Photography Corner: Art in the Concrete Jungle

While it may not come as a surprise to most, but many people view Bangkok as a dirty, crowded and grimy city (except perhaps the Siam Center area, with the extravagant malls and decor). But it is usually not recognized for its art. However, within this large and chaotic city, you can find some beautiful, and maybe sometimes misunderstood, art just walking along the streets.

When walking around a lot of neighborhoods in Bangkok you can easily stumble upon art that may represent some factor of Bangkok life and culture. It may also be completely random and confusing. But either way, it is a representation of this city. In many cases there is a stark contrast between the amazing art you see in front of you and the slums it is surrounded by. It is also fascinating to see this kind of art with grand skyscrapers in the background – which really tells you the story of how Bangkok has grown and is still growing.

Street art is quickly becoming an embedded part of Bangkok. As a result, the very first Street Art Festival was held earlier this year. It was such a major event that the Bangkok Arts and Cultural Centre gave over 400 square meters of exhibition space over to street artists, which was the biggest exhibit of its kind.

So while Bangkok may not be well known for its art, when you’re in the city always take a look at your surroundings – you never know what you might stumble upon.

Katie Davos, research intern

Photography Corner – Chao Mae Tuptim Shrine

The Chao Mae Tuptim Shrine is a small fertility shrine, located in a hidden area behind the Swissotel hotel in central Bangkok. The shrine is named after a tree goddess – a female spirit that is said to bless those that worship her. Within the shrine there are many (numbering over 100 in total) phallic carvings spread throughout, a symbol that is widely known as good luck for fertility. Women across Southeast Asia come to bless and worship at this shrine in the hopes of becoming pregnant.

Finding the Chao Mae Tuptim Shrine can prove to be slightly difficult if you do not know where to look. The easiest way is to go directly to the Swissotel hotel, which is right on Wireless Rd., off of the Ploenchit BTS station. If you ask one of the very friendly security guards where the shrine is they will happily point you in the correct direction, down next to the garages where you might just miss it if you don’t keep your eyes peeled.

The great thing about this location is that it is right next to the Chao Phraya River. Close by there is a pier where you can hop on a river boat taxi to other beautiful destinations throughout Bangkok.

Katie Davos, research intern

Photography Corner – Ko Kret

Ko Kret is a small island located right outside of Bangkok – only a short 20km away. This isn’t your typical white sand beach island you may think of when you think of Thai islands. It is located on the Chao Phraya River, and is a perfect getaway that both Thai locals and foreigners can enjoy to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city. The island is best known for the Mon tribes that reside here, along with their beautiful pottery. Although, on any given weekend it can at times feel like you are in any normal (and crowded) Bangkok market. There are no cars on the island, so if the crowds get to be too much, it is easy to go off the beaten path and find peace and solitude. The island is a nice break from Bangkok, being able to enjoy both the beautiful nature and the riverside views.

Getting there: The fastest way to reach Ko Kret from Bangkok is by taking bus 166 from energetic Victory Monument. It is direct, and costs only 18 baht one way. Once you are dropped off at your destination, you can either walk (approximately 500m) or take a motorbike to the pier, which is located behind Wat Sanam Neva, and take the 2 baht ferry ride across to the island.

If you have more time (and a larger budget) then perhaps a more scenic and enjoyable way to get to the island is by taking one of the many boat tours from the Central Pier (BTS Saphan Taksin) in Bangkok – these range in prices, but will take you to multiple destinations along the Chao Phraya River, including Ko Kret.

Hope you enjoy the photos and please leave us a comment below with any questions!


Katie Davos, on-site intern

Photography Corner: Cambodia and Vietnam

Southeast Asia is a must see for many travelers.  Thousands flock here annually to experience the culture, natural beauty and history of this region.  Not always famous for the best reasons, Cambodia and Vietnam have rich histories that have been played out among some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.  Angkor Wat, Phnom Penh, and Hue, to name a few, all contain scars bearing testimony to the conflict that occurred not too long ago in this region.  Despite, or perhaps in part because of these reminders, SE Asia remains a beautiful and fascinating destination for any world traveler.

