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Northern California Treasures, Part 2

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Drivin' or Surfin' USA I've been experiencing the four seasons in a day here in Northern California.  It was chilly and raining when I woke up this morning. Driving to my appointment, I noticed that my windshield wiper was broken. So, I went to the car dealer/repair to get the wiper replaced.  The weather changed drastically as I left the dealership.  It felt like early summer.  So, I decided to go for a scenic drive to Santa Cruz. The fog rolled in and started to rain as I approached Pacifica. I decided to stop downtown for coffee, but I missed the exit and took the next exit to Starbucks.  Across the coffee shop was Taco Bell. This place is noteworthy because it's the only Taco Bell situated in the middle of the beach.  The Taco Bell parking lot and the Pacifica State Beach parking lot were full. I noticed a few people changing in the parking lot. I went down the beach and saw a few surfers walking on the beach with surfboards in tow. I was struck by large swells and

Northern California Treasures, Part 1

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My approach to travel during this pandemic is that of rediscovering what my home state has to offer.   Driving the Pacific Coast Highway in Northern California is ideal for someone like me who is passionate about travel and photography. Even if the popular sights are closed,  I can always stop to  photograph the landscape and enjoy the view.       Point Reyes National Seashore The Point Reyes National Seashore offers some of the best scenery in California. The highlight  is the  Point Reyes Lighthouse  which is located at the western-most end of the Point Reyes Headlands and Sir Francis Drake Blvd. I must admit the drive here is not easy due to winding roads, high winds and fog. But the spectacular views are worth the drive. From the parking lot we hike about half a mile uphill to the visitor center. And in this short walk, we see varying landscapes from rolling hills covered with wild plants, wildlife (tule elk) roaming around the hills, and rugged cliffs that fall into the ocean, and
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 Auschwitz (Repost) "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana Auschwitz I - The Main Camp In 1940 Himmler, the head of SS ordered a former garrison site in the town of Oswiecin (Auschwitz in German) to be taken over and held as a concentration camp. The camp has been left almost untouched, just like it was when the Nazi left in January 1945. Like most visitors to Auschwitz, I joined an organized tour group. After meeting our guide and collecting our audio set, we headed to the gate, the main entrance to the camp. The mood was subdued as we entered the main gate that read “Arbeit Macht Frei” which means “Work will make you free.” Our guide’s voice began to tremble as she described how the prisoners thought they were going to labor camps, but in reality, the camp was designed for mass extermination. We walked through the tree-lined street between rows of brick buildings reminiscent of a college campus to see the original barrack buildin

The Real Cost of Cruises

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I've been consuming a lot of bad news to stay up-to-date on this pandemic and it has taken its toll on my mental health. Yet, in the midst of all the bad news, we see lots of motivational posts talking about taking this time to have faith, recharge, reset, and stay positive including a fake letter claiming to share Bill Gates’ thoughts on the coronavirus crisis. The so-called ‘open letter’ that was circulating on social media claimed to show that Bill Gates believes there is a ‘spiritual purpose behind everything that happens.” I know that there’s a lot of misinformation out there including the US president touting the mainstream media as fake news.  I just find it ironic that the real fake news like  John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” and cartoonish editorials like  “A Closer Look” by Seth Meyers open my eyes to the honest truth.  One take away for me is that this health crisis exposes the good, the bad, and the ugly like our dishonest leaders, weak health system, inequality in

Phuket and Phang Nga Bay, Thailand

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Phuket is the largest island province in Thailand. It consists of the island of Phuket, the country’s largest island, and 32 smaller islands off its coast. It's renowned for its magnificent mountains/karst covered with tropical vegetation, and surrounding azure blue sea and stretches of powdery-white sandy beaches.   I came to Phuket looking to explore the incredible scenery I saw in movies and to relax in the idyllic paradise. Much to my surprise on arriving in Phuket, I found a bustling coastal city and a popular cruise port. Tourism has taken over much of its coast. On our first day in Phuket, we skipped the beach scene and headed to Phang Nga Bay National Park.  Phang Nga Bay National Park We drove to the island’s north end and crossed the mainland via the Thep Krasette Causeway and boarded a motorboat to reach Phang Nga Bay, Established in 1981, Phang Nga Bay National Park lies in the sheltered pale milky-green waters northeast of Phuket Island and is the location of

Maldives

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I have always dreamed of traveling the world's most exotic beaches, so I couldn't have been more excited when we finally arrived in Maldives.   Located in the Indian Ocean, with a population of 400,000 people, Maldives is the smallest country in Asia. It’s made up of 1190 islands and basically all water: 26 atolls, rings of formed islands, and reefs of varying shapes, depths, and sizes with hues of blue, turquoise to indigo. It is also the world’s lowest country, there are no hiking trails and mountainous national parks to explore.  Maldives is not one of those island countries where you can backpack through. It's  one of those places that would take effort and expensive to visit.  It's famous for luxury resorts on their own private island. We dropped anchor in Male, Maldives capital city, and took the dhoni to a private island luxury resort, Vadoo. It was encircled with powdery white sand beach, and clear blue waters, few connecting cottages floating on the w

Penang, Malaysia

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I was standing at the famous Marina Bay Sands Sky Park Observation Deck in Singapore when I overheard someone say, “You can see Malaysia from here, but there’s nothing much to see there”. That was seven years ago. I returned to Asia on a few occasions, but never visited Malaysia until recently. Malaysia flew by my travel radar probably because its tourism industry is not heavily promoted or not as developed as Thailand its neighbor in the North or its southern neighbor, Indonesia. With the oil and rubber industry, and port of Malacca, Malaysia does not depend upon its tourism. On a recent trip to Malaysia, I decided to go to Penang first. What a better way to learn about the country’s history than a visit to Georgetown, Penang’s capital city. It is a historic city included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. The city is a living example of the multi-cultural heritage (Malay, Chinese, Indian) and tradition of Asia and European colonial influences. Its mélange of culture is expressed