H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 59: people taking selfies at Angkor Wat

During the past week, I participated in a personality interview via Skype which served as the third round of the audition process for a nationally televised quiz show. I’ll let you know if things go any further with that. (And yes, during that interview, I name-checked this blog, as well as mentioning my World Karaoke Tour.) :)

Anyway, this week’s featured image comes from my recent visit to the Angkor archaeological site near Siem Reap, Cambodia — and, specifically, from the Angkor Wat temple that is so identified with Cambodia that it appears on the national flag. The temple’s towers — one central tower, rising to a height of 213 feet, surrounded by four shorter towers — form a distinctive and recognizable profile. Visitors enjoy documenting their pilgrimages to the site:

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(And yes, I realize that the photos being taken as depicted above aren’t true “selfies,” as they’re being taken by persons other than the subjects. But I did see plenty of people using the now-ubiquitous selfie sticks in front of the temple.)

The temple was built in the 12th century. The city of Angkor of which it was a part was the capital of the Khmer empire and at its peak may have boasted more than a million inhabitants; indeed, it is claimed that Angkor was the largest city in the world prior to the Industrial Revolution. Today, that former megalopolis, and the copious ruins that it contains, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Is Angkor Wat on your bucket list?

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H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 58: the White Temple in Thailand

I just enjoyed a satisfying couple of days attending the New York Times Travel Show. But it’s that time of week where I share an image from one of my voyages outside of New York City.

This week’s featured photo comes from Chiang Rai, Thailand. The Wat Rong Khun (known informally as the White Temple), was built in the style of a Buddhist temple, by an eccentric Thai artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, in 1997. Actually I shouldn’t say “built” in the past tense; new buildings and bizarre artworks continue to sprout on the site. The focal point of the property is the temple (also known as the ubosot) that’s painted in white and covered with fragments of glass.

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This photo was taken during my visit to Thailand in December 2014.

Would you like to visit the White Temple?

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Country no. 37 on my World Karaoke Tour: slinging songs in Singapore

singapore slingThe New Year’s Eve just past was my worst NYE ever; but I had a pretty good New Year’s night on January 1.

Singapore presents a spectacular fireworks show over Marina Bay on New Year’s Eve. But due to the medical condition that I discuss here, I wasn’t up for jostling among the throngs of people that typically amass at such pyrotechnics displays, or for then facing a potentially lengthy and arduous journey back to my hotel (like the time the time on New Year’s Eve in Lisbon when I waited over three hours in the taxi queue for transportation back to my hotel after watching that city’s ring-in-the-new-year fireworks over the Tagus River). Nor did I wish to attend an expensive party from which I could view the fireworks (or which required attire that I hadn’t brought with me from New York). So I decided that I would commemorate the arrival of 2015 in Singapore with a night of karaoke! But my plans were, as they say, overtaken by events. Continue reading

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H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 57: trees bursting through temples in Cambodia

My rib injury continues to heal, leaving in doubt whether I’ll be in condition to embark on my already-delayed trip to Rome in mid-February. In the meantime, I’d like to reminisce about my recently-concluded jaunt to southeast Asia. One place I got to in that region was Ta Prohm, a temple complex in Angkor, Cambodia. Celebrated for having trees bursting through the temple buildings, Ta Prohm is a case study in what happens when you abandon a site of human settlement for 400 or so years. (The complex was abandoned in the 17th century.)

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Ta Prohm is a poster child for the “life after people” effect: nature gradually takes over and reasserts her primacy over the works of us puny humans.

And here’s a bonus image showing another of my favourite scenes from Ta Prohm. In the foreground, you can see the destruction wrought by the tree as its roots worked their way through the structure.

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All of the Angkor archaeological region, which is best-known for the Angkor Wat Temple, is collectively a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Do you like visiting the ruins of once-great structures?

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Country no. 36 on my World Karaoke Tour: one night in Bangkok

10499337_746925358710124_2554592821382471102_oFor my Thai karaoke debut in Bangkok, the obvious choice for my song selection was “One Night in Bangkok,” Murray Head’s worldwide top-five hit from the Broadway musical, Chess. Prior to my foray to Southeast Asia, I spent weeks practicing the song. There was only one problem: the karaoke bar in Bangkok turned out not to have that song available. (Yes, the karaoke bar in Bangkok. As I’ll cover in future installments on my recently concluded vacation, the vast majority of karaoke establishments in East Asia offer singing opportunities solely in the form of “karaoke box,” a style that features private rooms that customers rent with their friends or family members. For an exorbitant hourly rate, the patrons in the private chamber sing to each other during their allotted time. (A number of venues in New York City also offer private rooms for karaoke.) But as you know, karaoke for me is all about the performance, and I insist on singing in public in front of an audience of strangers. Karaoke box is not for me. Luckily, the amazing front desk staff at my Bangkok hotel, the Grand Eastin, located for me a restaurant called Sabaijai Kebtawan that specializes in seafood, and — more importantly — where I was able to perform on a stage in my accustomed manner on a Sunday night. With those plans set, I had every expectation that the Land of Smiles (as Bangkok is commonly referred to) would live up to its sobriquet. But then my smile turned upside down. Continue reading

