hike up this long trail to get to the castle since it literally sits on the top of a rocky cliff. Touring the inside is fascinating, you get to learn about all the various royal figures who have lived there over the years and see artifacts left along the way.

There are plenty of dark corridors and secret passageways (not recommend for those who suffer from claustrophobia!) throughout the castle, and beautiful views of the surrounding village when you get to the top of the towers.

My favorite but almost most horrible part was seeing the torture chamber, which includes actual medieval torture device antiques. I do not envy the poor souls who had to sit in those spiky chair things…YIKES!

Layover Ideas: Skydeck Chicago

Recently while I was on my way out of the country for a work trip, I had an 8-hour layover in Chicago. I figured this would be a great opportunity to visit with my cousin (and her awesome family) who live in Chicago, but I also was itching to see something cool in the city since I haven’t experienced much of Chicago before.

After some research, I landed on visiting Skydeck Chicago. Located on the 103rd floor of Willis Tower (the old Sears Tower building), this skydeck boasts views of 4 different states (on a clear day). But most of all, the Skydeck is infamous for its glass balcony viewing boxes in which those with vertigo can attempt to overcome their fears while standing on thin glass and staring directly down the 1,353 foot drop.

I liked this experience, and it was easy to pull off on a stopover. If you’d like to do it, it was a 50 minute subway ride (Take the Blue Line, only $3 one-way) from Chicago O’Hare Airport into the city, plus a 10 minute walk to the Willis Tower building. To save time waiting in a ticket box line, I recommendbuying your ticket online, which is what I did (tickets cost about $25 at the time of my online purchase).

It takes about 30 minutes to go through the lines and up the elevators to the top, and they have different things to look at, watch, and read to learn about the building’s history on your way up.

The views were amazing and there were telescopes to take in the sights. You really do get a 360-degree view of the city and also Lake Michigan. A bummer was getting to the top only to find another long line specifically to enter one of the glass viewing boxes (I waited another 30 minutes in line for this, but it was well worth it. I went on a Sunday, and I hear if you go on a weekday the lines will be shorter. It wasn’t too bad though, if you’re expecting lines).

It was so incredible (and terrifying!) to stand on glass 103 stories up and looks straight down through your feet to the city below! This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and in my opinion it was worth the hype. As a photographer especially it offered incredible views to photograph and I loved watching people freak out and take selfies in the glass balconies. However, this experience is not for the faint of heart or fearful of heights…fair warning has been given.

AC Hotel Portland

Even though we’ve been all over the world, Portland is still one of our favorite cities to explore. Ian and I love stay-cations because there are endless restaurants, shops, and neighborhoods to discover in and around this city we call home. One of our favorite things to do in Portland these days is to try out hotel restaurants and lounges. So when we were invited to stay at the AC Hotel in downtown Portland and review it on this here blog, it was an easy “yes” for us.

Hotel Name: AC Hotel

Location: Portland, OR

Vibe:

The valet and front desk staff were warm and welcoming! The overall design throughout the entire hotel is sleek, modern, and neutral in color. There are some fun artistic touches, like the accordion-style ottomans in the lobby, the sculptural glass chandelier in the bar, and the original pencil art piece in the lower level. Although there were travelers of all demographics here during our stay, I’d say this particular hotel is best suited for business travelers or one-nighters.

Rooms:

Although our King Room wasn’t that large (typical for downtown hotels), it had everything we needed. The bed was comfortable, the bathroom was clean, and there was even a nice seating area with panoramic city views! Décor was limited, but the modern design came through the finishes like the flooring, bathroom fixtures, lighting, etc.

Amenities:

AC Hotel has everything you’d need for overnight visitors and business travelers. If you are staying at a hotel downtown—in any city—you are mostly paying for the location, since you are likely there to explore and enjoy what the city has to offer as opposed to vegging in your room or by the pool.  There is valet parking, a small gym, a bar with a small tapas menu, and they do offer buffet breakfast for $15/person. They also serve Water Avenue Coffee in the mornings, which Ian loved since he is a coffee snob ; ) We loved that the hotel was two blocks from Pioneer Square and surrounded by lots of yummy restaurants and coffee shops. So for the big city explorers, this is your hotel!

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Overall, we loved our experience at AC Hotel. The staff was so friendly, the location was ideal, and the price is the best you will find for a brand new modern hotel in the heart of downtown!

