Dave's Photo & Travelblogue

Photo shoots. World travel advice. Tips on Munich & environs.

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Omakase at Sushi-Dai

At Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market, there are several sushi restaurants where tourists try out never-frozen fish at what is truly a bargain price for some of the world’s freshest sushi. I went to Sushi-Dai. After a mere 2h in line (starting at about 7:30am) I sat down in the tiny restaurant for my Omakase (chef’s choice) breakfast. This is the entire restaurant, which explains the long wait times:

Sushi Dai - Tsukiji, Tokyo

Here’s my delectable piece of Toro, or fatty tuna:

Sushi Dai Toro - fatty tuna

This one I don’t recall the name, if anyone knows just leave a comment. I am guessing red snapper?

Sushi Dai - red snapper?

The first piece is Uni, or sea urchin. The second, Aji or horse mackerel (I think).

Sushi Dai - Uni (sea urchin), Aji (horse mackerel)

Yet another “no idea” (I should have brought a pen and paper!).

Sushi Dai - nigiri

A few rolls, then Anago (Sea Eel) and another slightly-unsure.

Sushi Dai - Rolls, Anago (Sea Eel)

There were a few more, 10pcs in all plus 1 more of my choice (anything on the menu); then the rolls, layered egg nigiri, and miso soup. Well worth the 3900 yen (roundabout $40 depending on the exchange rate).

Let me be clear: this was the best sushi I’ve ever eaten anywhere, for any price. By far. Never frozen, well prepared by a good (and friendly) chef. Tsukiji is truly amazing!

Posted 6 years, 4 months ago.

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KL’s Petronas Towers

It is with a heavy heart and a great deal of joy that I write this post about July 25th, 2010. It’s now the following day, and I’m in a Thai Airways 747 on the way back to Munich – the end of my around-the-world trip.

I’ve had an amazing almost-three-months, and learned more in this time than I’d ever dreamed I would. At the same time, I’m looking forward to my couch, a bit more predictability in my life, and being free from my (self-imposed) goal of writing a blog post each day during the trip.

Well, let’s not dally and get all sentimental. I promised you the Petronas Towers – at 452m, the tallest buildings in the world until Taipei 101 took that crown in 2004.

KL's Petronas twin towers

To ascend the towers, you must get a free ticket early in the morning in the base of Tower 1. I was in line at 7:30. Tickets were given out starting from 8:30, although it was 9:45 before I got to the front of the line. Max 5 tickets per person! I have to say, the view from the bridge between the towers (which is as high as you can go) was a bit disappointing. I’ll have a few shots of that later.

First, some amazing graffiti that I saw near a train station.

Cool graffiti in Kuala Lumpur

Petaling Street market is not just a place for hawkers to rip off tourists with a plethora of fake handbags. It’s also a place for locals to socialize.

Locals in Petaling Street market

Back to the towers. My ticket was for the last available time, 6:30pm. While waiting I checked out the displays in the lobby. I love the warning about lightning (when they explain that you are much safer inside a metal tower / Faraday cage).

Never be the tallest, nor the wettest when lightning is about as you will be the path of least resistance for the electricity of lightning current to be discharged over your surface. This will not be good for you.

I also saw someone making a handheld-cam video of the Petronas oil company advertising video that we saw prior to boarding the elevator. That cracked me up. Will this ghetto “Seinfeld style” cap of a 5-minute Petronas commercial be out in the street market DVD shops soon, or what?

Here’s the view from the bridge, which is about 1/3 of the way up the buildings at 170 meters.

View of KLCC  (City Centre) park from the Petronas Towers

Trust me on this one: don’t waste your time standing in line at 7:30am. Even if it hadn’t been raining, the view is not that great, and half of what you could otherwise see is blocked by the buildings themselves.

