Enchanted River in Surigao Del Sur is AMAZING!

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go to the Enchanted River that is in Hinatuan, Surigao Del Sur. It was a long trip to get there and as always, security is something to consider when going to Mindanao as a white American! Read more

Gran Prix Hotels in Ermita Manila is seriously overpriced!

I had some business at the US Embassy in Manila and was highly recommended by the staff there to go to Gran Prix Hotels that is just a block or two from the Embassy. It was said to be clean and updated. They did not lie but there is no bang for the buck here.

First of all in the scope of hotels, this one is closer to a upscale hostel or what they call a Pension House in the Philippines. There is not much more than a room for you and the equally overpriced restaurant (more on that later) on the 7th floor.

The benefit of Gran Prix Hotels was the fact that I was just walking distance to the embassy to do my business and I was not more than a jeepney ride to the VA complex if I needed something from there. The other benefit is I am a little over a block from Robinsons Place Manila that is a sizable shopping mall. One thing I did like is being across the street from Andok’s chicken, one of my favorite hole in the wall chains in the Philippines!

However, I found for the service offered and for the price, it just was not worth it. It could be said that the whole area of Ermita is overpriced (I tend to agree)

What is the rooms at Gran Prix Hotels like?

They are clean and the air conditioner works very well. They have a bed, a nightstand, and a bathroom. That’s it to speak of. In reality, I have stayed in rooms that are $10 in the Philippines that are nicer than these who are $35 a night. I am pretty disappointed in what was offered to the price. Being close to the Embassy is not worth triple the price.

The bed is a little on the thin side but that is very common in the country. It is unheard of to have a nice soft mattress with a proper box spring in the Philippines. I would think at the prices they ask (in relation to the local economy), they would have better beds but they are as comfortable as most hotels in the area.

The shower does work well. It is quite hot to be honest. I would recommend making sure you set the temperature you want before jumping under it (like I did). It was like pouring boiling water on me. However, a hot shower is considered a luxury in the Philippines.

The real pain was the door card (keyless entry). It works sometimes and sometimes not. Every day, I had to go down and have them re-enable the card so I could get into my room. It was more annoying than anything else. I realize that using this system is becoming the standard for hotels around the world. I just think it is annoying as a customer. Maybe, I am the grumpy old man at the ripe age of 37!

What about the food?

This is where I was seriously disappointed! The breakfast is included if you call it that. The meals for the rest of the day are horrible small for the price. $5 (200 pesos) gets you very little in the restaurant which is odd in comparison to other hotels in Metro Manila. There seems to be a contest on who can have the biggest ripoff among the Ermita restaurants. I thought Max’s Chicken was over priced for the qualitity but nothing like Gran Prix Hotels.

The breakfast in the area are normally buffets. You hand them the coupon, you grab a plate and help yourself to as much food as you wish to eat. Well, that is not the case at this hotel. They actually serve you one piece of a few things. A spoon of rice, one piece of egg, and one sausage. It was pulling a leg to get them to even give me a cup of hot tea with my breakfast.

The lunch and dinner was not much better. It was not worth anywhere close to the P200 ( $5) they asked for it. I have the honey mustard chicken with rice. It was literally two small pieces of boneless chicken with rice. The breaded chicken was a little better but still quite small for what that price should buy in the Philippines.

It is also important to know that the restaurant is closed on Sundays at two in the afternoon so if you will need to go somewhere else to get your dinner. You will save money doing so!

Who is this hotel for?

Well, I think several people end up there because of how I did: the embassy recommends it. I am not sure why they have a contract with the State Department considering the cost and service but they do. Several people in the hotel there were send there by the Embassy as well.

The other reason is that just around the corner is LA Cafe, one of the world’s most well known bars for freelance prostitution. It is clearly part of their cliente. They have a strict rule of “guests” visiting. I am not sure why legit tourists would need such a strongly worded rule that you must agree to in writing. In other words, they expect the customers at Gran Prix Hotels in Ermita to be there to whoremonger!

