Temple luang prabang laos

A Little Photoessay… Stories of Culture & History in Luang Prabang, Laos

The pace of life in Luang Prabang, Laos is so very charming. Charming is the only one-word description I can come up with for this low-slung city with wide streets (unnatural for much of Southeast Asia), French inspired post-colonial architecture, monks clad in sunny saffron robes, and a humming buzz of relaxed tourism. I wrote earlier about the changes three years and more tourism brought upon this sweet, sleepy country set between Vietnam and Thailand, but what cannot change in the intervening years between my visits,  is the history. Laos was the first travel destination I took my niece Ana to see once we left our apartment in Chiang Mai, and beyond the elephants, the river, and the Laotians, I really wanted her to experience a relaxed week enjoying the various elements of Luang Prabang.

A slow morning on the streets of Luang Prabang, Laos
Hours before the night market clogs the main tourist street in Luang Prabang, Vat Ho Pha Bang shines against the ultramarine sky and purple bougainvillea within the pristine National Museum complex. The city retains a rural and small-town feel despite it’s place in history as a royal capital in the 8th century, and an active trading hub on the Silk Road for many succeeding centuries. Now, it’s a UNESCO world heritage city, but no longer the capital of Laos, which I think is a very key reason the city has remained small despite globalism and tourism.

The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and on this trip Ana and I spent simple days watching, observing, and talking about history and how it may have shaped the town, what it might have felt like when Laotian kings walked the streets. I find myself slowing down a lot more with Ana in tow, instead of spending the evenings with a beer at the bowling alley (hugely popular with the backpackers in the city back in 2009), we found a coffee shop on the river. The shop’s well-worn cushions and knee-high, woven bamboo tables were cozy and comfortable as we sipped our tart, icy lime drinks. We people watched for a bit while the boats hummed on the river below, then wrote in our journals of the day’s sights, me encouraging Ana to draw pictures, note specific moments and feelings.

I realized as we sat there that I too rarely reflect on my travels offline and via a handwritten journal. I documented my round the world trip in a journal, but that ended somewhere along the way. Ana was quick to point out that I was a hypocrite for making her document her personal thoughts and journey when my fingers jetting over the keyboard with a clatter rather than the soft hiss of putting pen to paper. I know that I think best on paper, but I am so caught up in what I still need to do-plan-work on that I rarely step away from the computer without conscious effort.

And so, I made more of an effort to unplug, I mostly stopped blogging for a bit and since Ana and I found ourselves in Luang Prabang for several extra days, I found I still loved visiting this pretty little city. We had a beautiful guesthouse with a friendly proprietress who spoke English, so I had Ana read our Laos guidebook and pick interesting activities, then ask for advice from our guesthouse owner. And even three years later, I still love the temples, smiles, and food. The people, monks, and tourists. All these combine into a city with charm, heritage, and personality that I knew I loved, but needed a reminder to stop and enjoy.

A steaming pot of soup for a traditional breakfast in Luang Prabang, Laos
Tiny stools jut onto the sidewalks in the misty hours of dawn as locals sip a steaming soup adorned with herbs and spices before they took their tuk-tuks and mottos for a full day of work. Though western breakfast shops bracketed this tiny soup-stand with croissants and lattes, it was just as easy to hunker down with the locals, point and smile at the soup, and within minutes be happily slurping down fragrant broth and noodles.
Early morning fruit shake stands set up in Luang Prabang, Laos
My breakfast was complete only after purchasing a 5,000 kip (about 60 cent) fruit shake from the corner stalls displaying colorful cups of pre-chopped mixed fruit ready blend into a condensed milk, ice, and fruit concoction that defies logic on its tastiness! Smoothies are my go-to snack in Southeast Asia, and as we had our shake blended, numerous mottos zipped up to the stand to also grab a blended beverage before zooming on their way!
Excited hellos from the children in Luang Prabang, Laos
With some poppy traditional music blaring from the truck speakers, these kids were happily clapping, singing, and shouting hello. I suspect this was a parade of sorts, or class trip perhaps, since several truck-beds passed by in the late morning with the cheery children, all of whom were giddy with excitement to wave to us as we paused and watched them gently roll down the road, the driver careful not to jolt the truck too much!
This cute little girl found her mom's high heels! Luang Prabang, Laos
With a freedom distinctly uncommon in the United States, this little girl independently toddled down the street on her mother’s high heels, stopping at nearby vendors, grabbing her morning snacks and hugs before heading back to the shop where her mother sold fair-trade crafts and scarves.
An elderly man stokes and tends the breakfast fires in Luang Prabang, Laos.
One of the things I love about Luang Prabang are the family compounds that also act as guesthouses. In many cases, each guesthouse is also the home for several generations of Laotians. This grandfather on my street stoked the early morning fires, cooked breakfast and minded his grandchildren while the middle generation took care of us tourists, cleaned the guest rooms, and generally ran the business; every member of the family feeling useful and needed to balance the dynamics.
A tasty array of vegetarian street eats in Luang Prabang, Laos
The night market walking street comes alive with long buffets of food. Vegetarian buffets were present even back in 2009, and for just over a dollar US we piled our bowl with a variety of flavorful vegetarian dishes. Nearby skewers of meat appeased the omnivores (including Ana), and buckets of cold drinks, snacks and treats were all sold with the quiet soft-sell and placid smiles from vendors.
Grilled fresh fish from the river in Luang Prabang, Laos
Freshly grilled fish was easy to find, and while not something I eat, it fascinates me to see the fully recognizable fish skewered and prettily presented for eating. I find food in the US is often purposely packaged to disassociate itself from the animal it actually is, while  culturally in Asia, they often consume and enjoy nearly every part of the animal!
A morning coffee shake in Luang Prabang, Laos
After just three mornings of a habitual coffee to start my day, the vendor would smile and wave as I approached. On the fourth day, he beat me to the punchline and happily parroted out my precise coffee order, remembering my explicit instructions “noooooo sugar,” which pegs me as so un-Asian since they adore adding condensed milk and sugar syrup to just about every single drink they serve.
A tuk-tuk on the streets of Luang Prabang, Laos
The calls for service from the tuk-tuk drivers pelt out into the day like a woodpecker making his home in a new tree. Every time we passed one of these shared taxis, the driver was quick to list out all the possible tourist activities for the day, and though it could have gotten annoying, I rather like the consistency of their chant, quite unchanged from the one I heard recited several years ago on the very same street corner.
Pretty close up of paper umbrellas in Luang Prabang's nightly street market, Laos.
Colorful paper fans glowed from the rattan mats lining sidewalks of Luang Prabang’s night market. The bright pigments do a fantastic job of drawing the tourists closer to the variety of wares. Like bees to a brightly colored flower, my niece and I followed the magnetizing draw of crafts and conversation humming on the city’s crowded street and dug through the kitsch to find quirky coins and beads for Ana to make into bracelets.
The sprawling city and countryside around the heart of Luang Prabang, Laos at sunset from Mount Phousi.
From Mount Phousi, the highest hill in the center of Luang Prabang, Ana and I watch the sunset over the hills and rivers encircling the world heritage city center. We visited in late November, just as the region’s rainy season finished, and the reward was a landscapes so verdant it could inspire poetry in those more inclined to flowery words than myself. Low-slung streets, shining golden temples, tall palms and quiet river waters make this city an enduring riddle that seems both supremely touristy and yet unchanged throughout the past hundreds of years since construction of the first temple. The city has seen much history, but is so humble.