What to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Our first two trips of the year just so happen to have been cancelled for one reason or another, so we are finally done playing catch-up on our travels from last year and can now start sharing more tips and tricks with you guys. We are big advocates for traveling Thailand because of their big cities, paradisiac beaches, and general affordability. So if you happen to find yourself with a week off, a few hundred bucks, and a desire to experience an exotic culture on the other side of the world, consider Thailand! When it comes to choosing which city to spend the most time in, we prefer Chiang Mai over Bangkok because it feels more exotic, is more beautiful, and seems slightly safer than Bangkok. If you are flying in from the U.S., chances are you will fly into Bangkok, so if you are interested in spending any time there, you can always do a stopover. But since we have spent most of our time in Chiang Mai, here is our list of activities we think everyone should experience in the city of Chiang Mai:

1. Ride in a Tuk-Tuk. Anywhere.

2. Attend the Khantoke Dinner and Cultural Show at the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center. Be prepared to participate in the show! It is considered rude to turn down an invitation onto the stage.

3. Akha Ama Coffee for a taste of home ; ) 

4. Royal Rajapruek Palace & Gardens is like walking into a postcard. You can rent bikes near the entrance and bike around the entire property. Be sure to respect the temple etiquette!

5. Bathe elephants at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. We are embarrassed to admit that we rode elephants during our first visit to Thailand since the group we were traveling with arranged our daily activities. We weren’t as educated on animal rights back then, so we decided to forego that activity on our most recent trip to Thailand. We haven’t gotten to bathe the elephants yet, but will next time!  

6. Orchid Jade Factory sells genuine jade jewelry and souvenirs. They also sell ruby and other precious gemstones at great prices.

7. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple. Walking the 300 steps to the temple is worth it once you see the view over all of Chiang Mai. 

8. Visit the Night Bazaar for souvenirs, yummy food (but be careful what you eat!), cheap massages, and a cultural experience you will never be able to forget. There is a night bazaar on Sunday and Monday nights.  

9. Butterfly Orchid Farm butterflies will literally land on your fingertip here, and you can even eat lunch at the restaurant here!

10. Get a massage either at the bazaar (although cleanliness conditions are questionable) or at your resort or anywhere. This will be the best massage you will ever receive and the cheapest. We once got an 1.5 hour couples massage and it cost about $12 USD each. The massages at the night bazaar are anywhere from $3-5 for thirty minutes or an hour.

Our 3 Week Northern Italy Itinerary.

One of the most commonly asked questions we receive in regards to our trip to Italy last year, is “what route did you take and what did your itinerary look like?”

Because we decided to travel Italy via personal rental car (as opposed to trains or other forms of public transit), we had more flexibility on where and when we hopped cities. Ian had a few key spots he wanted to hit that all happened to be in northern Italy, so we just clumped in some extra stops here and there to form one big circle. But don’t forget that we began our trip with a stopover in Paris!  Because of the close proximity, we were also able to hit two MORE countries than just France and Italy! Read below:

Days 1-4: Fly from the U.S. to Paris.

  • Stay two nights at La Parizienne hotel
  • Eat, drink, and walk your heart out
  • Take a pedi-cab tour of all the major sites (approx. 40 euro for two people).

Day 4-5: Fly from Paris to Milan then drive 2 hours to Serpiano, Switzerland.

  • Stay one night at Serpiano Hotel.
  • Make use of their complimentary bikes and ride around the countryside for a couple hours before heading to Lake Lugano.
  • Eat lunch on the waterfront of Lake Lugano

Day 5-8: Drive 3.5 hours from Lugano, Switzerland to Cinque Terre (Levanto), Italy.

Day 8-9: Drive 2 hours from Levanto to Florence.

  • Stop in Pisa to see the leaning tower and eat Pizza!
  • We stayed at Hotel Marzia just outside of Florence (which we don’t recommend—poor location and quality, but super inexpensive).
  • Visit the Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio, Boboli Gardens, and the Accademia.

Day 9-12: Drive 1.5 hours from Florence to Tuscany.

  • Stay at Villa Fontelunga in Pozzo della Chiana (review yet to come).
  • Visit the Terme di Petriolo hot springs
  • Drive into Siena for lunch and exploration
  • REST! The cities in Tuscany are all spread out. There is lots to do, but you must be willing to drive. We used most of our time for resting!

Day 12-15: Drive 3 hours from Tuscany to Verona

  • Stay at Casa e Natura Breviglieri.
  • Dinner, gelato, and shopping in Piazza delle Erbe
  • Visit Casa di Giulietta AKA Juliette’s balcony
  • Day-trip to Venice
    • Park your car in a parking garage outside the city and take a boat into the city.
    • Ride in a gondola (approx. 40 Euros for up to 6 people). 
    • Boat tour of Murano, Burano, and Torchello.

