World Travel

Select Photography Prints now Available for Purchase

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Quite a few friends and acquaintances have asked me why my photography isn’t for sale, so I’ve decided to list a few for purchase.

The photographs currently available will change often as I take better quality shots and build a stronger portfolio, so please bookmark the page and check it periodically.

Please note too that all sales will go toward obtaining additional camera gear as I continue to travel the world.

Thank you and enjoy!

Backpacking Wyoming’s Wind River Range

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Here’s a video of our 9-day backpacking trip in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. From Joey Coconato: “We start from New Fork Lakes, and end at Elkhart. The route includes Lozier Lakes, Clark Lake, Vista Pass, Peak Lake, Knapsack Col, Titcomb Basin and Lakes, Island Lake, Indian Pass, Knifepoint Glacier, Bloody Hell Pass, Brown Cliff Lakes, Upper Golden Lake, Angel Pass, the Highline Trail, and Vista Pass.” You can watch our video here.

If you enjoy the video, please subscribe to Joey’s YouTube channel, My Own Frontier.

Enjoy and thank you for watching.

Joey’s route map.

How to Get a Permit to Hike the Zhuilu Old Trail

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Last Updated: September 10, 2018

How to Get a Permit to Hike the Zhuilu Old Trail, Taroko National Park, Hualien, Taiwan

If you’re looking to hike the Zhuilu Old Trail—whether solo or as a group—in Taroko National Park, you will need two park-issued permits: one from the national park and one from the police bureau (both permits are now completed online at the same time, so when you complete the steps for the permit through the link below you’ll be filling out the information for both simultaneously). There’s no way to skip the permits and hike the trail since the suspension bridge over the gorge at the trailhead is gated and locked, and there’s an attendant on duty across the road from the trailhead. The permits are easy to obtain–by following the steps below–and the cost (as of March 2017) to hike the trail is $200 NTD for adults, $100 for children 6-12, and under the age of 6 is free, and you’ll pay cash in NTD at the trailhead.

Permit Information

To obtain hiking permits for the Zhuilu Old Trail, you will need to go to this website (https://npm.cpami.gov.tw/en/) and fill in all of the information. You will also need a Taiwanese emergency contact (in the “Person on Duty” section of the permit) to complete part of the form, but you can have a staff member at the hotel or guest house you’re staying at to act as your local contact. Actually, any Taiwanese citizen or permanent resident can act as your contact/guide (ARC holders can’t complete the section either). (Some websites or various local people will tell you that need to hire a guide, but this isn’t true. Again, any resident of Taiwan can fill in the necessary permit info online and you’ll be good to go. He or she doesn’t need to be present when you arrive at the park and start the hike either.) This procedure allows Taiwanese officials to initially contact someone who speaks the same language should anything happen to you, and for them to also learn more about you before they take further action on your rescue or family notification should injury or death occur. (I asked a Taiwanese staff member at a hostel I was staying at for permit help, and later picked up the permits, and hiked the trail alone with no questions or problems whatsoever.)

Important: It’s recommended that you apply for the permit at least 24-hours before your planned hike. Park officials only allow 96-people to hike the trail on weekdays and 156-people on weekends, so the earlier you apply the better to have the best chance to be granted a permit. After you’ve applied for the permit on the website above, you’ll receive a few emails about the process—one will be acknowledgement that you submitted for a permit and the other will be an email stating whether it has been granted—along with a PDF of your permit to print. It will also state to print two copies of the permit and bring them with you to show the park employee at the trailhead before he or she unlocks the gate for you to start the hike.

Taroko National Park

My Permit

Getting Around the Park

There are several ways to travel to and from the park. The same goes for within the park. You can rent a scouter, take a taxi, a bus, or hitchhike. I’ve taken a bus and hitchhiked. You can buy an unlimited day pass for $250 NTD, and it’s cheaper than two, one-way tickets. The day pass is cheapest and best since it allows you to get on and off the bus at any stop and you can do this as much as you want. Hitchhiking is another great option. I’ve hitchhiked around much of Taiwan, the longest being from Hualien to Kenting, and it’s incredible how quickly you can get a ride. Plus, the people are very friendly and it’s the easiest place I’ve found to hitchhike in 18 countries and counting. That said, the bus is still the safest option since you don’t have to stand near the road and ask for rides, or take chances hitchhiking with strangers, but at least you have the option.

