Travel

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Paradise in Chiang Mai, Thailand

I have been told for years that I needed to go to Chiang Mai, that I would love it. Still, of the many times that I have been to Thailand, I had never made it to this purported hippie utopia. So, this time, I decided I would finally see for myself this paradise.

After the first couple of days in town I was sorely disappointed. I was expecting Shangri-La, waterfalls and mountains on all sides, with silks and slacklines hanging from every tree, and a sunset drum circle every night in the city center. I found none of that. There were some cool night markets, and the people were very friendly, but even after a day of biking around town, I could barely find a good park to hang my line. Chiang Mai just seemed to be an average Thai town, hundreds of miles from the trademark Thai Beaches. Then I met someone in my hostel that told me of a park that held exactly what I was looking for, and it was only a few blocks away.

Just like that, I found the paradise I was looking for. Slacklines, and yoga, and acro, and hippies abounded. Everyone was warm and welcoming, and I immediately felt surrounded by friends. I spread my mat and hung my line, I was home.

The last piece of the puzzle was the mountain top temple, Suthep. I made the drive up there on my last morning, before my flight back to Phuket. It was a gorgeous drive up winding mountain roads, and the view felt as if you were looking out over the clouds from heaven. This trip will always stand as a reminded to never rush to judgement.

Railay Beach and the Princess Lagoon – Krabi, Thailand

I love those hard-to-reach off-the-beaten path gems that are best found by word of mouth. Not that the Princess lagoon is a place you could only find on a treasure map, but I’d never heard of it. A new friend in Patong told me about a beach that you could only reach by boat, and the lagoon there that was completely cut off from the sea – The Princess Lagoon. It is surrounded by 100 meter sheer rock walls, and the only way in is up and over. But first you have to get there.

So, I took a bus to Krabi, and a boat to Railay Beach. From there you walk the coast of the bay to a paved path that connects to the more scenic side of Railay Beach. Between the two is a muddy landslide of a trail that goes straight up the cliff face. You literally have to climb roots, vines, and ropes to ascend. You are rewarded at the top, however, by a breathtaking viewpoint of both Railay Beaches – East and West. If you are brave, or crazy, you can scale the rock face to a peak that tops it all. Save some energy though. You still have to climb down into the Princess Lagoon, and back out. The path down being even more treacherous than the up.

However, the bounty is beautiful, and the lagoon is incredible! It feels like stepping deep into earths prehistoric past. The surrounding rock faces create a cavernous feel, with stalactites and stalagmites closing in like the jagged teeth of a gigantic jaw. The water is a tranquil blue with banks of deep red clay, and lumbering palms dipping lightly into the lagoon. The majority of the time I was there the deadly decent kept me in relative solitude, despite being dead center of a tourist hot spot.

When you finally do decide to climb you ass out and rejoin the present, one of Thailand’s most beautiful beaches awaits. It is book-ended by monolithic majesty with an island right in the center. At low tide you can actually walk across for a visit. There is amazing rock climbing on all sides. Next time, I am bringing my shoes for a traverse, if nothing else.

And it may be a secluded paradise, but fast food is still readily available. But since there are no roads to Railay Beach you get food boats instead of food trucks.

At the end of the day, I left beat-up, tired, and dirty, smiling the whole way home. From there, I had to figure out how to get to the airport in time for my flight to Chiang Mai, Three hours later…

Thailand’s Elephants, Rapids, Monkeys, and Mayhem

Monkeys are everywhere is Southeast Asia, and well fed they are. En route to our white water rapid adventure we stopped at a temple just so all the tourist on the bus, including us, could fed them some more. Though you would probably have to bring a pizza for the monkeys to be impressed. The hordes of free roaming primates had their pick of snacks, and if what they wanted wasn’t already lying around, they had no qualms about taking what ever they wanted. Best keep a close watch on your valuables.

Elephants, on the other hand, are held in captivity, chained by the ankle.
A pachyderm ride was included in a white water rafting adventure, and though I was excited to be up close to an elephant, actually riding them had me conflicted.