I find myself oddly drawn here, and Ana asked me if I wanted to maybe live in Luang Prabang, to become an occasional expat in the city I waxed poetic about even before we arrived. I surprised her by answering “no.” No, I don’t want to live in Luang Prabang. I love the lazy sunsets enjoyed at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers. I love the ability to spend several days biking around the streets, eating a crusty warm baguette (a remnant of the French influence), and visiting temples and waterfalls. The city is compelling, but no, I don’t actually want to live there, a visit every few years is enough, for now.

Water's Impact on Our Lives

A Little Photoessay… Water Runs Through Every Place I’ve Visited

Water runs through all of us, and all over the world. It’s impossible to fully grasp the importance of water on our lives. In honor of the importance of water, I offer up this photo essay on the importance of water to my travels. It’s a piece that looks at the most beautiful places I have visited. The people affected by water and how it impacts their.

Call it an ode to water.

World Water Facts

  • We drink between 2-3 litres of water per day, but we use 3,000 litres per day when considering water used in food production.
  • Meat production is a huge culprit for hidden water waste. 1 kilogram of beef takes 15,000 litres.
  • Reducing the amount of food you waste and throw away is one of the easier ways to reduce your water consumption.
Two women use their longyi to protect their modesty as they bath on Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar).
Cleansing water: two women on Inle Lake in Myanmar bath right on the canal thoroughfare, taking not only food from the river, but the mechanics of daily life as well.
Small Mountain Hut
Mountain Waters: High in the Himalayan Mountain range, the clear, gushing streams harness energy, help process foods, and offer life to the communities living off the land in rural parts of Nepal.
Boy Swimming and fishing
Life-giving water: a Tharu boy from southern Nepal fishes for food, or maybe just for fun, in the placid river.
On the road in Croatia
Stark Waters: The dry, barren earth and gray mountain range stand in contrast to the deep river I viewed out my bus window when making my way through rural Croatia.
monk temple luang prabang, loas
Convenient water: glancing over the low wall around the temple compound, I spotted this young monk filling buckets as monks cleaned and washed all the white temple walls.
Connor Pass, Dingle, Ireland
Epic Waters: Clouds shadows create a vast, open and almost lonely space from Connor Pass, on the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland. The turbulent Atlantic waters in the distant are a severe contrast to the serene valley and peaceful lakes.
Sikh Holy Golden Temple
Sacred Water: The Harmandir Sahib, also called the Golden Temple, houses the most holy text in Sikhism. The temple complex and water dominate the center of Amritsar, India. All religions are welcome to come worship God in the temple, and many people take a dip in the shallow, cleansing waters around the holy temple.
The Harbor
Busy Water: Sydney Harbor in Australia bustles with activity as boats, both large and small, zip right by the Sydney Opera House. The boats are likely rushing to avoid the storm that rolled in 10 minutes later and let leash a torrential downpour of rain.
That's my Nessie face!
Mythical Waters: Pretending I am Nessie the Loch Ness Monster, I strike a ridiculous pose in Fort Augustus, Scotland. Part of me secretly hoped I’d see Nessie in this photo when I looked at the image ;-)
The Dead Sea from Jordan
Salty Water: The Dead Sea is one of the saltiest bodies of water on earth. Life cannot flourish in the water and when standing on the shores, earth’s lowest spot on land, pretty white salt crystals cover the rocks and tint the water an impossible shade of aqua-green as it laps at the knobby rock surface.
View along the way!
Misty Water: Morning dew sits over the tree canopy in the Bokeo Nature Reserve in Northern Laos, the sun is just rising and hasn’t yet burned off the water so the forest looks mystical, like the setting for a fairy tale.
Snorkelers in Key West, Florida
Fun Water: Snorkelers in Key West Florida float over the shallow reefs, seeking out coral fans and colorful reef fish in the variegated coastal waters.
12 Apostles on the Great Ocean Road in Australia.
Pretty Waters: Australia’s Great Ocean Road is a slowly changing seascape of beauty. As the strong Southern Ocean waves erode the limestone stacks, the views  will continuously change as time passes; my pretty views back in 2009 will be long forgotten by 2509.
Stari Most at Sunset
Historical Water: The Neretva river flowing under Stari Most, a bridge in Bosnia and Herzegovina, has witnessed history and tragedy unfold. Stari Most stood in Mostar for 427 years before it was bombed and destroyed in the Croat-Bosniak War in the early 1990s. After the war ended, UNESCO and international organizations worked with the government to accurately build and reconstruct the bridge that stands today.
Soup in China!
Food & Water = Life. Without water, we have no food.