Besides those two groups, I just can’t see much of a reason to be there (or any of the hotels in the area.) If you want to get barbecue, you would need to walk up to Pedro Gil and grab a jeepney all the way over to Makati’s A Venue which has better hotels in the area. If you want to have a nice dinner, Global City is just as far. Manila International Airport is two cities away as well.

The only real things to do in the area that is family friendly is the Manila Ocean Park which can be pretty interesting and a stroll through Intramuros which is the old walled city knowns historically as Fort Santiago.



Philippine Airlines is going to Papua New Guinea

While this might not matter for many of us, Philippine Airlines is not serving the nation of Papua New Guinea. This could really open up some things if they could remain in the market there. I have my doubts about it to be honest.

Philippine Airlines has really focused on getting their act together recently and I am very thankful for that. They have expanded their routes in the United States and returned to Europe. Now, they have added Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.

If you are a traveler, going to the undeveloped PNG might be very interesting to say the least. In fact, a trip with Bokeh Travel could be on the cards in the near future for what we know. It would be a great option.

The Papua Warior by Suchet Suwanmongkol on 500px.com


Why go to Papua New Guinea

They have a very unique culture in the country and are still basically unreached by the modern world. They were a British colony once but that seems to be only on paper. For the most part, it is still like the Stone Ages here.

A friend of mine was there when a fight between two tribes broke out. As he was drinking a coke, he saw a gang of spears flying through the air. He told me that a few minutes later; another gang of them was flying the other direction. I guess spears are safer than M-16 shells!

Personally, I would love to go to Papua New Guinea and having Philippine Airlines serve Jacksons International Airport in Port Moresby might make it possible. Until now, it has been very hard to go from the Philippines.

However, there is more than culture to drive travelers to the nation. It does have some amazing beaches. As I understand it, they have some sandy paradises that just run for miles. I have not see them but friends of mine return with the stories of how PNG is a tropic paradise!

Another thing that could draw some people is the basically untouched rain forest. Once you get away from the coastline a little, you would be deep into some of the oldest tropic rain forest in the world. I am sure there is alot of adventure waiting there for the traveler!

At the end of the day, it is about the focus on humanity and seeing the world. Most people will never make it to Papua New Guinea and if you can make it, you will have stories to tell that no one else can tell. It is about the experience more than anything else.

If you are a traveler, having experinces is what drives you, it is your bloodline. Being able to see what few will see is what would matter to you. As I said, if you can make it happen, go for it!

Papua New Guinea is not cheap!

One thing you will need to consider is the economy there is not good. Inflation is killing everyone and that means that everything from hotels to getting online cost more than it really should.

My research is that the cheapest place to stay (at least online) is over $60 a night. It might not be alot to you but it is when you are use to the Asian traveling market.

Flights around the country seems to be quite pricy as well. It appeared that $150-$200 is normal. That is a major difference. Sorry, there is no Air Asia or Cebu Pacific Air in Papua New Guinea. I wish there was!

Another thing that you will find very pricy as the internet. It is by the megabyte (MB) and it cost around $72 for 5GB of data. If interested, a normal hour on Facebook (no videos) is about 25MB so that would give you five hours a day total!

, ,

Malate is a no go for tourist!

If you are staying in Metro Manila, some people will say that you should stay in Malate in Old Manila. I do not and can not recommend this. I would strongly suggest that you do not stay there if you are a single woman! The problem with Malate is its crime and poverty. When those two mix, you have a recipe for trouble and lots of it.

I am from Manila. I know the city. I know where to go and not go. I know that one street can be safe and the two streets beside it can be dangerous. Read more

, ,

Cebu Pacific goes to Guam!

Cebu Pacific Air, the low cost airline out of the Philippines has been approved to fly from Manila to Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport in Guam starting in March. What does this mean for tourist in the Asia-Pacific region?

I find it interesting that they have finally got the green light on this. I remember when they only had a flight from Cebu to Manila back when they first launched. Filipinos joked that one day they would fly to the United States of America. Read more

, , ,

Fly United Airlines via Hawaii!

If you are coming from the Philippines (or Asia) to the United States; you might want to consider traveling through Guam and Hawaii. It is a route that people forget about but one that could save you having a seriously long flight across the Pacific Ocean.