They didn’t seem to be treated poorly, and I am sure our weight isn’t substantial enough for these treks to differ vastly from a horse back ride. These animals were actually chained by they ankle, however, and the guides use a metal hook to train and control them. We made sure to supply treats for our four legged friends, but I am not sure I would do this again.

The actual rafting, and the slider were a hell of a time, though. The video will attest to that!

The Phi Phi Islands, Thailand’s Best

phiphi-19Koh Phi Phi and its surrounding islands are a tiny sanctuary in the middle of the ocean. There are no cars, and no major airport, so you must arrive by boat. And that is part of the appeal.

phiphi-2 phiphi-3 phiphi-4The trip out takes about an hour and a half from Phuket Town, and it is a pretty social event of its own. There are crowds of people circling the outside of the boat, taking in the sun, sea, and company. I sat, or did yoga, on the bow of the boat, as the rest of the gang slept, or took advantage of those sleeping.

phiphi-5 phi-phi-20On our walk to the hotel, down narrow shop-lined cobble stone roads, Ryan touched every pussy he could find. Once at our accommodations, Billy and Kevin were dissatisfied with our lodging. Ryan and I weren’t too impressed either, but decided to tough it out for the few days we would be there. The two big ballers, however, sought a more luxurious room, using our wifi. Once all that was settled we started into dinner and drinks.

phiphi-6 phiphi-7 phiphi-8Then once that was settled, we started into more drinks. Phi Phi is full of young tourist who like to party, and party they do. Once the sun goes down, the streets fill with people, and the beaches come alive. There are fire spinners, and LED jump ropes, and packed dance floors that spill into the ocean. Just about any vibe you are looking for is available. There are techno bars, mellow mood bars, fun time college bars with beer pong, and shots, but my favorite was the reggae bar. The music was perfect and the dancing was amazing. Plus you can carry open containers any where. So we just bought a bottle of rum(local flavor, of course) and set sail.

phiphi-9 phiphi-10 phiphi-11phi-phi-21During the day things are a bit more quiet. Most are sleeping off that hangover, I’d imagine. Still, there is plenty to do. The main beach is easily accessible, and there are several hiking options as well. A trek up to the view point is highly recommended. Then there are the boat trips that tour the islands. This is a great way to reach those secluded spots that would be otherwise unattainable. The bad news is everyone else took a boat trip too. So places like Maya Bay are jam packed, but the beauty remains incomparable.

phiphi-18phiphi-12 phiphi13 phiphi-14 phiphi-15 phiphi-17 I have been to Phi Phi several times, it is one of my favorite places in Asia, but the boat tour we took this time showed me things I had yet to see. We snorkeled through underwater caves, kayaked into hidden coves, and swam with schools of sharks (little ones, of course, 3-5ft). Plus our three story ship had slide out diving boards on the top. I literally flipped out!

The Waterfalls of Phuket

phuket-waterfalls-5I absolutely love the water, and if it is water falling over rocks, I am in heaven. So, most any trip I take, waterfalls are on the top of the list of places to go. And there are some real gems hiding deep in the jungles of Phuket.

phuket-waterfalls-2 phuket-waterfalls-3After our initial trip to Kathu Falls, the rest of FUBU had little interest in adventure treks.  So Kevin and I set out to see several other locations we had mapped out, just the two of us. What we found far exceeded our expectations. These places were incredible. One was actually a wildlife conservation area, and hiking there was magical.

phuket-waterfalls-4 phuket-waterfalls-14 phuket-waterfalls-8A landscaping cascade greeted you at the entrance, and from then on you were surrounded by moving water.  It seemed to flow from every direction. Paths meandered through the jungle, criss-crossing through the dense foliage, always opening to a new set of falls.