Taroko National Park Map

Park map from Taiwan Gov

Trail Information

The Zhuilu Old Trail is 10.3 km long, but only 3 km is currently open for hiking. When the trail was open in its entirety, most people started the hike at the Cimu Bridge trailhead and hiked to Swallow Grotto. But now, with the partial closure, all hikes begin and end at Swallow Grotto—a 3 km hike in and a 3 km hike out for a total of 6 km.

Taroko

Trail Sign

Trailhead

The trailhead for the Zhuilu Old Trail is at the start of the Swallow Grotto Trail. You’ll see a brown arrow sign with Swallow Grotto Trail on it. The Zhuilu Old Trail/Swallow Grotto trailhead is located on the right before the Yanzihkou (also spelled Yanzikou) Tunnel. There’s also a booth now (where the green tent is as shown below), which is across the street from the suspension bridge you will cross to start the hike, and there’s a park employee working in a booth to check you in, make sure you’ve paid the trail fee, and unlock the gate for you so you can begin the hike.

Swallow Grotto

Zhuilu Old Trail/Swallow Grotto Trailhead

Zhuilu Old Trail Regulations

Trail Regulations

Taroko

Swallow Grotto Suspension Bridge

The Hike

I started the hike at 10:00 AM. The trail doesn’t open until 10 AM, so this allows you to check in early at the police station and get to the trailhead when it opens (between 7 AM-10 AM). The hike was a steady ascent up log steps, rocks, and dirt paths. There are a few small bridges to cross and open clearings to hike through before you reach the top, but mostly it’s wooded with dense vegetation. However, there are several openings along the way to take pictures. It’s also hot on the trail, so bring lots of food and water (two or three liters or more). Once you reach the Cliff Outpost the trail is closed, and there’s caution tape strung across the trail. This is a great place to hang out and snack before heading back down.

All in all, I’d say the trail can be strenuous for those who aren’t physically active. I found it to be easy, but I also hike often. At one point, near the top, I came around the corner to find an older British gentleman lying in the grass. He wasn’t moving and his eyes were closed, and he was covered in sweat. I stopped and spoke to him, asking if he was OK, and finally he opened his eyes, said the heat had gotten the best of him. His family and friends left him there to finish the hike, and would help him, he said, when they came back down. Otherwise, if he didn’t have help, I would have had to abort the hike and get him to safety. Again, this is just a reminder to bring lots of water and food and sunscreen. The heat is hard on people here if they aren’t used to it. Lastly, on my hike, I counted eleven people including myself on the trail during my hike, so perhaps it was an off day, which was fine with me.

Lewu River

Liwu River

Taroko

Trail View

Taroko

Trail View

Taroko

Trail View

Cliff Outpost

Cliff Outpost. Trail’s End.

 

Conclusion

The Zhuilu Old Trail is arguably one of the most spectacular hikes in Asia. It’s been featured in various hiking forums and magazines for years. The vertical cliffs and sheer drop-offs along the hike are magnificent, and the narrow trail above the gorge makes many feel a little uneasy. Personally, I loved this hike and took many fantastic pictures. Just be sure to watch out for snakes (although I didn’t see any), and respect the terrain and vegetation. It’s a special place and should be respected for all who come after you.

Thank you for reading and enjoy the hike!

Please connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to view new photos and follow my travels.

Keith Rebec

Me on the edge of the old road

Other Helpful Links

Here’s a great step by step guide to fill out the Taroko permit application

Taroko travel wiki page

The history of the Zhuilu Old Trail

Yellowstone National Park Backpacking

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Here’s a video of our 6-day backpacking trip in August 2016 at Yellowstone National Park. It covers the Fairyland Basin, Joseph’s Coat, Broad Creek, Wapiti Lake, and Pelican Valley. The video was created by Joey Coconato and you can watch it here.

If you enjoy the video, please subscribe to Joey’s YouTube channel, My Own Frontier.

Enjoy and thank you for watching.

Backpacking Glacier National Park Video

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Here’s a video of our 4-day backpacking trip in early August 2016 at Glacier National Park, Montana. It covers the Kintla Lake, Boulder Pass, Hole-in-the-Wall, and Bowman Lake area. The video was created by Joey Coconato and you can watch it here.

If you enjoy the video, please subscribe to Joey’s YouTube channel, My Own Frontier.

Enjoy the video and thank you for watching.

Yellowstone National Park Backpacking Video

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Here’s a video of our 4-day backpacking trip in early July 2016 at Yellowstone National Park. It covers the Snake River, Heart Lake, and South Boundary Loop. The video was created by Joey Coconato and you can watch it here.

