April 12, 2017

McDonald Observatory Texas

McDonald Observatory was a Stop on my way from Austin Texas to Big Bend National Park, What an amazing road trip.

Located in the Davis Mountains, with infrequent cloud cover the Observatory is home to some of the darkest skies in the United States of America.

McDonald Observatory, the name has nothing to do with McDonald fast food chain. It was a different McDonald that provided the initial funding. Part of the University of Texas Observatory is open to daily Tours, I got there at 10:30 AM and bought my tickets for the tour which started at 11AM.

Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory
 Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory 

I was there in December 2015, Winter is generally the best time for stargazing. Winter air is less humid, where as summers have extra moisture and can reduce the clarity of the night skies.


Davis Mountains, West Texas

Mount Fowlkes, Davis Mountains, West Texas

Harlan J. Smith Telescope
Harlan J. Smith Telescope

Hobby-Eberly Telescope
Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) is one of the world's largest optical telescopes
Star Parties are held every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday evening.
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December 21, 2016

Angkor Wat Cambodia Travels

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia


I arrived in Siem Reap towards the end of November 2015, Cambodia has Visa on arrival or Evisa depending on your Nationality, bring a passport size photo, you will need it. Expect long lines at the immigration and visa counters, best to fill out all the required visa forms in the flight.

Once the visa and immigration stamp was on my passport, I exited the airport, there is line of tuk-tuk and cab drivers with names on paper, my hotel had arranged for airport pickup and my Tuk-tuk driver was waiting. I got talking to the driver on the way to my hotel, seemed like a very nice gentleman and hired the tuk-tuk driver to take me to the temples the next day.

The driver wanted to start at 4:30 AM so that I could see the sunrise over Angkor Wat, I suggested 8AM as there was no way I am waking up that early on my vacation.

US dollars were accepted every where in Sien Reap.




Plan Your Visits


It is possible to see all the temples in detail over Two Days. You’ll need a pass which can be purchased at the ticket office. Get caught without the correct permit and you’ll get a fine. One can get a 1 day or 3 day Pass, the ticket office will take your picture and it will be on the ticket, so it cannot be used by anyone else. Temples can get hot during the day so plan your visits for a dawn start or later in the day. And make sure you wear good shoes as many surfaces are uneven in the temples.

Temples in Siem Reap


As a World Heritage Site, the Angkor temples at Siem Reap are one of the most famous in the world and a must see for anyone visiting Cambodia. From Angkor Wat to Banteay Srei there are several renowned sites to visit. 


Temples in Siem Reap

Temples in Siem Reap were originally Hindu temples, they have Buddha statues in them now.

Angkor Wat Temple 


One of the most iconic temples in the world, Angkor Wat is a must. This is the earth representation of Mount Meru, a holy mountain to Hindus and is renowned for its carvings. Go for the sunrise to see the changing colours of the temple and reflections in the lake. Angkor Wat is a vast complex so take your time exploring as the more you look the more there is to see.


Angkor Wat


Ta Prohm 


The fabulous and eerie temple at Ta Prohm is best seen at daybreak when it is relatively free of visitors. This temple was built from 1186 and dedicated to Jayavarman VII’s mother. Today it is more famously known for its massive tree roots that grow through the ruins and as the Tomb Raider temple from the Angelina Jolie movie

Ta Prohm tree

Just to give you an idea of how big the trees are, I am 6 foot tall.


Angkor Thom  


The Bayon temple complex at Angkor Thom is another fabulous site to visit. It is renowned for its iconic sculpted faces and walls of ancient carvings and was the last capital of the Khmer regime. The Elephant Terrace is another exquisite feature as is the carved warrior bridge. Climb the nearby hill for a fabulous sunset view across the temples. 

Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom

East ancient gate to Angkor Thom

East ancient gate to Angkor Thom

Neak Pean Temple


Neak Pean Temple


Picture I took of a tourist at the pedestrian bridge, the bridge takes you to Neak Pean temple, back in the day people used a boat. The temple itself is in a middle of lake in small man-made island. 

Neak Pean Temple

Neak Pean Temple

Prasat Phimeanakas

The whole complex at Prasat Phimeanakas is very impressive, the temple is in kind of Pyramid Shape. Loud cricket noise around the temple complex.

Prasat Phimeanakas

Prasat Phimeanakas

Another building n the same complex. Yes, I climbed all the steep Stairs. Back in the day people believed the higher you get the closer you are  to God.