phuket-waterfalls-12 phuket-waterfalls-11 phuket-waterfalls-13 phuket-waterfalls-10 phuket-waterfalls-9 phuket-waterfalls-7 phuket-waterfalls-6We hiked for hours, never finding an end to the wandering water. Instead, the jungle swallowed the path. A huge tree, the kind pictured above, who’s roots alone tower over your head, had fallen blocking our passage. I tried to carry on by climbing onto the trunk and monkeying my way through the bamboo, but they turned out to be less strong than Rush Hour 2 would suggest. The shoot I was hand over handing snapped, and sent me crashing through the canopy. Time moved in slow motion as I fell, first feeling the soft embrace of the thicket below. “Yes, I am saved”, the thought ran through my mind, as my fall was slowed by the mass of greenery. Then I was greeted by the rocks that lurked in the darkness on the jungle floor. Luckily my silly stunt only wound up in a busted elbow and bruised back. I’d like to say that I’ve learned my lesson, and for the day I did. But we all know, the next time a similar situation shows itself, I’ll roll the dice once again.

phuket-waterfalls-15This time around, I counted my lucky stars and settled for a photo shoot at the last pool we came to. I set the camera up on a timer so that both Kevin and I could be in a photo together. Of course a normal pose isn’t enough for me, so I thought I would race the ten second timer to mount a rock and find a cross legged position. Luckily, in that situation, the camera takes three photos in three second intervals. As you can see the first shutter didn’t do me any favors.

phuket-waterfalls-17Still, I managed to recover by the third and final snap, with a little laugh in between. I could have just left out the photos that made me look silly, but what fun would that be. I did, after all, pull it off in the end. And Kevin’s genuine smile, knowing what had just transpired, is priceless.

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Phuket, Thailand

phuket-2Bangla Road and the Thai Nights can get pretty wild. Patong is the most bustling tourist city on the island of Phuket. The streets overflow with people until the wee hours of the morning. And just about every vice you can think of is readily available. Imagine if Vegas and New Orleans had a love child that lived on a beautiful beach.

We never actually made it to the Ping Pong Show, but we still had some wild nights. However, we did much more with our time than party the evenings away.

 

phuket-11The Island of Phuket has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and we made an effort to see them all. We even took in a few temples to culture ourselves.

We even found time to work out, sort of.

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Then, there is the food!

phuket-24Thai food is one of my favorite things to eat. And on top of being delicious, it is super cheap! I could move here for the grub alone.

Add to that the scenery and you are in heaven. We had so many meals in fairy tale settings I had started to questioning my reality. And if mine is having supper at sunset on a secluded beach, I am not sure I want to leave.

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Phuket’s Kathu Falls, Thailand

We have pretty much settled into life in Patong, and my room is right across the street from the beach. One morning, after my daily yoga session, I met a handsome bearded fellow. He introduced himself as John. He said his wife’s sister was into yoga, and that he wanted to introduce us. Shortly after, he escorted her over, and we all hit it off. One sister was a doctor and the other a lawyer.  They were in Thailand with a large group of women celebrating a birthday. I am guessing he needed some male interaction to break up the flood of estrogen he was most likely exposed to. So we all decided to go on a waterfall adventure. They jumped in a tuktuk, and the FUBU Scooter Gang mounted up to ride.katu-falls-6 katu-falls-5 katu-falls-4 katu-falls-3 katu-falls-2 katu-falls-8

katu-falls-9katu-falls-10The creek that fed the falls ran deep into the jungle, and so did we. John and his harem of Rais took flight, but we found some new friends on our walk. The canopy was filled with large eight legged creatures to keep us company.

katu-falls-13 katu-falls-12 katu-falls-11A day full of unexpected excitement, and we still had the evening ahead of us…

FUBU in Thailand

As a teenager I was on a skateboard team with three other close friends. It was nothing official, but to us the team really meant something. We had our own hand sign, symbol, oath, and initiation. You could say we took it pretty seriously. Eventually, however, we drifted apart, and the team faded into obscurity. The name of our little skate gang was FUBU – Four Unrelated Brothers United (well before LL decided to use the same name for his clothing line).

fubu-in-thailand-2fubu-in-thailand-3fubu-in-thailand-4fubu-in-thailand-5fubu-in-thailand-6Now, over twenty years later, Billy, the founder, has gone FUBU once again. This time two new members have joined the brotherhood, Kevin and Ryan. And instead of skateboarding in Arkansas, we are scooter ganging through Thailand.

