Traveling to Bangkok? Let me share a few tips.

Traveling to Bangkok? Let me share a few tips.

Don’t waste your time visiting the National Museum. The key galleries are being renovated so there’s very little to see. Keep in mind that no backpacks are allowed in the museum so you must leave your photo gear at the ticker counter unless you plan ahead.

Ah, the mysterious Thai cultural center. The first mission of this center should be to inform Thais of its existence. Even though I checked the map and asked a taxi driver, two cops, a receptionist, and even an official-looking guy in a suit, I wasted more than two hours trying to find the deserted center. Not a single employee spoke English and all the written information was in Thai.

I hate shopping malls, but in Bangkok they proved to be my best ally. Not only I could find clean restrooms and extremely cheap bottles of water (1.5 liters for 50 cents as opposed to 250ml for $8 dollars at my hotel.) Most malls also have a food court, selling the same food as street vendors and for almost the same price, but with a much more comfortable place to sit and rest.


In many countries, people don’t want to be disrespectful, so they make something up when you ask for directions, even if they have no clue what you’re talking about. I generally ask at least two different people to verify the info, and most of the time I get conflicting answers.

In Bangkok and especially in Chiang Mai you don’t even need to buy bottled water. You will find a 7/11 as often as you would find a Starbucks or Chase branch in Manhattan.

Do not rent a motorcycle in Phuket. Nobody will tell you this, but you need a Thai driver’s license. An international driver’s license only works IF you meet an honest cop who speaks English, which means, it doesn’t work. The traffic ticket costs $500. Not wearing a helmet will cost you another $500. No, I didn’t get a ticket, in case you were wondering!

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Hong Kong: The quiet city.

The quiet city.

Comparisons between Manhattan and Hong Kong are inevitable: Both are islands, have many skyscrapers, high-population densities, and crazy real estate prices. Both are magnets for money and people looking for opportunities. And both offer food prices that range from dirt cheap to insanely expensive. Hong Kong has 7.1 million people and a density of 17,024 people/sq. mile while New York has a population of 8.1 million and 27,550 people/sq. mile.


But, Hong Kong is different. VERY different. From the time you touch down, it takes less than an hour to move through immigration, travel to the baggage claim, and board the spotless and quiet express train. That’s easily the wait time at JFK’s taxi line. In Hong Kong every driver spoke English, helped us with our bags, turned the meter on without our request, knew the most efficient way to our destination, charged the exact fare and gave us exact change. I can’t recall the last time I didn’t have to give step-by-step directions to the airport’s cab driver in NY. Then, of course, I have to pay $60 for the privilege of doing their job. My wonderful taxi experience cost $10 in Hong Kong. The city is clean, modern, and efficient. It feels safe and full of opportunities. Most subway stations have shopping malls attached, with spotless restrooms, restaurants, and parks. It shocked me how quiet the city is. In three days we didn’t hear one siren. I wish I could say the same about Brooklyn.

Amazingly something like 80% of the island is a natural reserve. If you get tired of city life, you could simply take the 30-minute express bus for only one dollar to Stanley market, which is on the opposite side of the island and offers landscapes that compete with some of the best I saw in Vietnam. I recommend all visitors take the super-convenient double decker tram system and the a spectacular ferry ride. Each will cost 30 cents in American currency making them one of the best tourist bargains in the world.

Building the puzzle

Traveling to me is like building a puzzle without a reference image. Or, perhaps a chess game where you are one of the pieces moving from one place to another, deciphering maps, and memorizing names with 15 characters that look just like all the other names. It is all a fascinating game played in real time, without cheat codes, or escape menus. Just you and the new place you are about to discover.

There are tourists and there are travelers. The tourists are afraid of the unknown, the different. You see them eating at Subway or McDonald’s right next to the local food market. I am a traveler. I adapt to local customs, eat what the locals eat, enjoy trying new things, push my boundaries, embrace feeling uncomfortable, and have a blast getting lost. There’s truly nothing like traveling to recharge the soul. I love to reconfirm every so often that people are good and generous by nature, and that the universal currency is not dollars or Euros, but smiles.

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Sir, you are crazy! Welcome to Vietnam.

Sir, you are crazy!

