Sunday, September 4, 2016

Discount's and Freebie's

Hey guys!
Everybody likes to save money when they can, especially in the expensive world of photography. I am certainly one of those people. So I decided I'd shoot out a quick blog post highlighting a few money saving options for you guys.

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If you are looking to make some money selling digital downloads and prints there is options for that as well allowing you to set your price points.

Feel free to visit my current portfolio website (www.neilmcelmon.com) to see for yourself, and if you are ready to start up your online portfolio site AND you'd like to save a few bucks while doing so be sure to follow my referral link below to save 20% off your subscription!


SmugMug Discount

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It is an incredibly powerful collection of plug-ins that can be quite easily integrated with your Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom, or Aperture workflow. The package includes Analog Efex Pro, Silver Efex Pro (a personal favorite of mine), HDR Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro, Sharpener Pro, Viveza, and Dfine. This package last year ran somewhere around $100 if I remember correctly, so the chance to grab it free now is quite an awesome deal to say the least. Simply follow the link below to grab your copy!

Google Nik Collection

Sunday, June 26, 2016

SE Asia Gallery / Sony a6000 review

Finally, after far too much procrastination since returning home from SE Asia, I have completed my gallery of travel photos. While most of the images I captured were very unplanned and spontaneous, I feel like in the end I was still able to capture moments that I can look back upon and remember exciting things. Normally at home I currently shoot with a Canon 6D and Tamron 24-70 2.8 lens. For this trip though, since it was not only my first trip longer than 10 days, it would also be my first time overseas so I opted to try out a mirrorless camera system so as not to lose or damage my Canon which I use a lot of event and music photography and the setup would be hard for me to replace at the time. After much research I went with the Sony a6000 camera for my trip. The price was very reasonable for a camera which boasts a 24.3 megapixel APS-C sensor (equivalent to a crop sensor on a DSLR) in a very compact, lightweight design which is good since I was packing super light for this trip. Overall I was happy with the camera, though in hindsight I should have bought the camera body and lens separate as the kit lens it came with left a lot to be desired. I would recommend a mirrorless camera system to anyone looking to capture high quality images while reducing size and weight during travel. A complete review of the Sony a6000 can be read here for anyone interested. Shortly after I returned back to Canada in March, Sony had announced the latest version of the camera, the Sony a6300, which cost quite a lot more and at first glance appears to be quite similar to it's predecessor.
The compact size and fast focusing of the camera was very useful when it came to street photography, which is something I spent a lot more time trying out during this trip. The opportunities for amazing street photography are endless in countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Malaysia so I was happy to have a small and discreet camera system in hand. Another feature I found quite useful during my trip was the ability to do RAW conversion and export directly and easily to my smartphone. With free WiFi at almost every establishment in SE Asia I was able to keep my social media feeds going with current content using high quality RAW base files. The camera body itself features a 3" articulating screen on the back, something I found to be a bit of a poor design compared to the fully adjustable screen found on something like the Canon G12. The reason I find the design poor is that it only tilts to about a 45 degree angle, in the end the screen is always exposed on the back making it very prone to scratching when you are transferring it regularly in and out of a backpack or daypack. The design of the Canon G12's screen is far better in my opinion as it can be rotated completely around and the screen can be folded into the camera body during storage. While many reviews speak to the poor battery life of the camera, I didn't find it too bad overall in my experience and the battery/camera can be easily charged with a micro USB cable similar to many of today's smartphones so it was never an inconvenience for me. I found the quality of the landscape photos I captured pretty good as well, and not having to lug a heavy DSLR/lens combination to some of the hikes was definitely a bonus at times when the temperatures on average reached over 30+ degrees each day.

Overall i'd say my first experience with a mirrorless system was a positive one, though at times I definitely wanted my DSLR in hand for familiarity. I have since sold the Sony a6000 since I was out of money when I came home and did not require 2 camera bodies at the time. The technology has certainly come a long way in mirrorless camera systems and I would definitely consider buying another one someday as a second body.

If you are reading this (i'm not certain that anyone does or not haha) I highly encourage you to check out my full SE Asia gallery of images over at my website ... http://www.neilmcelmon.com/Travel/

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Sihanoukville & Koh Rong Island, Cambodia

Next destination after leaving Siem Reap was located in the south of Cambodia in the city of Sihanoukville. To get there I needed to first take a sleeper bus to the city of Phnom Penh and then take a second smaller bus down to Sihanoukville. The bus bus company I chose to use, Giant Ibis, is very well rated and has very clean buses with friendly staff aboard. I came across this very helpful and detailed blog post (Move to Cambodia) regarding transport around Cambodia which helped me with my decision. My first experience with a sleeper bus was not a pleasant one at all unfortunately, not due to the bus company or bus itself though but more so due to my inability to sleep well in vehicles (and the complete shit roads you will find all over Cambodia). I maybe slept about 1 hour out of the 8 hour ride to Phnom Penh and have since learned my lesson and picked up some sleeping pills for future overnight bus trips I encounter. After about a 2 hour waiting period in Phnom Penh I boarded the second smaller regular seater bus towards Sihanoukville which was approximately a 5 hour ride.