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Whale Shark Diving – Donsol

Since childhood I have wanted to see a whale shark in the wild, and Donsol in the Philippines is supposed to be one of the best places in the world to do just that.

DCIM999GOPROUnlike other areas around the globe that offer whale shark specific diving, these giants of the sea are not fed by man in Donsol.  A natural food supply here is what attracts large numbers of these huge fish. That also means that you are not guaranteed to see one.

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DCIM999GOPROOur dive day started out on stormy seas, and  the location we were most likely to encounter a whale shark had a four to six knot current. That is like being underwater on a rapid river, the ocean bottom soars past as if you were flying. We had to actually anchor to the bottom and wait for our friends to show.

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DCIM999GOPROAnd show they did! One second you are surround by nothing but the deep blue void of the open ocean, and the next the silhouette of the sea’s largest fish appears, towering over your head. I could not contain my excitement at the first sighting, and swam up speedily to meeting this amazing beast.Whale Shark Diving Donsol 9 Whale Shark Diving Donsol 10 Whale Shark Diving Donsol 11 Whale Shark Diving Donsol 12At the end of three dives and several encounters, we were tired, wet, and cold, but content.Whale Shark Diving Donsol 13 Whale Shark Diving Donsol 14 Whale Shark Diving Donsol 15 Whale Shark Diving Donsol 18The sun was setting on our seaside homestead by the time we made it back to shore. So we set out to celebrate in the friscalating dusk light.Whale Shark Diving Donsol 16 Whale Shark Diving Donsol 17 The following morning a marvelous rainbow bid us a fond farewell as we rustled on to our next adventure.

Fireflies on the Water – Philippines

Manila is crowded, loud, and dirty, but not without its charms. We came to the Philippines for whale sharks though, and they were still a flight away.Philippines Fireflies on the Water 2Donsol was our destination, and it was a relief from the stress of the city. Our beach bungalow looked out over a placid ocean, through a courtyard perfect for our favorite pass time — slack lining.

Philippines Fireflies on the Water 3Philippines Fireflies on the Water 4It turns out there is more to offer here in Donsol than just the largest fish in the sea. The Donsol river alights with magic as twilight descends.Philippines Fireflies on the Water 5 Philippines Fireflies on the Water 6Together with two new friends from the resort, we took a boat ride into the heart of darkness to witness the show. This river has several enchanted trees that glow green with the mating ritual of the fireflies. It wasn’t exactly what I had expected, but it’s charms were quick to romance us all. A galaxy of earthbound lightning bugs challenged the stars for spectacle. Gazing up from the gentle river the tangle of twinkling swayed our heart to swoon.Philippines Fireflies on the Water 7

Taipei for a Day

A love affair cut short, it was really good to see her again. I told myself last time I left that I would be back again. True to my word, here I am, in Taipei for a day.Taipei for a Day 2I had only been to Taiwan once before, but that was enough to recognizes her magnificence. The people are kind, the scenery is beautiful, and the streets greet you with open arms. Love is in the air, and my lungs couldn’t get enough.Taipei for a Day 4 Taipei for a Day 5My brother and I had a sixteen hour layover in Taipei en route to the Philippines, it was beautiful to be back. We arrived late in the evening, but our good friend Thomas greeted us with open arms to his gorgeous Qidu home. We caught up with Thomas over some local black tea, and headed into the city to show Jeremiah Taipei 101.Taipei for a Day 3We didn’t have time for much else, but just traveling through the city was enough to summon a certain sense of nostalgia.  The trains make movement easy, and the people make sight seeing a joy. I can’t wait till I can spend more time in this lovely ladies warm embrace. For now there is a whole Asian adventure waiting on the other side of tomorrow, so Taiwan will live in my Dreams till next we meet again.Taipei for a Day 6

Homeless in Hong Kong – Big Wave Bay

Big Wave Bay

Moving days are bittersweet. It’s a bit of a hassle turtling around Asia with all of your worldly belongings on your back, but it is pretty sweet to land at a place like Big Wave Bay and be self-sufficient. First things first — suns out, buns/guns out. As soon as we hit the sand, the clothes came off and the swimsuits went on. If this was to be our home for the next few days, we might as well be comfortable.