Spend the money to go up KL tower, which (although not as TALL) is actually higher, because it starts on a hill. Plus the viewing area is near the top, instead of being just 1/3 of the way up. You get a 360° view… which includes the Petronas towers. The beautiful twin towers are much better seen from a distance, rather than seeing the distance from them!

Rain streaking the window of the Petronas Towers viewing bridge

So. Here I am on a plane headed toward Munich. I can’t even begin to explain how much I learned, and what a valuable experience this was for me on about fourteen different levels. I’ve made a few friends that I still keep in touch with months later. And I can’t wait to go back to many of the great places I’ve touched on in my brief around-the-world adventure!

Rest assured, there will be a lot more blog posts about this trip and others. But I’ll probably revert to my normal format of a couple posts a week, instead of one every day. Have you enjoyed the ride? What do you want to see more of? Please let me know in the comments, and I’ll do my best!

Posted 6 years, 7 months ago.

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Kuala Lumpur Streets

I’ve been to Kuala Lumpur (affectionately known as KL) several times before. But I never took any street photos, and never made it up the Petronas twin towers (the tallest buildings in the world, 1998-2004). On July 24th, I took care of the first of those goals. Let’s start with fruit!

Various fruits that Westerners have probably never heard of like rambutan and durian

Here’s the Royal Selangor Club, where the Hash House Harriers were born in 1938 – ushering in a worldwide revolution in drunken running around ever-changing mystery courses. The name refers to the wing where the participating Colonial British bunked, the “Hash House.”

The private Selangor Club where the Hash House Harriers started

Cool buildings around Merdeka Square, with the KL Tower in the background.

Merdeka Square in KL

Everywhere in the world, people are fascinated by Barack Obama!

Barack Obama, Malay graffiti-style

Corn in Cup is awesome. This is definitely a favorite Malaysian snack food! Plus, a good view of what many of the local Muslim women are wearing.

Corn in Cup - YYYESS!

KL is not lacking in beggars with outstretched arms and McDonald’s cups.

Begging the streets of Kuala Lumpur

What was I saying about Barack Obama earlier…?

Barack Obama on a $100 bill

Mmm, chestnuts.

Freshly roasted street chestnuts

Asia is all about shopping. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Malaysia: shopping malls are massive, and double as social centers, packed with restaurants. Tourists and locals alike pack malls, hawker centers, and street markets day in and day out.

Shopping indecision on Petaling Street

Here’s a view down the (food-oriented) side street of the Petaling Street night market in Chinatown.

Petaling Street Night Market

Tomorrow I’ll revisit the second goal: the stunning, steel-clad Petronas twin towers!

Posted 6 years, 7 months ago.

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Straw Hat Woman

I’ve been trying to get a photo of someone working the fields in a straw hat ever since arriving in Cambodia. Finally, on July 23rd as I rode to the airport in a tuk-tuk, I managed it – and even got another motorcycle-family in the foreground. Keep in mind it was cloudy, and I was moving at a good 40 km/h.

Straw Hat Woman working in the fields

I also spotted this youth in a field. The contrast of the dilapidated house in the background with his mp3 player and headphones is great, and the dog is the icing on the cake.

Cambodian MP3 youth avec chien

After arriving in KL, I checked out some local (mostly indoor) sights, because I’d left my suntan lotion in a luggage locker. Oh, plus it was about 35C with high humidity.

Here’s a cool sculpture representing space and time in front of the Malaysian space agency, their equivalent of NASA. A Malaysian has made it into space!

Space and Time!

The planetarium was also worth the visit. For 3 RM (about $1 USD) I saw an Omnimax-style movie about the space race that first took Russians into earth orbit, then Americans to the moon. There’s a neat museum attached, with an anti-gravity room. Apparently blue light and a sloping floor are the keys to negating gravitational forces. Grab a blue light and a sledgehammer and try it in your own home!

Kuala Lumpur's mosque-looking planetarium

Only a few days left in my round-the-world trip. I wouldn’t say I’m homesick. However, I am ready to sleep more than two or three nights in the same bed, without having to spend hours a week planning where I’m going next and how to get there. What’s the longest time you’ve traveled?