I finally arrived in the coastal beach city of Sihanoukville and luckily the hostel I had chose to stay at (One Stop Hostel) was literally a 5 minute walk away from the Giant Ibis store font. It was a very similar setting as the One Stop Hostel I had stayed at in Siem Reap which was nice to have a bit of familiarity and comfort after a bit of a rough night of transport. But there was a bonus, they have a pool ... which was where I ended up spending the majority of my first day relaxing. The city of Sihanoukville is very, very touristy and a bit of an annoying place to be as I found out over the next couple of days. While it's a nice enough place, you get constantly approached by locals (and kids) hawking a variety of useless goods. Politely declining these individuals becomes an exhausting task very quickly and it takes away from the beautiful beaches you had set out to enjoy originally. But, thankfully through some fellow travellers I had heard about a newer and far less touristy beach area about 15 minutes tuk tuk ride outside of the city called Otres Beach. That's exactly what I was looking for.

Through some on-line research (Hostelworld, Booking.com, Agoda, etc.) I opted to stay at Hacienda located in the heart of Otres Village. A nice chilled out place with incredibly helpful and friendly staff, and even a chill bar right on site where they also have an extensive menu of great food. From Hacienda its approximately a 20 minute walk to either of the currently developed locations of Otres 1 or Otres 2. But the fine folks at Hacienda can even have a scooter rental delivered right to you which is a fantastic way to explore the area and I highly recommend it for as little as $5 USD per day. If you chose to walk it though you will notice the large area of beach between the two Otres locations that is being primed far a large amount of new development so I would suggest you make a stop to that area ASAP as it will definitely loose the fantastic charm and relaxed vibe it currently has. I spent several afternoon enjoying beers while swinging in a hammock next to the waterfront in Otres 1, that's the vibe I headed south for. The currently undeveloped beach along Otres is completed unspoiled at this point so you can go and grab your own little piece of paradise for the day and not be bothered by a single person ... for now, enjoy it while you can.

During my time in Sihanoukville and Otres I had heard about the island of Koh Rong which is a very popular destination as it turns out. I had yet to visit any island during my travels so I figured I should go check it out. The fine folks at Hacienda even booked my speedboat ticket and transportation to the speedboat dock back in Sihanoukville which was great and required zero planning on my part. The speedboats you take to and from the island average about 50 minutes travel time one way. Since I didn't directly book my boat I don't recall the name of the company I used but there are a handful to chose from all costing the same, $20 USD round trip. Koh Rong was the first location during my travels I opted to just show up and find a place to stay as most of the available dorm's on the island are not bookable on-line anyway. I stayed at a place called Bong's Guesthouse located a few minutes down the beach, there is a ton of places to stay all right in one spot as you arrive. Unfortunately for me since I didn't do any research it turns out that they have a regular issue with bed bugs, yay!
The island itself apparently used to be a very chill place but has since been purchased by some large developing group who intend to make it more like a tourist island in Thailand. This as I found out after being there was a bit disappointing for me as it appears at one point it used to be a beautiful and relaxed place to be. It's now more of a commercial tourist hub which is fine if you are looking to party and do island pub crawls and stuff. While I didn't completely hate my time on the island I would definitely recommend people visit the smaller island nearby Koh Rong Samloen where it sounds like more of the unspoiled island paradise that many people are after.

Some of the highlights I found on Koh Rong island were Long Beach, which you can take a 1 hour trek through a jungle path to reach on the other side of the island. It's a beautiful 7 kilometre stretch of almost untouched beach (It too is currently in the early stages of mass development). You can also opt to take a water taxi service around to different locations on the island for $5 USD one way. We had completed the trek to Long Beach but after several hours of lounging around on the beach none of us were too keen on hiking back so we took the water taxi which was an really nice 20 or so minute ride around the south portion of the island, and we bartered them down to $10 USD for three of us instead of $15. The available food on the island was another highlight, and surprisingly it was cheaper than back in Sihanoukville. They feature many different BBQ stations along the beach front hostels and business. But if there's is only one place you MUST eat at on Koh Rong, it's Sigi's. He is an incredibly friendly gentleman from northern Thailand who now calls Koh Rong his home. A one man show who takes 4 to 5 orders at a time and creates some of the best Thai food I have ever eaten (and I started my trip in Thailand). Pull up a seat and watch him do his thing as it's an absolute pleasure to witness first-hand.

The boat day tour several of us signed up for was a great experience as well. It consisted of some snorkelling, (pro tip: the mask can be a bit leaky I found out when you have facial hair like me, but apparently some Vaseline helps fix that problem) some fishing using small handheld spools and the boat and the boat staff BBQ up all of the days catch right on the boat for lunch, a stop at one of the fishing villages located at the very far end of Long beach as well as enjoying the evenings sunset on the boat. The highlight of the days boat trip for me was swimming with plankton after the the sun had completely set, seriously the trippiest thing I have ever seen! Its like a blue-green aura that appears around you and reacts with the movement of your body while in the water.
     
