Archive for February, 2012

Thoughts on Cambodia

Posted by Arlo on Feb 28, 2012 under Postcard Valet, Thought Objects, Travel

We only had about five weeks left to go in our travels when we started planning what we’d see in Southeast Asia.  We’d had more than enough time in Thailand, but that still left Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Singapore on our to-do list.  Five weeks isn’t a lot of time even when you don’t have to factor in long hours of travel between points of interest.  Ultimately, we had removed most of Cambodia from consideration before we’d even arrived in the country.

Still, you can’t travel Southeast Asia without going to see Angkor Wat, right?  Although it meant passing up the capital, Phnom Penh, we made sure our bus from Saigon took us straight to Siem Reap so we could spend as many days as possible exploring the ruins in the area. Read the rest of this entry »

Angkor Wat at Dawn

Posted by Arlo on Feb 23, 2012 under Photography, Postcard Valet, Travel

Angkor Wat at Dawn

Purchase a Print or
Download Wallpaper: 1920×1200.

While in Cambodia, we made sure to buy a three-day pass for the temples.  Partly that was to have enough time to see all the ruins at a leisurely pace, but I also wanted more than one shot at getting a sunrise photo over Angkor Wat.

On our first morning, we had our tuk tuk driver pick us up at 5am.  He dropped us off at the gates of Angkor Wat and told us to try to set up in front of the northern reflecting pool which, he said, was the best spot to get the sun, the temple’s spires, and their reflections all in one shot… at least in December.

That early, it was still pitch black.  Without our flashlights, I’m sure we would have tripped on the uneven paving stones of the causeway.  By the time we reached the reflecting pool, almost every available spot had been taken.  We set up on the extreme right edge where we could still get some water in the shot, but unfortunately the grassy edge of the pond dominated the frame.  At least the sky was clear.  The best photos we got that morning – when the heavens were still changing from black to purple to red – were well before the sun actually came into view.

We resolved to make another attempt the next day and arranged for our driver to have us at the gates just before the park officially opened at 5am.  Those extra 15 minutes made all the difference.

While other people made it into the complex before we did, Oksana and I were the very first ones to the reflecting pool and we even had about five minutes to choose our spot.  By the time I was extending my tripod’s legs, other people were staking their claims.  This time we were set up on the opposite side of the pool.

The sky was very different that morning.  There was a low cloud cover that was being pushed by the wind.  Clouds came from beyond the Angkor Wat, floated over the temple, then over our spot at the reflecting pool.  It never looked like it was going to rain, but those clouds prevented us from ever seeing the sun directly.

My favorite photo came well before dawn.  I was still playing with the settings on my camera, trying to find the right balance between silhouetting the temple and illuminating the clouds.  Oksana later told me about the Japanese tourist that had leaned in over my shoulder after every shot, trying to read the 5D’s shutter speed and aperture settings so he could dial them into his own DSLR.  (Pointless, because he didn’t have a tripod.  The only way he was going to get a 30-second exposure in focus was if he’d brought Medusa along as his assistant…)

Many, many of the tourists crowding around us were cluelessly taking flash photos with their point-and-shoot cameras.  Most of them were either unaware that their tiny flashes wouldn’t illuminate much beyond 10 feet, or didn’t know how to turn them off.  At any rate, Oksana and I commiserated about how annoying it was to have a hundred strobes going off in the dark every minute.

Later, when we were reviewing our photos on a laptop, we discovered an unintended and wonderful consequence of all that added light.  While even 50 flashes were not enough to lighten the face of the temple, their cumulative brightness was enough to paint the pink water lilies out on the pond with their light.

Canon 5D Mark II
Date: 5:32am, 6 December 2011
Focal Length: 47mm
Shutter: 30 sec
Aperture: F/4
Exposure: +2 step
Flash: No
ISO: 640
Photoshop: Slight rotation and crop, auto color, slight saturation boost, and a lot of tiny patch tool work to get rid of the long-exposure, red and blue “hot pixels.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Thoughts on Vietnam

Posted by Arlo on Feb 21, 2012 under Postcard Valet, Thoughts On..., Travel

It was just before 6am when the tuk tuk we’d arranged the night before arrived.  We’d been waiting in the lobby with our bags.  I tossed them in and asked him to take us to the bus station.