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After a quick swim, we scoped out a proper spot to make camp. It was a pretty touristy beach right outside a Hong Kong suburb, and the only beach was tucked between sheer rock walls. The options for discretion seemed to be few.

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There was one spot that seemed fitting, though. There was a semi-secluded spot tucked up behind the tree line of the main beach. We set up the tent, stowed our packs, and watched the setting sun clear the beach… and the bay!

Some pretty high falutin’ types had anchored their yachts out in the bay. They had all sorts of fun water toys that they showcased under the sun. Once only stars remained to watch them play, they packed up and called it a day. Nikita and I sat on the sand watching them motor off along the horizon, leaving us with the whole beach to ourselves. It was a marvelous night.

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A marvelous night, followed by a beautiful morning. We had the place all to ourselves for the first few hours of sun.

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Nikita had earned herself a scraped foot and a bruised knee at one of the Hong Kong skate parks.

Nothing a bit of sea and sun couldn’t fix.

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Somewhere around mid-morning, the suburbanites began to show up on their morning dog walks. It made yoga on the beach a bit challenging, swimming in the bay much more fun. Then around nine, a school field trip invaded the beach. Kids swarmed all over. So we retired to our happy hideaway and watched from a safe distance.

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It is pretty amazing what can come of riding the wind. Making the most of our bad situation turned into some of the most fun exploration. Life there on that beach in Hong Kong was about as carefree as one could be. Not to mention the view for my daily yoga practice. Being homeless in Hong Kong really wasn’t that bad. I may have to try it more often.

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Vietnam, Visas, and Vagrancy

Vietnam, Visas, and Vagrancy copy copyTraveling on budget airlines with big bags is a bitch. Flights around Asia are cheap, to be sure, but the smaller carriers that offer this cheap travel charge extra for every little thing. By this time in our trip, Nikki had the fees down to a science, though. We were traveling with just under thirty kilos including our skateboards, which none of the small Asian airlines would let us carry on. So, before we flew, Nikki would go online to buy extra baggage for us. It is much more pricey if you wait ’til you are checking in at the airport. We learned that the hard way. On the day of our flight from Hong Kong to Vietnam, we showed up extra early, just in case. As it turns out, being early wasn’t enough…

Vietnam, Visas, and Vagrancy 1The night before our departure, we went to see the Symphony of Lights with a Colombian friend from the Umbrella. On the train on the way there, he asked if we needed a visa for Vietnam. To which I responded, “No.” Nikki kills me with her constant research, but this time I probably should have done some of my own. If only I had taken his question as an omen and made a quick Google search, it would have saved us the biggest headache so far in the trip. Without the headache, though, this would just be the Mid Life Tour, without the Crisis!

Vietnam, Visas, and Vagrancy 2It turns out you DO need a visa for Vietnam, and Hong Kong Airlines offers no wiggle room on the issue. They basically told us, “Tough shit,” with a smile and turned their backs. We, on the other hand, had a “never say die” attitude and went straight to work on fixing the problem. We still had just over two hours before check-in for our flight closed. We found a site online that offered rushed “visas on arrival” for $120 US, with a one hour guarantee. We purchased that and went straight back to our unsympathetic concierge, who once again, told us to go fuck ourselves (paraphrasing).

Vietnam, Visas, and Vagrancy 3At first, we were crushed. With the purchase of a new ticket, the total cost for my carelessness was almost $300 US each. And we still didn’t have a place to stay while we waited for the next flight — two days later. We tried the Umbrella, but we were too revolutionary for a return to its shelter. We considered camping out in the airport for a few days, but if we were gonna be homeless, may as well do it in style. We had been told about a beautiful beach in Hong Kong that we hadn’t had time to visit. There is always a bright side, if you keep your eyes wide. So, when life gives you lemons — say, “Fuck the lemons, let’s go swimming!”

Getting Revolutionary in a Hong Kong Tent

Hong KongOnly having $30 a day to travel through Asia with can lead to some pretty interesting situations. Hong Kong, like Macau, is an expensive city. So, as we searched AirBnB for accommodations, there were very few that fit our budget. Most were really far out of town or a spot in the living room. Our favorite option turned out to be a tent, in a sky-rise…

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And we weren’t the only ones camping out. There were two other occupied tents in the living room, and someone in each of the bedrooms. That wasn’t the most interesting part though.

