Photo of the day – Sunset in Manhattan

Photo of the day

Sunsets are a common staple of the travel photo album. We tend to associate them with palm-tree-lined beaches, desert landscapes, and misty mountains. Yet this photo by Flickr user jameskadamson has nary a cactus or foothill in sight. Taken in New York City, it’s a beautiful perspective on the building’s architecture and the photographer’s favorite time of day. Want more sunsets? Check out yesterday’s video of the day for 365 sunsets around the world.

Taken a unique perspective on a common subject? Add your photos to Gadling’s Flickr Pool and we may choose one for a future Photo of the Day.

Dreaming of Bali – In search of paradise

What is paradise? Is it a place we can visit? Somewhere with palm tree-lined beaches, frosty cocktails and simmering volcanoes? Or is it an idea? A vision in dreams that never quite materializes when we wake up? Bali, an intriguingly exotic island tucked into the Indonesian Archipelago in Southeast Asia, is just such a paradise. This elusive island is everything you’ve ever dreamed – a land of otherworldly temples, postcard-worthy sand and exotic colorful wildlife. But just when you start easing into the charms of this idyll, Bali shocks you back to life with its increasing modernity and ever-evolving culture. Dreams take unexpected turns, don’t they?

Everyone in Bali, it seems, is looking for their slice of paradise. The island last year welcomed a record 2.3 Million visitors and it shows. In Bali’s tourist capital of Kuta the signs are everywhere, manifesting themselves as gaudy Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurants and mushrooming surf shops on every corner. But that doesn’t mean this paradise is lost. Simply drift your way towards the island’s serene interior, a place dotted with terraced rice paddies and gently humming frogs. Or find yourself lost inside a labyrinth of street food vendors in the city of Denpasar, your nose perfumed with scents of spice, and smoke, and kerosene heat.

Paradise isn’t just a place. It’s a way of seeing the world, particularly when you’re dreaming of Bali. Keep reading below to learn how to begin your Bali exploration.Getting There
Getting to paradise isn’t supposed to be easy, is it? This is particularly true for Bali, an island that’s hidden itself way down “in the corner” of Southeast Asia. While there are no direct flights from the United States, airlines like Cathay Pacific (via Hong Kong), Korean Air (via Seoul), China Airlines (via Taipei) and Singapore Air all fly via connections to Denpasar (DPS), Bali’s main airport. Typical prices as of February 2011 start at about $1300 from the East Coast. It might be a long journey to get to Bali, but trust us, it’s well worth it!

Orientation
The vast majority of Bali’s tourism (and visitors) end up in the island’s South, centered around the coastal city of Kuta. While not all of Kuta is bad, most of the city is a mass of schlocky souvenir stands, gaudy restaurants and package tourists. Avoid it if you can. North of Kuta is its swanky cousin Seminyak, home to many of the island’s expats, upscale eateries and shopping.

Beyond Kuta and Seminyak is Ubud, a loose collection of villages, rice paddies and greenery centered on the oddly named Monkey Forest Road. Even further north the island is dominated by the massive Gunung Agung volcano, the geographical and spiritual heart of Balinese life. Beyond that is Bali’s largely undiscovered interior, full of interesting spots like Munduk and of course, Bali’s infinite stretches of coastline, populated by towns like Lovina. In the far Northwest is the wilderness of West Bali National Park.

Where to Stay
Accommodations in Bali range from the insanely luxurious (picture that last Travel + Leisure photo shoot) to modest surf shacks. Most visitors find themselves staying in the island’s south, simply because it has the biggest selection of high-quality accommodations.

The best option for those not rolling in dough but still looking to enjoy some of Bali’s legendary retreats is one the fantastic, plentiful and reasonably priced private villa options on sites like VRBO or Homeaway. For less than you think, you’ll be living it up in your own beautifully manicured tropical estate (here’s where we stayed) or condo.

Beyond the villa scene, there’s a huge range of accomodations on offer in Bali. In Ubud in the island’s relaxed interior, try the Alam Indah. Travelers near Kuta swear by the All Seasons Legian. Jimbaran tends to be the island’s most luxurious (and expensive) area, hosting upscale properties like the Four Seasons and Puri Bali.

What to Do
Whether you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure or a nice beach where you can eat Lotus Blossoms, Bali has an activity for you. In addition to our tips below, check out these 10 suggestions for your Bali visit.