So my beach time in southern Cambodia wasn't all I had initially hoped for, all in all it was a travel experience that I can reflect back on and grow from for all my future travel's.





  

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Siem Reap, Cambodia

My flight from Chiang Mai, Thailand landed in the city of Siem Reap, Cambodia which is a city most famously known for Angkor Wat. The city itself is quite a busy place as a result due to high tourism demand for people wanting to explore the Angkor Archaeological Park (which is a UNESCO Heritage Site as well). Angkor, Cambodia was also listed as one of the 21 finalists in the New 7 Wonders of the World. In Siem Reap I stayed at One Stop Hostel, a very fresh and clean place with incredibility friendly staff as well. As it is not a "party" hostel the social scene in the common area was a bit lacking, but it was a great place to stay located right in the heart of the city near Pub Street which is actually more of a nightclub street as it turns out. 

In the evening on Pub Street you will find various street food and alcohol vendors (tuk tuks with bars attached), countless patios, and several clubs (Temple Bar and Angkor What? are the main two across the street from each other) blasting music at insanely loud volumes in hopes that you will come and drink buckets at their location, which eventually turns into a street dance off party where you'll usually find a local Khmer girl (who sells bracelets) out-dancing everyone who challenges her. She may even challange you to a game of rock, paper, scissors as well. And while I did have a great time on Pub Street the first evening I arrived, I found it to be quite old and repetitive very quickly on the subsequent nights as you will hear the exact same tunes each night. Other unique bars to visit not located in Pub Street include the Mad Monkey Top Banana rooftop bar located at the top (obviously) of the Mad Monkey hostel, the entire bar is beach sand which is pretty awesome to play some beer pong in. The other bar I enjoyed was X-Bar located not far from Pub Street. It is a multi-level facility which features beer pong, pool tables, live music as well as a rooftop half-pipe which the legendary skater Tony Hawk even skated at one point last year!

The temple tours were the real reason I came to Siem Reap though. I ended up completing two different temple circuits which I was easily able to book my tuk-tuk ride with through my hostel, though you can likely ask any driver you see and they can do the same. The first day of my tour called the Small Circuit included stops at Angkor Wat, Bayon, Takeo, and Ta Prohm. The second days tour I completed called the Grand Circuit included visits to Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Tasom, and Pre Rup ... I may have misspelled a few of those. Each days tour took about 6-7 hours, and even then we only ended up seeing a small handful of the extensive network of temples in the area as you can see from this thorough online Temple Guide. I would highly recommend using the tuk tuk drivers to visit these temples as you will do quite a lot of walking throughout the day in a very hit climate and will be very exhausted by the days end.

Siem Reap is a great city to visit if you planning to come to Cambodia. I'd recommend renting a scooter or pedal bike as well to get around the place so you can adventure a bit further outside the core of the city.



Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Chiang Mai,Thailand

Finally in the northern city of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Since I had just spent way too long sitting on the train I opted to walk to my hostel (D-Well Hostellocated abut a 20 minute walk from the train station. I was greeted by extremely friendly and helpful staff upon my arrival there, the rooms and the facility were all very clean as well. It was a great location near the night bizarre, though as I did some research I found the hostel was a bit pricier than some locations I later moved to during my stay. Yes, I stayed at several different hostels while in one city. Chiang Mai is a fantastic city with very friendly people everywhere you go, I far preferred it to Bangkok and the temperatures are a bit more tolerable as well. I also found the city to be extremely clean everywhere you went as well which was a very welcome change from Bangkok. The other two hostels I stayed at during my time in Chiang Mai include City Capsule and Deejai Backpackers, which are both located quite close to each other actually. If you are looking to meet new people regularly and don't mind some late night party noise you definitely want to head to Deejai. They have also recently opened a bar and pool area (Deejai Gardens) a few minutes down the road from the hostel which hosts regular weekend parties, and has a killer (and quite well priced) kitchen serving up amazing food day and night. Access to the pool is free for registered guests, but even if you are not staying at Deejai and perhaps some of your friends are or you simply want to hit up a pool, you can pay 80 baht (I think) for the day when you arrive. City Capsule is kind of the polar opposite of Deejai, you will not likely not meet any new people there as the isn't really much of a common area, but you will have a fantastic nights sleep which is always nice to have from time to time. Each dorm room at City Capsule features A/C (or AirCon as everyone else outside of North America seems to call it) as well as a small personal fan in each bed area. One truly endearing feature of City Capsule is the owner, whom Chris early on dubbed as Mr. Miyagi, cause he really did have a resemblance. I ended up having several chats with Mr. Miyagi during my time in Chiang Mai and can honestly say I have never encountered someone so genuine and willing to help in any way possible. From his ability to obtain deep discounts on treks and tours, to his area restaurant recommendations, he hit the nail on the head every single time and was extremely happy to do so. To this date he remains to be the most honest, humble and helpful person I have met on this trip (I am actually now writing this about 3 weeks after my time in Chiang Mai).