My growing up in Colombia turned out to be a huge advantage for traveling in Asia. We Colombians and Asians have a lot in common. We can cross avenues with hundreds of motorcycles zooming past. We understand that sidewalks and stoplights are mostly symbolic. It’s in our blood that the asking price for an item is merely a suggestion and we can haggle until the end of time. We can smell danger coming. We can eat almost anything without getting poisoned. We have a superhuman ability to locate and exterminate bugs. Coming to Asia makes you realize that growing up in a third world country has key advantages.

In Ho Chi Minh City I received the best compliment ever: “Sir, you are crazy! You are like the American chef on TV!” The gentleman in question was referring to Anthony Bourdain and the reason for the wonderful reaction was simple. When traveling alone, I like to ask cab drivers to take me to THEIR favorite lunch or dinner spot. They always know the best places in town. My driver and I feasted on Pad Thai at the eatery where he takes his girlfriend. It was the best Pad Thai I’ve had in my life. And it cost $1.50.


Friends often wonder how I obtain access to so many interesting and often difficult-to-infiltrate places. The answer is fairly simple—I ask questions. One example: while having breakfast I asked my waitress for sightseeing recommendations. She sent me to the War Museum. There I saw three geisha-looking women entering a room. I went to see what was going on and I was told it was a private Tea Ceremony for the Japanese Consul. After a quick introduction and talking to the right person, I was invited to stay, and for four hours I witnessed a fascinating Japanese tradition at the War Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. All because I simply started asking questions


Halong Bay was breathtaking, but after Thailand, Vietnam was disappointing. Sadly, the vast majority of Vietnamese we dealt with were unnecessarily rude, or, at best, simply didn’t care about engaging in anything that didn’t represent money changing hands. I was told that this `is a common expression of independence. Vietnam has a cultural history of more than 20,000 years—that’s one of the longest continuous histories in the world. They have been the target of so many foreign aggressors that yelling “no!” to a foreigner must feel great. Unfortunately, tourists don’t understand, nor appreciate, this behavior and will increasingly choose friendlier countries like Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Singapore in which to spend their time and money.

At any major tourist destination it is nearly impossible to walk for more than 30 seconds without having to stop for someone taking a picture. The weapons of choice are iPhones shooting vertical video and tablets with very thick covers for stills.
Also trending are what I call the IVSTs (iPhone vertical video self-portrait tours). The culprit chooses the busiest walking intersection at a popular tourist destination and records themselves talking nonsense about the place. An example: “this is the largest temple in the world and it is very old.”

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Thai people and the guardian of wealth.

The guardian of wealth.

Proud and humble don’t seem to fit in the same sentence but Thais are proud, yet humble, people. You can see it in their eyes, and the way they treat each other.

As in all my travels, my most rewarding and exciting experiences are the exchanges with locals. Spending quality time chatting with locals like Krit, a very hip computer animator, or Mr. Tanta, a very proud police officer, gave me a much deeper understanding of Thailand than any book, movie, or tourist tour could ever do.

I spent a lot of time talking with Buddhist monks who inevitably would ask my name and then ask what it means. Eduardo, for the record, means “the guardian or keeper of wealth, where wealth could be understood as knowledge.” Chatuphon, my 17-year-old friend photographed here means “the four blessings” which are: A long life, Be rich, Be strong, and Be healthy. I’d say that’s a powerful and meaningful name.


By far, the most fascinating character on this trip was Eak. Now in his mid 40s, Eak was born and raised in Switzerland by a Thai mother and Swiss father. He speaks PERFECT German, French, English, Thai as well as some Spanish. He visited Thailand for the first time when he was 20 years old and told me that he suffered a culture shock. “I didn’t understand why these people, my relatives included, chose to live under such poor conditions,” he told me.

After working for a very large and well-known corporation in Zurich, and making, according to him, “more money in one hour than what he now makes in three days,” he returned to Thailand to take care of his dying mother. “I was in shock for an entire year.” He now works as a driver in a boutique hotel in Phuket. Are you planning to go back to Zurich? I asked. “The life quality is here, but the money is there. I still don’t know what to chose.” I can certainly understand his answer.

Phuket is both an island and a province, the largest in Thailand and about the size of Singapore. Places like this are like paradise. No rocks, no corals, no trash, not even shells. Just very fine sand and body-temperature water so calm that you could mistake it for a pool. The only sounds are the waves crashing, a few birds chattering, and the occasional jet ski.

It seems that the only requirements to open a bar in Chiang Mai are a pool table, a fan, a bottle opener, and the willingness to ask foreigners if they are interested in receiving a massage.

