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Thailand's Naga Fireball Festival

"Do you believe in the Naga?" the hotel receptionist asks me as I checked in to my room in Udon Thani, Thailand.

"I don't know," I reply. "I've never seen one. Do you?"

"Oh yes!" She says, and the clerk behind her nods as well.

Across Asia, the Naga is a mythical serpent-like creature. It plays a role as a snake in the Mahabarata, takes the form of a dragon in China, and in northern Thailand and Laos along the Mekong River, the Naga is a waterborne serpent that protects residents from danger.

Once a year along the Mekong, this Naga spits fireballs into the sky. The phenomenon always occurs at the end of Buddhist Lent, on the 11th full moon of the lunar calendar. In Thailand's Nong Khai Province, festivities are full-on, with hundreds of thousands of spectators lining the river's banks in front of temples. Nong Khai town is the most well known spot for festivities but sees the fewest fireballs – it's best to head out of town to either Phon Phisai or Rattanawapi, 50 and 80 kilometers downriver from Nong Khai, respectively.

This year, I set up in front of Wat Tai in Phon Phisai. Last year 100,000 spectators watched for fireballs here, but only two were observed. I'm hopeful that the Naga won't let me down this year.

Photo of the Day: Boys riding water buffaloes in Vietnam

Photo of the Day
I kind of want to ride a water buffalo. Do you think it's like riding an elephant? (I haven't done that, either, so I guess it doesn't matter.) These two boys look quite at home on top of these creatures, and they're bareback, yet!

Besides the subject matter, I like the colors in this photo - the vivid green against the gray skies and animals. I wonder what is growing in the background.

Thanks to Flickr user t3mujin for sharing this photo with us in Gadling's Flickr pool.

Have any cool photos from your travels that you'd like to share with the world? Upload them to our Flickr pool, and we just might choose one for our Photo of the Day feature.

Photo of the Day: Laughing Buddha statue in Dalian, China

Photo of the day
Today's Photo of the Day is of this lovely happy Buddha. Although, I've done some research and discovered that this figure is not actually Buddha, but a 10th century Chinese monk named Hotei. Apparently he carried around a sack of candy (it shows) to share with young children.

Just looking at the photo of this statue lightens my mood. I also really like that the photographer, Flickr user Bernard-SD, captioned it "A Work in Progress." The statue may not be finished, but I like the idea that our lives are also a constant work in progress - which seems kind of Buddhist, or at least a little spiritual, right?

Have any photos of your travels that might solicit spiritual musing, or at least just make us smile Upload them to Gadling's Flickr pool and we just might choose one for our Photo of the Day feature.

Photo of the Day: Chinese lanterns on Penang, Malaysia

Photo of the Day
The Chinese New Year celebrations are still in full swing here in Asia. As it's the continent's version of spring break crossed with Christmas, folks are on holiday and many shops and restaurants are closed for the week. It's easy for travelers to feel like outsiders when traveling to China or Chinese communities during this holiday (imagine how a tourist might feel if they came to the States on Christmas day), but this photo reflects the intimacy and energy of Chinese temples everywhere during the holiday. Fickr user LadyExpat shot this in Georgetown on Penang, Malaysia, which has a large Chinese community.

Have any photos from our holidays you'd like to share with the world? Upload them to Gadling's Flickr pool, and we just might choose one for our Photo of the Day feature.

10 tips for traveling with depression

traveling with depressionIf getting up in the morning sometimes seems like you're taking on the world, then actually taking on the world might sound preposterous. But with a little planning and some extra precautions, traveling without fear of a mental collapse is a definite possibility.

Like a lot of people, I'm discovering, I have a streak of sadness that often runs just below my surface, occasionally exposing itself as painfully as a raw nerve. But with coping strategies, good friends and a little help from medication, I'm able to adventure to the other side of the planet, by myself.