Phnom Bakheng 


Lots of tourists come here for Sunset photos, I was tired from walking all day, climbed up a whole bunch of stairs, and it was full of tourists. The temple itself is very beautiful. I decided to look around, though not to stay for sunset photos, instead took sunset photos from the side of a lake.

Phnom Bakheng



Preah Khan (Sacred Sword)


Beautiful Temple Complex with fewer Tourists, my tuk tuk driver dropped me off in front and picked me from the back exit. There was a Shiv ling in the temple, might have been a Hindu temple at some point. See it while there, The stonework is really beautiful there.

Preah Khan

Preah Khan

Siem Reap is the perfect base to explore the Angkor temples but plan well and you’ll see some of the most amazing architecture in the world.

Above Picture I took at the Angkor Wat, just thought it was a great shot.

Siem Reap

First Picture Above of a lady selling T Shirts and other clothes at one of the temples in Siem Reap, I bought a pair of shorts from her, she was all smiles when I asked if I could take her photo.

Second Picture of a Lady Selling Mangoes, they were delicious and the much needed energy and hydration from walking all day.

Happy Travels!
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December 7, 2016

Layover in Abu Dhabi




In November 2016 on my way to Austin Texas from New Delhi India, my flight arrived at noon and was leaving at 3 AM the next day, about 15 hours stopover in Abu Dhabi. I flew Etihad Airlines, which is very comfortable for the long flights especially if you flying Business Class or even Premium Economy.

At the Arrival at Abu Dhabi, Customs and Immigration is quick and Easy. I took an hour or nap at arrivals waiting area chairs as I was tired.  At the Airport the money changer was not giving me a good exchange rate,  so I used the ATM instead, even with the foreign transaction fee, ATM is a better choice.

I usually plan my layovers to best utilize my time, this time I had no plans, so I approached the information Desk, now this is information and not Tourist information, so they were not of much help, the only info of use I got was there are no Buses and I'll have to take a Cab.

At the Taxi stand I asked to be taken to Ferrari World, the Cab driver was an Indian from Tamil Nadu India, I greeted him in Tamil and explained to him in English why I was in Abu Dhabi. The cab driver Suggested I got to the City first and on on my way back to the Airport stop at Ferrari World.

Locals and especially cabbies know the city best, so I decided to make the Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque my first stop, the cab fare from the Airport was 65 dirham about 18 USD.

The Mosque is incredible, with just beautiful Marble inlay work on the pillars and walls to the Chandeliers, pretty Amazing. Give your self an hour or more to see the whole complex. Dress code is enforced, do dress modestly or get a cover from the shop in the basement, I think it was free to get a body cover. I was wearing a pant and shirt and didn't need one.

From the Grand Mosque I took a cab to Marina Mall. Picture below of the Ferris wheel outside the Mall.

Marina eye abu dhabi

I walked the Marina taking photos and later went inside the Mall, now malls and shopping do not interest me, I sat in the center of the mall looking at the fountain and eating the snacks I had packed before leaving New Delhi.

Next I just walked the 'The Corniche' admiring the architecture and talking Sunset photos to evening photos.



The Emirates Palace was throwing some kind of neon light in different colors to be seen for miles. Pretty.

After all the walking, about 10 miles I was tired and hailed a cab to drop me off at the airport, leaving Ferrari World to be seen on another visit.

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December 6, 2016

6 Hour Layover in Kuala Lumpur

Downtown Kuala Lumpur
Downtown Kuala Lumpur 
In November 2016 I had a flight from Yangon Myanmar to New Delhi India with a 6 hour stopover in Kuala Lumpur, my 3rd time in Malaysia. I have visited Penang before and it is beautiful. I had already decided to leave the airport and see the City. My 2 choices were Kuala Lumpur Tower and the Petronas Towers or my other choice was Putrajaya.

Seeing the towers was a risky affair as I needed to be back in time to board the Plane. Putrajaya which is closer to the Airport is a safer bet. Putrajaya has the Prime Ministers office and some Government buildings, there is a Train from the Airport that will take you there.

So my flight arrived 30 minutes late and when I got to Immigration and customs, I saw the long lines and said to myself  'Holly Guacamole'  Yes the lines were long, the good thing they did move fast.

Once past the immigration and customs, I got 200 Malaysian ringgit from an ATM and discussed my options with the helpful information Desk, once again at the MRT ticket counter at the Airport, the Gentleman selling the train ticket suggested Petronas Towers and told me I had enough time, I bought the round trip ticket for 100 Malaysian ringgit and was on the next fast train to KL Central. the train takes 30 minutes one way. From KL Central I had to change trains and buy another ticket for 2 ringgit to KLCC. When one exits the KLCC MRT they see the Petronas Towers.