I recently returned from a two-week trip from Bangkok to Hanoi.  Here is a collection of some of my favorite shots from the highlights of my trip. From the vibrant energy of cities like Saigon and Hanoi, to the awe-inspiring Angkor temples, to the relaxing backdrop of Halong Bay, there are no shortage of things to do and see in SE Asia.  This is only a snapshot of some the amazing places these countries have to offer! To read more about my trip, check out Southeast Asia on a Shoestring Schedule.

Photographs by: Jamie Shannon

Southeast Asia on a Shoestring Schedule


I recently returned from a two-week trip through Cambodia and Vietnam with a good friend from college.  As anyone who has traveled these parts knows, two weeks is a very short amount of time to make it through these two countries.  Heck, try getting through even one! There were plenty of places we spent a night or two where I wished we could have stayed a full week, but that just wasn’t possible with our schedule.


Day 1: Watching the sunset over the river in Bangkok from a hidden second story restaurant on the water.

But despite our time limitations, we did it!  I can definitively state that you can get through Cambodia and Vietnam in two weeks, although this may mean taking a strict editorial eye to your itinerary.  We endured many questionable stares or comments to the tune of “wow… that’s fast…” throughout our journey as people learned how much we were seeing in how little time.  A lot of travelers in our situation might have chosen to just see Cambodia, or to only do the south coast of Vietnam.  But it can be done. And I’d like to share some advice for those who might find themselves in a similar spot with only a few weeks to spare and a long list of sights to see!

When it came to planning, we each had our own “must sees.” For Anna, my traveling companion, Halong Bay in northern Vietnam was at the top.  For me, I had always wanted to visit the part of Vietnam where my Dad had been stationed back during the war.  We both agreed that Angkor Wat in Cambodia couldn’t be missed either.  Beyond those few stops, everything else was negotiable, which made planning a lot easier.


Exploring the Angkor temples, a true must see for anyone traveling to SE Asia.

We met in Bangkok on a boiling Monday morning in March and spent one day wandering the city before taking off for the Cambodian border the following morning.  Throughout the entire trip, we booked our guesthouses and transport (including bus, train and plane) one city in advance.  This allowed us to be somewhat flexible while still planning far enough ahead that we never got stranded anywhere due to lack of transportation or accommodation, which was a big concern on our tight schedule!

We spent two full days at the Angkor temples with a guide, which I highly recommend.  Having Seng, a Cambodian born and raised in Siem Reap, to take us around made the days so much more enjoyable, and manageable.  If left to our own devices in that 100 degree heat and 85% humidity, I’m pretty sure we would have thrown in the towel much sooner and missed out on a lot of what the temples have to offer.

There are other tourist attractions in Siem Reap, like the floating villages on Tongle Sap lake.  Knowing our schedule, we agreed that we were content skipping all the side attractions.  This is one of the keys to traveling on a strict time budget: know what your “must sees” are, stick to them, and forget about everything else.  This is important with any trip, but especially important if you’re trying to see a country in less than a week.

A corollary to this is the importance of not lingering on what you didn’t see. Every trip is going to end with some regrets about a city or an activity that was missed.  At the end of my two weeks, I shared a ride to the Hanoi airport with a British girl who had been traveling for three months.  Instead of being elated at all she had seen and done, she couldn’t stop talking about how upset she was that she missed Halong Bay.  This is an easy trap to fall into at the end of a trip, dwelling on the few places that you didn’t see rather than thinking about all the amazing things you did see.  If you’re going to try to see a lot in a short amount of time, this feeling has the potential to be much worse.  We did a good job of cutting what we needed to and not letting our thoughts linger on the places that we didn’t get to (no matter how many times people asked us why we didn’t go to Hoi An.)  Keep in mind that this most likely won’t be the last trip you take and you will never, ever see it all, so be grateful for the time you have and what you are able to see.


Halong Bay, northern Vietnam. Limestone islands like this one dot the bay everywhere.