Because I have to keep my mental balance in mind a lot of the time, I've adopted traveling strategies to help me with my depression. I'm not a doctor, and don't play one on TV, so my advice shouldn't be taken over the opinions of your doctor. But I do have over a decade of traveling experience, and almost all of it came with some form of depression. Here's what I've learned on the road:

1. Mind the jet lag. Upsetting your sleep pattern is rough on your emotional balance. It took three different mental collapses days after flying overseas that I realized I had a pattern going: jet lag = depression. Oddly, once I figured that out, it stopped happening -- likely because I now prepare for it by listening to my body. I do my best to eat healthy while in transit, splurge for a comfy room at my destination so that I can relax, and give myself several days before any hard travel. Avoiding (lots of) alcohol on those long-haul flights also helps.

Photo of the Day: Approaching storm on Coogee Beach, Australia

Photo of the Day

This sky is my favorite kind: the sun is still in one part of it, brightening everything up, but the impending blackness of the clouds means trouble is brewing. Not that that is any bother for the sunbathers, who are catching a few last-minute rains before what has to be some serious rain. Thanks to Flickr user ssabedin, who shared this via Gadling's pool.

Have any awesome sky shots from your travels? Upload them to Gadling's Flickr pool, and we just might choose one for our Photo of the Day feature.

South of the Clouds: Songtsam Retreat, Shangri-la

Songtsam Retreat

Set on a hillside directly overlooking the Songtsam Monastery, the Songtsam Retreat offers a taste of Tibet to the traveler in China. The collection of buildings are built in the style of Tibetan stone houses, and despite its grandeur, the quietly unassuming Retreat blends nicely with its surrounds. Heavy blankets cover thick doorways (which are locked with wooden bolts) to trap heat inside, and every room has a wood stove, all of which manages to infuse a bit of rustic and give it a "lodge" feel.

Gadling visited the Songtsam Retreat in November on a tour with WildChina. Here are our impressions.

The Check-In

The lobby of the Retreat is filled with Tibetan antiques and artifacts, as well as the requisite wood stove. Roomy chairs and couches sit in front of low tables lit with candles, and the ambiance manages to be both grand and cozy. Staff serve you a warming cup of ginger tea, and then you're lead cross the stone walkways to your room. There you'll find a warm fire already glowing.

  • The Songtsam Retreat
  • The Retreat at sunrise
  • The Retreat at sunrise
  • Back decks
  • Wood stove
  • Sitting area

Paris reflection: Photo of the Day


The normally rigid lines of this Left Bank Paris building are softened and distorted in a rear window reflection. Besides the definitely Parisian building, I also like that there are blue skies (so rare in Paris), and the fact that the reflection is off of a compact car -- too bad it's
not a Renault! The photo's caption, (by Flickr user nicocrisafulli) reads: "It's all in the way you look at it," which tends to be true.

Have any distorted vacation photos you'd love to share with the world? Upload the to Gadling's Flickr pool, and we just might select one for our Photo of the Day feature.

South of the Clouds: Shangri-la, Yunnan, China

Shangri-la YunnanGadling's last stop on Yunnan's ancient tea horse road was Shangri-la, China, a high-altitude Tibetan city named after the mythical town in John Hilton's "Lost Horizon." Full of snapping prayer flags in high-altitude sunlight, the town has only been called Shangri-la since 2001, when a successful marketing venture changed its name from Zhongdian to appeal to adventure-seekers. Most Chinese still refer to it as Zhongdian, though it's worth noting that its Tibetan name is Gyalthang.

Shangri-la's residents are mostly Han and Tibetan, and it's common to see red-cheeked Tibetan-Chinese dressed in traditional clothing. The architecture, especially in the countryside, is uniquely Tibetan: large, square, three story homes house animals on the ground level, with human living quarters above. New homes are still being built in this style. Wood stoves (frustratingly drafty) occupy space in every restaurant, home, and guesthouse, often with the staff huddled around them.

  • Old town rooftops
  • prayer wheel
  • prayer flags
  • Songstam Monastery
  • Songstam Monastery
  • Songstam Monastery

Photo of the Day (1.8.2011)

Photo of the Day

Most people either take photos from bridges, or of them from a distance. It's rare that you see this perspective. And it's rad not just because of the angle: I like the straight, rigid lines contrasting with the circular. Good colors, too - nice and cool. And my favorite part is the one dude near the center, peering down at the camera. Flickr user Ohad* snapped this at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Have any cool photos to share from your travels? Upload them to Gadling's Flickr pool, and we just might choose one for our Photo of the Day feature!

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