If you are like me, you are not a big fan of flights that put you on an airplane for half a day or more. My idea of a day well spend does not include sitting in an economy seat on China Airlines eating bad food and having a dead battery on my Amazon Kindle (with no way to charge it). Sorry, just not ideal to me. Read more

, ,

The Jeepney is the way of life in Manila

If you are traveling across the Metro Manila, there is a good chance that you will end up in a jeepney at some point. People love them and people hate them but everyone end up using one before they leave. Filipinos have no choice: it is the only affordable way to travel.

After World War II and having alot of military from the United States in the Philippines; there was a surplus of Willys Jeeps that was offloaded to the local Filipinos very cheaply. Read more

, ,

Kansas City Art Institute has a great photography program

Note: I am not being asked or paid to do this post! I just believe in the quality coming out of the Kansas City Art Institute. The school has put out some pretty amazing artist over the decades and I do not expect anything less than that in the future.

Walt Disney and Dennis Hopper are among the people who have walk the halls of the Kansas City Art Institute. Marc Davis, the guy that created Snow White and Bambi started there as well. If that does not tell you of the quality, I am not sure what will.

What I recommend the school is not only its photography program but you will be working with people that create differently and that will only expand your vision to think differently about your images. Some of my greatest education as a photographer came from chatting about the color wheel with a painter friend. It is about creativity and all artists are after that.

I do believe that a young photographer could learn alot from coming to Kansas City, going to art school and learning how to think like an artist. One of the biggest mental blocks that I have is forcing myself to think as an artist would think. If you master that, there is little limitation in your creativity.

3 reasons that I recommend Kansas City Art Institute

I have lived in Kansas City for a good part of my life. I consider myself from Kansas City and went to high school there. I love the city. I also have spend quite abit of time around the Art school and the museum back in the day just dreaming from looking at the photographs. Amazing works of art!

  1. You are in a historical city.

I know this might not seem like it matters to you but as a photographer, having very cool buildings that out-date your grandparents and over a hundred fountains, vast public parks, large sporting programs, and skyscrapers are important for backdrops.

I have never been asked by anyone for a permit to shoot about anywhere in the city. Alot of cities seem to have their hands out for “photographer’s fees.” I have not experienced that in Kansas City.

2. Clients respect Kansas City Art Institute 

While a student at the school, you have many big name clients that look to the school for work. It could be an ad agency or even H&R Block or Sprint that both are headquartered in Kansas City. I have a friend that was shooting for the Kansas City Chiefs games while he has still a student. He was making decent money before he even graduated. The opportunities are there in Kansas City.

The other thing to consider is the respect that the school has when you do graduate. It can get your foot in the door for some major clients no matter where in America you are living. Graduates are all over the movie industry for example. Open doors is what you need in the crowded photography sector.

3. Kansas City is cheaper than New York

One thing to consider is the cost of living while you are in school. It is cheaper to live in Missouri that New York City. The rent is cheaper, you have more space and you do not have $13 coffees (yet). If you are a student, the cost of living matters because let’s face it, all students are broke.

Also, living a little of the city is much cheaper; another option that will have in New York.

Kansas City Art Institute is not For-Profit

Alot of people think the school is the same as the Art Institute of Kansas City that is owned by Goldman Sachs. They are very different and their mission is even more polorizing. The Art Institute network is not about education but about making shareholders profit. One is a private university ran by a local board and the other was delisted by NASDAQ for scams.  It is also interesting that the Art Institute of Kansas City is no longer taking new students. Maybe, they are on the way out the door.

The reason that this is important is many think of the Goldman Sachs controlled school system when they hear about the Kansas City Art Institute and this is a very different school with a even more different mission.

I would never recommend to attend a school that is more concerned with your tuition than they are with your education.

My thoughts

I hope to interview some of the photography professors from the school for Nikon Dojo down the road and might even do something on campus. It is just an option at this point.

, ,

Fedora Nation: a response to the groupies of Jason Lanier

There has been quite the chatter on the comments about why I am now back to using Nikon (not Sony cameras) and why I have named the blog, Nikon Dojo. I find it funny that the people who are creating this drama are the brianless groupies of Jason Lanier, a guy that I really respect for his skill. They call themselves the “fedora nation‬.”

