My Top 10 Asia Travel Photos (& how I took them!)


I’ve been slowly easing into my routine back home since returning from Asia one week ago, and want to take a moment to stop and reflect on this life changing journey.

There are endless stories, many written on this blog, some scribbled in a journal, others tucked away in secret or recorded only in my mind—many to share with the world, some reserved for family and friends, others that will never be told. But sometimes photographs tell an even better story and move us in way that words can’t.

I’m eternally grateful that I took the time to record so much of my journey, and now I’ll be able to look back on it forever, reliving the most amazing moments of my life and passing it on to future generations. Perhaps more than the writings, though, I value the collection of photos I’ve amassed over these past few months—to me, they’re worth more than any of my material possessions.

I’m not a professional photographer by any means, just someone with a passion and a love of visual communication. These certainly aren’t the most incredible travel photographs you’ll ever see, but they all hold a special meaning to me, and they represent a starting point. They’re the benchmark on which I will improve on over time, challenging myself to do better.

I didn’t plan most of these photos. They were vistas I stumbled upon, or spur of the moment captures that just happened to turn out decently well (though my goal is to be more intentional in the future).

It was tough narrowing down from such a huge selection as each one is tied to personal significance, but I tried to include shots from a wide range of scenes and subjects. For my fellow photos/aspiring photos out there, I’ve provided the equipment details along with a brief story behind each image.

10. Kanchanaburi, Thailand

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Canon 6D, EF50mm f/1.4 lens, 1/640 sec, f6.3, ISO 320 / Editing: RAW + Photoshop

This was taken from an observation deck at Elephants World, a sanctuary for rescuing and rehabilitating elephants. We spent the day there volunteering and getting up close and personal with these gentle giants. The natural landscape of greenery and distant mountains provided a nice background, and I waited for a single elephant and his mahout to enter the frame before shooting. See more of that adventure here.

9. Halong Bay, Vietnam

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iPhone 6+ / Editing: Afterlight

On my first night in Halong Bay just before sunset, I hopped into a kayak with my new friend Chelsie in the back. We paddled out to the bay and took advantage of the ‘golden hour’. I didn’t have my wide angle lens with me, so I handed her my phone and she snapped this shot. It’s simple, but I love the composition and mood. It’s hard to take a bad photo in one of the most enchanting places in the world—even a cell phone can convey how special this place is. See more shots of beautiful Halong Bay here.

8. Sapa, Vietnam

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Canon 6D, EF50mm f/1.4 lens, 1/3200 sec, f2.5, ISO 125 / Editing: RAW + Photoshop

The two days spent trekking through Sapa provided the most visually breathtaking moments I’ve ever experienced. Every step was a new photo op and without trying, I ended up with hundreds of shots. While walking along the outskirts of one village, a toddler ran up a dirt path and perched himself onto a boulder, waving and smiling at us. His mother stood by in the distance as he captured our attention and hearts. He cried when we began to walk away, hoping we’d come back. “I’m going to adopt a Vietnamese baby someday”, one girl in our group sighed.

7. Koh Tao, Thailand

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Canon 6D, EF50mm f/1.4 lens, 1/400 sec, f4.5, ISO 200 / Editing: RAW + Photoshop

It was the week after I left home. My second day on Koh Tao was spent wandering the streets alone, and I came across a bamboo & henna tattoo shop. Feeling inspired by my new sense of freedom, I requested a henna of Not all who wander are lost in Thai writing to commemorate the start of my journey. Before the ink had a chance to fade, I took a photo to immortalize this moment in time. It was a spur of the moment decision while lying on the beach, so I propped my camera on a towel, looked through the viewfinder to compose the shot, set the timer and situated myself in place as the shutter released. It took a few tries to get it right, but I ended up with my first solo travel self portrait. I look at this photo now and it’s so powerful. Part of me wants, more than anything, to go back to that moment so I could relive the next few months all over again. I had no idea how much my life was about to change.