We didn’t expect Phonsavanh to be so cold in the morning.  It must have been close to freezing and we were wearing shorts and sandals.  We never went over 30kph, but the tuk tuk was open to the elements and our teeth were chattering when we arrived at the bus station on the outskirts of town.

We showed our tickets and shoved our bags underneath the bus.  Oksana climbed aboard to claim our seats while I looked over the snacks at the station kiosks.  I started up a conversation with the only other tourists in sight.  Derek and Paulien were from the Netherlands and had just traveled through all the same places we’d been, going all the way back to Phuket, in Thailand.  When I asked them if they were going to Vietnam, too, they looked relieved.  It always feels good when you get independent verification about the bus you’re about to get on.

Shortly we were underway, but our driver took us on a tour of Phonsavanh before pointing us in the direction of Vietnam.  By the time we’d arrived at the border, I’d read a few chapters of my dog-eared copy of Kitchen Confidential and watched a movie on my iPhone.

The Laotian side was nothing more than a concrete corridor with a row of windows along one side.  Unaware of the protocol, Derek, Paulien, Oksana and I neglected to add our passports to the stack from our bus, so we were the last to get our exit stamps.  Bringing up the rear, we hefted our bags and hiked across the border.

The immigration office on the Vietnamese side was a different beast altogether.  High-ceilinged and full of echoes, we gawked a bit when we entered.  Instead of the loops and swirls of Laotian, the signage was written in a Roman-derived alphabet. The plentiful and peculiar accent marks were the only clue that one should not pronounce them without first learning more about the language.

Beyond the tall glass doors, a long counter sat in the sunlight.  As we entered, an official behind the desk pointed to a waiting area with rows of airport-style plastic chairs.  I set my bags down in front of one, turned back, and raised my eyebrows.  Here? Read the rest of this entry »

PV Infographic 2: Camera Stats

Posted by Arlo on Feb 18, 2012 under Infographics, Postcard Valet, Travel

Infographic #2, Camera Stats

Our second infographic took longer than I thought to compile and layout, but if you take a look, you’ll see why.  9 different devices (2 iPhones, if  you were wondering), created over 95,000 files that were backed up to 3 different hard drives.  Almost 60,000 photos taken on this trip and more than 5,000 video files!  If I’m going to share this stuff with you all over the coming year — and that’s the plan — then I guess I have my work cut out for me!

Make sure to click on the image above to see a larger version.

PV019: The Newbold-White House

Posted by Arlo on Feb 16, 2012 under Postcard Valet, PV-Podcast, Travel, Videos

This one is long overdue.

To kick off our round-the-world trip, Oksana and I started by driving across the U.S. in our Jeep.  Her brother and sister-in-law joined us from Russia for a good part of that road trip.  While we were in North Carolina, visiting my family, we thought it would be a great idea to show them the Newbold-White House, an historically significant home that just happened to be a part of our family history, as well.

The Newbold-White House is the oldest brick house in North Carolina. It was built in 1730 by a Quaker family.  It passed through many hands over the years until my great grandmother’s family bought it in 1903.  My grandmother, Jean Newbold Griffin – the star of the video above – was born in that house in 1924.  Almost fifty years later, in 1973, she sold the house and property to a preservation society.  Now it’s open to the public.

I got to talking with my grandfather about taking a trip out to the farm.  He set up an appointment with Glenda Maynard, the site manager at the Newbold-White House.

My plan was to sit down with my grandmother and interview her about the house.  What she remembers about it, how she felt about it being restored and put on display, what it means to her now, those sorts of things.  Unfortunately, at 85 years old, she had just been hit by a medical double-whammy. While in the hospital with a case of life-threatening pneumonia, she had also had a heart attack.  She hadn’t yet fully recovered by the time we visited and it was obvious that she had slowed down both physically and mentally.

Oksana and I took Andrey and Natasha out to the house on July 31st (2010.) There, Glenda gave us a tour of the house and land.  She was imparted a ton of historical information about the Newbold-White House, as well as details of its restoration, but unfortunately wouldn’t give me permission to record her.  I was left with a lot of audio from her lecture, but half the time Oksana was translating Russian over the top of it (and the other half of it was about things that happened a couple centuries before my grandmother’s time.)

