Elephant Painting at Maesa Elephant Camp!

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2 years ago, me and Peony went to our first elephant camp somewhere north of Chiang Mai.  It was an eye opening experience riding elephants but I saw many elephants chained to the ground and felt the elephants weren’t being treated right.  I forget which camp that was but this time around, I was going to check out the Elephant Nature Park, which was supposed to be a free environment for elephants.   But it seemed that you need to make reservation way ahead of time and our schedule didn’t fit any of their openings.

Instead, we decided to check out the Maesa Elephant Camp, which is supposed to be the biggest elephant camp in Chiang Mai, Thailand.   It was actually a pleasant experience to see the elephants bathing and doing cool tricks including painting.  Of course, I did read a ton of horror stories/rumors about how elephants could be trained to paint but I felt like there was actually no proof behind it.  It’s still made for tourists but I do also feel that these elephants would hardly survive in the wild unless they were in Africa.   Can you imagine running into a wild elephant while trekking the mountains of Thailand?

I do want to visit the Elephant Nature Park next time though and spend a whole day with an elephant but in the meanwhile, Maesa Elephant Camp seemed to be pretty good, at least 10 times better than last elephant camp we went to.   The elephants seemed to be having fun, I mean I can tell they weren’t faking it.  The trainers do carry bull hooks but that may be necessary since there’s a large crowd involved and you don’t want dead people due to angry elephants.  But I did not see any cruelty to animals that some people were talking about online.

As for painting itself, I felt like the elephants actually do follow a set of rules perhaps but they are making the painting variations themselves.  And I believe they are perfectly capable of that.  It’s amazing what elephants can paint.  Just the fact that they can paint the whole thing themselves is amazing.

Overall, I do highly recommend the Maesa Elephant Camp for first timers.  I will try to stay out of the rumors about how elephants learn painting though.  Seeing them in person and in real life makes me think those are probably just rumors.  But if there’s any real proof to that, then it will definitely make me think twice.

Peony also had a lot of fun, the elephants kept playing with her hat and gave her many hugs.  Peony tells me elephants are her favorite animals out of them all because they are very intelligent and she’s half Thai.  I am so happy to have a daughter who is learning so much about the world out in the real world, not just with textbooks.  If you have kids, you should definitely take them out of their safe zone(country) at least once before they hit teens, they will thank you for it later in life (I predict).

Lastly but not least, I feel this is amazing experience in comparison to any zoo in the U.S., to get so close to such massive animals and touch them with your own hand.  And did you know you can make paper out of elephant dung?

Night Bazaar on Chang Klan Rd. in Chiang Mai, Thailand!

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2 years ago I visited Thailand for the first time in my life and the most memorable place for me was the busy Night Bazaar on Chang Klan Road in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  I am not sure why but my brain was simply attracted to it.  And I swore to stay in Le Meridian Hotel the next time I visited Thailand, which I did in November 2014.

Night Bazaar is filled with street vendors selling everything from Thai antiques, LED t-shirts, flower soap, and much more.   This is a place that opens everyday from around 2PM until midnight.  I usually buy lots of souvenirs for my friends and family.  I think this is the most lively place in all of Chiang Mai, Thailand and very tourist-friendly as there are a ton of great food to eat also.

Anyways, in my latest visit yesterday, I wanted to try improving my long exposure photography skills and took some photos.  What’s interesting in these photos (you can click on them to download originals) is that I felt the photos were better with high ISO.

I accidentally left the ISO high on couple of these shots and got some really nice star lights.  I plan on playing with the auto ISO next time and set the aperture/shutter speed manually.  With lower ISO of 100, I wasn’t getting nearly the shots I wanted so this is another good learning experience for me.

 

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The famous ice cream place in Thailand is here, I may try to grab the next sequel viral video for them next week.

 

 

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24 Hour Coffee Shop in Chiang Mai at Wake Up!

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After 20 hour flight from San Francisco to Chiang Mai, Thailand, I was doing just fine on the first day after getting couple hours of sleep.  On the second day, the jet lag jitters kicked in and I woke up in the middle of the night at 2AM and couldn’t go back to sleep.  Normally, I would take sleeping pills when this happens but I have been trying to avoid them as it affects me greatly the next day.