Day 15-17: Drive approximately 4 hours from Verona to South Tyrol.

  • Stay at Hotel Brunnerhof
  • Drive to Lago di Braies/Pragser Wildsee
  • Drive to Val de Funes
  • Drive to Austria and eat!

Day 17: Drive from South Tyrol to Milan

  • Stay the night at an airport hotel (we stayed at Mo.om Hotel)
  • Explore Milan if you have time (we didn’t)

Day 18: Begin the long journey home.

***Please note that we were there late April-early May, the weather influenced a few of our priorities and decisions. For instance, if you visit Cinque Terre in the Summer, you would have more excursion options than just eating! Haha! But there probably won’t be snow in the Dolomites if you go in the Summer!***

Oregon Coast Getaway: Lincoln City

Two weekends ago we enjoyed a few days away to celebrate my birthday and Valentine’s Day at one of our favorite cities on the Oregon Coast: Lincoln City! Not many people know about or visit Lincoln City compared to famous places such as Canon Beach, Seaside, and Pacific City.

Some of the reasons Sarah & I like Lincoln City are: It’s a bigger beach town on the coast so there’s more things to do; there’s a big outlet mall for shopping; there are great restaurant options; there are beautiful public beaches; it’s a short drive to some other adventurous locations.

As far as accommodations, we stayed at The Inn at Spanish Head, thanks to a gift certificate we had from my old place of work! Sarah and I both agreed that this was the nicest hotel we ever stayed at on The Oregon Coast (which still isn’t saying a ton, because the hotels on the Oregon Coast never seem to be that nice for some reason—ya know what I mean? But the view is always a slam dunk!)

The Inn was great because every room is an Oceanside view and it’s situated right on a cliff. The food was incredible (we ate breakfast & dinner there) and the highlight for me was the breathtaking view while sitting at the restaurant high up over the ocean! Then when you take the elevator down to the beach, the hotel offers something very rare in frigid Oregon during winter time: an outdoor heated POOL!!! We of course took a dip and it was amazing—although still a bit cold…however the sunsets were second to none.

For you photographers and nature seekers out there, there’s something really great to do up the road from Lincoln City. About a 15 minute drive north is a small town called Neskowin, and there’s a beautiful and secretive beach spot called “Proposal Rock,” aptly named because a famous Captain of old proposed to his girl there in the late 1800’s (as the story goes), and lovers of course still propose there today!

On the same beach, about a 100-yard walk south from Proposal Rock, is another incredible spot called Ghost Forrest. It is essentially a bunch of dead trees on the beach coming up out of the sand with the waves coming in and out. It makes for some majestic golden hour photos! All in all we had an incredible time and recommend you try Lincoln City if you’ve never been.

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Great Wall Stopover: Beijing

Most people don’t realize how easy it is to make a stopover at the Great Wall of China when you are en-route through Asia. If you’re anything like me, The Great Wall was always on my bucket list, but I thought I had to take a destination trip to China in order to accomplish it. I was wrong!

Even though China is a communist country with heightened security and required visa / invitation to enter the country anywhere outside of Hong Kong, the capital city of Beijing has an international airport that allows for a free 72 hr in-transit visa for exploring Beijing on your way to visit another country! My wife and I were on a trip to Thailand last Fall and happened to find cheap flights on Air China, but we had a 23 hr layover in Beijing and much to our delight, research told us we could enter Beijing in transit, and (get this)…The Great Wall of China is only a 1.5 hr drive from Beijing! Now that we did it, I highly recommend a Beijing / Great Wall stopover to anyone who wants to experience The Great Wall!

Some important things to consider if you make a Great Wall visit: 

1.     The language barrier can be quite the hassle. Because of this, I recommend that prior to your flight to China—go online and have Google translate the following words into Chinese: “Take me to this hotel: (and insert your hotel name & address);" then print it out on paper. The reason you should do this before you fly to China is because there is no Google in China! I repeat, there is NO GOOGLE in China—it is banned by the government. In addition, wifi does not really work in the airport. But if you print out a translation in advance, you’ll be good to go. (Also, in case you are wondering, we stayed at the “Days Hotel Beijing New Exhibition Center” for our hotel—it was really nice).