Due to time lost in flight delays and long immigration lines, I was unable to go to the observation desk of the Kuala Lumpur Tower, will leave that for another Layover.

I spent half an hour walking around talking pictures and headed back to catch my flight, at the airport I had enough time leftover to get a meal. Since I travel light with a backpack and no check in luggage, that makes it easier to get out of airports during layovers.

Petronas Towers
Petronas Towers Kuala Lumpur 
Whats your Favorite thing to do on a layover?


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December 5, 2016

Singapore No longer just a stopover

downtown singapore



Charming, elegant, traditional yet modern, Singapore is a city of contrasts, an economic powerhouse and a fine example of diversity in South East Asia. The chaotic and ancient port is one of the worlds largest centers for trade, while stunning luxury hotels, quiet botanical gardens and endless mysterious temples lie behind the skyscrapers and exterior of the city. Singapore airport was once the home of a stopover, but today it has transformed, to become one of the most interesting places to visit on the continent.


Visited Singapore in November 2106 for 3 days, my 4th time in Singapore.




Singapore is a melting pot of culture, and a collage of ethnicities and beliefs; Chinese, Malay, Indian, and even Western influence can be found within the variety of foods, delightful architecture and many faces roaming the streets. Such extremes can often bring social and economic issues in other parts of the world, but it serves only as a foundation upon which to prosper in Singapore. Few places can claim such a harmonious atmosphere, where Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam can co-exist so peacefully, and this mass acceptance is something actively emphasized by the Government and peoples of the region.

Another highlight of a visit to Singapore is the food and shopping districts. Locals often choose to eat on the streets in the city, where the smell of fresh chills, lime and coriander drift through the air, but there are also many fine restaurants and high end dining for those with a preference.

Gardens by the Bay Singapore
Gardens by the Bay
And then there are the local attractions and thing to do in Singapore, from the Gardens by the Bay, the Singapore Botanical Gardens and the National Orchid Garden; there is an abundance of outdoor areas to explore natural environments, and all within the city itself. Singapore Zoo is one of the most clean and best regarded of its kind, while the Waterfront Promenade is perfect for a romantic stroll or evening meal, with pleasant surroundings and amazing views. Kranji War Memorial is a reflective place to understand more about the darker side of history in this part of the world and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum is a idyllic example of how the long traditions and culture of Singapore, is still being celebrated in the modern day.


Singapore is a place of contrasts, but these differences are everything to the make-up of the city, and the personality which lies beneath. Whether you experience this splendor on a walking tour, in green leafy environments or in the exotic foods, the variety is always at the center of the experience. Shining skyscrapers are often the image most people will have of the island state city, but in truth, there is far more to Singapore than meets the eye; Singapore is no longer just a stopover, but rather a modern economic powerhouse, full of experiences, infused with culture, and one of the most interesting places to visit in South East Asia.
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December 1, 2016

Batam Indonesia Day Trip

Visited Batam in November 2016


Saturday Morning mid November was eating breakfast at my hostel in Singapore, when the owner asked me what were my day plans, I answered Batam. He said there are demonstrations there and its raining. Anyways from my Hostel I took the MRT train to HarbourFront MRT Station and a ferry to Batam.


TIP: At HarbourFront MRT Station there are different ferry companies, you might want to check the departure times and the cost. I took BatamFast, the round Trip cost was $50 Singapore Dollars. It took 45 minutes one way to Batam Center ferry terminal.

MYTH:

1. On youtube and online forums I read about people facing issues with Indonesia Immigration and long lines. All baloney. I went in November and was in and out of immigration in less than 5 minutes.




2. You can get by with Singapore Dollars every where. Not True, you will need Indonesian Rupiah.

At Batam Center ferry terminal I changed $25 Singapore Dollars to Indonesian Rupiah which was plenty for a days trip if you are not going to do any shopping, and once outside the center I took a Cab to Maha Vihara Duta Maitreya Temple.

Its a Buddhist temple. The cab cost was about $5 or $7 and it was less than 10 minutes away from the center. To the cab driver just say Vihara and he'll take you there.




At the Temple there are three Large prayer halls and beautiful courtyards with statues of Laughing Buddha in the yards.




Maha Vihara Duta Maitreya Temple















Maha Vihara Duta Maitreya Temple
















Above Photos of the 3 Halls.

The Temple Complex also had a Vegetarian Restaurant, the food was not expensive and delicious. About $2 for food.
