At one point during my time in Chiang Mai I spent a half day with elephants out in the mountain jungle. What a great experience that was! The company/tour we used was called Happy Elephant Home. They specially cater their tour around feeding, bathing and interacting with the elephants without the touristy exploitation or riding of them. On some of the rescue elephants they had in their care you could actually see the scarring on the back of the animal where the "riding cage/seat" was mounted previously, it looked quite painful actually. I really enjoyed the day trip and highly recommend anyone interested in interacting with these beautiful animals look into a day trip like this. At one point our tour guide had me knocking whole papaya's out of a nearby tree using a pool skimmer. We then proceeded to feed the fruit by hand to the elephants, it's really quite something to see how fast these animals throw back a whole fruit and immediately reach back for another one.

The weekly Sunday Market (walking street) is something you will likely hear about in Chiang Mai, and it is definitely something to be seen. It is located right in the middle of the Old City area on Rachadamnoen Road. It is far different than the Night Bizarre you may also hear about since the Sunday Market features far more locals showcasing their own handmade arts, crafts, clothing, musicians, food and just about anything else you an think of rather than just knock off clothing and purses. If you could do one shopping trip before heading home I would try to make it at this place, in fact I will try and do just that before I fly back home to Canada in the new year. I actually ended up walking through this market on 2 separate occasions since I spent about a week in Pai and returned to Chiang Mai a second time. Even after two separate ventures through the street market I didn't come close to seeing all of the vendors there as there are so many side streets that branch off of the main road filled with goods. 

All in all I really enjoyed the city of Chiang Mai. The people, the energy and vibe, it was exactly what I was hoping to experience from what I had heard from other travellers.


Monday, November 9, 2015

Ayutthaya and Lop Buri, Thailand

The first of my stops as I headed north from Bangkok on the train is the city of Ayutthaya which is located about 90 km's (56 miles) due north. A very popular day trip from Bangkok, but I opted to spend 3 nights there rather than jumping back and forth on the train. The hostel I stayed at (Stockhome) was brand new and had only been open for several weeks prior to my arrival. A very friendly and clean spot, great place to stay just a few minute walk from the city centre. This was also where I met several new friends with whom I would continue to travel with for the next couple of weeks. The new friends I met include Niv from Australia, who arrived on the back of a police bike ... yes the police are actually incredibly friendly and helpful in Thailand contrary to what many people will try to tell you. Next up is Liane from Germany, she didn't actually continue on with us after Ayutthaya though as she had a 10 meditation camp to attend. I look forward to hopefully reconnecting with her somewhere down the road to hear all about it. And the next two friends in the group are Chris and Hayley from the UK. Both very entertaining individuals with whom I shared some amazing times with. I will also likely catch up with them again in a couple days when I fly to Siem Reap, Cambodia.


Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya is most well known for its historical ruins, it is actually a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site as well. I did explore several of the main ruins sites over several days and took many pictures (good ones hopefully) in hopes of capturing the beauty of these sites. The city itself is fairly small and quite easy to get around. I would definitely recommend though that you rent a scooter or pedal bike to do so to save yourself some energy as it was quite hot and clear sky's when I was there, the sun really kicks your ass when you are a Canadian from Alberta not used to 35°C (95°F) temperatures with 70-80% humidity. One thing you wont generally read about in Ayutthaya is the insane amount of stray dogs, or as Hayley cleverly named them ... Demon Dogs. They are EVERYWHERE around the town and usually in packs of 3 to 5. They are fairly docile during the day due to the heat, but can become a bit more intimidating in the evenings when the temperatures cool off. I generally found that if you just ignore them and walk past they wont approach you very often. In the evenings our small newly formed group usually ended up on the "bar street" of Ayutthaya which is located on a side street just off of the main street of Naresuan Rd. There you will find a variety of places for food, drink, and live entertainment.  We frequently could be found at Tony's Place or Street Lamp. You will find live music each night at Street Lamp which was one of the main draws for us. The first night was a classic rock cover band and they absolutely killed every song they kicked out. From Clapton to AC/DC to Led Zeppelin, they were honestly better than most cover bands I have seen back in Calgary. The second night I was blown away by a younger band who covered the likes of Korn, Metallica, System of a Down and more ... seriously?! I never would have expected to hear the likes of those bands while travelling SE Asia, not to mention extremely well done as well. I quite enjoyed my time in Ayutthaya and would definitely recommend anyone heading north from Bangkok make a stop for 2 or 3 nights (depending on your available travel time) and explore the city.