Posted 6 years, 7 months ago.

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Floating Village

Tonle Sap is a unique lake. Its level rises and falls by several meters based on the season, and the lake’s area increases by 10x in the rainy season! I visited on July 22nd.

In the dry season, the lake drains into the Mekong river via a tributary. But in the rainy season, the level of the Mekong river rises enough that the tributary reverses flow, filling up the lake.

My guide, Saron, advised me NOT to give any handouts to the children begging near the lotus fields. If you do, it teaches them they can earn more by begging than by going to school, perpetuating the problem to future generations.

Do NOT give to, or buy from, the begging children

At the dock, we loaded onto one of many waiting tourist boats. These drivers earn $6-8 of the $15 fare you pay. Only 2 rides a day in high season; 2-3 a week right now. Note the steering wheel. It’s connected to the rear rudder assembly by two ropes.

Boat on Tonle Sap

You might think, “this is the definition of ghetto.” But this boat was actually in the top 10%; a lot of them looked far worse. It did drive pretty well, and the prop/rudder system keeps the propeller out of the mud.

Pretty sweet boat, by Cambodian standards

People living on the lake have floating houses, and there are multiple villages (for example, there are separate Cambodian and Vietnamese clusters). The villages move with the season, to stay relatively close to the shore without being beached. Some even have gardens…

Floating house - with garden!

Villagers raise and catch fish, and (sadly) farm crocodiles. I do not buy any crocodile products.

Crocodile farm - really pitiful looking crocs destined for handbags and barbecues

Here’s a fisherman casting his net in the canal:

Tonle Sap fisherman

Could you imagine living with your whole family in this much space? All your appliances are powered by batteries, charged intermittently by the one family with a generator.

Colorful house on Tonle Sap Lake

Some of these scenes of poverty are just heartbreaking. I’d suggest if you visit and want to help in some small way, take 10kg of rice (worth $5 USD) with you on your boat ride. Give it directly to one of these families. That guarantees no fake charity keeps some or all of your donation.

Cambodia is rife with poverty, but slowly improving since Khmer Rouge times

Just outside the port are some village areas on stilts, where the water should fill in during rainy season. This year the river’s flow is not properly reversing, most likely because of a dam China built. But everyone in ASEAN is scared to say that out loud; they don’t want to piss off China.

Houses on stilts in Cambodia

To end with something more positive, I went to the local market with Saron. He picked out a special kind of local herb that is commonly served with fried beef. It’s a favorite of locals, but is not served much in restaurants (and certainly not tourist restaurants). I’ve lost the name, but will post it here if/when I find out.

My hotel, Angkor Spirit Palace, prepared the dish for me using the greens I bought. Delicious! That nice blur is what you get when you’re up close with an f/2 prime lens.

Delicious Cambodian beef dish

I also bought 10kg of rice at the market, and donated it in person to some poor families living near my hotel. I encourage every visitor to Cambodia to at least make this small effort – it’s $5 for you (2 cocktails at a tourist bar), and equals a month of rice for them. Thanks again to Saron for another amazing and enlightening day!

Posted 6 years, 7 months ago.

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Temples of Angkor

Based on a friend’s advice, I hired a guide to visit Angkor Archaeological Park. Best advice yet! It cost me $25 for a full day, plus $12 for the tuk-tuk (my guide brought his own excellent driver). I met Saron and Mr. Nan early on July 20th.

First things first: if you see Angkor Wat without a guide, it’s just a big pile of old stones. Even with a guidebook, you’ll spend hours figuring out where you are and which paragraph describes the temple or carving you’re facing. Then, you won’t know where to go next or what’s the best nearby temple – so you’ll need 2-3 days to see what a guide can show you in one day. Think of how much you spent to get here. The extra $25 for a guide (probably split between a group of 2-4) is nothing!