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H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 56: a capsule hotel in Tokyo

After illness forced the postponement of my trip to Rome (previously scheduled for late November 2014, and now planned for mid-February 2015), I’m still not sure whether I’m sufficiently recovered for my East Asia trip for which I’m supposed to leave on December 24. I’ll be seeing more doctors between now and then, and will also continue to monitor how I feel physically. I really really really want to go ahead with my trip to Bangkok, Singapore, Siem Reap, and Seoul, and I don’t bail on travel plans lightly; after all, you’re talking to the person who flew to India two days after having a wisdom tooth removed. :) But of course my health comes first, and we’ll see how things develop in the next week and a half.

In the meantime, this week’s featured image comes from my very first visit to Asia: my trip to Japan in April 2008. Certain Japanese cities such as Tokyo are known for having “capsule hotels” — incredibly space-efficient places of accommodation, in which your room is a minuscule pod. (Apparently the concept originated in the 1970s as a type of place for famously workaholic Japanese men to catch emergency accommodations when they missed the last train home. Even today, capsule hotels tend to be restricted largely to a male clientele.) Here’s one such capsule hotel that I visited in Tokyo in ’08; at the time, it was known was the Big Lemon. It was situated in the Kabuchiko section of the Shinjuku neighbourhood.

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And here’s a bonus photo from inside the Big Lemon, so you can see just how tiny the “rooms” were:

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I didn’t actually lodge in the Big Lemon; I paid one night’s rental charge (which my records indicate ran just over US $40 in 2008) just so I could gain access and take photos. I did also climb inside and lay down for a while, but was unable to nap because a dude who was legitimately lodging there, in a pod across the aisle from me, was coughing. I only lingered for about an hour before I returned to my actual hotel. The woman at the front desk of the Big Lemon was confused about my leaving so soon. She gave me a receipt and instructed me to show it to her upon my return. I tried to explain to her that I wasn’t coming back.

You won’t find a minibar in your room in one of these understated places of lodging. But there are surprising luxury features such as a color TV and a clock/radio (and I understand that in the present day, high-speed internet is common in capsule hotels). All guests of the facility also enjoy complimentary access to a sauna. And while closet space in each berth is limited, lockers are available on-site in the building to store your valuables.

Would you stay in a capsule hotel?

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H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 55: the house that Thomas Jefferson built

Cheers on a Sunday afternoon. Just 3 days now until I leave for Rome, the latest stop on my World Karaoke Tour! But first things first; I have this week’s featured photo to share with you.

Today’s image comes from Charlottesville, Virginia, a town about 116 miles southwest of Washington, DC. Charlottesville is best known for being the home of the University of Virginia (UVA), which was founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson — the third President of the United States, and a great polymath. Also in Charlottesville, Jefferson built a remarkable house, which he called Monticello. (Technically, the Monticello name, which means “little hill” in Italian,” refers to the entire 5,000 acre plantation on which the house originally stood. Today, the property includes 2,500 or so of the original acres)

Typical of Jefferson’s genius, he was self-taught in architecture, and he modeled the design of his home after drawings by the great Renaissance architect, Andrea Palladio. (In turn, Palladio had been heavily influenced by the architecture of ancient Rome, and the design of Monticello is considered a superb example of the Classical Revival style.) Monticello was completed in 1809, after 40 years of planning and construction. Here’s what the end result looks like:

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This photo was taken during my visit to Charlottesville in June 2008. As you can see, the property has been exceptionally well maintained and preserved by the private foundation that runs it. Monticello, together with the nearby UVA campus, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. By the way, you can also take a tour of the house’s interior.

Do you like visiting historic homes?

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A golden temple and a remembrance of spilt blood in Amritsar, India

IMG_20140325_160016_965_1No one seems to know quite how many temples there are in India, but an accurate count would surely reveal numbers running into the thousands. However, it’s difficult for me to imagine that any of those religious houses could be any more beautiful than the main pavilion of the Golden Temple in Amritsar. I was there during my trip to India that took place from March to April of this year. (Earlier during the same trip, India became the 33rd country on my World Karaoke Tour when I sang in New Delhi.)

