Posts Tagged With: Trip Accomplice

The Best-Kept Secret Spot in the Grand Canyon (Don’t Tell Them I Told You)

Shoshone Point

Enjoying a railing-free view at Shoshone Point

The Grand Canyon is a big place. Like, really big. In fact, it’s hard to describe just how big it is – almost as hard as describing just how amazing the view is. With all that space available, you’d think the last issue a visitor to this marvel of the natural world would encounter would be a crowd. But on the South Rim, especially near the visitor center, hordes of tourists from around the world can frequently be seen jostling for space at designated lookouts in search of the perfect canyon ‘selfie’.

The further you spread out from this epicenter of tourist activity, the more the crowds lessen. But if you’d like to have the entire canyon pretty much to yourself, allow me to share a little-known secret spot I discovered (after some ‘net research) that proved to be the highlight of my visit to one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Shoshone Point

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Contemplate the solitude at Shoshone Point, Grand Canyon, USA

At the South Rim visitor center you can help yourself to a complimentary map – not that it will do you any good. Shoshone Point does not make an appearance. Right there, that tells you that they want this place to remain a secret – which is surprising considering that it is equipped with a picnic area and working restrooms. Apparently it’s meant for groups, but if you’re traveling as individuals there’s nothing to keep you from wandering over.

Getting There

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This is the only sign you’re in the right place

To get to Shoshone Point, it’s best to use your own private vehicle, though if you’re up for a long walk it’s not an impossibility. As you approach the visitor center, take a right on Desert View Drive. Not long afterwards you’ll pass a turnoff that’s only open to the free shuttle buses called Yaki Point Road. Just about a mile east of that is an unpaved parking area with no signage indicating where you are, located on the canyon side of the road. Pull in and get ready for a mild walk (approximately one mile) through pine forest to the lookout point. Alternately, you can take the bus to Yaki Point or the South Kaibab Trailhead (which is a great alternative and an excellent place to get down inside the canyon) then hoof it back down the road. Just a note: keep an eye out for wildlife. No sooner did I pull into the parking area when I came face to face with a coyote who decided my presence wasn’t his cup of tea and he skittered off.

When to Go

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View from Shoshone Point

Naturally, the heat in the middle of the day is less appealing to hike in, so for comfort as well as better lighting for photography, I recommend coming first thing in the morning, or for a great show, come around sunset. Just bear in mind that there are no railings and it is a long (long) way down, so watch your step in the waning light.

Can You Keep the Secret?

There’s no point in knowing a secret and not being able to tell it. I think this post embodies that. So feel free to share this secret spot after seeing it for yourself – that is if you have any words after witnessing that view – and you’ll still likely have the whole canyon to yourself. And if someone asks you where you heard about Shoshone Point…you didn’t hear it from me.

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Da Nang, Vietnam – Where Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad

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Time to party in Hoi An, Vietnam

Sometimes in travel – as in life – it’s not always a question of this and that, but rather this or that. But as opposed to those unpleasant times when you have to choose between the lesser of two evils, there are times when you can see or do most of what you’d like, even if it isn’t everything. It may not be ideal, but as the song goes: Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.

Not too long ago I was faced with one such situation. Our ship was docking in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang (technically Chan May), and from there we had a choice of visiting two of the three UNESCO World Heritage Sites within striking distance of a one-day tour: The ancient capital of Hue, the ancient ruins of My Son, and the former trading village of Hoi An. With limited time available, we opted for the latter two on a whirlwind tour that gave us a taste – though not a full mouthful – of all that’s on offer in central Vietnam. It wasn’t an ideal way of visiting this fascinating region, but as I said before, two out of three ain’t bad.

My Son

My Son

Let the past (and rain) wash over you at My Son, Vietnam

My Son (pronounced mee- sahn) is an ancient site of worship tucked well inland from the emerald waters of the coast. Though a good portion of the site was reduced to rubble courtesy of the U.S. Air Force, there are various temples, halls and other religious buildings that either escaped bombardment or are in the process of reconstruction.

At the entrance, you’ll need to take a stretch golf cart up the winding road to the visitor center proper. I wasn’t looking at the odometer but I figure it was at least a mile if not more. Given the fact that we were experiencing a full-on torrential downpour, the golf cart seemed the best option.

The cluster of ruins that awaited us looked like a scene right out of every adventure movie ever made. There were artifacts, strange writing carved in stone, and various figures represented – not to mention the most gigantic centipede I’ve ever seen scuttling through the undergrowth outside. Surrounding the complex is thick jungle, and on the day of my visit there rivers were swollen to capacity and at times our feet were underwater. So if it’s a rainy day, I recommend that you wear foot gear that you wouldn’t mind getting wet. Don’t let that discourage you though – sloshing through the jungles of Vietnam really fleshed out the experience.

Unless you really care about every temple and building, a few hours here will suffice. And if the weather is clear, it should be a photographer’s playground.