Here’s the first temple we saw. As an experiment, they have left the large trees growing amid the stones. Cutting them (and the subsequent root-system decay) can destabilize the stones and cause a collapse, if its not done carefully.

Tree growing on an Angkor temple

My guide Saron (http://www.sarontours.com/) is one of the most friendly, honest, and well-spoken natives I’ve met in Asia. His prices are reasonable, he really knows his stuff, and he didn’t try to persuade me for any shopping or donations. Besides this, I really appreciated his humanitarian outlook, as he formerly worked in community outreach and education programs. Besides explaining Angkor, he showed me Cambodia from a native’s viewpoint.

Face hidden by trees - I hear this is on a guidebook cover

When people think of Angkor Wat, this is the temple that comes to mind:

Angkor Wat temple

But the Angkor complex is so much more. There are hundreds of temples, and Angkor Thom is actually a whole city interspersed here and there with temples. Each King had to build temples to the gods and to his forebears, so over hundreds of years, this really added up. Many have been restored to reach the condition they’re in today, and teams from several nations are working hard on further restorations.

There’s so much to say about Angkor, and I have too many photos! I’ll just give a brief selection of memorable moments. Here’s a comical carving (from the kilometers of wall carvings at the complex). See if you can figure it out:

Angkor wall carving - turtle bite

The man and his wife are walking with a pole between them. But she has walked too close behind him! The turtle hanging from the pole has bitten him in the butt, so he’s upset with her.

From the correct angle, the Buddha faces seem to be rubbing noses:

Buddhas touching noses

Some of the temples still have moats around them. These are actually for structural reasons! The foundations were built on sand, and wet sand is more stable. Many temples collapsed when their moats dried up. The builders also learned from their mistakes: temples without enough stairways collapsed, so newer temples have more stairways angled in many directions. Think of the stairways like European cathedral buttresses.

Angkor temple - reflection in the pond

Eventually I’ll write more posts about the fascinating Angor Wat and surrounding temples. But I hope this taste has piqued your interest in traveling to Cambodia! It’s a wonderful country, and I can thank my guide Saron for making the experience even better.

Posted 6 years, 7 months ago.

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Angkor Sunset Storm

Admission to Angkor Archaeological Park, to see Angkor Wat and the other temples, is simple: choose a one-day, three-day, or one-week ticket. The multi-day tickets are usable over a longer period (I think a week and a month, respectively).

One really nice thing that I prefer over Machu Picchu: with the one-day ticket, you can enter the park a day before your visit, after 5pm, to see the sunset. Sweet!

Unfortunately for me, the sunset on July 19th got rained out. But I did get to climb up to the “sunset temple” (I can’t remember the Khmer name, but every tuk-tuk knows it). Eventually I will post some HDR (High Dynamic Range) shots of the rain approaching across the low-lying forest. Here’s the temple itself:

Sunset viewing temple at Angkor park

The stairs are quite steep. Go slowly and don’t look down – yeah, that steep. The idea of these temples was to imitate mountains, because Cambodia doesn’t have any majestic peaks like the Himalayas. Gods would be persuaded to visit these simulated mountain peaks, and even the King had to climb hand-over-hand up the stairways, humble before the gods.

Without HDR, the best one can do to capture the majestic clouds is to silhouette the foreground. Fortunately, the temples of Angkor lend themselves perfectly to this strategy.

Silhouette at Angkor park

Yes, that baby thunderhead was an omen of things to come. I waited out a brief shower from the west after talking to a tour guide who said it didn’t look too bad. Ten minutes later I saw another wall of rain moving toward us from north. When the guide saw that, he said, “Oh. That direction it usually lasts longer. I have to talk to my tour group, maybe we go down now.”

I took my cue and headed home, beating the rush to the tuk-tuks by ten minutes. My hotel driver unfortunately didn’t have any roll-down sides for the tuk-tuk (which every other one had), so I got soaked anyway.