6. Vang Vieng, Laos

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Canon 6D, EF24mm f/2.8 lens, 1/100 sec, f4, ISO 800 / Editing: RAW + Photoshop

Nestled between a winding river and limestone cliffs, the town of Vang Vieng was more than the notorious tubing party pitstop I had anticipated upon arrival. On my last evening before sunset, I caught a motorbike to a location along the river outside of the main tourist area and captured several photos of the stunning landscape. Take a look at the entire set in my Laos post and see for yourself why more Southeast Asia travelers should add it to their itinerary.

5. Sapa, Vietnam5

Canon 6D, EF24mm f/2.8 lens, 1/2500 sec, f2.8, ISO 125 / Editing: RAW + Photoshop

After claiming Sapa to be the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in person, it’s no surprise that it makes an appearance twice on the list. The rich and seemingly endless landscape of carefully carved terraces makes it impossible to take a bad photograph, and I could fill an entire post with images just from this day (and I actually did that, sharing over 60 of them here). The natural hazy air doesn’t make for the most ideal shooting conditions and I didn’t think to bring a UV filter on my trip, but post processing definitely helps.

4. Kayangan Lake, Palawan, Philippines

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Canon 6D, EF24mm f/2.8 lens, 1/320 sec, f2.8, ISO 100 / Editing: RAW + Photoshop

The dream-like quality of this photo was just as powerful in person, and I wanted to portray that emotion by placing the angle from my perspective. The islands surrounding Palawan contain so many hidden gems—Kayangan Lake being one of the most well-known. It wasn’t easy choosing just one image to represent this part of the world, and I shared many in my Philippines post in an effort to take you to these surreal places with me.

3. Koh Tao, Thailand

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Canon 6D, EF50mm f/1.4 lens, 1/1250 sec, f5.0, ISO 160 / Editing: RAW + Photoshop

It’s hard to compete with the unspoiled islands of the Philippines, but Shark Bay in Koh Tao was the first place in Thailand I fell in love with. It still remains my favorite beach in Thailand, and it’s easy to see why from this photo. After capturing this image from the top of a steep grade of steps leading to the sand, I spent the afternoon snorkeling, sunbathing and sipping coconut shakes. It was only my fifth day in Asia, and the first moment I truly felt at peace with my decision to leave.

2. Private island, Coron, Philippines

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Canon 6D, EF50mm f/1.4 lens, 1/2500 sec, f2.8, ISO 100 / Editing: RAW + Photoshop

The day before leaving Coron Island, a few friends and I chartered a boat to take us around the more remote locations without any tourists. A handful of new friends joined us and we found a secluded, private island and were served fresh grilled fish and veggies grilled up by the captain. After lunch, I pulled out my camera to take advantage of the dreamy surroundings and asked one of the girls’ to be my subject. I experimented with different scenes and she offered to switch me places, so I set up my composition, held the camera in place and gave her instructions on how to focus. We had a great time and got a few really fun shots—this one being my favorite.

1. Pai, Thailand

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Canon 6D, EF50mm f/1.4 lens, 1/200 sec, f8, ISO 200 / Editing: RAW + Photoshop

Most people who travel Thailand place Pai at the top of their list, and for good reason. Between its cloud covered mountains, rolling fields, canyons and waterfalls and laid back hippie vibe, it’s a small slice of heaven. I spent a total of nine days in the area—longer than any other one place. On this day I made a new friend, we rented scooters and were riding through the countryside. A clearing opened up and revealed a rain shower passing through the mountains in the distance. I immediately pulled over and told her we couldn’t miss this opportunity. After capturing several images of the landscape, she told me to jump in one of the shots so I handed her my camera, gave her a quick debriefing and told her to snap away. In one of the frames I was turning around and the movement was perfectly captured in this shot. Post processing further enhanced the mood and months later, it’s still at the top of my list of favorite travel photographs.

TopTen

And there you have it, friends. My best captured travel moments and the stories behind them. PS: If you love instagram as much as I do, I’m always updating and posting new images there, so make sure to follow me!

Did your favorite make it on the list? Do you dabble in photography as well, or want to see more posts like this? There’s a lot of changes on the way, and I’m in the process of narrowing down what I really want to focus on—but a big part of that depends on you.

I’ll clarify more in upcoming posts, but for now, I just need to know one thing: How can I help you? How can I add value to your day—your life? Apart from house related projects, what do you want to gain/learn/feel when you visit this blog? Don’t be a stranger. Please let me know in the comments—I’m all ears!