Lop Buri Monkeys
From Ayutthaya I jumped back on a train and headed solo to the the town of Lop Buri. Side note, the trains in Thailand are NEVER on time so even if you arrive on time you will likely be waiting a while. In this instance my train to Lop Buri was 30 minutes late. I opted to stay at my first guest house on this trip in Lop Buri, Noom Guesthouse was to be my home for the next 2 nights. From the train station I walked about 5 minutes to the riverboat crossing, for a mere 3 baht you hop on a funky little boat which takes you to the other side of the river where the majority of the actual town site, and my guest house, is located. Another 5 minute walk from the river crossing is Noom's, it's super easy to find as it's a pretty well known place. Aside from being incredibly friendly and helpful place, the family run guest house was also a great place eat and kick back for a few beers and relax. So, the main reason I opted to stop in Lop Buri for 2 nights was to check out the infamous Monkey temple, Phra Prang Sam Yot. The temple is home to hundreds of macaques who do not hesitate to come and climb all over you in search of whatever food, drink, or loose items they can score off of you. Knowing this in advance I went fairly prepared with only my GoPro in one hand and the wireless remote trigger in the other. You will find occasional stories of people being scratched or bitten by them, but for me that was simply not the case. They were quite chill climbing all over me as I didn't have any free loose items on me for they to take. I also opted to not buy any "monkey food" at the temple entrance, my common sense says that when you feed some monkeys and not others, or run out of food you will likely encounter some problems. At one point I was walking around the temple with 3 to 4 monkeys hanging off of me. Pretty sure I'm in a few tourists travel photos as a result, they were highly entertained at seeing a white guy covered in monkeys. The monkeys were quite chill with me and it made for an awesome expereince I will not soon forget. I didn't really explore much of the rest of Lop Buri as I planned my stay there as a bit of a chill and recuperate destination, it worked out quite well for that!

Next up was my 8 hour first class train ticket from Lop Buri to Chiang Mai. For 560 baht (about $20 CAD) I had a very comfortable seat in the air conditioned car. This train was also late ... shocking, but I was pretty used to that at this point and really I dont have to be anywhere for several months. The downside, as I found out by the time I reached Chiang Mai was that it took an additional 2 hours making it just over 10 hours of sitting on a train. There is an alternitive night train option where you can get a sleeper unit which seems to be a very popular option. Oh, and something to note for anyone planning on taking an air conditioned train north from Bangkok be sure to pack some warm layers as once the sun goes down it gets incredibility cold on the train from the AC. I mounted my GoPro with a Ram Systems suction cup mount (I picked up my GoPro mounts based on a review from Expert Vagabond, a travel blogger I follow) to the train window and took several time lapse videos during the trip up north, While I haven't had time to review the videos/timelapse at this point I'm hoping to have some decent footage to work with once I return home.


My next post will contain content from my time in Chiang Mai and Pai.
Cheers for following along!
Ayutthaya

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

One week in Bangkok ...

So Bangkok is quite a shock to the system. Many people I spoke to in advance said I likely wouldn't enjoy the city. I opted to originally book for 5 nights at a hostel called Loftel 22 located near Bangkok's Chinatown district. For my first ever hostel experience I am thoroughly impressed. The hostel itself is very new and each air conditioned dorm consisted of 4 beds which made it very quiet and easy to sleep at night. The location was also great for street food, of which I ate quite a bit of everyday. The streets outside the hostel were packed with different food carts each day.


Loftel 22
I am a big people watching person and each morning I would often sit out front of the hostel and enjoy a coffee (the main level of the hostel is also a cafe). The daily routine of the locals buying their daily food items, as well as donating food items to the monks seen in the image was quite interesting and made for an enjoyable start to my days. While I didn't really venture too much around Bangkok as a whole, I did often walk many of the streets and side streets around Chinatown. Earlier I mentioned that I initially booked 5 nights, well I hadn't really done any planning past that point and so I opted to book 2 additional nights in the same place, and I am quite happy I did. It turns out the annual Vegetarian Festival (Tesagan Gin Ge) was occurring between October 12th - 22nd, and during that time there is a massive dragon march precession. Turns out Loftell 22 is a very important location during this parade, at one point the dragon stuck its head right in the hostel entrance before continuing on down the alleyway. A pretty awesome experience to start off my travel adventures, especially considering it happened on the evening of the day I was supposed to have originally check out and moved on.


I did take one of the days to go all touristy and decided to venture my way over to explore Wat Pho, also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. It is one of the oldest Wat's in Bangkok and contains a massive Buddha measuring 150 feet in length! This beautiful complex where the Reclining Buddha resides is also home to many other temples, buildings and Buddha images. Well worth stopping in to explore around. After spending over an hour wandering around I continued on down the street to explore the Grand Palace complex. Wow! The attention to detail and intricate design work on each of the buildings here is absolutely staggering. It really is hard to explain, I can only suggest you make a point of visiting while you are in Bangkok. Note that at each of these locations there is a strict dress code in effect. No tank tops (shirts must have sleeves), as well as men must be wearing pants ... Seriously this day was one of the hottest I have experienced to date as I have had a bit of trouble adjusting to the temperature and humidity so pants and a full shirt were just adding to the heat. I took plenty of photos and hope I was able to land a few that aren't completely touristy looking. But between the heat and the insanely massive crowds of tourists I ended up kinda rushing through some of the sections which i'm OK with since I will still have plenty of opportunities to shoot photos while I am travelling. In the end this is still a backpacking life experience first and foremost.