Just as an aside: compare the shot above with a similar one where the silhouette is centered.

Example of bad framing at Angkor park

Bo-ring! The more interesting framing of the first shot captures the sky and the silhouette much better. Using the “Rule of Thirds,” place your subject on imaginary lines dividing the frame into thirds (vertically and/or horizontally). This composition makes a much more aesthetic photo.

As for a Cambodian sunset: I did see one a couple days later. Coming up soon! What was your best sunset ever, or worst attempt at seeing one? Flickr links please! <grin>

Posted 6 years, 7 months ago.

3 comments

Downtown Siem Reap

On July 18th I flew from Singapore to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Priority #1: relaxing to recover from a rather travel-weary state. Siem Reap was just what the doctor ordered!

My hotel (Angkor Spirit Palace) is quite nice, for the $20/night I paid via hotels.com. There were a few blips in the description: I had to argue for the complimentary breakfast, my room lacks the promised safe, and (contrary to the description) there is no whale-watching onsite. Shocker!

For the afternoon I headed into town by the hotel’s complimentary tuk-tuk. Here’s what I found around the Old Market. Cellphones are everywhere in the world, even in the poorest of nations:

Mother and daughter with cell phone in Siem Reap

You’ve gotta love some of the restaurant names in Cambodia. The fine print: “Don’t serve dog,cat,rat,wrm. Died in, 1999.”

Siem Reap's "Dead Fish Tower"

I haven’t seen any 7-Eleven’s here in Cambodia. But they have the next best thing, the 6-Eleven! Note the blurry scooter with a whole family riding on it.

It's the infamous 6-Eleven!

Well, just wait a few seconds and another fully-loaded scooter will come by. Then I can get a better focus on what would break about eighteen laws in most Western countries.

How many people can you fit on one motorbike? The answer is five.

I’ll cap today with a shot demonstrating the short depth-of-field of the 35mm f/2 lens. Even on that first taco, only half the cilantro is in focus!

Viva Carne Asada Tacos!

I can recommend Viva as decent Mexican. Especially considering it’s about as far away from Mexico as you can get. More authentic than anything I’ve ever tried in Germany! Plus, you just can’t beat $0.50 USD draft Angkor beer. Which is the standard price all along Siem Reap’s “Pub Street.” So far, an awesome (and very relaxing) experience!

Posted 6 years, 7 months ago.

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Contrasts of Singapore

This city is full of contrasts. For example, here’s one at a food center near a government-subsidized housing block (where Singaporeans can buy a house cheap, 2x in their life). I had local coffee in a bag, with a straw. I’ve since been told it’s more traditional to have it served in the condensed milk can, but how can you beat this?

Singapore - coffee in a bag

My friends, on the other hand, had McDonald’s Cafe cappuccinos and hot cocoa just next door.

Perhaps the cutest picture I've ever taken

In the afternoon of July 17th, I went to the new Marina Bay Sands casino/mall/hotel/skypark complex. To me it’s quite silly. They want to draw international visitors to spend their cash. But Singaporeans (and permanent residents) must pay a $100 SGD/day surcharge just to enter the casino. That’s basically forbidding them to gamble, because… well… gambling is bad.

Unless you are taking the d*mn foreigners’ money.

I also skipped the Skypark: $20 entry, no description of what’s up there, no food/drink/pro cameras allowed. Because then they couldn’t sell overpriced soda, snacks, and postcards!

Anyway, enough about that; it doesn’t matter because I don’t gamble and I’ve been up much taller buildings. Here are some cool contrasts I saw on the boardwalks by the bay. Tall vs small,

Which one of these two is TALL?

Some people have such high hopes for their children:

Red dress string quartet

Others are just happy if they can avoid losing them. Yes, you’ve put your child into a giant hamster wheel.