I said then and I will say it again, Jason was a jerk to me about his obsession with Sony gear but his craft is amazing. I respect him as a photographer. His work is very good. You will never hear me say anything against that. It is the Sony snobbery and gear whoring that has always bothered me about Jason.

All the groupies (they are more off the wall about Sony than Jason) call themselves the Fedora Nation, after Jason’s hat. I don’t really pay much attention to them unless they come up on my social media channels. I have better things to do than to listen to trolls tell me how great their over-priced bodies are and how they are brainless worshipers of Sony’s marketing team.

At least Jason is smart, he milks these guys for training sessions. I saw he is just talked them into $2,500 a month to “follow him on different levels.” He is smart. I do not have much of a problem with it. If the people are dumb to open their wallets, take the money!

Fedora Nation can be one annoying bunch

I have to laugh when they throw around their snobbery. They think that shooting Sony is a “calling” and if you can’t afford Sony, you can shoot Nikon. I am not even joking. One of them actually made that comment. The irony of that is I have the Nikon D7200, Nikon D750 and Nikon D800. The funny that is they cost about the same as their beloved Sony mirrorless systems. I am sure the Nikon D500 will find its way into my camera bag in the coming months as well.

The funny thing about the Fedora Nation is how quiet they become when you start talking about affordable lens and flashes. They get really quiet. Ask them how many F/2.8 lenes are under $1000 on the market? They fear to the answer: none. They know Nikon knocks the shit out of Sony in this area and about every other area too.

Dealing with the people are the best to give actual facts, not opinions. Things like the 10 reasons I sold my Sony full frame cameras. All 10 of them put fear into the hearts of the Fedora Nation. They do not like to admit that Sony has given then a system that is not ready for game day. They also don’t like to hear they are just being played by the marketing department of Sony in Tokyo.

Mark my word, the Summer Games will be full of DSLRs made by Nikon and Canon; not mirror less made by Sony. I would be surprised to see more than a few Sony mirror less cameras at the Olympics in Brazil!

Should you watch Jason Lanier?

That is really up to you but I would suggest that you realize that he is a Sony snob and about half of his videos are “buy this” and “buy that.” He is a salesmen more than an educator these days. If he is not selling Sony or Rotolight, he is pimping his own workshops for $600 a pop. I just see less and less real education in his videos on YouTube and more pimping of products.

If I was a young guy that just picked up a camera, I could not really learn much from his shoots that he post. No breaking down the images, if he does talk about settings; there is never a reason why. I would not put him in the same league as guys like Jared Polin, Chase Jarvis, and Matt Granger. These guys actually teach photography.

One thing you can get from watching Jason Lanier is ideas. I have came up with some cool ideas to expand over the years from watching one of his shoots. This was especially true when he was shooting Nikon and not the snob of today. I do not watch him much anymore because of that but I still am thankful for some of the cool things I came up with from watching his videos on Youtube back in the day.

As I say, it comes down to make a choice that is right for you.

Don’t I still own a Sony A6000?

Actually, I do. I still love to use it especially for timelapses. It is a handy camera that can do some pretty cool stuff. I can use that little pancake lens that came with it to get the timelapses…. when you are making 10 minutes of video into 5-10 seconds; it doesn’t matter too much. I am not sure I would trust it for a professional shoot anymore though.

At the end of the day, the Sony mirrorless system does have alot of things right; they just wont do the major things to finish the system. Until they can bring to market f/2.8 lens for under $1,000 and high quality flashes in the $200 range; the Sony system will remain a partial system. You will have to mix and match lens from Nikon or Samyang to make it work. That is not a complete system.

As far as I am concerned, I have lost patience with them and I am not waiting for it. I will have the Sony A6000 around for shooting timelapses and doing a little street photography but I am going to put my faith in the timeless Nikon gear for legit shooting. Nikon has always been faithful to me and the lens & flashes are there at realistic prices.

For the casual user that wants something a little more powerful than their point and shoot; the Sony mirrorless system might work for them. Pass that; I would not put my faith in Sony. At least, not at this point.