During my week I also spent one evening (as everyone should do at least once) partying on Khaosan Road. Multiple patios consuming copious amounts of mixed bucket drinks and big bottles of Chang beer combined with jet lag make for one hell of a hangover, or "Changover" as friend of mine back in Calgary accurately described it. But hey, I spent the evening in the company of a German, a Polack and two amazing girls from Toronto (turns out people from TO aren't that bad after all ... inside Canadian joke there) so that Changover was well worth the experience! If you are travelling and feeling a bit lonely and want to easily meet new friends I definitely suggest you venture over to Khaosan, day or night there's always something happening. Oh and fun fact, you cant help cure your Changover by visiting your nearest 7-11 (most likely a block away from wherever you are, seriously those fuckers are everywhere!) and pick up a few bottles of water ... also produced by Chang.

While the insane speed at which Bangkok runs at may not really be my cup of tea, spending the first week of my first time overseas in the city was definitely an eye-opening and valuable life experience that I will certainly not forget any time soon. I'm certain the time spent there will only benefit me greatly in all my travels to come. And hell, the prices on goods are cheap so I'll likely end up there right before I head back to Canada to load up an additional bag full of clothing for festival season 2016 :D

I am not much of a "writer" but will still try to genereate new blog posts when I can as I travel my way around. Thanks for following along and be sure to check out my social media feeds as I do post social photos more frequently!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Off to Southeast Asia

October 14th, 2015. Money saved. Travel insurance purchased. Flights booked. Quit my cubical based office job. Bags packed. Off to the airport, final destination ... Bangkok, Thailand with a one way plane ticket.

This trip is one I have been wanting to do for a very long time, and spent the better part of a year planning for. It's worth noting that not only would I be completing this trip solo, this would also be my first time leaving North America. While I have been to many places around Canada, the United States and Mexico, obviously this trip would be far different and I would be stepping into an entirely new realm and comfort level. I would also like to give huge thanks to all of the friends and family who helped me get to this point over the last year, for without all of you it just wouldn't have worked out.

Off to the Calgary (YYC) International Airport I go with what I can only presume is a couple bags full of the right gear and clothing for my trip, my life in two bags ... pretty bizarre to comprehend actually.
I am currently travelling with a 46L Osprey Porter as my main pack, and a 12L Osprey Orb as my day pack. While it is very common to see most people using larger packs, I wanted to become better as a minimalist and so using a 46L as my main pack forces me to take less non essential items. The pack is carry-on size so I don't have to worry about checking baggage at airports which is one less thing to worry about if multiple flights start coming into play as I move around. Here's a quick snapshot of some gear for photo's, clothing and other random items that I'll be flying to the other side of the world with, I'm sure within a few weeks I'll find some items aren't necessary but only time will tell. First of my flights is from Calgary, Alberta (YYC) to San Francisco, California (SFO) which is about 3 hours flying time. I only had about an hour or so layover there before I would board the longest flight I have taken to date. San Francisco to the Narita airport in Tokyo, Japan (NRT) was a 10.5 hour flight, and when you're like me and can't really sleep on air-planes ... it's a tough one. I was pleasantly surprised to find out I got 2 free meals included, oh and free booze ... they sure know the way please a Canadian. 

By the time I reached Japan my body and mental state was a bit rough. I mean, by this point I had now crossed several time zones and jumped ahead a day in time not to mention I had been awake since 4am MST. After a 4 hour layover which I had spent most of hanging out with a chill dude named Ryan from Banff who was also heading to Bangkok, I boarded my 3rd and final flight. Tokyo, Japan to Bangkok, Thailand (BKK) which was another 5 or 6 hour flight (I cant really remember to be honest as I was pretty bagged. Luckily I was seated at the back of the plane where I had the entire row of seats to myself so I was able actually able to lay down a bit and sleep for several hours, bonus!

I arrived in Bangkok. 14,530 km's (9030 miles) in the bag and somewhere in the neighbourhood of 26 hours of travel and layover time.

Holy hell, it's midnight here, and insanely hot and humid!
This will take some getting used to...

(I plan to post more frequently now that I'm a bit adjusted to everything, stay tuned for more on my week in Bangkok. Head to www.neilmcelmon.com to connect with me on social media to follow along)

Monday, September 7, 2015

RandomRoadtrip : BC

So I completed another #RandomRoadtrip earlier this summer
I am quite a bit behind on the photos and posting of it though (as you can probably tell if you are reading this) 
This trip was slightly less random than my Saskatchewan one I completed earlier on this summer though as I was planning it around the attendance of music festivals that occurred on back to back weekends in early July.

A bit of the backstory. So quite early on in the year I decided to purchase a ticket to a festival called BassCoast which occurs annually in Merritt, BC. This normally would have just been a quick trip from Calgary to Merritt and back for the event. I did however apply for photo/media passes to many other music festivals around BC and Alberta as well. And sure enough I was lucky enough to get approved for Astral Harvest which occurs annually in Driftpile, Alberta near Lesser Slave Lake.