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The PDF Version is here PDF version is available here, and the printed version from Blurb is here.



Traveling to a foreign country is like falling in love.

Falling in love.

I’ve always believed that traveling to a foreign country is like falling in love. All your senses are heightened; everything is new, exciting, and mysterious. You can almost taste the colors and touch the smells. You experience mundane things like the rain or city lights from a different perspective. This is especially true in places where I don’t speak the language. It is wonderful to be unable to understand most billboards and ads!

Architectonically, Bangkok is similar to South American capitals like Bogota or Santiago, but hotter. Other key differences include an efficient subway, an impeccable elevated train, express buses, and a wonderful river taxi system (local, semi express, and express). The signs and ways to purchase tickets are so well organized that even without help one can understand and navigate the system right away. The city is shockingly clean, safe, and well organized. When compared to New York and other “world capitals,” Bangkok is years ahead.

The mid-sized Lumphini Park is a small-scale version of Central Park right at the heart of the city. I arrived at sunrise, looking to photograph people jogging and meditating, and, indeed, I found that. However, I also spent some time with a tai chi master, was invited to have breakfast with a group of retired Chinese folks, and photographed a woman who in the 70’s was the number-one dancer in Thailand and number-three in all of Southeast Asia. Now she teaches others how to dance tango. She even gave me an autographed photo of herself!

The food in Thailand is phenomenally tasty and affordable. I often had lunch with an appetizer, two entrees, dessert, and a Pepsi. All for a bit less than three dollars, including tip. Here’s another tip: I strongly recommend that you NEVER peek behind a street vendor’s shop. It ain’t pretty. Trust me.


It always takes a few days to flush the “New Yorker” in me out of my system. I want things to be quick and efficient, and I hate to wait. People in Thailand, especially outside Bangkok, are NOT in a rush. It can be frustrating trying to squeeze in tiny corridors with hundreds of people moving slowly, or waiting forever for someone to show up. The only real option is to adapt, slow down, and go with the flow.

If you want to discover the local habits and avoid touristic clichés, Khlong Toei Market is the real deal. For two hours I was the only foreigner and the only one with a camera. A traveler’s paradise. It’s a short walk from the National Convention Center and it’s challenging, but it’s totally worth a visit. The fish and crabs were still alive, the calamari was swimming in its own ink and the pigs’ heads were still bleeding. Don’t wear flip-flops or sandals—what looks like blood is blood. Wear a shirt that you can wash right away, and plan to take a long shower immediately after visiting this market. The smells will stick to you, but so will the experience.

The first few days of visiting Buddhist wats are fascinating. All those colors and details. So much history, and so many traditions I can’t even begin to understand. The Emerald Buddha (which is really carved from green jade) was first DISCOVERED in 1434. The sacred image wears one of three seasonal costumes: Summer, Rainy Season, and Winter.


I was told that in Buddhist wats, the bells toll three times a day: once to announce the start of the day, once at noon, and once to signal the end of the day. Monks are prohibited from growing their own food, storing their own provisions, or cooking their own meals. I was very surprised to know that some of them are not vegetarians. In Thailand, they rely on whatever is freely given to them by others, and this might include meat. The monks eat twice a day—breakfast at 7 a.m. and lunch around noon. After that, they are only allowed to drink water and other liquids, but they can’t eat solid food and they can’t store food overnight.

After a few days of visiting wats, your eyes and mind stop seeing—you are there, wanting to be moved and inspired, but the feeling is harder and harder to recapture. In Europe we can get overloaded by visiting too many churches and museums in too short a time. In Asia, one can quickly experience wat and crowd overload. Be sure to enjoy those first few days of innocence and wonder.

Bangkok’s Chinatown is like the opening sequence from the 1994 film Chungking Express—chaotic, overcrowded, packed with long and narrow hallways, and hundreds of people walking extremely slowly. The two competing shopping malls are “China World” and “India Emporium.” It seems like a good commercial representation of the world.

We truly appreciate your support for this and similar project by purchasing My Asia • Photo eBook (iPad)
The PDF Version is here PDF version is available here, and the printed version from Blurb is here.



From New York to Tokyo. Fanning the smoke.

Fanning the smoke.