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44 thoughts on “My Top 10 Asia Travel Photos (& how I took them!)

  1. I’ve never minded your posts, even when they delve into more personal aspects, because you have a unique voice; I’ve never felt like I could be reading just any blog throughout the internet while on your page, if that makes sense. As far as asking what I, the reader, would like to receive from you, the writer, I don’t have many suggestions. Yours is the only blog I check routinely (every two days or so), and while home improvement projects and handy DIY tutorials are my personal favorite, I certainly have enjoyed your travels and adventures along with everyone else. Whatever you want to bring and add to the table will always be appreciated by me.

  2. Hi Jenna,

    Glad to have you back, but missing your posts a lot! I began as a customer, then started reading your blog and even copied a few of your decoration suggestions, but really really started to looking forward to your posts when you went on your trip. They are amazing and I – in a good way – am jealous of everything you did and saw.. I want to do it ! I really do.
    So my question for you is related to budget. I know you stayed in hostels, spent as little money as possible, but I would like to know how much should I expect to spend if I follow your path.. Any idea? Thank you so much, and keep traveling.. keep living, keep loving life!

    1. Hi Leila! I definitely saved money by staying in hostels, and nearly everything you need to survive is just cheaper. I always read that around $30/day is a reasonable budget for SE Asia. If you add in all the flights and some of the occasional splurges, mine was definitely more because I traveled to so many places instead of staying parked for a while. That makes a big difference. Hope this helps!

      1. Thank you for the budget summary, Jenna. This helps get a rough idea of how to approach a trip such as yours. I think Leila was suggesting that you write a dedicated blog post about the logistics of a multi-stop, long-term trip.

        And thank you for sharing your adventures and photos with us. I’ve enjoyed your posts immensely. I was an avid follower before that, though, so if you go back to more “domestic” content, I’ll continue to enjoy reading your blog.

  3. Great photos did you just travel with those two lenses and your iPhone? I always struggle with what to take! Love your stories thank you X

  4. I’ve really enjoyed following your travels. I’m not sure I would have the guts to do that! This post was fascinating; I like learning the behind the scenes stuff. One question/post idea, if you’re willing: what did you pack and how did you fit it all in a back pack? Did you send items home periodically as you bought new things?

    1. Hi there! I packed very light, and you really only need swimsuits and shorts/tanks. I used a packing cube so they took up less space than my toiletry bag. One pair of tennis shoes, two sandals. One month in, I ended up shipping a box of clothing/gifts home because you can’t pass the cheap shopping up! But that only happened once. I also carried an additional small bag around for my camera gear and a few other small items. Hope this helps!

  5. I’ve enjoyed following you first on your decorating/DIY journey, then onto your traveling adventures. I think you are an interesting and fascinating woman, so whatever you post, I will tag along to gain introspection on life. Life can change, whether we seek that change or whether circumstances dictate it. So we must accept that challenge, even embrace it, which you certainly have. Keep up doing what you’re doing is my best advice!!

  6. Please continue to write about whatever inspires you or brings you joy! I enjoyed the creative and beautiful designs you shared for your home and I loved reading about your life-changing adventures. (I liked living vicariously through your stories and photos!) It seems to me that when we follow our passions and write (or create or do) in response to our own experiences and explorations, others respond to that genuine essence more than if we create simply for the sake of others’ pleasure without as much thought for our own.

  7. I for one am very excited to see what your next “adventure” is going to be. I started following your blog way back in FLA and have just continued ever since. I’ve bought items from your shop and follow you on IG. I guess you could say that you are in the top 5 bloggers that I follow faithfully. I have loved everything you’ve done so far, i.e. DIY’s, traveling, photos and most important your wonderful storytelling. So needless to say whatever you do I’ll be along for the ride. You are enjoying life and when you get older and look back you’ll have NO REGRETS. So keep up the good work and dream on.