Instead, I opted to find a 24-hour coffee shop and was rather surprised that Chiang Mai doesn’t have a ton of 24-hour coffee shops.  In fact, the only place I could find using Google was the Wake Up coffee shop in Nimmanhaemin district in Chiang Mai.  It was about a 24 minute drive from Hang Dong where I am staying at but I was able to get there in just 10 minutes thanks to no traffic and my eagerness to go as fast as I can over 100Km/h.

If you are staying in Nimmanhaemin, this should be easy to find, it’s on the southern tip of the main road.  Boy, I was so glad to see this place as they have coffee, smoothies, bakery, and even 24-hour Subway that’s connected next door.

This is located right next to the Dude Cafe, Google Maps haven’t updated but it’s where the Jipata store was.  Here’s a Google Maps location.

For those of you who just arrived in Chiang Mai, this may be worth the visit (even with a Tuk Tuk) if you simply cannot go back to sleep.

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Yes, fresh smoothies!  I grabbed some strawberry smoothie for about 79 baht, pretty good.

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Hungry?  No worries, Subway is actually part of this 24-hour coffee shop.  I am about to grab breakfast here in a bit.

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They also got some great outdoor seating for those of you smokers.  At night, the weather is nice and cool so you can enjoy the outdoor setting.

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Me being sleepless in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  I am not tired though, just need a quiet place to practice becoming a digital nomad.  Chiang Mai is the world’s capital of digital nomads, I guess bloggers and alike.  I have hard time believing though that they don’t have more 24-hour coffee shops like this.

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On the second floor, they even have Korean/Japanese-like floor seating, not that I would ever want to use it muchy.

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They also got these nice rounded lookin’ seats, very comfortable actually.

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And yes, there’s AC plugs for power-hungry users like myself.

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They give you 4 hours of free WiFi with any purchase above 50 Baht.

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Internet speed is a bit disappointing though.  I am here around 4AM and no one is here yet the internet speed is a bit slow at only around 4-5Mbps download and less than 1Mbps upload.  If they can upgrade the internet a bit, this place could be the ultimate place for digital nomads.

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MSI GS60 Ghost Pro 4K Laptop Unboxing & Mini Review!

Editing 4K videos can take a ton of CPU power, RAM, and fast hard disks (preferably SSDs).  Ever since I switched to my Panasonic GH4 4K camera, rendering times for 4K videos take almost 4-5 times longer than 1080P videos on average.  Luckily, I’ve built my new i7 5960X equipped desktop computer couple months back with 3 R9 280X graphic cards in crossfire, which does a fairly decent job of editing/rendering 4K videos.

Now, the only problem I have with my new powerful desktop is portability and power.  Every time I render videos on it, it hogs a ton of energy, in fact my energy bill doubled since building my new PC (uses almost 1kW at full blast) .   Besides that, I am always tethered to the PC in my house, never having the freedom of editing videos on the go.

Since I am going on vacation next week, I figured I would need to a way to edit/render my 4K videos on the go.   I do have an old ASUS N56VZ laptop but that one simply cannot handle 4K footage as it will stutter/lag when editing with Premiere CC.

To handle 4K editing/rendering, you would absolutely need to fastest laptop out there (as of today) with the best specs possible.   4K editing simply requires a ton of raw CPU/GPU power and without it, you will pull your hair out while your laptop stutters/lags on you.  (However, if you don’t need 4K, just need to 1080P videos, you can go with lower-spec laptops.)

Also I wanted a laptop that’s was as light as possible with a 15.6″ inch screen. (Anything lower than that would be hard to edit videos on, besides most laptops with Intel i7 start at 15.6″.)  After days of research, I finally ended up getting the MSI GS60 Ghost Pro laptop with 4K screen, i7 4710HQ processor, and Nvidia GTX 970M graphics card.  I almost ended up getting the Gigabyte P35X V3 with a slightly-faster GTX 980M graphics card but the MSI was only 4.2 pounds vs. 5.5 pounds for the Gigabyte.

