Robert COLLECTIONS

Scams and Surprises in Addis Ababa
6 months ago Addis Ababa

As I left the beauty of the turquoise-domed Medhane Alem Church behind me, a realization too cynical for the first day of my two weeks in Ethiopia set in: Addis Ababa, the country's capital, was like any other city in East Africa—it was just bigger. That was, until a young man approached me and offered to show me around.I wasn't shocked to learn that our exploration of sights like Merkato Market and the newly-opened Addis Ababa Light Rail wasn't free, not in his eyes. I was disappointed that...

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Bahir Dar’s Dust
6 months ago Bahir Dar

"Are you a rasta?" the boatman asked me, as we sped away from the city of Bahir Dar and over Lake Tana, toward its famous orthodox monasteries. Initially, I thought he was joking, but then I ran my hands through my hair and realized why he might've thought that.Bahir Dar is hot, you see, but also very dusty. My hair was much too long during my Ethiopia trip, which made me sweat a lot more than I otherwise might've done. As my hair dried, the dust coated it, and boom: White-dude dreadlocks...

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Gondar: Where It All Came Together
6 months ago Gondar

I considered skipping the town of Gondar, first of all because of how immediately scammers surrounded me as I walked into my hotel, but secondly (and most importantly) because of how eager I was to get to Lalibela, which I fully expected to be the highlight of my trip—more on that in a second.However, Gondar quickly showed itself to be the most charming destination in Ethiopia, and not just because of the city's castle, which is known as the Ethiopia's Camelot. Nor was it only picturesque...

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Simians in the Semiens

Like Blue Nile Falls, the Semien Mountains are at their most beautiful during or just after Ethiopia's rainy season, when they are lush, green and wet. Thankfully, I happened to venture into them on a perfectly sunny day, there the cobalt sky provided the perfect counterbalance to the golden grasses atop the hills. Anyway, the Semiens superficially resembled South Africa's Drakensberg, which I saw in full emerald regalia. I wasn't missing out, not really.To be sure, I spotted at least 200...

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Lalibela Made Me Sick
6 months ago Lalibela

Lalibela, too, is purported to be more impressive when the land is greener (are you noticing a trend here?), but nothing could destroy the hype I'd built up about Bet Giyorgis, a cross-shaped, rock-hewn church that is perhaps the most ubiquitous monument in all of Ethiopia. It didn't disappoint, even if a guard stubbornly refused me entrance to it just minutes before the official afternoon opening time. (To be fair, he did absolve me later that evening by allowing me to photograph sunset.)The...

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Robbery Amid the Rocks of Axum
6 months ago Aksum

Axum had been an afterthought as I planned my trip to Ethiopia—I only spent a night there because the company who sold me my trip into the Danakil Depression (more on that in a second) also sold me a trip to the Tigray Cave Monasteries, which were halfway between Axum and Mek'ele, where my Danakil tour would depart from.But low expectations always produce great results, especially in Ethiopia, so Axum ended up charming me, from the ruins of the mansion of the Queen of Sheba, to the Church of...

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The Blue Nile Trickle
6 months ago Blue Nile Falls

In Bahir Dar the morning after my "rasta" incident, I embarked for Blue Nile Files—but with a warning."It hasn't rained in a long time," the driver said, as we arrived at the guide station. "Don't be surprised if you arrive to see a trickle more than a fall."The good news about this warning was that it set my expectations extremely low: I viewed it as a triumph to see more than a few drops falling over the edge of the cliff, even if it wasn't the sheet of water some guidebooks show. I was let...

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The Door to Hell, Danakil Depression
5 months ago Dallol

My four-day trip into the Danakil Depression included about half a dozen stops, but only two of them were of any significance to me: The yellow sulfur fields of Dallol, the hottest inhabited place on the planet; at Erta Ale, a volcano home to one of only a few "persistent lava lakes" on the face of the Earth. Neither disappointed.The lava fields, for their part, appeared of another world, the turquoise liquid pooled into the indentations of crystalline sulfur appearing to offer solace from...

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Bangkok, Then and Now
5 months ago Bangkok

My first memory of Thailand is hopping onto the back of a motorbike at Mo Chit bus station in northern Bangkok, and speeding off into a vortex of street food stalls, religious sites, fluorescent taxi cabs—and, yes, smiles—that still hasn't released its hold on me.All the aspects of Bangkok that made me fall in love with the city—and with Thailand—almost a decade ago remain intact, from the temples and shrines you find traipsing around the old city of Rattanakosin, to the boundless energy of...

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Ayutthaya vs. Sukhothai

Many travelers to Thailand, even first-time ones, visit the ancient city of Ayutthaya on account of its closeness to Bangkok, both in terms of geography and history—the seat of Thai royal power was in Ayutthaya immediately before it moved to Bangkok.However, if you want to appreciate ancient Thai architecture and don't want to be distracted by tourists, skip the bus to Ayutthaya and instead fly to Phitsanulok. From there, get a bus to any guest house in Sukhothai, from which you can explore...

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The Charms of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai
5 months ago Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is second on most Thailand travellers' to-do lists, after Bangkok, but the city is a bit more complicated than its must-visit status would have you believe. First of all, while Chiang Mai has a reputation as being more laid-back and less crowded than Bangkok, said reputation has led to an onslaught visitors, foreign and domestic.My advice? Get outside the City Walls, confining as they may be, and even outside the city limits. Go to the hilltop Doi Suthep Temple or, even better, to...

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The Red Lotus Sea and Laotian Borderlands
5 months ago Red Lotus Lake

Up north, meanwhile, the most authentic experience can be had in the Isaan region, origin of famedsom tampapaya salad, among of Thai culinary delights that come from here. Udon Thani is not the largest city in Isaan (although it is the one nearest the border of Laos—this information comes in handy on visa runs!), but it is the gateway to what is probably the most surreal place I've ever seen in Thailand: Talay Bua Daeng Lake, a "Red Lotus Sea" that fills up with pink lotus blossoms every...

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Setting Sail from Krabi
5 months ago Krabi

But enough about the north. The first time I traveled to Thailand I wanted to head south and get my white butt on a beach, so that's exactly where we'll head now. Let's start in Krabi, which is in my opinion the most beautiful of Thailand's "accessible" coastal provinces (more about why I chose that word in a second).One reason I love Krabi is that you don't need to go onto an island to find amazing beaches. You do need to take a boat (Railay Beach is separated from more popular Ao Nang by a...

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Trang, the Lower Andamans and the Gulf
5 months ago Trang

Thai people are generally pretty happy, but did you know that "Land of Smiles" refers to the number of smile-types found here (I believe it's 37) and not the mood of the Thais?Sounds random, I know, but I first read this on a placard at the airport in Trang, a far-southern province that's extremely underrated. Its islands all bear some amazing accolade, from Koh Kradan (deserted), to Koh Mook (home to the aptly-named Emerald Cave), to Koh Libong (also deserted but bigger than Kradan, which...

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