It wasn’t until I left the confines of the United States that I began to witness the wealth and resource disparity present on our planet. And by disparities, I mean disparities in all terms of wealth. After traveling, I began to appreciate my education more because I saw how hard so many others worked for theirs. My food was plentiful, and I never knew hunger. I had a shower every night, and clean tap water flowing out of my faucet. I spent summers running through my sprinklers, then cooling off with a glass of lemonade flavored Kool-Aid.

I never knew how much I had at my disposal. Water is a shared resource, and though renewable, clean water is increasingly taxed out by our usage.

Thank you for reading this far about the waters I’ve seen throughout my years of traveling. As a part of World Water Day 2012, I’d like to end by noting that the two easiest ways to help the global water shortages are to conserve water usage and eliminate food waste. Ana and I are working on being particularly conscious of our food and water use this week as we consider how our personal choices affect the planet as a whole :)



A Little Water… Floating Gardens, Fishing, and Farming on Inle Lake

Growing up I didn’t much care about the word “ecosystem.” I took many classes on Florida history (they made us study state history extensively–at least twice before graduation!), and the Florida Everglades was one of those places I took for granted until I reached adulthood, started to care more about the environment and realized “holy cow, there are some intricate and interesting ecosystems!”

Inle Lake Fishermen, Burma
Men fish the shallow waters of Inle Lake from long, flat wooden boats at Inle Lake in Burma (Myanmar).

This epiphany carried over to the present, and into my days navigating the marshy waters, thin canals and open expanse of rippling waters on Inle Lake in Burma last month. The most iconic photos of Inle Lake picture the fishermen, their conical nets resting on long wooden boats as the men paddle with one leg wrapped like a vine around the wooden oar digging into the placid lake waters. It’s a beautiful, practical custom that, in all its “foreignness” to the Western eye, pulled my focus as I marveled at the old-school nets in place of a modern fishing pole, the lazy motion of leg-led rowing and not a boat motor. The male fishermen stand on the bow of the boat so they can see down to the lake floor, and their legs are a powerful way to more easily row through the marshy weeds that grow nearly to the surface since Inle Lake averages just seven feet deep.

Boats on Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar).
Looking deep into the weeds and water grass, the fishermen on Inle Lake fish for both trade, and for their dinner!

But that’s just one tiny, indelible piece of life on Inle Lake.

The super productive ecosystem around this shallow 44.9 square mile lake created a separate lake culture, different from the Bamar majority in Burma, and even different from the Shan minority group, even though Inle Lake is within Burma’s Shan State. Instead, an Intha culture and language grew, specific to Inle, where the lake and its ecosystem have allowed the culture to thrive.

traditional wooden house, Inle Lake
A tall wooden stilt house sits over the canal waters, laundry drying in the sun and boats stored underneath!

The villages embraced their creativity over the years in order to make this lake environment their home. Myths even surround the founding of the culture–some believe a former king banished part of the Royal Army from Burmese land, and to keep their word they created moved onto water! Floating land created from dried and hardened weeds and floating hyacinth secure the floating huts and bamboo villages to one fixed spot.

No joke, floating land.

floating tomato gardens, inle
Dense vegetation on the floating gardens, in particular, stop-light red tomatoes grow well in this ecosystem.

And once the Intha mastered the floating land, then agriculture became a cinch—after all, they have an endless supply of water. So, as our driver navigated the canal waters, I watched farmers slosh around their cultivated square farms of land, marveling that oxen and humans both easily traipsed around the water farms.

Some farms are kept on much thinner land, and miles of fragrant tomato plants tumbled over each other on the lakes surface, beautiful birds dipping into the canals near the gardens when they spotted fish from above. So, now you’re wondering, okay, they have stilt houses, floating land for farming, and gardens, but why doesn’t it all just float away?