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Overall, I am very satisfied with my new MSI GS60 Ghost Pro laptop as it’s the lightest 15.6″ laptop in the world (as of this writing) with the best specs possible. Now, if you don’t mind the larger weight, you may want to consider getting the ASUS ROG series, which gives you the best bang for your buck (much cheaper) but they do weigh a ton more.

Having the ability to edit 4K videos in such a small package was the selling point for me.   I wanted to have the ability to move around and edit 4K videos while I travel at the local coffee shops in Thailand and be able to walk all day without aching shoulders.

Before, I had to shoot my videos, then come home to edit on my PC.  Now, I can shoot my videos and edit right there altogether!  Even the video for this I edited all outside my home.

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The MSI GS60 Ghost Pro also comes with the coolest keyboard I have ever seen on a laptop.  It features a SteelSeries keyboard that has an RGB LED that lights up and you can customize the colors in 3 different zones.  And you can even customize every key on the keyboard.

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Performance on the MSI Ghost Pro is excellent due to its cooling system design.  There are two fans for your CPU, one pushing air to the left and the other pushing it to the back of your laptop.  This keeps the heat dissipating much more efficiently than one fan designs.   There’s even dedicated fans for the graphics card on the other side!  At full throttle, this laptop does get a bit loud but it’s cooler than any other laptop out there.

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4K gaming is actually not that bad either with its Nvidia GTX 970M but I probably recommend running games at 2K or 1080P, which runs super smooth and fast.

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Video editing in 4K on Adobe Premiere CC works really well and Premiere CC recognizes CUDA out of the box so you can fully utilize the power of Nvidia GTX 970M.  I also did consider getting a laptop with Nvidia Quadro graphics card but it seems that the GTX cards are actually slightly faster in rendering times in real life.

Rendering times are nowhere near my i7 5960X PC (obviously because it’s not a fair contest) but it is lightning years ahead of my old ASUS laptop.  An average 10 minute 4K video with lots of editing takes me around 20 minutes on my i7 5960X PC while the MSI GS60 does in an hour. (The 4K video I made for this laptop took me about an hour.)   In comparison, an average 10 minute 4K video with no editing takes around 6 minutes on my PC and 15 minutes on my new MSI laptop.

It’s still not fast as I would like but then again at 4.2 pounds of weight, I don’t think there’s any other laptop out there that can do faster pound per rendering time.  I should have a full review later this month after I use it more extensively during my travels in Asia but in the meanwhile, this is definitely one powerful laptop that’s super portable and highly recommended if you need 4K editing on the go.

Now, there’s literally at least a dozen variations of this MSI laptop so make sure to do your research before buying one.  You can buy one with a 1080P/3K screen, with faster/slower processor and graphics card.  Depending on your needs, you may be better off with 1080P screen or maybe faster processor.

The particular version I got also comes with 2 M.2 SSDs, which give you read/write speeds around 1000Mbps, great for Adobe Premiere CC and gaming.

FYI, you don’t need a 4K screen to edit 4K videos, I only got it since I don’t have a 4K device yet and wanted to play back my videos in 4K (finally).  You can edit 4K videos with a 1080P screen just fine.  But you do need a very powerful laptop such as this one.

The exact model I got is MSI Computer GS60 GHOST PRO 4K-079, you can get it on Amazon here.

You can also check out other variations of the MSI GS60 Ghost Pro here.

Long Exposure Photography Beach – Canon 24mm F2.8 + SpeedBooster + GH4

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Last week, I ordered a variable ND filter to try out some long exposure photography.  Well, the variable ND filter wasn’t good enough as there were a lot of vignetting.  So I ordered a 10-stop ND filter for my Canon 24mm F2.8 lens.

The results?  I may not be a professional photographer but I think I did quite well for my first successful long exposure photos.  Also, I did get to try out my new Sirui T-025X tripod, which is probably the smallest tripod in the world.  I am lovin’ it because it folds down to just 11.8″ inches and only weight 1.7 pounds!

With slight wind in these photos, the Sirui tripod held up well I think.  If you are thinking about getting a good tripod (that can support up to 11.8 pounds) that’s lightweight and small, I highly recommend it.  I should also have a full review of it soon.

In the meanwhile, if you are a professional photographer, please do look at the originals (click on the photo) and do tell me what I can do to improve my long exposure photography.