If you enjoy the video, please subscribe to Joey’s YouTube channel, My Own Frontier.

Enjoy and thank you for watching.

Traveling Round Trip by Bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap

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While in Bangkok, Thailand, in May 2016, I decided to take a solo trip by bus to Siem Reap, Cambodia, to visit the ancient temples of Angkor Wat. When I started researching the option of taking the bus, I noticed much of the info on the internet was either outdated, wasn’t complete, or wasn’t very clear on the entire process to complete the round trip. Below you’ll find what to expect, along with the steps I took, to make the journey without any issues.

Please Note: There are other options to get from Bangkok to Siem Reap (by a different bus company, although I’ve read horror stories about people booking buses on Khao San Road, so be careful; by train to Aranyaprathet for $48 Baht and then hiring tuktuks or minivan drivers or even catching the same bus I took from Bangkok; or, lastly, by air to Siem Reap), but the info below will only outline going by bus using the Transportation Co. Ltd (Thai name) and Nattakan (Cambodian name) Bus company. (Both companies are owned by Nattakan but use different names in each country, just an FYI.)

First Action: I booked my bus ticket a few days in advance using bookmebus.com.  However, you can go to the Mo Chit Bus Station, which is five minutes from the Mo Chit Train Station, and purchase a bus ticket—either in advance or even on the same day. (Mo Chit Bus and Mo Chit Train are different stations, so you want to make sure you’re going to the bus station and not the train station.) The price of the ticket each way through bookmebus.com was $28 USD plus a $1 credit card processing fee [$29 USD each way and $58 total]).

Departure Day: I had booked the 9 a.m. bus online two days prior (there is also an 8 a.m. departure) to Siem Reap, and I arrived at the station on departure day around 8:30 a.m. I wanted to be early in case I was running behind getting to the bus station. I approached the bus company window (see the photo below) to ask if my e-ticket was valid on my phone, or if I needed a printed copy, and the lady working said the e-ticket was fine. If you have a printer at your hostel or hotel, it might be good to print the ticket just in case, as most things seem to be decided on the fly by the counter worker or driver. However, I had no issues using an e-ticket, and I witnessed many others doing the same, so you can decide, obviously, what suits you best.

Transportation Co. Ltd window at Mo Chit Bus Station, Bangkok, Thailand

The Nattakan Bus

On the Bus: I boarded the bus approx. 15 minutes before 9 a.m. I chose my seat number prior on bookmebus.com, and that was the seat I ended up with. The bus was clean and relatively new, so that was a great thing. We departed Bangkok on time; we were given a muffin, a coffee, and a water bottle for breakfast, and we continued onward before arriving in the town of Aranyaprathet at approx.1 p.m.

Thai Border Arrival: In the Thai border town of Aranyaprathet, we stopped at the Nattakan bus station for 10 minutes (see photo below). The driver and co-driver exited the bus, and only one new person got on. As we waited and began to leave the station, the co-worker gave out lunches—a box of fried rice, crackers, and another water bottle. Over the next 15-20 minutes, we ate lunch while going down the road and soon arrived at the border; the helper stated to everyone on the bus that he could process our Visas for $1400 Baht, but don’t do this. It’s a way for the bus company to make more money, and it is cheaper for you to get off the bus and do it yourself, which the majority of the people on the bus will do. Plus, everyone has to exit the bus and go through the Cambodian Immigration in-person, so it’s a waste to pay the co-driver to process your visa when you will have to do the same process that everyone else does except pay the Cambodian officials yourself. You will still have to wait until your visa is processed and continue on down the road to get back on the bus in Poipet (the Cambodian border town on the other side of Aranyaprathet).

Transportation Co. Ltd’s Aranyaprathet Station

Things to be Aware of Crossing the Border: As soon as the bus stops to let you off at the Thai border in Aranyaprathet (within the Ronglua Market area), Thais will rush toward the bus—men, women, and children—all stating they can process your visa for $200 Baht and will attempt to accompany you with guided directions to the Thai Immigration and Customs (departure) Building. Decline all offers for help and don’t agree to pay anyone for their help. You don’t pay anything until you’re at the Cambodian Immigration and Customs (arrival) Office where you’ll see a sign on the wall stating $35 USD Visas (scam) and $30 USD Visas. The best directional advice to find the Thai Immigration Office is as soon as you get off the bus walk five to ten yards straight ahead of the bus and turn left down the road. You’ll see street vendors and the corridor you’ll walk down to reach the Thai Immigration Building. After you get your departure stamp and walk through the exit, turn right and head across the street to the Cambodian Immigration and Customs (arrival) Building (see photos below).