I puzzled over this mystery, I even spent time musing out loud about hundreds of 10 foot tall bamboo sticks poking out from the lake in every direction. Ah, the sea of khaki colored bamboo affix a garden to the lake surface. Then, the gardens are tended, sold, and moved if need be in the future.

Floating gardens, Inle Lake
The tall sticks hold the floating gardens in place on Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar).


The entire lake sustains a purpose-built community around the ecosystem.



floating gardens burma
A worker tends to his floating garden on Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar).


water buffalo, burma
A giant water buffalo is out for his late afternoon snack and a stroll in Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar).


Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar).
Temples floating on the shallow surface of Inle Lake

And the seagulls.

Feeding the seagulls was a highlight of the trip. Over the past five months I watched Ana guffaw with laughter at random moments, and smile with patience and curiosity as locals explained the inner workings of something to her, and even frown with concern at the treatment of street animals.

Ana is delighted to watch the seagulls circle overhead while we fed them on Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar). A hand feeding the birds at Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar).

And the seagulls on Inle Lake brought sheer joy. She abandoned all thought of being a serious preteen and she and her friend M (from GotPassport.org) threw chunks of deep-fried dough with childish abandon. The birds swooped down to pluck chunks out of their hands and noisily fought over bits flung into the air. And as the sun set over Inle Lake, we cozied into our warm blankets and all enjoyed the bite of cool in the air and the squawk of birds tailing our speeding longboat.

Sunset Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar).
Warm blankets and a content smile accompanied a spectacular sunset :)

Far from subtle, behind us a maze of saffron and pumpkin exploded into the sky nearest the setting sun, while a quiet rose tint settled on the surrounding mountains and we jetted back into the small town center for fresh dinner and a warm bed.

mekong river boats

A Little Photoessay… A Slice of Life on the Mighty Mekong

Originating high in the Tibetan Plateau, the Mekong River is the life-blood of activity throughout the history of southeast Asia. Locally known as the Mae Nam Khong, the literal translation is Mother of Water River. The river runs through China, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, and over the centuries consistently remained an important focal point for locals, governments, and foreign countries.

Locals use the River to sustain life — food, transportation and local trade.

Sunset on the Mekong in Luang Prabang, Laos
Boats are already docked in the gently swaying waters by the time the sun is setting. The boat workers must have left to find dinner because the banks of the Mekong River in Luang Prabang were nearly empty this time of day!

Governments dam and re-route the river in political power struggles between the nations sharing the Mekong River’s natural resources, and international political struggles have relied on the power of the Mekong to push goods out to foreign ports for profit and trade.

There’s a lot to this powerful river and it’s with good reason the the poetic and alliterative description the Mighty Mekong fits so well.

Over the past several years, I’ve seen various parts of the Mekong River–within Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia to be exact, and below you’ll find a slice of that life I witnessed as locals use the river waters and mineral-rich banks to sustain their lives and livelihoods.

monks on mekong river
Just before sunset in Luang Prabang, Laos, young monks c00l off from the afternoon heat in the river waters where the Nam Khan and Mekong intersect; their giggles and shouts echoed out over the nearby river banks.
mekong river
These children swam to a sandy island in the middle of the river for a lively game of kick ball. When the other team really got a good kick in, the losers had to dive into the river to retrieve their ball! Luang Prabang, Laos.
boy in river
A young boy was excited to see me so far from town as my niece and I walked the banks of the Mekong River near Luang Prabang, Laos. Clearly he was familiar with the camera though and hammed it up with different poses!
Slow boats in Luang Prabang, Laos
The iconic wooden slow boats dot the Mekong River all day long as tourists come and go, and locals transport their goods from one town to another. Locals use the small uncovered boats for fishing and quick trips across the river.
slow boats
Satellite dishes adorn traditional wooden slow boats (which are also used as houses for some Laotians) in an odd display of modernity as a man extricates his boat from the docks in Houay Xai, a border town with Thailand.
Several huge semi truks wait to cross over the Mekong River from Thailand into Laos at the border crossing between Chiang Khong and Houay Xai.
Several huge semi trucks wait to cross over the Mekong River from Thailand into Laos at the border crossing between Chiang Khong and Houay Xai, the border towns on each side of the Mekong.
slow boat Mekong River
Our captain carefully guides the slow boat down the Mekong River, watching to avoid the huge rocks and swift current in some areas as we make down river from Pak Beng to Luang Prabang, Laos.
huts on river laos
The slow boat occasionally stopped at small smatterings of wooden and bamboo huts lining the Mekong.
laotian boys
Young boys board our slow boat at the tiny towns and sell snacks and cold drinks to the tourists on board. They come on for just two or three minutes and swarm the boat to make sure they hit every possible sale.
Child on the Mekong River, Laos
A little girl with hand-woven baskets looks at me quizzically as I slowly float by her home while she prepares dinner on the banks of the Mekong River.
sunset laos
Ana plays with the light from the setting sun on Mount Phousi in Luang Prabang, Laos.
loy krathong yee peng thailand

A Little Festival… Spirit, Beauty, and Religion During Loy Krathong

Cheerful, poppy Thai music suffusing the expansive temple yard, the music at odds with the swelling solemn energy in the crowd as thousands of amber lanterns were held in firm grips. Groups of friends shared a last moment amidst the frenzy making urgent, unspoken wishes for their new year.