2.     No one in China accepts US Dollars, so make sure to exchange some money at the airport!

3.     At the hotel, ask your English-speaking front desk employee to arrange a driver to take you to The Great Wall. This is key because most drivers don’t speak English, but the hotel employees can help you translate. What’s very important is that you land on the price before you leave, so that the driver doesn’t try to negotiate more. You can arrange for one driver to pick you up from hotel, take you to the wall, wait for you, and the same driver will drive you back to either your hotel or the airport. This cost us about $100.

4.     There are different sections of The Great Wall to visit, and some are further away / more crowded than others. We visited the Badaling section of The Great Wall. I recommend visiting either The Badaling section (the most popular!) for those of you who like activity, or the Mutianyu section (the most discrete) for those of you who like to avoid the crowds. Make sure that your hotel concierge communicates to your driver the exact section of The Wall to take you to!

5.     It costs money to enter The Wall. Like $20-30 per person. So be ready with proper currency!

6.     Allow yourself enough time at The Wall. This is especially important if you are on a layover and have to factor in daylight, hours to drive to the wall and back, and catching your next flight in time! Once you are at The Wall everything is on foot and there are at least 2 miles of walking (and stairs) in order to see The Wall! So allow yourself enough time. One of the reasons my wife and I chose the Badaling section is that there’s a sky tram to get to the top, which saved us a lot of time!

7.     Lastly, make sure to account for heightened security and longer lines at the airport. Again, being a communist country, the airport security is very strict. Don’t listen to the mythological horror stories out there—as long as you are well-behaved, you will be perfectly fine! The only thing to consider is that it takes longer to get through the security lines than it does in the average country.

After all of the pointers/advice above, you may be wondering, “Gosh, is it even worth the hassle to visit The Great Wall of China?” The answer is an emphatic YEEESSSSS!!!!! This was an incredible experience that Sarah and I will remember the rest of our lives. It was so amazing to visit one of the most famous wonders of the Ancient World, to see breath-taking sites, to sing songs from Mulan at the top of our lungs, and to experience the energy of so many nice Chinese people! You have to do this before you die. TRUST ME. Sure it takes a little preparation, but it’s a lot easier than you think as long as you make all the right arrangements above.

Lastly, something funny about our short visit is that all the locals on The Wall thought that we were famous. They especially thought Sarah was famous! Everyone wanted a selfie with Sarah. Like EVERYONE. We still don’t know why! Hahaha. But we weren’t complaining and felt pretty cool : ) Maybe you will be famous at The Great Wall, too?

Cleveland, OH

We spent the holidays at home in Oregon, but shortly after the New Year, my whole family (and I mean whole family) flew east to Cleveland, Ohio for my cousin's wedding. The trip was short, but we got to spend lots of time celebrating with family, and even had a little time to get out and explore! Exploring new cities is one of our favorite things to do. We always pick visiting a new destination rather than revisting one we've already been to, so even though it was Ohio in January (hellooooooo 4 degrees!), we thoroughly enjoyed our time.

Ian officiated the wedding and Greyer and Ruby played their usual role in family weddings, as ring boy and flower girl : ) I played the role of proud mom grinning stupidly from the second row, taking endless boomerangs and over-zoomed-in iphone photos! But seriously, this wedding was so special, fun, and ohmagah THE FOOD!!!

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After the rest of the family flew home, we stayed an extra day and explored downtown Cleveland. Honestly there wasn’t much to do, but we did eat tacos at Barrio and coffee at Pour Cleveland, before the kids’ whining finally convinced us to head back to the hotel. Oh, and Ian managed to get a selfie with the LeBron James sign haha. We also loved driving around and looking at the cute old houses!

Columbia River Gorge in the Snow

As most of you know, Sarah and I live in Portland, OR, and one of my favorite places outside the city to visit and take photos is the massive Columbia River Gorge. We actually don't get much snow in The Gorge at ground-level near Portland throughout the year...so on those rare occasions when snow hits The Gorge, I try as hard as I can to get out and experience it! When it gets a fresh covering of snow, The Gorge is transformed into a Narnia-esque paradise filled with frozen waterfalls around every turn. Two weeks ago my friend Joe & I saw the forecast and set out with some other great dudes (Ross, Aaron, & Glen) to take in the beauty, & below was the results via photograph. I know everyone freaks out and tries to stay off the roads whenever it snows in Portland...but trust me, if you are ever around The Gorge in the snow, get out and brave the icy roads to see it! It will be so worth it.

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(Locations visited & photographed in this post: Multnomah Falls, Horsetail Falls, Government Cove, Cascade Locks, Latourell Falls)