Later, once Oksana’s relatives had returned to Russia, we bided our time and waited for “a good day” to interview my grandmother.  We didn’t get the opportunity until September 22nd.   (We set up on the back porch of our cottage in Nags Head, on the Outer Banks. Believe it or not, even with the traffic and wind noise, that was the quietest place available to us.)  We had a good talk and I heard a lot of great stories about what it was like to grow up in rural North Carolina in the 20s, 30s, and 40s.  Read the rest of this entry »

Thoughts on Laos

Posted by Arlo on Feb 14, 2012 under Postcard Valet, Thoughts On..., Travel

I’ll admit that I knew hardly anything about Laos before entering the country.  Our friend, Wendy, did the initial planning for the trip – she was the one that picked the border crossing so we could take a two-day trip down the Mekong River (which was half awesome and half horrible and the latter was not her fault.)

Going into a country without knowing much about it is a lot like watching a movie without seeing the trailer first.  Knowing what you’re in for doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll enjoy it any more or less.  I’m happy to say I enjoyed our time in Laos and, even though we were only there eight days, I learned a lot more about the country that I thought I would.


Okay, first off, it’s “Lao” not “Laos.”  The French added the ‘s’ during their Indochina occupation and it’s silent besides.

The people are Lao, the country is Lao.  Technically, Laotians call their country “Muang Lao,” or “Pathet Lao,” both of which translate to “Lao Country.”  When the French came along, they united three separate Lao kingdoms and so it sort of made sense (in their language) to pluralize the name of the new territory.

Thanks, Wikipedia!
Read the rest of this entry »

PV018: The Good Time Resort

Posted by Arlo on Feb 13, 2012 under Postcard Valet, PV-Podcast, Travel, Videos

When we were planning our trip to Thailand last September, we knew we were going to stay awhile.  After traveling across four continents, we were ready for a break and our plan was to rent an apartment for the month of October. We had new two goals in mind: Resting and relaxing.

We asked our Facebook friends and Twitter followers for recommendations.  “If you had a month to spend in Thailand, where would you stay?”  We got all the answers you might expect: Party in Phuket, stay cheap in Bangkok, visit the temples in Chiang Mai.  After our downtime, we would go on to tour all of Thailand, so our ideal location for October would be a quiet, out-of-the-way place with a solid internet connection.  Perhaps one of those picturesque islands with the white sand beaches, plentiful coconuts, and some snorkeling hot spots…

We read up on the suggestions we’d received: Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, Phang-nga, Koh Samui.  Advice from my ex-girlfriend had me worried.  She told me that, years before, she’d passed up Phang-nga (too touristy) for Koh Tao.  There, she had found a quiet spot on the back of the island where she could relax and interact with the locals, but still take in a little SCUBA diving if she felt like it.

But Koh Tao isn’t like that anymore.  She told us that since she visited, the island has developed into yet another tourist hotspot with ATMs and 7-Elevens on every other corner.

The Thailand of yesterday sounded just like what we were looking for, but I wondered if we’d even be able to find it.  We did, but not until much later…

We took the easy way out and spent our month in Karon Beach, on Phuket.  It wasn’t the island getaway we’d imagined, but it was cheap and we had our internet access.  Come November, though, we were ready to hit the road again.

We traveled with friends up into Laos, then parted ways and traveled through Vietnam and Cambodia on our own.  We were in Siem Reap, visiting the temples around Angkor Wat, when we sat down to plan out the last few weeks of our round-the-world journey.  I wanted to see Kuala Lumpur and Singapore before flying to Australia.  Oksana petitioned for one last week of beach time.  Once again, we found ourselves pouring over a map of Thailand, looking for the perfect island getaway.

And then, a funny thing happened.  I was skimming updates in a travel blogger’s Facebook group when I came across something another blogger had posted.  She wanted to know if anyone was interested in managing a Thai island resort for a year.  She went on to explain that the owners wanted to embark on a round-the-world trip of their own and needed to find someone to run their business while they were away.

I didn’t think much of it at first.  In fact, I didn’t even mention it to Oksana until the following day because managing a resort just wasn’t something I thought we’d be interested in.  But then I started thinking.  We were planning to spend a year working in Australia… why not Thailand instead?  And since we had to pass through Thailand again on our way to Malaysia…

When Opportunity is knocking, one should at least open the door to see who’s there. Read the rest of this entry »