I spent an hour and a half at the Temple including the time eating. There is also a Gift shop at the Temple Complex, After that I took a cab to drive me around Batam, and later drop me at the Ferry Terminal. My ferry on the way back there was an hour wait, and I visited the Batam Mega-mall for 45 minutes.

There is a walkway from the ferry terminal to the Mall, seems like there might be people visiting Batam for the sole purpose of shopping. The Mall is huge.

There is a waterpark and other things to do in Batam, none of those interest me, Vihara was my main focus for the trip and it was worth it. I was not able to spend all the $25 Singapore and still had change left over.

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October 30, 2016

Viva la Vida 2016 Austin Texas

Viva la Vida 2016 Festival and Parade Austin Texas

Viva la Vida is a festival and parade celebrating the Day of the Dead also known as Dia de los Muertos a holiday celebrated in Mexico each year to remember family members who have died, and offer prayers their spiritual journey. Its held near Halloween in October end or beginning November. This year 2016 the Parade was on Saturday the 29th October.





Location and Route: The parade Started on 5th street between I35 Northbound Frontage Road and Waller, and traveled west on 6th street to the festival location at 4th and Congress in Downtown Austin.

 Dia de los Muertos Viva la Vida 2016 Austin
Viva la Vida 2016 AustinViva la Vida

I got there early to take pictures before the parade stated, camera was a Sony NEX 3

The parade was very colorful and inline with traditional, contemporary, and keeping Austin weird.




The Parade had bands and singers, Aztec and Matachine Dancers




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August 5, 2016

Things to do in Lima Peru

Cathedral of Lima
Cathedral of Lima
I spent 2 days in Lima on my way to and from Cusco, stayed with a Peruvian family I found on Airbnb.

Peru is the land of Pre-Colombian heritage, where the tribal heritage still bears the color of its unique culture. The capital and the biggest city of Peru is Lima, the glittering colonial city. This amazing city was founded by the Spanish Conquistador Francisco Pizarro in the year 1535. In one side the old churches, cloisters, and monasteries give a view of the colonial heritage, on the other side the city portrays a metropolitan attitude with nightclubs playing the tropical tune. This city is second driest capital of the world and risen over the coast of Pacific. Home of authentic Peruvian architecture and mouthwatering Peruvian cuisine, Lima is one of the most populous cities of the world. The places and experiences you cannot miss while in Lima are 

Plaza Mayor

The plaza mayor is also known as plaza de Armas of Peru. It is the historic center of the city. The centerpiece of the historic square is a fountain from the colonial era. The Palacio Del Gobierno, Cathedral De Lima, Archbishop's Palace, the Municipal Palace etc are the places you cannot miss around the plaza.


The Archbishop's Palace of Lima

San Francisco Monastery

The monastery of well preserved Baroque Architecture, the San Francisco monastery is another attraction of Lima. The mysterious atmosphere inside the monastery will take a world of its own. Don’t miss a trip inside the well-preserved old library of this place. 

Miraflores and El Malecón

From the amazing history, if you want a taste of the upscale Peru, visit the seafront strip El Malecón. It provides you the excellent view of the coastal Lima. The park and the modern sculptures of the city can be seen here. Miraflores is a happening district of Lima. You can expect to find the chic restaurants, lively bars in this area. 

Took a Tour Bus in Miraflores called Mirabus, if you short on time I recommend it. Picture I took from the Bus, Parque del Amor with the Bay of Lima in the background



Cerro San Cristóbal


The hill Cerro San Cristóbal provides the excellent view of the city Lima. The hill Cerro San Cristóbal is located in the Northeast of the downtown Lima. On a clear day, you can have a panoramic view of the city and the sea across- from the top of the hill. 




Experiences to have in Lima: 
German Clock Tower at University Park in Lima

•    In El Malecón, you can opt for a Paragliding experiences over this city. This 15-20 minutes ride will give you an excellent view of the city from the sky.
•    Peru is known for its amazing ceviche, a dish cooked with raw fish, onions and chili pepper.  So, visit any of the cevicherias of Lima for the mouthwatering ceviche. 
•    Visit the famous museums of Lima, like Museo Larco, Museo de Historia Natural, Museo Nacional del Arqueología etc. 
•    Take a stroll through the bohemian quarter of Lima, Barranco. The 18th-century architecture along with the small yet stylish cafes will give you a visual treat. 

Often called as the ‘City of Kings’, Lima is to give you excellent doses of thrill which can be undoubtedly called as the experiences of typical America Latina.

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