If you keep these things in mind as you travel, you’ll enjoy your time even more.  Not everyone has the time or money to spend four months backpacking through SE Asia, which a lot of bloggers seem to do, so I wanted to share some advice for those of you who may be considering a shorter trip.  Sure, there are places that I wish we had seen… more of Cambodia (particularly the coast), Nha Trang, Hoi An, Sapa… but I returned to Chiang Mai with nothing but fond memories of everything that we got to experience.  Plus, I’ve gotta save something for my next trip to SE Asia! 🙂 Now I’m hooked!

Check out the corresponding Photography Corner featuring more photos from my trip.  And for more of my ramblings, check out my personal blog:

If you have any questions, whether about specific places I visited, or are looking for more general travel advice, please feel free to comment below or shoot me an email.  I’m always happy to swap stories and ideas with fellow travelers! 🙂


Jamie Shannon

ATMA SEVA – PR tour part 2

For the second part of our PR tour, the ATMA SEVA team went to Chiang Mai, then Anu traveled to Bhutan, and we finished in Bangkok.

In Chiang Mai we met with the monks from Wat Doi Saket and discussed two big projects.  ATMA SEVA has had a long relationship with Wat Doi Saket and each year we continue to make forward progress and continue to build trust.  The monks have become very comfortable conveying their needs and areas in which ATMA SEVA can help.  This is the type of relationship we strive to achieve where there is mutual trust and always an open dialogue.  Our two projects are still top secret, but we will be sharing the good news very soon!

Anu traveled to Bhutan to meet with many foundations and also our local partner.  Our intention is to develop very unique and worthwhile trips within Bhutan.   As always, the goal is to expose people to the real nature and lifestyles of the country, while making sure not to disrupt or harm the culture in any way.  We are also assessing the needs of the country to see if there are areas in which ATMA SEVA can help.  Stay tuned for our new Bhutan programs which will be available soon.

Bhutan is a country with a culture that has been seemingly untouched and undisturbed.  A very unique aspect to the country is their GNH (Gross National Happiness) project.  Bhutan is very committed to promoting happiness and well being within their country.  This is a very foreign concept, especially for the Western mind where capitalism and other monetary rankings seem to take precedence.

To complete our PR tour we ended in Bangkok for several follow up meetings.  Overall this trip was successful and we continued to make the necessary connections in order to achieve our goals.

As stated in Part 1, ATMA SEVA is now on Chapter 2 and we are excited to run this organization with two ultimate goals:

1) Run and offer extremely positive and unique programs.


2) Continue our sustainable development work and bring about change that is needed and wanted within the communities we work with.  This will be accomplished through our partnerships.

Follow ATMA SEVA on all our social media to stay in the loop about all our programs and work we are doing!




ATMA SEVA – PR tour part 1

ATMA SEVA officially launched our new website at the end of March 2012 (  Our Partners were excited to see our hard work come to fruition but we all soon realized how much more work lay ahead.  We referred to this as the end of Chapter 1 (completing the website and launching) and we feel we are now on Chapter 2, which consists of running the business and getting this venture off the ground. To do this the three partners decided to plan a mini PR tour starting off in Bangkok, specifically to attend the 2012 Rotary International Conference.

Anu Bhardwaj was a Rotary Ambassadorial scholar and orchestrated a Matching Grant from Rotary District 7770 with the help of Past District Governor John Ramsey. This is how ATMA SEVA’s grassroots programs were funded and how our initial projects were launched. (click here for more details about our past work) We feel we have an exciting platform and worthwhile projects, so what better way to gain exposure than to network with over 30,000 like minded people from all over the world.  Another reason for attending this convention is David Poppe is exploring options to apply for the World Peace Fellowship program at possibly Uppsala University in Sweden, which is an all expense paid Masters degree in peace & conflict resolution with extraordinary connections within the Rotary network.

The ATMA SEVA team is also becoming more focused and targeted on our sustainable development work.  The communities we work with consist of monastic, indigenous, and various ethnic groups.  We have been brainstorming and thinking of ideas and concepts to elevate and assist these communities to become self-sustainable.  Unfortunately, our plans are not finalized yet but we will publicize our news very soon!

Enjoy the gallery below to see pictures from our time in Bangkok and stay tuned for updates from the rest of our meetings in Chiang Mai, Bhutan, and a few more days in Bangkok to finish off!