A city of about 1.1 million people (ranking 34th in population among India’s cities, per the 2011 census), Amritsar is situated in the Punjab state in northwestern India. Its airport makes it very accessible; I flew there round-trip from New Delhi, a journey with a flying time of about one hour (and my return flight from Amritsar to New Delhi on Air India was my first time flying on a Boeing 787. It was a beautiful and comfortable plane.) Like most of the rest of India, Amritsar is also easily reached via passenger rail service.

The main purpose for my inclusion of Amritsar on my itinerary was my desire to see the Golden Temple, although while in town I also visited a non-religious site of historical significance, as you’ll see. In addition, I’ll tell you about a unique day-trip opportunity from Amritsar. Continue reading

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H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 54: a Dutch windmill

Greetings on this Sunday afternoon. This evening I’ll be attending a meetup here in New York City in which attendees will tell stories about their travel adventures. But I also like reliving my travels here at H-Bomb’s World Wide Karaoke! With that in mind, it’s time for another picture drawn from one of my previous trips.

This week’s featured image comes from the Netherlands. Before I visited Amsterdam, one of my top goals was to see a traditional Dutch windmill. I accomplished that during a day trip that took me to Zaanse Schans, a village in North Holland that abounds with windmills and traditional workshops. While my tour group was being subjected to a boring demonstration at a wooden shoe factory, I slipped away to get more photos of windmills, including the one that you can see here:

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This photo was taken during my visit to the Netherlands that took place from August to September, 2004. To get this shot, I had to overcome my fear of heights and climb a nearly vertical ladder to the loft in an adjacent windmill.

Has a photo opportunity ever motivated you to overcome your fears?

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H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 53: the colourful skyline of Hong Kong

Namaste! Are you following this blog’s Facebook’s page yet? If not, you can just go here and click on the “like” button! That way, in addition to being apprised of new posts and other developments here at H-Bomb’s Worldwide Karaoke, you’ll see unique content such as photos from my travels that only appear on that Facebook page! Right now, the page has slightly more than 1,600 likes. Can you help me get to 2000?

Okay, with that out of the way, it’s time for a new featured image! Our photograph of the week comes from Hong Kong, which I named to the “Honourable Mention” list in my recent article about the cities I would most like to return to. Every night, the skyscrapers of Hong Kong’s business district present a sound and light show called “A Symphony of Lights” in which they’re illuminated in ever-changing colours, while searchlights and laser beams dance in the sky — with the whole thing synchronised to music. Here’s a snapshot in time from that sound and light show, looking across Victoria Harbour from the waterfront promenade on the Kowloon Peninsula — and as you can see, the buildings were looking particularly festive for the holidays when I went because I was there immediately after Christmas.

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And as a bonus, here’s a video that I took of the Symphony of Lights show, so that you can see and hear what I experienced!


The photo and video footage aboe were taken during my trip to Hong Kong that took place from December 2009 to January 2010. During that trip, China (of which Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region) became the 15th country on my World Karaoke Tour.

Do you like watching sound and light shows when you travel?

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L.A. story, part 2: cities of the dead in the City of Angels

P1040854A common pastime for tourists in Los Angeles is to drive past the homes of celebrities. One of my cherished activities during my own trips to L.A.. has involvedĀ a twist on that concept: visiting the current residencesĀ of people who are rich, famous — and dead. As you might expect given the association of the city with show business, several area cemeteries include large concentrations of former stars from the entertainment field. I’ve been to two of those cemeteries so far: Forest Lawn, which is located in the town of Glendale; and Hollywood Forever, which as its name implies is situated in the Hollywood district of Los Angeles.

This post is a sequel of sorts to my article from December 2012 about offbeat attractions that I found in Los Angeles. Below, in part 2 of the series, I recount my excursions to a pair of the L.A. area’s “cemeteries to the stars.” As those visits took place in 2012 and 2013, it has obviously taken me a while to get around to writing about them. However, be warned: death waits for no man. Continue reading

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Places that captured my heart: the top 5 cities that I long to return to

8079727_mWhen I venture forth from my home base of New York City, I tend to prioritize visiting destinations that I’ve never been to before. It’s my goal to explore as many different places on the planet as I can (and, along the way, to sing karaoke wherever in the world I can find it). If I had my druthers, I would travel as often as possible to the spots that I most enjoyed in the past, while constantly adding new locales to my itinerary. Due to time constraints, however, first-time destinations tend to win out when I’m planning my next holiday. There are few overseas cities that I end up getting to more than once. But some metropolises have made such an impression on me that I’m fervently hoping to find a way to spend more time in them. This post is about the five global cities that I would most like to return to.

