Buddhist monks laughing at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Angkor Wat is breathtaking - the world's largest standing religious site that dates back to the 12th century. It sits on a man-made island, perfectly square with only one km long stone bridge (shown here) across a deep moat to access it. On the island, the temple compound sits within 3.6 km of outer walls and is a maze of temple mounts, huge galleries and courtyards built from stone, all designed to mimic Mount Meras, home to the Devas in Hindu mythology.
This is one of my favorite photos from the whole year because of my affinity for the children and poor folks in Cambodia. So many kids and even whole families live on the streets, begging and eating out of the trash. These two little girls were walking barefoot on the hot, dangerous streets, trying to sell hand-woven bracelets to tourists. They are so poor they never owned a mirror nor saw their own image often, so they were enamored with their likeness in this car mirror. They made faces and danced and laughed. I snuck up on them and shot a few photos before they got too self conscious and laughed before skipping away.
This is the best photo I took all year. Ironically, I snapped it as an afterthought on one of my last days in Asia, in a small city a few hours north of Manila in the Philippines. Everywhere in Asia the discrepancy between rich and poor is alarming, although not geographically segregated. There is not better example than this photo, where this burnt-out and roofless building served as the shelter for a young mother and her two infant daughters. Right beside them sat a 7-11 convenience story on one side and an affluent hotel on the other. I was alarmed at the textures in this photo, their obvious tenderness despite the depth of their pain, maze of many doorways like Dante's 7 Gates to Hades.
Right after I took this, I saw the little girl hanging out in front of the 7-11 by herself, dirty and shoeless. I bought her an ice cream and gave her a few dollars and she beamed up at me with her big smile. There's also hope in this photo, like the open sky above them, the joy of their spirit that can not be burnt down.
The island of Boracay in the Philippines is one of the coolest places I've ever been to on earth. I actually visited way back in 1999 when it was just a small inhabitation of fisherman and ladyboys (and the kinky German tourists who chased them) among a mostly-untamed island. 14 years later, Boracay is far more developed, but somehow managed to keep its charm (though there are far less ladyboys and very few kinky Germans.) It's packed with tourists, families on vacation, and beach lovers from all over the globe, but they've done a good job to manage that growth. It's almost spotlessly clean, so safe you can walk anywhere at any time of night, and its natural beauty hasn't been diminished…despite having a Subway, McDonalds, and a Starbucks.
Another photo from Boracay. On the west side of the island runs White Sand beach, a 7 km strip of immaculate…well, white sand. It ends into a rock outcropping, but that's where the adventure just begins. Following a narrow stone trail through the cliffs (above) you end up at majestic Diniweed beach, shown here. It's a private beach but anyone is welcome, with only a few beach bungalows, guest houses, and restaurants built into the hill. It's so gorgeous that I would just stand there and take it all in when I visited.
In southeast Asia, water is life. In every country (even landlocked Laos,) the majority of the population lives along the ocean, rivers, or lakes, where they've survived off of rice farming and fishing for many centuries. Waterways are also the traditional method of transportation, sometimes house them on floating villages - and often were a means of escape for refugees during bloody conflicts like the Vietnam War and Cambodian genocide.
Walking through a local market one night, I happened on a wedding celebration. I managed to snap a quick photo of the newlyweds without disturbing them. Weddings in Vietnam and other southeast asian cultures are a huge deal - sometimes a 3-day affair!
This is along the river in Hoi An in north central Vietnam, a charming and colorful enclave of traditional culture - and tourist hotspot. There were plenty of boats along the river, but this particular family opened their's up to visitors every evening and sold cold beer while the father played guitar and sang to his toddler daughter.
Ko Pi Pi island in Thailand. These islands and beach were made famous when they filmed, The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio years back. It's stunningly beautiful, though infested with tourists. I was sad to see trash floating around and the dipshit travelers treating it like their own party place, not giving the respect its beauty deserves.
A giant golden statue of Buddha from a temple, or Wat, in Thailand. There are only certain positions you'll ever find a likeness of Buddha, like sitting, standing, laying, or in the lotus pose.
A photo from a botanical garden in Phuket, Thailand. Phuket is the largest island in Thailand and some areas, like Patpong, look like crowded and touristy cities. But there are still areas of the island that are serene and unspoiled by commercialization. I spent the whole day wandering within this beautiful botanical garden, and saw only a few other people.
Laos is one of the most picturesque places I've ever seen. Anywhere outside of the main city, it feels like you've been transported back in time. I spent two weeks in Luang Prabang, a sleepy town along the Mekong River with French Colonial architecture, ornate temples, local night markets, and incredible natural beauty. I spent my days strolling around getting lost on purpose, armed with my camera, stopping only for a coffee, local beer, or seafood barbecue.
Luang Prabang features parks and gardens along its river, sun-kissed and nearly deserted except for the occasional tourist or locals playing soccer or meditating.
One day in Luang Prabang, I put on a backpack, grabbed some water, and just started walking. I walked all the way out of town and ended up hiking up a forested mountain. Near the top I found a path and followed it to the entrance of a tiny compound of Buddhist monks. I walked inside and made friends with the monks, mostly children who were sent there because their families couldn't afford to feed them. They taught me how to bow correctly and I taught them how to 'pound it out.'