And so began the road trip planning (and I use the term planning very loosely).
I booked off a couple weeks from work, punched in my locations to Google maps ... planning done :D

As you can see I had plenty of Canadian soil to cover (not shown are all the additional side trips I added on as they came along). I believe the final tally on my car for this trip ended up somewhere around 3500 km's (2175 miles for any of my American readers).

This post however is not about the photos I took at these festivals, rather the randomness of small town and adventure getting to them. If you are interested in checking out my photos from them please head to my website neilmcelmon.com and explore the Portfolio section.



First portion of the driving was from Calgary to Driftpile (Lesser Slave Lake) which should have taken about 6 to 6.5 hours as I opted to drive along the "scenic" countryside highways instead of the main QE2 which is direct between Calgary and Edmonton. This did unfortunately take a bit longer as I was stuck behind a moving house for a long stretch of the single land highway, yes ... an ENTIRE house moving. Aside from that hiccup, I found there are many interesting and quirky little towns along the route I drove including Barrhead, Fort Assiniboine and Swan Hills to name a few, not to mention plenty of abandoned farming equipment and houses (all great for photos). I opted to get my camping groceries at Swan Hills as I have grown up with friends from that town so I wanted to check it out. Bad choice for a groceries and booze stop as Swan Hills is pretty damn remote, so the cost of products is quite a bit higher than some of the other places I had passed through earlier. Oh well, it was an interesting stop nonetheless. 

Arrive at Astral Harvest ... Photograph Astral Harvest ... Leave Astral Harvest.
After the conclusion of the 4-day festival in Driftpile I proceeded to jump back in the old roadtripmobile (which happens to be a fairly small Chevy Optra 5, good on gas but lacking in pickup ... either way, it gets the job done!) and started my adventure towards BassCoast in Merritt, BC. I made a quick pit-stop once I entered BC in the city of Dawson Creek, not to be confused with that cheesy television show in the late 90's. Aside from being a central spot for oil and gas operations, Dawson Creek is most famously known as being Mile '0' of the Alaska Highway, a road trip I plan to complete on it's own at another point in time which a truck.

Mile 0 Alaska Highway, Dawson Creek

Upon leaving Dawson Creek my goal was to locate a decent place to camp for the night which ended up being about 2.5 hours drive south along BC highway 97 (north of Prince George it's known as John Hart Highway, and south of Prince George it's known as Cariboo Highway). Where I ended up stopping for the evening was a abandoned (also for sale if you're interested) fishing and camping lodge located next to Azouzetta Lake. I figured this would be an amazing place to stop, set up camp and chill for a few hours. I located an absolute beauty of a spot lakeside. Sadly I had to assemble my tent while fighting off hordes of black flies and mosquito's. This being northern BC I shouldn't really be too shocked, but it was enough for me to say fuck it and simply go straight to sleep ... there would be no outdoor chilling on this evening. 
On a side note, a provincial wide fire ban was introduced about 2 days before I arrived in BC so I was not able to have a campfire at any point during the trip which was a bit of a bummer, any of you that have camped before you know what I mean.

Azouzetta Lake Lodge

Azouzetta Lake Lodge

The following morning I packed up my gear and proceeded to continue south along highway 97. Not too far from the lake lodge I came across Bijoux Falls Provincial Park which turned out to be the perfect spot to stop and eat some breakfast, as well as snap a few pics. The waterfall is located right beside the parking lot so I can only imagine how insanely busy this little stop would be during peak tourist camping season. I was pretty lucky as it was quite early in the morning so the lighting was great for some long exposure photos and I do not currently own any ND filters. I spent about an hour or so wandering and climbing around the falls capturing shots. A great little stop right on the main highway that i'd recommend stopping at early in the day if you are in the area.

Bijoux Falls Provincial Park

From the provincial park I headed back out on the road and put in some serious km's as I headed south. Stopping occasionally here and there to snap some pictures, camp and check out little towns and villages along the way. I stopped in at Whiskers Point Provincial Park located along McLeod Lake which is an absolute beauty of a lakeside campground. While I didn't setup camp there this time as I still had lots of ground to cover, I would certainly recommend it to anyone passing through. I was actually kinda bummed that I didn't find this place earlier on in my trip. Another place I found interesting to stop for a few minutes and check out was the lumber facility located in the town of Dunkley. I have never really seen a lumber mill before and the scale of the operations was pretty staggering to see first hand. I wasn't really able to find good high ground to take a photo but to show you the scale it's shown below from Google maps.

Dunkley Lumber
   
A short 20 minute drive south of Dunkley at Ten Mile Lake was where I decided to set up camp for the night. Lakeside camping, you really cant beat it! I spent the next few hours chilling with some tunes and re-organizing my car and camera bag as they tend to get a bit messy on these trips. It was an absolutely amazing evening out weather-wise as well so I opted to sleep without the rain cover on my tent, great decision I might add as you can see below :D

Ten Mile Lake

Thursday, June 18, 2015

RandomRoadtrip: SW Saskatchewan Day 2

Day two of my #RandomRoadtrip I was up pretty early in the am since I never really can sleep in do to waking up early for work Monday through Friday. I proceeded to pack up my campsite and head back towards Maple Creek in search of coffee. I didn't really know what my plan was for day two other than eventually making my way towards the Douglas and Danielson Provincial Parks which are located northeast of Swift Current. It was overcast and cool in the morning and I encountered scattered showers immediately upon exiting the Cypress Hills campground as I hit the highway north to Maple Creek.