By the way, I used F16 and shutter speed of 10-13 seconds for these photos using my 24mm F2.8 Canon lense + Speedbooster + Panasonic GH4.

 

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Paris Baguette Bakery in Daly City! [Canon EF-S 24mm F2.8]

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(Testing out my new Canon EF-S 24mm F2.8 Lens!)

This will be my first ever blog post on my new site at PhotoRavels.com.  Basically, I wanted to make a new personal website to put all my photos and travel thoughts.  I also have way too much stuff I want to post about cameras in general but my main site HighOnAndroid.com is really dedicated to Android stuff only.

With this site, hopefully I can do some camera reviews, howtos, and also post my personal photos in original high-resolution.  Anyways, this is just a new creation of mine, hopefully I will have some interesting posts to read.

If you have been following me on my YouTube channel or through my HighOnAndroid.com, think of it this way, this is my personal site where I post stuff that I do on a daily basis.

Anyways, onto the story of the day, I will be going to vacation in a few weeks to Thailand and South Korea.  I love my 18-35mm Sigma lens with my Panasonic GH4 and Speedbooster but since I will be traveling, it’s going to be a pain to carry around considering I will be walking a lot more in Asia.

Last time I was in South Korea, I carried all my DSLR camera gear and I ended up not using it at all!  It really bummed me out because when your camera gear is heavy, you tend to leave it at home and miss all those importants shots you could take with some high quality photo gear.

My Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 lens is just simply awesome but it does weigh a ton at around 2 pounds just for the lens itself.  It doesn’t sound like much but when you consider carrying around for travels, it does weigh you down plus the lens itself isn’t exactly small, it is a zoom lens and will need a bag that can fit it.

So I did some research and found that Canon just introduced their new pancake 24mm EF-S F2.8 lens, which only costs like $150.  I loved the wide-angle view of 18mm on my 18-35mm Sigma and wanted to get a wide-angle lens that could replace it.  Although 24mm is not as wide but I found it wide enough for most of my photos for portraits and landscape.  Also I already have a F1.8 50mm lens I can use for close-ups.

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Will my new 24mm F2.8 lens and 50mm F1.8 lens replace my Sigma 18-35mm for traveling?  Upon trying them, you betcha they do!  The 24mm is wide enough for most shots and I can always get closer/farther away if needed while the 50mm gives me nice zoom in certain situations.

Best of all, both of these lenses together weigh almost nothing.  I don’t have to worry about carrying my heavy DSLR gear/lens everywhere.   What I did also find very helpful is that these two lenses are probably the most affordable (both are under $150 each) and great lenses to get started with DSLRs.

Also, I was able to mod the 24mm EF-S lens to work with my Panasonic GH4 using the speedbooster.  The process is actually simple, you have to just pull out the extra plastic on the lens and then it works flawless with the GH4.

I haven’t decided yet but I may carry my GH4 or my Canon 60D.  But all is good as I will be able to keep making my YouTube videos without carrying too much gear.

Well, this is getting a bit long I know, but I wanted to post my first post on my new website from Paris Baguette Bakery in Daly City, CA.  (I actually made the whole site right from here using my Chromebook.)  Below are some photos I took with my new Canon 24mm F2.8 lens with 60D.  If you want to see how it looks like on video, most of the close-up shots in this video I used my new 24mm lens.

FYI, Paris Baguette Bakery is actually a Korean bakery franchise that recently opened up many locations in the U.S.  I was rather surprised to find that it was right here in Daly City, CA where I live.  You can find some excellent bread, coffee, sandwiches, and deserts like shown in below photos.   They actually have Paris Baguette everywhere in South Korea (like every block), and I would never have imagined this being introduced to Americans.

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(Peony loves this place, ordering cute deserts like this.)

 

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They also sell Pat Bing Soo or “Fruit Shaved Ice”, it’s actually a traditional Korean desert made with ice, fruit, and beans.  It’s great on a hot day and tastes somewhat like a fruit smoothie, highly recommend to try.

Sorry, this post is getting a bit longer than I initially planned and probably just me rambling but that’s exactly what I wanted to do on this new site, ramble about photos, cameras, and travel.  Anyways, I should have some interesting camera reviews and my travel experiences posted here.