I watched in wonder as our plain white rice paper lantern, a khom loi in Thai, filled with hot air. I looked around me and my breath caught. We collectively waited for the signal to release our lanterns into the night; a sea of open-faced hope surrounded me.

Loy krathong lantern release
Jenny studies the flame as we light the lantern during Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
lighting a khom loi lantern
Lighting the center of a paper lantern so it will fill with heat during Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Ana, Em, and Lee all prepare the lantern for release during Loy Krathong in Mae Jo, Thailand.

Expressions indelibly etched on each person’s face showed hope and the lure of infinite possibilities, the promise of a clean slate. It was no doubt written clearly on my face too. I took those last moments to tune out the cheery music and quickly take stock of the previous year, and to look forward with my hopes for the coming year traveling with my niece. I filled my mind my wishes, hopes, dreams and fears and propelled each one into our group lantern. As I yearned to fill the lantern with that hope, the go-signal gently swept across the huge crowd.

On a pulse of energy, the lanterns slipped from our fingertips. Ours took one unsteady lurch before jolting upward, the cool nighttime breeze collected our orange orb and swept it away from us, into the dark sky. As more joined ours, each illumination shifted the night sky from an impossibly dense black to a deep blue. The sheer number of hopes and wishes seemingly overpowered the night’s ability to stay dark.

I looked down at Ana as the blanket of lanterns floated higher. The distant pinpoints of light painted slow-moving constellations across the night sky, and I saw the light sheen of tears echoed in her eyes as well.

A sea of amber colored lanterns during Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai, Thailand A wave of lanterns swiftly float into the air during Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Ana does her part to light the lantern during Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai, Thailand Ana and me as the lanterns float away during Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Lantern release at Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai, Thailand
A wave of lanterns swell into the sky during the first lantern release for Loy Krathong and Yee Peng festivities

The release lit a spark of sweet hope for this coming trip with Ana. The collective energy swelled around us, filling me with enough giddy anticipation to do a little dance to the cheery Loy Krathong song still pumping from the speakers.

The lantern release takes place a bit outside of Chiang Mai, at a temple complex near Mae Jo University and the evening event jump-started an entire week of Yee Peng festivities. Yee Peng and Loy Krathong coincide on the Lanna Thai calendar and the joint celebrations make for one massive maze of lantern parades and krathong ceremonies throughout the week.

In the months leading up to Yee Peng and Loy Krathong, the most predominant imagery on the internet associates this week with the lantern release—and while the group lantern release lit wonder in hope in me as I watched them all float away, the festival traditions are more fully rooted in the krathong release, with the paper lanterns a more modern accent to the handmade and carefully crafted banana-leaf krathongs.

A delicate pink lantern hanging for Loy Krathong and Yee Peng in Chiang Mai, Thailand Pretty lanterns during Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai, Thailand

handmade krathong
My candlelit, handmade krathong during Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai.

When is Loy Krathong and Why is It Celebrated?

Loy Krathong occurs at the end of Thailand’s rainy season, a period of time when water nourishes the rice for a productive harvest season and the rivers flow, full and swift, toward the Gulf of Thailand. The ceremonial releasing of these small lotus-shaped rafts takes on a dual role, it serves as an offering of gratitude—a symbol of appreciation for the rains, as well as a releasing of the bad habits, grudges, anger and negativity in one’s own life.

Earlier in the day, Ana and I joined two friends for a late morning craft party as the crisp sunshine filled the room with clean light. The sounds of the motorbikes weaving through Chiang Mai’s streets created a distant hum nine floors below as my friend Naomi proffered the supplies she purchased at the nearby market: banana stem bases, deep green banana leaves, and an array of fresh flowers, candles, incense and sparklers.

The process of making a krathong is both fun and complex, suffice to say we worked diligently for several hours until we fully decorated each base and prepared them for release that evening.

how to make krathongs for the thai holiday loy krathong and yee ping

making our own krathongs Making handmade Krathongs with supplies from Warorot market.

Releasing Krathongs in Chiang Mai

As the sun sunk low over Doi Suthep, a nearby mountain peak, we bagged our krathongs and wove through the light crowds. Our group started with drinks at Brasserie, a restaurant on the Ping River, where we chatted until full darkness settled over the city—well, as full darkness as expected on a full moon night.

We allowed several hours to pass with easy conversation. The river began to fill with candlelit rafts. The sky lightened once again as thousands of lanterns from all over the city danced like fireflies in the night.

Several hours later, the crowds swelled across the river. Our small group of four gathered our handmade krathongs and stepped down to the quiet river’s edge on the restaurant’s peaceful private dock. We re-positioned misplaced flowers and jostled incense sticks before lighting the candles, making one last wish and hope. Then we released them one-by-one into the water.

Ana lights her krathong for release during Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai, Thailand Lighting the sparklers and incense during Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai, Thailand Catherine prepares her krathong for release during Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai, Thailand

krathongs on ping river
Ana splashes the water to push her krathong into current of the Ping River during the Loy Krathong and Yee Peng celebrations on the full moon in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

I watched my handmade krathong join Ana’s meticulously decorated raft near the shore-line; we stared at the river, captivated by the flickering candlelight and stream of fragrant incense creating patterns in the dark night. We gently splashed the water until our krathongs caught the swift current on the Ping River and became indistinguishable from the herd of floating krathongs, each one an offering hope, a chance for atonement, gratitude and thanks.