My visit to Japan wasn’t planned. My Delta flight from JFK to Tokyo was delayed and I missed my connecting flight. With 24 hours at my disposal I took this impasse as an early and welcomed present. My brief visit to Japan was smooth and easy. Everything is properly organized, scheduled, packaged, and explained. The people are so polite and friendly that I felt like a celebrity everywhere I went. So many folks were so happy that I wondered if this was all just a performance!

If you are ever stranded near Narita International Airport, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to go to Tokyo unless you have at least 12 hours available “inland.” Additionally, my wife and I have planned to visit Tokyo together for a long time, so I didn’t want to spoil our dream destination. I chose going instead to the magnificent Naritasan Shinshoji Temple.

It was deeply moving to see people of all ages at the temple, all showing a sincere and profound respect for their surroundings. Visitors washed their hands at the purification fountain and some even rinsed their mouths before entering the temple.

Americans are impressed with buildings or furniture that’s one-hundred years old. Europeans are proud of their four-hundred-year-old cathedrals. Here, you can witness one-thousand-year-old temples and truly ancient objects (Naritasan was built in 940 CE). You can feel history and tradition in the air, which, from a distance, smells like wood and incense. I later realized it is customary to burn incense and offer a prayer, then extinguish the flame by waving the hands, and fanning some of the smoke toward the person, as the smoke is believed to have healing powers.

Many religions believe that burning incense is good for the soul, but in Japan it is also an indicator of refined taste. Seeing my amazement, and perhaps all the time that I spent trying to capture the essence of the moment with a tiny camera, one of the temple keepers approached me. I assumed he was kicking me out. On the contrary, he was eager to see the images I was taking and more than happy to answer my endless questions. During our brief and fascinating conversation he mentioned that during World War II, most bells in Japan were melted down to make weapons and that 70% of all of Japan’s incense is manufactured on one tiny island south of Osaka called Awaji.

A few more interesting snippets about my brief time in Japan: Contrary to what I have read over the years about the country and my experience with Japanese people I have met on the road, I was a bit surprised by the lack of people speaking English. Case in point, high school students couldn’t understand me when I asked for directions. One associates Japan with fish and sushi, but I saw and ate more meat in Japan than in any other country, except Argentina. Finally, what’s with the heated toilets? If there’s a cultural explanation for this, please shoot me an email.

The Intro to this project is available here.

We truly appreciate your support for this and similar project by purchasing My Asia • Photo eBook (iPad)
The PDF Version is herePDF version is available here, and the printed version from Blurb is here.



Letting instinct be my guide through Southeast Asia.

Letting instinct be my guide.

I approached my first trip to Southeast Asia in a different manner than my previous international trips. Even though I purchased the airplane tickets back in December, about 10 months before departure, I only booked hotels for the first two nights in each city. I left the remaining nights to chance. Unlike previous trips, I purposely didn’t research, map out, or schedule anything. Every morning I would get lost for a few hours by letting my instinct be my guide. Unlike my hectic life in New York City, where every day and week is carefully planned and literally every minute maximized, I wanted to drastically change gears and slow down, allowing life, and light, to hold my hand and walk me through uncertainty.

As always, I was hunting for meaningful images, beautiful faces, and remarkable locations. While doing that, I was tasting new, affordable, and outstanding food.

As I walked through the cities, I was mentally writing this journal, hoping it would inform and enhance my images. I chose not to shoot more than a few minutes of video during this trip as it would take a more rigorous approach, and it certainly would require more time and gear to do it right. As my only tool I used a tiny Fuji X100S.

The final product is a truly multimedia piece; ambient sounds recorded by us with an H4n, a few video clips, my journal transformed into a voice-over narration, and many photographs, some of which became a book carefully edited and beautifully designed by the super talented Gaia Danieli.

Part 1 (From New York to Tokyo) is now available here.

We truly appreciate your support for this and similar project by purchasing My Asia • Photo eBook (iPad)
The PDF Version is herePDF version is available here, and the printed version from Blurb is here.



Visual Serendipity Week 78. A shelter for the wealthy.

The Andrew Freedman Mansion, a wonderful building in the Bronx, NY, designed specifically as a retirement home for wealthy people who had lost their fortunes. We are working on a project here and will be sharing a pretty cool clip very soon. Stay tuned.
Here’s a New York Times article about this place.



Adobe Lightroom Tips and Tricks 003. Editing Capture Time

Pretty busy week, so we will keep this one nice and short.

Tip 003 – Editing Capture Time.