Exiting the Thai Immigration and Customs Departure Building

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Cambodian Immigration and Customs Arrival Building

Cambodian Visa Processing: The Cambodia visa processing is pretty straight forward. You’ll fill out an immigration card and slip it along with $30 USD (crisp bills only) into your passport and hand it over to the custom officials. They’ll take you documents and give your passport back once it has been stamped. I noticed a few people were charged $35 USD, so my advice is to only stick $30USD into your passport and avoid asking the officials “how much” when you approach the counter. They are sure to request more if you ask first. In addition, if you’re asked for another $2-5 USD ($32-35 USD total) for the visa, you could try to argue it, but I’ve heard of people being strung along and their visa not being stamped for several hours. Hence, you could miss the bus over an extra $5 USD. It’s all a scam, really, so if you end up getting scammed out of an extra $5 USD, it’s better than being left there to eventually spend much or to get out of the situation.

Exiting the Cambodian Immigration and Customs Building: After your passport has been stamped by Cambodian officials, you will exit the Cambodian Immigration and Customs building and walk toward the casinos. The area in between Aranyaprathet and Poipet is full of people trying to sell you services. I saw a naked woman standing in the street, seemingly in a daze, and a few children tried to pull me toward several vendors. A few children even tried to put their hands in my pockets. Just be careful here. I never felt unsafe; I just needed to be aware. A few minutes later I found our bus parked on the right-hand side of the road and boarded. The entire visa arrival stamp process took around 2 hours for everyone to complete.

Poipet to Siem Reap: The bus ride from Poipet to Siem Reap was pretty straight forward. It took about 3 hours. In Siem Reap, we pulled into the Nattakan Bus Company. The owner of the company boarded before we were allowed to exit and announced tuktuk drivers were there to give us rides to our hotels or hostels (the charge being a “tip” only). I paid $2 USD for a ride to my hostel. In addition, I hired my tuktuk driver for the next two days to take me to Angkor Wat. And he picked me up at 7am sharp each morning. The charge for being driven around Angkor Wat for the day was $15 USD, and this didn’t include the tip. I did this for two days to explore the outer and inner complexes of Angkor Wat. Just be sure you’re getting the entire day and your driver is good at English (to get a thorough guided tour). If you don’t feel comfortable with your tuktuk driver, you can wait until you get to your hotel or hostel and ask the staff to hire you one for 15 USD or less.

Siem Reap to Bangkok: The return trip back to Bangkok was the same (but in reverse) process as the trip to Siem Reap.

Basic Step-by-step Guide on the Return Trip Process

  1. Leave your hotel or hostel and go to same Nattakan Bus stop you were dropped off at on arrival (at least 15 minutes early).
  2. Ride bus to Poipet and go to the Cambodian Departure Building.
  3. Obtain a stamp out of Cambodia.
  4. Exit the Cambodian Departure building and walk toward the Thai Immigration (checkpoint) Arrival building.
  5. Obtain your stamp back into Thailand.
  6. Exit the building to the area in between Thailand and Cambodia and locate the bus. It was in a parking lot on the left-hand side of the road.
  7. Board bus and ride it to the Mo Chit Station Bus in Thailand.

A Few Return Photos of Immigration and Customs Buildings at the Border

Cambodian Immigration and Customs Departure Building (to leave Poipet)

Thailand Immigration and Customs Arrival Building (to enter Aranyaprathet)

That’s it. A good plan to follow, on both of the bus trips, is to remember who else is on your bus. This will make things easier when you’re unsure where to go during the chaos at each border crossing. Stick with members of your group, and it will be easier for you to figure out the process and not get lost.

Conclusion: I’m glad that I chose to do the round trip bus trip using the Nattakan Bus Company. The border crossing and overall bus trip wasn’t as bad as the horror stories I read on the internet. I also never felt unsafe or that my life was in danger going through the border crossings. The bus is a cheaper than flying and was an experience I’ll never forget. Above all, Angkor Wat is an amazing place, and I’ll always be thankful that I had the chance to visit and explore the temples.

I hope this guide helps you. Good luck!

Me at Angkor Wat

Please connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to view new photos and follow my travels.