Hong Kong 14 Hong Kong 13Our penthouse tent was staked in the headquarters of the Umbrella Revolution. We thought it would be interesting to catch a part of Hong Kong history, even if we had to live in a tent for three days to do it. Plus the location was prime…

Hong Kong 6Our campsite was right in the center of the shopping district, only a few MRT stops from amazing nightlife, and not too far from a pretty serious skatepark.

Hong Kong 7 Hong Kong 8 Hong Kong 9 Hong Kong 10Hong Kong turned out to be an incredible city, and not nearly as expensive as we’d planned for. There was a great bakery just down the block, and a Micky D’s pretty much across the street that had Egg McMuffins for a buck. Thanks Big Ron, for keepin’ it real all the way to Asia.

Hong Kong 5 Hong Kong 4 Hong Kong 3 Hong Kong 2The city was a beautiful place to visit, and one of the highlights would surely be the downtown city-wide laser light show. The whole skyline danced electric light on the water, all set to music. The wonderfully choreographed symphony of sight and sound could be seen, and heard, along the entire river walk. Hong Kong has really upped the ante of what a metropolitan can be. I had even commented the night before we were to leave, that I wished we had more time there…

Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it…

Macau for a Day

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Macau has overtaken Vegas as the gambling capitol of the world. So we had to make it a stop on the tour, but it will eat your ass if you only got thirty dollars a day to live on. That is why we just popped in for a few days. Luckily, our friends in Taiwan put us in touch with a friendly host in Macau for our first night. He picked us up from the airport and took us on a fly-by-night skate tour of the city. It was amazing to see, but we were exhausted. It was work enough skating spot to spot. Trying to film and shoot was pretty much out of the question. After skating around for a while, we got some beers and an Egg McMuffin and told stories outside one of the casinos.

MacauThe next morning, we walked the streets in search of a cheap breaky. The food wasn’t great, or cheap, but the streets and architecture were a big departure from the other Asian cities we’ve visited thus far. Macau was much more European. It was a Portuguese colony until it was given to China in 1999. I really enjoyed the change.
Macau 2The next day, we had to move on to the room we rented from AirBnB. It was across town, and the buses were a bit confusing. Add to that– that none of the drivers speak English, and you wind up walking a mile and a half through a maze of a city, with all your turtle bags.
Macau 3It was really nice to have a place to rest up, even though it was a bit cramped, and cost almost our entire budget for the day. Fortunately, Taiwan was inexpensive enough that we were able to save up for events such as this. Even with the airline ticket from Taiwan (which was only about $65 bucks), and the $52 room, we were still under budget. It didn’t leave much space for gambling though.

Macau 4Drinking in Macau is pretty cheap still, so we got some beer and booze and set out walking to the casinos. The streets are a narrow labyrinth with no rhyme or reason, but the Grand Lisboa towers over the city as a shining beacon to debauchery. We used its guiding light to lead us to sin.

Macau 5The scenery along the way made the hilly journey well worth our time.

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Macau 7What we found was no Vegas, and they didn’t much like anyone taking photos to show just how different. Still, we toured most of the major attractions and each had their merit. I am sure if all you wanted to do was get a gambling fix, these luxurious masterworks would serve you well. Betting on chance has never been a vice of mine though, and the heart beat just wasn’t there for me. It was a week night though, and our first try at wild times in Macau with limited funds to find them. I am sure with the right time, money, and guide you could find just as much trouble in the Far East as surrounds the Vegas strip.Macau 8We had none of those luxuries though, and Hong Kong was calling. So we packed our bags and took a bus to the port to ferry our way out of town and on to the next one.

DCIM999GOPROLuckily, Nikki was able to research her way to a better understanding of the buses by the time we had to depart. Our exit was much easier than our entry!