An issue that many photographers experience while shooting away from home is that they forget to change the time settings on the camera. When downloaded, the images will display the incorrect capture time. Thankfully, this is very easy to fix in Lightroom.

Simply select the image(s) you want to update. Go to Metadata and click on “Edit Capture Time.”

Editing Capture Time in Adobe Lightroom

As you can see below, there are three options. Select the one that better matches your needs.
Editing Capture Time in Adobe Lightroom

Another situation when this becomes extremely handy is when scanning images. Since the embedded info will be missing a Capture Time you can easily add it this way.
Keep the questions coming and we will keep answering them!

If you don’t need all the Adobe Creative Cloud bells and whistles, consider their photography plan which includes Photoshop CC + Lightroom 5 and 20GB of cloud storage for only $9.99/month!

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Visual Serendipity.

Grand Central Terminal New York

Grand Central Terminal, seen from a very unusual catwalk’s view. While working on a consulting project for Metro North, I had access to a unique, VIP, once-in-a-lifetime, behind the scenes tour of Grand Central. The main lobby, which I always thought was huge, is actually a tiny part of the station. According to the travel magazine Travel + Leisure, Grand Central is “the world’s number six most visited tourist attraction”, bringing in approximately 21,600,000 visitors annually.


Visual Serendipity.


The 1964 World’s Fair New York State Pavilion designed by Philip Johnson is simply awesome. It “featured three observation towers, one of which at 226 feet, was the tallest structure at the Fair. Speedy “Sky Streak” capsule elevators whisked visitors to the observation platform above. Beneath the towers was the Tent of Tomorrow, the world’s biggest suspension roof (larger than a football field), supported by sixteen 100 foot columns. Translucent colored panels in the roof flooded the tent’s interior with colors.” Sources here and here.

We normally don’t use other images on our Visual Serendipity series but these two are too good to skip.


Visual Serendipity.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City measures almost 1?4-mile (400 m) long, and occupies more than 2,000,000 square feet (190,000 m2). Every single time I go, and I do it often, I discover something new.


Visual Serendipity.

Serendip­ity: noun; the occur­rence and devel­op­ment of events by chance in a happy or ben­e­fi­cial way.

Interior Architectural Photography - Red Lamps Interior Architectural Photography - Red Lamps

Both images were taken the same night, and at the same Brooklyn restaurant, Char #4. The place is nice, the service was good, and the food was decent, but the restaurant is definitively overpriced and overhyped. This was my third and most likely last visit.


Judging a Photo Contest.

For the last 10 years, the Engineering News-Record (ENR), a sister publication of the Architectural Record, has been hosting a very well attended “construction” photography contest. Each year they invite a  fresh set of five judges consisting typically of art directors and senior editors from ENR or its sister publications, one construction safety expert, and one outside photographer. Guess who was the outside photographer this year? Oui, moi.

About a month ago I had the honor to review more than 1,200 submissions with Cathleen McGuigan, editor-in-chief of Architectural Record and editorial director of two other McGraw-Hill publications, Gary DiPaolo, our construction safety expert, and two ENR employees, Aileen Cho, senior editor for transportation, and Justin Reynolds, associate art director.

As Tom Sawyer, the photo contest’s director writes on his article “Judging the ENR Photo Contest – Hows and Whys (PDF)”, I was truly surprised to see the overall quality of the images. This year’s online gallery is available here.

Construction Photography Contest


Visual Serendipity.

Serendip­ity: noun; the occur­rence and devel­op­ment of events by chance in a happy or ben­e­fi­cial way.

Interior image of the Radio City Music Hall in New York City

The Radio City Music Hall, designed by architect Edward Durell Stone, and interior designer Donald Deskey in the Art Deco style, opened to the public on December 27, 1932.

Some people say that with a stage almost 150 feet wide, and 5,933 seats, it is the largest indoor theater in the world. The Hall includes the “Mighty Wurlitzer” that also happens to be, small wonder, the largest theater pipe organ built for a movie theater.

Radio City is part of the 12-acre (49,000 m²) commercial complex known as Rockefeller Center. Interesting fact: the complex was developed on land leased from Columbia University, and it is currently leased to and managed by Madison Square Garden, Inc.

Check this awesome “Popular Mechanics” article from August 1932 about the Music Hall and “the importance of chance in progress.”

I took this picture while attending a recent Cirque du Soleil performance.