Hoi An

Hoi An Riverside

Follow the River in Hoi An World Heritage Site

The ancient trading post of Hoi An is a colorful amalgam of Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese culture and architecture. Once a major port for international trade, the town has been reborn as a tourist destination for its scenic riverfront and charming ambiance. In town you can busy yourself with a visit to the intricate Japanese Bridge or even more elaborate Chinese Temple. But most of all, take some time to wander the vibrant side streets which are filled with souvenir shops, a small museum and some of the most delicious Vietnamese food to be found anywhere. On the day of my visit, they were gearing up for a festival, so the streets and trees were decked out with colorful lanterns of all colors, shapes and sizes. Not only did I leave wishing I could see what it looked like at night, but also wishing I had at least five to seven days to fully explore the town and all the activities around it.

Marble Mountains

Marble Mountains

Scene from the Marble Mountains, near Da Nang, Vietnam

The Marble Mountains are close to the coast and not far out of the city of Da Nang proper – which, incidentally, is a city undergoing rapid modernization. These five mountains rise almost vertically from the relatively level coastal plain, and host a number of temples that can be visited by those who have more time at their disposition. Below are numerous artisans that sculpt the marble into all sorts of beautiful figures, fountains and statues. If you’re on a guided tour, you can be certain that you’ll be making a stop to see ‘how things are made’ which is code for: tourist trap, please buy something. Despite the obvious commercialism, this would be the place to buy that giant marble elephant you’ve always wanted.

Final Thoughts

The most obvious observation of a day tour from Danang is that you really need more than a day tour to do the area justice. With the royal city of Hue not too far away, and one of the largest cave systems in the world within range, you can easily spend an exciting week of discovery in this Southeast Asian playground. So if you can do so, stay for awhile. If you’re on limited time like I was, content yourself with the wonders you’ve seen, and accept that in reality – you guessed it – two out of three ain’t bad.

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Touring Manila Without Pushing The Envelope

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A quiet corner of Manila, Philippines

Now that I’ve been able to get the whole Manila envelope pun out of the way by means of the title, I invite you to read on about what to see and do in the Philippine capital if you’ve only got limited time.

Overview

Manila is a sprawling metropolis characteristic of many rapidly-growing Asian cities –  filled with chaotic traffic, ramshackle development and increasingly Westernized modernization in the form of glitzy shopping malls that could rival anything back home (I’m talking about you, Mall of Asia). One could rightly argue that such things are reasons why a person wouldn’t want to visit. But at the heart of it all – just a few blocks off of Manila Bay in fact – is a relatively peaceful enclave that lends character to an otherwise indistinct urban conglomeration. It’s called Intramuros, and for those with limited time, it should be at the top of your trip itinerary

Intramuros

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Step inside the walls of the past in the Intramuros, Manila Philippines

Meaning ‘inside the walls’ this is the historic center of Manila – one that was home to its colonial past, and the site of some of the most dreadful devastation the country suffered during World War II (an estimated 100K died during the ‘liberation’ of the city). In fact, most of it was leveled by the intense fighting, and what exists today are mostly reconstructions. Regardless of the exact age, the overall effect is one that gives an appropriate nod to the past and the juxtaposition with the modern development on the outside is a welcome contrast.

What to See

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Exploring the grounds of Fort Santiago, Manila, Philippines

Fort Santiago – overlooking the Pasig River – is the top draw for visitors to Intramuros. This was once the stronghold for the Spanish, Americans and Japanese as they took turns as acting overlords. Today you can admire the mossy bastions of the fort’s walls and crumbling buildings, with intermittent peeks at the darkened dungeons that sit below. It doesn’t have the gravitas of other former fortresses around the world, but is worth at least an hour’s exploration.

Just down the road is another worthy destination – the Casa Manila museum and its surrounding complex. The museum was closed the day I visited, but the network of stone courtyards, flowery passageways, small cafés and shops were right out of colonial times, and if you get the sense that you’re waiting on line on Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean you can be forgiven for the comparison.

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A rooftop view around the Casa Manila Museum, Manila, Philippines

Rizal Park

Just south of the Intramuros is Rizal Park – the Philippines’ answer to the National Mall in Washington D.C. – complete with their own obelisk. Around the open expanse of lawns and fountains are small alcoves with themed gardens accessible for nominal fees. For some relaxation amid the noisy chaos of the city, I’d recommend the Japanese gardens. For some tacky but fun photo opportunities in a Jeepney (the ubiquitous highly-artistic stretched-Jeep public transport option) or rickshaw, I’d recommend the Orchidarium, though you won’t find more than a few examples of its namesake.

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Take a ride on a Jeepney, Manila, Philippines

Practical Advice

Bear in mind that being located within the tropics, any visit to Manila is likely to be a hot one. I’d say you’d be baking in the sun, but with the humidity its more likely you’ll feel sauteed. That said, take in lots of liquids (available at one of the many 7-11s) and don’t be afraid to duck into air conditioned shops to cool down and perhaps pump a few pesos into the local economy.