The group lantern release was an inspiring event — in fact, it tops the charts as one of the most beautiful festivals I’ve attended. Thailand is my adopted home, and I’ve also traveled around Thailand a good deal too (I’ve extensively backpacked all over Southeast Asia for that matter).

And beyond the beautiful, there’s something magical about learning about the culture through these festivals. For that reason, releasing our handmade krathongs alongside the Thai people was magical. Our rafts of hopes and wishes joined thousands of others, meeting on a river and moving beyond the realm of language, culture, or religion. We used that raft and the river’s water to cleanse the mind and spirit and start this new year fresh and open to the possibilities.



Yangshuo light show China

A Little Light Show…Harmonizing Nature and Theatre in Yangshuo

Murmurings from the large audience hushed as a clear and open darkness dropped over our outdoor theatre. The silence was far from absolute though as a breeze swept nearby leaves into a quiet song, a gentle lapping of water, and eventually the sweet notes of a string instrument drifting up from the distant water as the show began.

The Liu Sanjie light show in Yangshuo, China
My favorite scene from the light show; I love the simple beauty of the illuminated figures on the Li River and the striking white light on the distant limestone rocks in Yangshuo, China.

The boats paddled out from the edges of our riverside theatre and colored floodlights illuminated the distant limestone mountains in a myriad of primary colors accompanying the mood of the story. Back in 2008, I somehow missed the elaborate light shows designed for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics but the shows wowed my traveling companions back then and they instantly recognized the name of director Zhang Yimou, who used his hometown region of Yangshuo as the backdrop for a new but similarly crafted permanent show.

The Impression Liu Sanjie light show is one of those much-touted events for travelers to Yangshuo; even if my friends hadn’t known about the light show, the touts and sales agents in the town’s center made sure we had plenty of brochures in our hands! We debated the cost versus experience and decided to spring for the comparatively pricey tickets and welcomed the opportunity to see one of director Yimou’s signature shows live and in its intended environment.

Light show Yangshuo, China.
Dramatic fire and beating drums up the tension as the story plays out in Yangshuo, China.

I fell in love with the outdoor aspect to the experience. The ancient Greeks had it right all along, epic performances of love, comedy, and tragedy should  transpire on open stages and limitless roofs. Music drifted from the show into the heavens and a misty moonlight penetrated the dense sky, mixing with lights from the show and spreading into the forested areas that made up the “back” of our theatre.

Yangshuo China lights show
A better idea of the sheer size of the outdoor theatre for the Impression light show in Yangshuo.

The show is pretty; the music haunting as it drifted across the water and washed over the stair-step rows of intent faces watching the performance. The story moved through different phases from folk music to traditional dancing and, at times, the sheer spectacle of perfectly timed and choreographed lights and rhythms captivated my imagination even though the entire story was relayed in Chinese (a language very distant from anything I comprehend).

Impression light show in Yangshuo
Huge ribbons of red fabric span the river as the actors stand on personal, tiny boats to create captivating rhythmic patterns to compliment the story while using the vast open sky for light patterns and entertainment.

The show is gorgeous and I alternated between fascination and open anticipation. There were a couple of moments that fell flat from my expectations…perhaps I set the bar too high after hearing so many stories exulting the director’s past shows and skills.  But I enjoyed the evening and the experience of watching a performance that harmonizes the unpredictability of nature with human beings. Even in less-than-ideal weather, the performers embrace the elements and augment the experience with whatever nature happens to conjure up–be it wind, mist, or rain– for that performance.

Quick Tips: Impression Light Show in Yangshuo, China

What: A beautiful display of lights and story set on the Li River; more than 600 actors tell the love story over the course of 60+ minutes of music, dance, and theatrical displays. Show designed by director Zhang Yimou.
: Likely your hotel or the company you book the tickets through will arrange your transportation to the entrance. The light show venue is very near the Yangshuo city center but requires transportation and outside coordination.
When: During peak season two nightly showings at 19:00 and 21:00; canceled in extreme weather (rain, severely cold)
How much: Roughly US $30 (RMB 198) for general seating.
Extra Tips: Bring gear to combat the weather. I visited in the early Spring (last week of March) and was grateful to have my warm jacket and a rain poncho on hand!

visiting petra jordan monastery

A Little Photo Essay… 6 Insta-Worthy Jumping Spots in Jordan

The wackiest ideas are often born from a single comment, an off-handed remark meant as a joke but then expanded into a full-fledged idea. This is precisely the case with my decision to make some Instagram-worthy photos and jump around Jordan. My very first day in the country, fellow travel blogger Jodi joked about my travels through China, where I nailed a truly Insta-worthy jumping shot on the Great Wall of China.

And thus was born the self-proclaimed mission to jump at iconic, historic spots and wide open desert spaces around Jordan . . . pretty silly but we made it into a fun mission as we traveled from place to place!