Note that in compiling this list, my focus was on international travel, and accordingly I only considered cities outside my native United States. I’m certainly always up for going back to American locations such as San Francisco, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Chicago, Miami Beach, and Seattle; but that’s a discussion for another day.

This post was written in response to a challenge by Arnab of the blog Travel Andy. Anyway, here are my top 5!
Continue reading

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H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 52: a mural of Mandela in Belfast

Hello on a cold Sunday in New York. Today was this city’s annual marathon. I don’t participate in those races myself; running 26.2 miles is far beyond my capabilities. But as I traditionally do, I cheered on some of the runners from the sidelines. (The marathon’s course runs along First Avenue in the Upper East Side, the neighbourhood where I live.)

Now that I’m safely inside my warm apartment, it’s time for a new photo of the week! This week’s featured image comes from Belfast, Northern Ireland. In Belfast, which until recently was riven by strife, a “Wall of Injustice” contains murals depicting various perceived injustices around the world. One section of that wall includes a mural showing the great Nelson Mandela, the first South African President after the crumbling of that country’s apartheid regime.

Mandela mural

The text on the mural quotes Mandela as saying, “In my country we go to prison first and then become President.” (Of course Mandela was imprisoned for over 27 years, including nearly 18 years served on his country’s notorious Robben Island, prior to being elected President in 1994.)

This photo was taken during my visit to Ireland and Northern Ireland that took place from December 2013 to January 2014. Now that peace has finally come to Northern Ireland, Belfast is newly ascendant as a tourist destination.

Would you be interested to visit Belfast?

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H-Bomb’s Sunday photo, week 51: a river view in Prague

Greetings on another fine Sunday. So, last weekend I was supposed to be auditioning for the American quiz show “Jeopardy!”; but on the night before the tryout, after having already arrived at the hotel in Pennsylvania where it was to take place, I came down with a stomach flu (medically described as a norovirus). That type of ailment is never a pleasant thing to experience, but in this case the timing was particularly subpar. :) Given how I was feeling as well as my desire not to expose others, I had no choice but to postpone my audition. The staff of the show was understanding; a producer told me that I’ll be rescheduled for another audition slot as soon as possible, probably within the next few months. So I’ll still get my shot soon enough!

In the meantime, there’s lots to do. For example, it’s now time for another photo of the week! This week’s featured image comes from Prague, Czech Republic. It’s a view across the Vltava River that bisects the city, looking towards Prague Castle and St. Vitus’s Cathedral. The view is from the city’s Old Town district, just north of the famous Charles Bridge.

Sunday on the Vltava

This picture was taken during my visit to the Czech Republic in June 2006. Sadly, the Czech Republic is one of only four countries that I’ve been to without singing karaoke (as opposed to being one of the 35 countries in which I have managed to sing). So I’m just going to have to make it back there sometime!

Would you like to be riding one of the pedal boats in this picture?

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Country no. 35 on my World Karaoke Tour: singing in the Dominican Republic’s oldest karaoke bar

dominican_flagFrom swashbuckling pirates to beaches gleaming with white sand, the Caribbean is replete with both dramatic history and natural beauty. Yet until this year, my world travels had never taken me anywhere in that 1 million square mile region. For shame! Finally, during Memorial Day weekend in 2014, I made my long-overdue first foray to a Caribbean destination: Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. And it was there that the country often abbreviated to “DR” became the most recent addition to my World Karaoke Tour.

Getting to the DR proved a more arduous journey than expected for a trip that only involved a four-hour flight. My departure out of JFK International Airport on Friday night, May 23 was delayed — first due to thunderstorms passing through the New York City area, and then due to the need to wait for the pilots of my aircraft to arrive at the airport. You see, due to the initial weather-related delay, the crew that had originally been assigned to my flight would have exceeded the FAA’s permissible limit of working hours for one day if they had gone ahead and piloted the plane. So my fellow passengers and I from JetBlue Flight 810 had to wait for a new captain and first officer to make their way to JFK. As a result, my flight, originally scheduled to depart at 9:00 pm, didn’t end up pushing back from the gate until close to midnight. We landed in Santo Domingo at about 4:00 a.m., and I finally got checked in to my hotel at about 5:30 a.m.

Of course, the important thing was that now I had arrived; and the next night I would be able to do some karaoke!

Karaoke: chanting in Kantabar

The venue for my Dominican singing debut was a tavern called Kantabar. Run by the husband-and-wife team of Steven (who owns it) and Anais (who manages it), Kantabar was the very first karaoke venue in the Dominican Republic. It’s been in operation for some 20 years now. Continue reading

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