About 40 minutes later with a full tank of gas and a coffee in hand, I left Maple Creek in search of more random awesomeness (of the photographic variety). From Maple Creek I jumped back onto the Trans Canada highway and started heading east towards Moose Jaw. Other than getting to the Provincial Parks with the intent of making one of them my second nights home, I kept my options pretty open, and luckily so as I encountered tons of amazing and beautifully photogenic spots throughout the day.

First stop along the highway was a set of grain elevators located at Gull Lake. While I never really took the time to venture around the town much, I did spend over an hours composing different shots around the elevators. Looking back at Google maps it's a bit comical that the Gull Lake water body itself is no larger than that of the actual town-site.



I headed back out onto the Trans Canada and continued on east. I remembered hearing a while back about some sort of salt flats near Moosejaw so I decided that would be my next destination. I wasn't quite sure the name of the salt flats or even where its actual location was so I opted to make a pit stop in Swift Current to grab some gas as well as stop at Timmy-Hoes for a coffee and something to eat. During that break I utilized the ol' Google to search for the location of said salt flats and was happy to find it located in Chaplin, right along the highway only about an hour east of Swift Current. After about a half hour or so in Swift I jumped right back in the car and headed towards Chaplin to see what the salt flats were all about.

Chaplin Lake is Canada's second largest inland saline water body, which makes it an excellent source of high-quality sodium sulfate. When you are approaching Chaplin you can see white salt flats for quite a distance, as well as massive piles near the Saskatchewan Mining and Minerals facility located at the edge of the town. Chaplin is also rumored to be renounced as a shorebird habitat as well, though I didn't see much in my brief visit (nor did I have the length of lens to work with either).


Chaplin ended up being the perfect location to stop in as the Provincial parks I was heading towards just so happened to be due north on highway 19 from the town. Little did I know at the time that highway 19 between Chaplin and Central Butte could possibly be the greatest stretch of road I have ever encountered in terms of abandoned buildings. As I headed north it only took about 3 and a half minutes before I had to pull over and break out the camera. An amazing symmetrical barn was on the right-hand side of the road just egging me on. Though it may not have been "abandoned" it was a beauty to be sure. I spent about 45 minutes or so walking around composing and shooting, getting plenty of good shots to work with in the constantly changing light from the overhead storm clouds. This process of "spotting abandoned subject, pull over, compose/shoot photos ... repeat" happened about every kilometer along highway 19 as I stopped at barns, farm houses and a variety of other beautiful spots. I literally at one point had to consciously tell myself to stop pulling over to shoot photos as I would never get to where I was going (it's seriously a pretty awesome problem to have in my opinion). I definitely plan to make a return trip out to this stretch of road as it was truly a dream for anyone like me who appreciates the beauty of abandoned locations, I highly suggest you check it out if you are in the area.

I continued along north for a few more hours along highway 19, passing through Douglas Provincial Park, stopping a small towns and hamlets along the way. Shortly after a brief stop in the town of Elbow located along the shore of Diefenbaker Lake, I decided to start heading back west towards Alberta and start wrapping up the trip as the weather was looking pretty sketchy and I wasn't really too keen on tenting it in the rain (this is where I wish my car was a Subaru Outback that I could modify the back into a sleeping area). I did a quick tour around Danielson Provincial Park, which was a ghost town at this point in the year being early spring. It looked like it could be a pretty fun place during the summer with a load of boating related activities on the adjacent lake.

I was extremely happy to have unintentionally ended up crossing over the Gardiner Dam, let alone during a really nice storm overhead. The Gardiner Dam is one of the largest embankment dams in the world and was created to control the flow of the South Saskatchewan River (it also created Lake Diefenbaker). While it was insanely windy at the time, the conditions were far too amazing to pass up on shooting some more photos. There were points in time where I was actually being pushed from the wind, it was just crazy! The clouds overhead had so much depth and detail, and while the stacks seen are hydro related, the whole scene at the time (and how I envisioned the image) felt more like some sort of nuclear power meltdown brewing up some crazy ass storm you'd see in a shitty Ian Ziering movie (yes, that was a Sharknado reference for those keeping score and/or scouting for his next movie).
To me this seemed to be the absolute perfect ending point for my first 
#RandomRoadtrip and I would DEFINITELY make a return trip back to Saskatchewan. In fact I have already been doing a bit more research and locating a slough of grain elevators to hit up to generate a nice collection of images ... who knows, maybe I'll do some sort of calendar or book or something one day of these disappearing icons. 

Full (ongoing) gallery of photos from this trip can be viewed on my website > http://www.neilmcelmon.com/SW-Saskatchewan/

Cheers!