Photo of the Day (12.28.10)

I typically associate images of massive glaciers with the Antarctic, Himilayas, or Alaska; certainly not the south-western Pacific. But believe it or not, today’s stunning Photo of the Day comes from the Franz Josef Glacier on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Sweet as!

The Franz Josef is an impressive 12km long glacier that stretches from the slopes of the South Alps to a temperate rainforest that’s less than 300 metres above sea level. Visitors can day-hike or take a helicopter tour onto the glacier for beautiful views like this one, taken by Flickr user Martin O’Connell.

While it may be hard to take a bad photo with scenery like this, I think the contrast of the ice against the clouds and mountains in the distance makes it an especially engaging photo. Show us your winter wonderland! Upload your best shots to our Flickr pool and it could be our next Photo of the Day.

Photo of the Day (9.7.10)

If you’re back to the grind and Labor Day is feeling too far away already, then take a moment to check out this beautiful photo series by Italian photographer, il lele.

The set spans a road trip from Chicago to Vegas on two-lane highways, capturing some classic American portraits & scenery with a distinct vintage tone. It’s always great to see photos of America from a non-American perspective, and il lele has certainly captured some great moments, like this beautiful ‘room with a view’ in Monument Valley.

Do you have a series of photos that tell a unique story? Share them with us! Upload them to our Gadling Flickr Pool and we might just choose one as our next Photo of the Day.

Two routes, one trip – Road trip tip

Before embarking on a road trip, map out two different routes — a slower, scenic route and a shorter, faster (less scenic) route.

In case you need to reach your destination sooner than planned, you’ll have your faster route. However, try to take the more intriguing scenic route. Grab a camera, hop out, and snap some shots of the beautiful scenery you pass by. Discover the hottest eateries on your journey. Be sure to stop in, indulge in the local eats, and continue along your trip-capturing memorable moments.

NOTE: Make sure to print a copy of your scenic route and your fastest route even if you have GPS. Just in case…

South by Southeast: Exploring Luang Prabang

Welcome back to Gadling’s series on backpacking in Southeast Asia, South by Southeast. As travelers, we have a tendency to overload our trips with adventure and movement. This is especially true in Southeast Asia – as I’ve discovered in Thailand and Laos, there’s no shortage of motorbikes to ride or zip lines to catch. But if you truly want to understand this part of the world, it’s not a vigorous itinerary you need. Instead, you need to spend a few days on foot, letting the pungent smells, vivid colors and urgent sounds of the Southeast soak into your subconscious. And there’s no better place for this to happen than Luang Prabang.

Located in the sleepy nation of Laos, Luang Prabang is truly a crown jewel of Southeast Asia. This former royal capital, atmospheric river port and UNESCO World Heritage Site has emerged in recent years as one of the region’s newest must-see destinations. It’s not the blockbuster sights that make Luang Prabang such a fantastic place to visit. It’s the simple act of walking and observing that becomes the focus of your stay: exploring fading French villas and evening handicraft markets, sampling the town’s fresh-baked baguettes or watching a procession of orange-robed monks silently march down the road.

This sensory overload is what makes Luang Prabang a must-see for any Southeast Asian traveler’s itinerary. Curious about visiting this underrated Laotian capital of French/Asian style, vivid color and Buddhist serenity? Let’s take a look at some of the essentials and highlights of any Luang Prabang visit. Keep reading below for more.

Getting There
Luang Prabang is located smack-dab in the middle of Northern Laos, making it easy to reach from points North or South. Overland travelers from Thailand will often stop in the Laos border town of Huay Xai, where a two-day “slow boat” plies the Mekong River all the way to Luang Prabang. From within Laos, frequent buses connect Luang Prabang with the nation’s capital in Vientiane and backpacker hub of Vang Vieng. Luang Prabang’s airstrip is also served by a number of Southeast Asian regional airlines including Bangkok Airways and Lao Airlines.

What to Do
Due to its unique location at the confluence of two rivers, Luang Prabang has long been an important religious, political and economic hub. You’ll find the town reflects this historic grandeur, dotted with ornate Buddhist temples and lavish royal palaces. The main highlights include:

  • Wat Xieng Thong – in a city studded with important Buddhist “Wats,” Wat Xieng Thong is perhaps Luang Prabang’s most ornate and well-known temple complex.
  • Royal Palace – until they were deposed by the Lao Communist Revolution in 1975, the Lao royal family made its home in Luang Prabang. Visitors can tour the ornate royal complex, peering into the King and Queen’s teak-lined living quarters. Out back is a collection of vintage cars gifted by the French and American governments.
  • Night Market – as the sun begins to set each evening, Luang Prabang’s main street is crowded with an huge array of vendors, selling everything from grilled fish to locally made textiles to handicrafts.
  • Kuang Si Falls – about an hour’s ride outside Luang Prabang you’ll find an impressive series of waterfalls at Kuang Si, as well as a swimming area and a “Bear Rescue Center” for mistreated animals.

Keep in mind that “seeing the sights” of Luang Prabang is only half the story: the longer I spent wandering this picturesque river peninsula, the more I enjoyed simply soaking in the town’s unique atmosphere. Make sure to leave some time to simply explore without purpose.

Where to Stay
There are accommodation options in Luang Prabang to suit just about any budget and lifestyle, from luxurious boutique resorts housed in ancient French villas to clean no-frills backpacker haunts. For those on the thrifty side, you’ll find plenty of simple and clean guesthouses (under $10/night) clustered around Sisavong Street near the Joma Bakery. Those looking to splurge should check out 3 Nagas, a beautiful mansion nestled in the heart of Luang Prabang’s historic district (rates start at $125/night).

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.

The Cadillac of ziplines – Kapalua Sunset Zipline Tours

Even if you’ve been on a zipline before, you probably haven’t seen anything like the Kapalua Adventure Sunset Zipline Tour. First of all, as you may have noticed in the title, they offer a sunset trip, which means that you not only see stunning scenery in an adventurous context, but you see it under the sexy colors of the Hawaiian Sunset.

The zip course features sit-down harnesses — it’s like zipping in a hanging chair — and most of their tracks are tandem, meaning you can zip with a friend next to you or, if you’re the competitive sort, race.

Beyond the spectacular views and comfortable seats, the course itself is rather impressive on its own. It towers at 1,400 feet above sea level and has ziplines up to 2,300 feet long. It also includes a ropes course, a rock wall for climbing, a giant swing between two 60-foot telephone poles and a suspension bridge that looks like San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge (see gallery). They have retired military vehicles to transport you up the luscious mountainside, and can provide windbreakers for that high-altitude wind.

Even the first-timers in my group felt safe and comfortable — you know, once they got the first line out of the way. And everyone was floored by the scenery. Check out the gallery and send it to your friends or spouse for vacay leverage.

Visit their website to book a tour or charter your own, and be sure and ask about the Full Moon package if sunset isn’t enough for you and you’d prefer to fly through the dark.
This trip was paid for by Kapalua Resort & The Ritz-Carlton, but the views expressed within the post are 100% my own.