Xiao Liuqiu Swimsuit Shoot

Xiao Liuqiu Swimsuit ShootTruth be told, I was a professional photographer years before I became a professional skateboarder. I got my first paying photo gig shooting a Redsand Clothing ad in ’96. Since then, I have shot for skate mags, motorcycle mags, newspapers, and all kinds of other publications. Hell, I’ve even shot a wedding or two. Still, one thing has always remained constant — I shoot what I love. And I’ll be damned if I don’t love women. Probably the reason I brought a model along on my Mid Life Crisis.

Xiao Liuqiu Swimsuit Shoot 1Photography is a passion I aim to focus on, moving forward. It may look like fun and games, but these shoots are a lot of work, especially when you have only two in the crew. I’ve been carrying more photo gear around Asia than almost all of my other luggage combined. When we have an ideal location like what we found in Xiao Liuqiu, we really swing for the fences. In fact, Nikki had already styled the shoot back in the states. The matching heels and swimsuit are no coincidence. We were just waiting for a good place to break it all out.

Xiao Liuqiu Swimsuit Shoot 2Nikki did her own makeup on set while I was running barefoot over jagged rocks in the blazing heat to adjust lighting. I used just about every lens in the bag and had to change batteries in both strobes. We moved through several different locations, and I thought I was going to lose my flashes to the ocean on several occasions. However, the shots we captured were well worth the trouble. In the end, we put away the shoes and the strobes and played sans camera… well, except for the GoPro.

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Xiao Liuqiu Island – Tour by Scooter

Xiao LiuqiuOnce again, Eddy, our Kaohsiung landlord, came through with great excursion advice. He suggested we take a scooter tour of his favorite nearby island retreat, Xiao Liuqiu. His guidance couldn’t have been more spot on. We hopped on the MRT one stop to the main station and caught a bus to the ferry station in Donggang. Travel time in its entirety from Central Park in Kaohsiung, where we were staying, to the boat dock took about an hour and a half. Then the ferry ride took another forty minutes. Once on the island, all that was left to do was secure a scooter, and everyone was offering them. A little granny accosted us all the way down the dock, bargaining the entire trip. Once we got down to the price Eddy had assured us of, we had a deal. We gave granny $300 NT ($10 US), and she handed over the keys. No contracts, no signing, no “Drive safe or it’ll cost you!” Just “Thanks for the money, see you later.” And we were off!

DCIM999GOPROThe island is pretty small, so we made a loop first to see what we wanted to see. Then we circled back to more closely inspect our top picks. Snorkeling the clear blue waters was first on the list. And there was a perfect spot just outside of the main port city. We had the beach to ourselves. Swimming isn’t too popular among the Taiwanese. They are a cautious bunch and the unpredictable nature of the sea offers too many variables to safely control. So they mostly watch the water from under an umbrella (the sun, too, is a foe) at a safe distance. Nikki and I frolicked for an hour or so in our own private paradise. Then, as we were drying off, the photo shoot happened. The shady pavilion where we had left our things turned out to be a prime location for our photographic fancy.

Bringing drugs into Taiwan is a serious offense, but smuggling grapes, as it turns out, is perfectly legal. Unless, of course, you are worried about the fashion police. I can’t be bothered by them, though. It’s a pirate’s life for me, yaaargh!

Xiao Liuqiu 8After I had safely stowed my fruit stash, we headed inland for a hike through the jungle. Wild Boar Trench winds you through sheer walls covered in cascading foliage. Exposed tree roots drape the cliff faces and tunneled passages connect the maze for mucho meters. The trench offers such seclusion that the residents of the island used its safe haven to hide from bombs during World War II. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes are still using it to this day. So we had to seek safe haven of our own, closer to the beach.

The craggy cave formations extend all the way down to the water, but you really have to work to find your way. We spent quite a while wandering around a man-made path that overlooked the ocean, but offered no means to get there. That wasn’t a big shock, considering how the Taiwanese feel about the water. Almost at the end of our journey, we did manage to find an old path that had long since been closed off by the authorities. Not being one to shy away from danger, or from shrugging off the man, we shuffled on down the sketchy descent. The reward we found was well worth the risk.