Most Instagrammable Spots in Jordan

Jump through Petra, Jordan

The the mysterious Nabataeans built the ancient city of Petra, Jordan and the huge city built right into the towering sandstone rocks fascinates me. I love the myth and mystery still surrounding the history of Petra—in short, the Nabataeans were industrious, creative (huge burial tombs, intricate carvings) and super smart (they landed a prime spot on the ancient trade routes).

The Monastery in Petra, Jordan.
Located at the top of a hill inside of Petra Jordan, the Monastery (Ad Deir) is 45 meters high and is still amazingly intact considering the ancient city was built sometime around the 6th Century BC.

The Street of Facades in Petra, Jordan.
The Street of Facades in Petra, Jordan leads from the iconic Treasury into the open city beyond, with vast open spaces and views of carved sandstone rock in every direction once you exit the narrow street.

Leap in Front of the Citadel in Amman

Jodi and I hatched the jumping plan together (along with Jordanian friends Reine and Halla), and our very first jumping pictures in the country took place on one of Amman’s seven hills. The Amman Citadel holds the Temple of Hercules and the crumbling marble towers stand like soldiers looking over the modern life filling the surrounding six hills, hills filled with the people and suburbia of Amman. In short, it’s the perfect spot to add some humans floating through the air!

Jodi from Legal Nomads jumps at the Amman Citadel in Jordan
Jodi from Legal Nomads.com is so happy in this shot I just had to include her jumping for joy over the Citadel ruins in Amman, Jordan. She injured her back pre-trip so it was a rare treat to convince her to jump!

Jumping at the Amman Citadel in Jordan's capital city.
These giant marble columns were 33 feet tall while the temple was in use during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, and though they fell over time, they were resurrected and make a perfect jumping spot!

Tower Over the Ruins of Jerash

The ancient city of Gerasa is located in Jerash and the ancient town holds some of the best preserved Greco-Roman ruins in the Near East (and yes, I copied that nearly word for word from Wikipedia). But it’s true, so I felt compelled to add that tidbit of history here. The Jerash ruins sprawled over a wide area of land covered in shrubs and crumbling marble. Many ruins within the city are still intact, with the city’s “streets” and carriageways still clearly visible as you look down from a nearby hill at the ruins below you.

In Jerash and jumping over the ancient Greco-Roman city of Gerasa, one of the best preserved Roman cities in the near-east.
In Jerash and jumping over the ancient Greco-Roman city of Gerasa, this spot remains one of the best preserved Roman cities in the near-east and the walking through the wide, columned streets give clear evidence of the city’s once enormous scope.

Jumping through the ancient city of Gerasa in Jerash, Jordan.
The well-preserved city of Gerasa in Jerash, Jordan proved an easy playground for the jump-inclined, as well as the traditional tourist too, of course!

Make Sand Shadows in Wadi Rum Desert

Harder than it looks, I attempted to create a really cool jumping shadow picture. Unfortunately, as magical as the deserts of Wadi Rum are, they do not allow me to unattach myself from my shadow Peter Pan style! However, that being said, spending a sunset and sunrise in Wadi Rum stands out as one of the top-ten experiences on my round-the-world travels.

Jumping in the red-orange sands of Wadi Rum desert in Jordan.
A shadow jump at sunset in the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of my favorite places in the world.

Float Above the Dead Sea

No travel prose or wild tangents in my imagination prepared me for the surreal feeling of floating in the Dead Sea. The waters in the Dead Sea maintain about 34% salinity (compare that with a mere 3.5 % in the pleasantly salty Gulf of Mexico near my hometown). Because of the high salt and mineral content of the water it’s customary to coat yourself in brown Dead Sea mud from head to toe. Yes, I kid you not, head to toe in mud.

Jumping over the salt rocks at the Dead Sea in Jordan
The Dead Sea waters are so salty the salt builds up, creating a pretty white, rocky shoreline.

The pretty salt rocks lining Jordan's side of the Dead Sea.
My first sighting of the Dead Sea at a lookout point on the way to the shore.

Dead Sea Mud, Jordan
Covered in Dead Sea mud from head to toe and on the shores of Jordan’s side.

Find Gorgeous Vistas on Your Drives!

Though a small country to be sure, it takes several hours between the major historic sites in Jordan and days of stretching desert sands. Our driver and guide were oh-so tolerant to pull over at every view-point, and even joined in on the game once they knew the type of open landscapes we loved for the jumping shots. These last couple shots show the endless desert landscapes that lodged in my memory along with the intricate carvings at Petra and Jordan’s delicious pita and fresh mezze dishes.

An epic starfish jump over the deserts in Jordan, taken on our way out of the Wadi Rum desert.

Desert sands in Jordan
The cool blue skies and open deserts of Jordan stretch on for miles and call for some jumping!

A big hug of thanks to Jodi, without her photography talent there would have been no jumping through Jordan and without her shouts of caution when I jumped near a ledge, there may not have been a Shannon either!

I joke about this, but seriously—jump with caution. I visited Jordan before the steady stream of Instagrammers falling from cliffs in search of the perfect shot. All of these shots were taken on solid ground and without teetering on cliff ledges. It’s possible to be safe and fun, so do that. Be both safe and fun. And buy some travel insurance while you’re at it—I recommend World Nomads—just incase you do get a bit overzealous.