Water-hamster-wheel for children

Today was the dry run for the first-ever Youth Olympics opening ceremony. Knownst to these people but unbeknownst to me, there were flybys planned. Two pictures are worth…

"Look! Up there, in the sky!"

Opening ceremony practice for the Youth Olympics

I won’t include a shot of the jet flyby, because it’s not interesting at 35mm. But let me just say, afterburners over a city of skyscrapers… LOUD.

I’m going to save some of today’s pics for another post, because there are just too many good ones. So here’s one last shot with the f/2 at ISO3200, in the Pump Room brewpub at Clarke Quay. I thought there would be 4 beers in the sampler, but in fact there were 8!

Lots of beers in the Pump Room sampler!

What was the most beers you ever ordered with those three magical words, “the sampler, please?”

Posted 6 years, 7 months ago.

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Singapore Jungle Nights

Singapore’s Night Safari is quite an interesting attraction. I was expecting more, so it was a bit disappointing when I went there on July 16th, but it’s still worth a visit.

Here’s the skinny: it’s open from 7:30 until midnight. Adults $22 SGD. BUT you can’t see everything from the walking paths! Many of the (granted, less-exciting) animals you can only see from the tram, which costs another $10. This really pi$$ed me off, because I hate touristy tram rides. AND the tram does not stop, so you basically can’t take photos, because with this light you NEED a long exposure.

One thing I felt I missed out on was the lions, which you can just barely see from the walking trail. Here’s a crop of the best photo I got with my mini-tripod: 1/3s, ISO 1600, f/2.

Distant lions at the Singapore Night Safari

The Night Safari is basically a normal zoo with the same old enclosures for the animals. Most of the animals are the same, too. But many of the animals you see at a normal zoo are nocturnal, so they sleep all day. At the Night Safari, they are more awake and active.

But beware: you cannot use flash to take your pictures (though a few idiots try). It’s not good for the animals. And it’s almost impossible to get a decent shot with under $1000 of camera gear, flash or not. You need great low-light performance (non-grainy ISO 1600-3200) and a pro lens of f/2.8 or faster. My D90 with the 35mm f/2 AF-D did okay, but it was still tough. A $2,700 D700 and 50mm f/1.4 would be ideal.

Here’s a great shot that I got when someone else’s flash popped just as I had my shutter open for 1/4s. The hyenas were NOT happy about that flash.

Striped Hyenas that someone (not me) flashed, just while my shutter was open

That’s still 1/4s with a mini-tripod, ISO 3200, and f/2. So I guarantee their photo with a pocket cam (2m farther away than I was) sucked, despite the flash.

The animal show had potential. But most of the animals did not cooperate. The jumping cat didn’t jump:

Come on kitty, jump for the nice people who keep flashing you

The grape-sniffing whatever-it-was could not choose the hand with the grape, it was too distracted by someone’s camera flash. Then, these recycling otters decided to play with the cups & cans instead of tossing them in the proper bins…

No, otter, put the cup IN the recycling, don't chew on it!

Overall, the park was interesting, but as I said my expectations were much higher. If you go in realizing it’s just a zoo at night, and not an amazing safari-like experience, you’ll be impressed. One thing I learned: porcupines do not shoot their quills. They back into their attacker, then the spines detach from the ‘pine and stick in whatever scared them, because of their fishhook-like barbs.

Porcupines rooting for food and squabbling occasionally

For today’s last (and I think best) photo, here’s a clouded leopard. This beautiful cat was about one meter from the camera, through a pane of glass. 4s, ISO 3200, f/2 with a mini tripod. It was pretty funny watching people try to take pics through the tinted (probably one-way-mirror) glass with the flash.

Beautiful clouded leopard at night

By the way, I can recommend the park hopper pass, where you get to go to 2, or all 3 of the Singapore animal parks for one fee: Jurong Bird Park, Singapore Zoo, and the Night Safari. For all 3 it was $45 SGD, a very full two days worth of activities. Awesome!

Posted 6 years, 8 months ago.

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