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After scampering down the jagged surface of the cavernous rock, we were greeted by an isolated playground of pristine tide pools and sapphire-colored coast. This would be where we spent the rest of our time on the island — exploring the still sanctuaries of trapped water on the rock, and the labyrinth of trenches in the deep blue beyond. But not until after we had one last photo shoot in this superlative setting…

 

 

Arkansas Diner, Trading the Chopsticks for a Spork

Arkansas DinerI am happy to be from Arkansas. Through my years of traveling and living abroad, I have never claimed anywhere else. We have been on the Mid Life Crisis tour for several months now, and with a constant onslaught of new adventures, there has been little time to miss home. The food in Taiwan has been hit or miss, though. Anywhere that boasts about Stinky Tofu has to expect that review. So when we heard that there is a diner dedicated to making southern cuisine and named for home, we couldn’t wait to show our support!

We first visited the Arkansas Diner during lunch. So we had just missed biscuits and gravy. It turns out they still make some mean pulled pork, and you can get that in a bowl with a biscuit. I opted for the sandwich, Nikki went for the bowl, and we offered a sample of our awesome to one another.

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I love Asian food, but after months of fish and rice, BBQ on a bun had me in hawg heaven! The place was honestly an Arkansas oasis in Asia. Checkered cloths covered the tabletops, and raw wood decked the walls, which were decorated with countless photos and memorabilia. The kitchen filled the whole restaurant with the aroma of down-home delight. I could have stayed all day, but the generous portions had us stuffed after just one sitting. That’s why we came back a few days later in the early morning for breakfast…

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Before we left Taiwan and our newly found home-away-from-home, The Arkansas Diner, we had to have one more southern meal. Landis Shook, the owner, personally handmakes the biscuits to be served at 6:00 am, when the restaurant opens. And they are well worth waking to the rooster’s crow. We went there early on our final visit so we would get our sampling fresh from the oven.

Arkansas Diner 10Chalk up another pro for Kaohsiung. Even though the city has its own international airport, southerners don’t have to fly thousands of miles to take a trip back home. The Arkansas Diner is right off the MRT in the middle of town. The quality of biscuits that Mr. Shook shakes down with the available ingredients in Taiwan is amazing. I had a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit, and Nikki had the biscuits and gravy bowl, and both would have held their own next to granny’s. Thanks so much for offering a trip home, without ever leaving the island!

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Board on Cijin Island – Kaohsiung

Cijin Island Kaohsiung 5Sun, skate, and surf all on one little island, just a stone’s throw from Kaohsiung and an international airport? I’m in! The only problem is they don’t want you to swim. Being the rebel that I am, that isn’t a problem either. I just swim anyway. We turn it into a little game. Nikki and I swim. The lifeguards (who may not even be able to swim) ride their four-wheelers down to the water with a red light flashing, and a whistle blowing. We pretend not to hear at first. Then, after much persistence on their part, I signal back that we got this. We are both capable swimmers. Options exhausted, the first ATV cowboy rides away. A minute later, a new rough rider approaches with the same tactic. We swim a little longer, then get out to walk down the beach. Satisfied with his task, the four-wheeler captain returns to his post up the beach. We then repeat the process.

Cijin Island Kaohsiung 9You are safe on a surfboard though, and that is where I would rather be. So, I borrowed a board and went to wrestling the ankle biters in the bay. The waves were small, but being back on a board at all was fun. The water was warm and the familiar sensation of sunset at sea was more than enough for me. I caught a few rides and returned the whip. Fresh seafood was calling from the market — just blocks away from the beach.

Surfing isn’t all Cijin Island offers. Hiking the old fort on the point is a pleasure as well. That is where we did Nikki’s half of the Team Work Shoot.  Still, there was more to explore than just the seaside guard tower. The next day, we tramped on up the hill to take in the sights. You could see the Koahsiung skyline watching carefully over its island companion. I struck a pose to play along.

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We finished our final day on the island skating the length of the seaside bike path. Blissfully, we rolled through shady tunnels of palms, taking in the curves of the coast. And swimming unmolested, far from the watchful eye of fear. I have a feeling, this isn’t the last we’ll see of Cijin…

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