The Dead Sea from Jordan
My epic jumping photographer throughout Jordan :)

I worked with the Jordan Tourism Board to take this trip—the experiences, photos, and stories are my own. Also, conduct your own research and use good judgement when taking any photograph; A Little Adrift does not accept any responsibility for any potential consequences arising from the use of this information.

krka waterfall national park

A Little Photo Essay…Beautiful Waterfalls, Lakes, and Nature, Oh My!

I see a lot of gorgeous places when I travel, heaps and heaps in fact. About three months into traveling I decided I had to slow down because I was passing everything so quickly that waterfalls, monuments, temples? They all turned to mush in my brain. I couldn’t quite place some of the photos I was taking and that perturbed me…so I slowed down, paid more attention and stopped living through the lens of my camera ever single moment of my trip.

Okay, a bit of lie, I still photographed everything but I made sure to take moments to just sit and stare and take in the natural beauty encountered along the way–take in absorb…be there in the moment enjoying. Below is a photo essay with mini anecdotes and explanations for ten of the more memorable lakes and waterfalls I’ve found in the past three years!

Waterfalls at Skradinski Buk, Krka, Croatia
Krka National Park in Croatia was spectacularly pretty; the park is well developed for tourism with numerous footpaths and wooden board walks leading visitors through the various waterfalls and Roman-era ruins situated along the Krka River. A very good friend from back home was traveling with me for this leg of the trip so we packed cheese and bread for lunch and spent the day taking in the pretty waterfalls!


Lake McKenzie, Fraser Island, Australia
Lake McKenzie is a truly beautiful perched lake (meaning the lake waters sit atop an impermeable layer of twigs/ vegetation) on Australia’s Fraser Island (the largest sand island in the world and a UNESCO spot). I dug the nearly pure white silica sand and clear mineral waters; although I love salty ocean waves as much as the next person, there’s just something altogether more inviting about turquoise clear fresh water with no possible jelly fish!


Wentworth Falls, Australia
Wentworth Falls is one of the larger waterfalls in Australia’s Blue Mountains, located just north of Sydney. I was terribly lost on this hike (take a good map!) because there are a lot of waterfalls in these mountains and each time we approached one I was certain it was Wentworth Falls, at least until we reached this big one! Even though our 4 hour hike turned into seven plus, I managed to relax enough to enjoy the sunshine and misting waters, briefly. :) 


Lake Bled, Slovenia
Bled Island, though tiny, is the only natural island in Slovenia and Lake Bled’s pretty shores are a tourist magnet. This towns sits in Eastern Europe’s Julian Alps and the church steeple on the island, the medieval castle on a nearby hill…the entire setting screams picturesque. It rained throughout my visit but was pretty nonetheless! 


Waterfalls on Uluru, Ayers Rock
Rain in Australia’s outback is quite rare, just a few days out of every year in fact, and for this reason seeing Uluru (Ayers Rock) with dozens waterfalls cascading down the red rock is supposedly lucky. At least that was the assurance from our tour guide…rain poured from the sky while I was there and though I didn’t manage any upclose time with the huge iconic rock gleaming burnt red in the sunlight, it was pretty and unique. And, I haven’t yet met another traveler who has seen the waterfalls, so maybe my tour guide was right! :-)


Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
After winding through the dirt roads into the Guatemalan Highlands, Lake Atitlán is a superb reward, it’s perhaps the prettiest lake I’ve ever seen and from the shores three visible volcanoes help form the lake’s borders. Besides the volcanoes, sprinkle the shores of the lake with tiny Mayan villages (and a few super-touristy towns too) and you have the waters of the prettiest lake in all of the Americas (in my oh-so-humble opinion). 


Semuc Champey waterfalls, Guatemala
Sticking to Guatemala (one of my favorite countries), Semuc Champey is a series of shallow turquoise pools of water with tiny little waterfalls between each stepped pool. The closest town, Lanquin, is still off the fast-growing tourism trail and our group had a grand time frolicking in the pools and (carefully) jumping from waterfalls.  


Loch Ness, Scotland
From the shores of Loch Ness, Scotland I searched and searched for Nessie the Loch Ness Monster to no avail, she didn’t reveal herself to me so I instead spent quiet days reading on the pebble beaches and hiking through the densely green forests and towns surrounding the lake, taking advantage of the surprisingly sunny Scottish days!


Connor Pass, Dingle, Ireland
Oh, how I adore Ireland. Really! I do so love it, and all of the pretty, pretty land is reason enough, but the people were super friendly and welcoming too. Dingle is a small peninsula in the south and this is Conor Pass, the highest mountain pass in all of Ireland, with views of the corrie lakes, low slung clouds and the nearby Atlantic.


Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia was one of the handful of pre-planned stops on my RTW trip; the Park’s series of cascading lakes are formed from a series of underground karst rivers, with 16 visible lakes on the surface, all connected by boardwalks and boats. It’s a UNESCO site (I collect these) and on the beauty-scale, it rates high! It takes an entire day to wander through the miles of carefully constructed paths at Plitvice Lakes, so pack lunch!  

This is just the tip of the ice berg as far as waterfalls are concerned–I have yet to see any of the major ones like Niagra, Victoria or Iguazu Falls, but each of these lakes and waterfalls were unique in some way and stand out for that very reason.

Sharesy time! Where is your favorite lake or waterfall in the world and why? :)