  • See the Kecak at Ulu WatuKecak, a form of Balinese musical theater retelling the myths of the Hindu religion, is re-enacted at sunset at the island’s Pura Luhur temple, perched dramatically on towering cliffs above the ocean. A truly awesome and interesting spectacle to see.
  • Learn to surf – Due to favorable ocean currents and a uniquely suitable coastline, Bali has emerged as one of the world’s great surfing meccas. Try a class at the surfing mecca of Kuta beach, or head to points further South for some legendary “breaks” at spots like Ulu Watu.
  • Head to the spa – tired and sore from that surfing lesson? Why not hit the spa? Bali is increasingly known as one of the world’s “spa capitals,” whether you’re looking for an insanely luxurious spa treatment or simple inexpensive massage on the beach, Bali has it all.
  • Inland adventures – Bali isn’t just about great beaches and spas. Travelers who venture into the island’s interior will find a wealth of challenging activities and beautiful views ranging from laid-back bike rides among the rice paddies in Ubud, to hikes up volcanoes at Gunung Agung to whitewater rafting.

Dreaming of your own visit to Bali? Read more about Gadling’s “visit to paradise” HERE.

South by Southeast: Picking a beach in Thailand

The allure of Thailand’s islands and beaches is immense. Sugar white sand. A wealth of activities, from diving to rock climbing to sailing. Raucous beach parties. But all these pleasing options can actually cause a big headache. With literally hundreds of beach and island choices, spread between Thailand’s west-facing Andaman Coast and the eastern-facing Gulf of Thailand, visitors will be hard-pressed to choose where lay their towels. Not to mention many of us have limited vacation time and budgets.

So how do you properly choose the right beach for your upcoming Thailand adventure? It was exactly the problem I faced last month as I began the last leg of my trip through Southeast Asia. Fortunately, I had the luxury of time on my side. I would check out as many beach spots as I could. From the upscale to the budget, from peaceful to packed, I was on a mission to uncover Thailand’s perfect beach. It was truly a dreadful task, I assure you dear reader, but I suffered through my investigation as best I could.

So did I finally uncover the perfect beach in Thailand? If you’ve ever wanted to take a Thai beach vacation, keep reading below for South by Southeast’s handy guide to picking the perfect stretch of sand.Finding the perfect beach in Thailand is all a matter of what you’re looking for, whether it’s partying till dawn, partaking in some active pursuits or getting in touch with your inner castaway. To help you figure out what’s best for you, consider the following categories:

Get Away from Me, World
Thailand’s islands and beaches are firmly on the tourist trail these days, but there are still a few spots you can get “off the beaten track.” For the best chance of success, consider sticking to the Andaman Coast, particularly the islands closer to the Malaysian border, like Ko Adang and Ko Bulon Lae as well as Ko Chang (the one on the Andaman Coast, not the Gulf of Thailand). Though there are still visitors, these are the types of islands where it’s still possible to grab a quiet bungalow, get lost and have a swim on a deserted beach.

I’m on a Budget
With all the exclusive resorts going up on islands like Ko Samui these days, you might get the impression that finding a beach paradise in Thailand is going to be expensive. But it’s not. For backpackers watching their dollars, check out islands like Ko Phangan, which manages to maintain scattered bungalows that are a downright bargain. Another good choice is Ko Tarutao, a protected national park island where you can score a tent or longhouse for less than $10/night.

The Active Adventurer
Does sitting on the beach make you antsy? In addition to nice stretches of sand, Thailand’s beaches are also the perfect place to enjoy a variety of active pursuits, ranging from kayaking to rock climbing to scuba diving. The limestone rocks at Railay are among the best spots in the world to try to some climbing. Is diving more your style? Check out Ko Tao or the Similan Islands, home to teeming schools of fish, turtles and sharks. And for kayakers? Head for either Ao Phang Nga or Ang Thong National Marine Parks.

I Came Here to Party!!!!!
Thailand is home to some world-class nightlife, and the country’s beaches and islands certainly don’t disappoint. For all the fire twirling, dance music and whiskey buckets you can handle, check out the islands of Ko Phi Phi, Ko Phangan and Ko Samui. Some travelers hate these islands. Others think they’re paradise. We’re not here to judge…just give you the facts. Check out this account of Ko Phangan’s infamous Full Moon Party from Gadling writer Stephen Greenwood for more info.

From raucous Full Moon Parties to deliciously deserted beaches, Thailand has the beach for you. With all this choice, the problem isn’t finding what you want – it’s trying to pick. Have any favorite island experiences or tips that we missed? Share them with us in the comments.

Gadling writer Jeremy Kressmann is spending the next few months in Southeast Asia. You can read other posts on his adventures “South by Southeast” HERE.

Photo of the Day (1.3.2010)

Don’t be fooled…this image is a mirage! Well at least it looks like one, right? It’s actually a fantastic snap by Flickr user ohad*, who caught this visually striking scene on a pool of water in Florida. The shimmering ripples of water and hazy outline of the palm trees make you feel as though you were staring at a desert illusion, conjured by the sizzling heat.

Want your pics considered for Gadling’s Photo of the Day? Submit your best ones here.