There is a decidedly third-world feel in many places, and while you need not be overly concerned with safety during the day, it’s always a good idea to be mindful of your surroundings and belongings. That said, I found the Filipinos to be a friendly and engaging people and encourage you to find that out for yourself. All in all, one day is sufficient to see what needs to be seen, and if you have more time and care anything about military history, sites such as Corregidor and the military cemeteries will be worth your while.

Conclusion

With so many amazing places to see and visit in Southeast Asia, I would be hard pressed to recommend going out of your way to include Manila. Far more appealing is the resort island of Boracay not far to the south. But if your travels bring you through the Philippine capital, you might as well make the most of it, and a visit to Intramuros and Rizal Park will likely leave you feeling satisfied – without having to push the envelope.

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2016 Year in Review

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Dragon and Tiger Pagodas

2016 is gone, for better or for worse, and it is at this point that I traditionally recap the Trip Accomplice blog’s contributions in the past year (again, for better or for worse). Here’s a breakdown of what was covered, just in case you weren’t paying attention.

Destinations

This year I was a little light on dedicated destination posts – covering 5 foreign countries (3 in South America and 2 in Asia) and 5 U.S. destinations.

South America

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Check your straight-edge at the door at Casapueblo

I suppose I was feeling nostalgic for South America with three posts based on my 2008 Antarctic cruise.

In Playful Patagonian Penguins: A Lesson in Chilean Alliteration, I had some grammatical fun recounting a trip to Seno Otway and its resident penguin colony in the remote city of Punta Arenas, Chile.

Speaking of remote, I combined an obscure Pink Floyd Song with an even more obscure travel destination in Echoes of Pink Floyd in the Falkland Islands which details what to see and do on a visit to the Falkland Islands. It also lays the basis for a unique soundtrack when doing so.

I also shared some tips for visiting a surreal Uruguayan locale in Straight Lines are Overrated in Punta del Este

Asia

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Nighttime on Lotus Lake, Kaohsiung, Taiwan

During nearly the entire month of November 2016 I was off exploring Southeast Asia with my wife and parents. Despite a wealth of new material to cover, I only got around to two of the many destinations I visited.

In Kaohsiung, Taiwan – The Nicest Little City You’ve Never Heard Of I provided practical advice for visiting this interesting ‘little’ city in Southern Taiwan.

I also shared a review of a great hotel for a relaxing stay in Bali, Indonesia in the appropriately-titled post  Hotel Review: The Samata, Bali.

You can be sure I’ll get around to some of the other spots in the months ahead.

U.S. Destinations

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Come for the sand. Stay for the sunsets.

Within the United States I shared the beauty of the Gulf Coast in the post Brazos Bend: Stars Above, Gators Below for a look at this lovely wetland landscape.

I also provided detailed information on visiting two of New Mexico’s greatest attractions in the posts Elevator Appreciation at Carlsbad Caverns National Park and White Sands: Sun, Sand &…Sledding?

Lastly, I really enjoyed reflecting on a return to my childhood stomping grounds in A Travel Snob Returns to Disney World where I shared my thoughts on Disney’s progress versus preservation.

Top Tens and Other Lists

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Anse Lazio, Praslin Island, Seychelles

The beginning of the year saw me attempting to summarize some of my favorite places in the ever-popular ‘Top Ten’ list format with My Top Ten Beaches, And Why They Should Be Yours and My Top Ten List of World Monuments (Who Said Anything About Dying?)

I also went the list route with Safety Tips for the Skittish Traveler – a rundown of simple precautions to make sure your trip stays all about having fun, along with An Apology to the 14 Countries I’ve Visited More Than Once Without Doing Them Justice which highlights the sad fact that it’s nearly impossbile to see everything a destination has to offer on one (or even multiple) trips. Just as a side note, I now have to update that number from 14 to 17.

Pet Projects

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2016 also saw me widening out my repertoire to include some pet projects. I shared my passion for travel art and showcased some of my work in Putting the ‘Art’ into the Art of Travel. And I also announced my travel-themed  public speaking business in the post I Am the Globechatter…. Both then and now, I invite you to check them out if you haven’t already done so, and share these posts with anyone you might know that would be interested in the services offered.

The Year Ahead

As mentioned before, I still have lots to share from my recent trip to Asia. Keep an eye out for more on Bali, both as a general review and site specific posts. My return to Singapore and Hong Kong will result in updated posts in the coming months, and I look forward to sharing my take on places in the Philippines and Borneo, Malaysia.

Other than that, I have nothing set in stone, as my own travel plans are wide open at this point. But as you well know by now, dear loyal readers, you can be sure of two things: 1) I’ll go somewhere, and 2) I’ll be sure to write about it.

Wishing everyone the best in the days, months and years ahead; I thank you for another year of being my travel companions.

Ben Pastore

 

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