  8. Jenna,

    I’ve been reading your blog for the past week and I just love it so much! I’ve spent quite a few hours here at work catching up on your amazing journey. Thank you for writing and sharing! <3

    Best!
    Priya

  9. Hi, Jenna,
    I didn’t read your blog before, I somehow stumbled upon it a week or so after you started your Asian adventure, which I really loved hearing about. I would like to know more about how to find courage and how to cope with your fears of doing something like that – I would really like to travel to Asia but I am terrified to do it alone (not just for security reasons, but: what if I get sick? what if I am lonely?). I lived through your stories and pictures and I think you are very brave!
    I will keep reading no matter what, I’m sure your next adventure, whatever it may be, willl be great!

    1. Thank you Sana! I don’t think leaving was brave… for me there was no other option. If you feel like you have no choice, you tend to forget about the details and logistics, and you just do it. 🙂

  10. I have so enjoyed reading your blog as a designer–your style is one of the few that I love wholeheartedly–and I’ve loved even more hearing your traveling tales. My husband and I get to travel often, but just took our first international trip together recently. My heart craves exploring new places, and so I’ve enjoyed living vicariously through your journey as I sit behind my office desk. You’re my 10 minute break in the morning, and I so look forward to your posts.

    I don’t think I expect much as a reader that you would have to fulfill. I just enjoy seeing your tastes, and enjoying seeing the world through your eyes as you choose to let us in. I think what I’m most interested in now, is how you begin to combine the life you lived before at home and the life you lived in Asia. I would love to hear how it’s been coming back to the states having been away for three months, and what the challenges are you’re facing as you begin to venture into this new life you’ve created. Getting to hear the ins and outs of your trip, the financial side, the planning, the risks, the challenges–more insight on the stories we’ve already heard as you traveled. What would you do differently? What would you suggest to us if we decided to do a trip like this?

    Excited to keep following as your journey continues, and in whatever way you choose to share it with us. I think almost getting an inside view on your thoughts and daily life is enough for me! I really enjoy reading erinandben.co/journal/ and following the day to day life of their sweet, slow paced town life. I would love to get more of that from you!

    1. I’m glad you stuck with me during the transition, Britt! I’ll keep that in mind as I map out my future and the direction I want to take with this blog. Thank you for taking the time to comment!

  11. Your combination of breathtaking photos and sincere writing are so amazing. I have absolutely loved following along on your journey. I cannot wait to do more traveling looking at these photos. Thank you for sharing and best of luck as you keep moving forward.

  12. First off, your photos are phenomenal. You have captured beautifully a part of your life that I have truly enjoyed following every step of your way, and living vicariously through your travels. You may say your photos are not incredible, but I beg to differ. I looked forward (every day) to seeing what new things you had witnessed, and how you captured your tour of Asia. You definitely have an eye for photography. You captured your world beautifully.

    Now that you are back in the States, I would love to hear more about day to day life, about photography (because even if you say you are not a professional photographer, I beg to differ), and about things you find interesting, whether it’s fashion or house or travel related.

  13. Hi Jenna! When I first found your blog a few years ago I went backwards to read all your posts on decorating, and now that your life has taken this big turn I’m very intrigued! I’ve always looked forward to your posts no matter what they are about, I’ve got a few of my friends hooked on your blog as well! I just hope you never stop blogging, I’ll read no matter what! Can’t wait to see where life takes you next! Good luck, have fun and stay safe!

  14. I have been following you for quite some time! I love how talented you are and how you show that you don’t have to spend a million dollars for your home to look stunning. I really enjoyed your travel blog posts – you stepped out of your comfort zone (very few of us have the courage) and i admire you for that! whatever direction you take us — count me in — it would be really nice to share your experience of becoming single (we don’t need to know all the deets) but i think y our journey could really help women that are struggling with the collapse of their own marriage. sometimes it’s nice to know other people struggle with the same issues. whatever direction you take your blog — i’m sure you will be influencing a ton of readers! may God bless you and may this next chapter bring as much peace and joy as your trip allowed!

  15. You may have answered this a thousand times and I just didn’t look thru the comments to find it, but where is your bathing suit from? I know it’s a superficial question to focus on, but I just luv it!

  16. I only recently linked to your blog when Sarah Sherman Samuel was looking for laundry room inspiration and found yours. I LOVED your laundry room and had a large back hallway closet with an unfinished pine sliding barn door at my cottage. AND I owned 7 of the exact same wire and canvas baskets that you had – having just stumbled upon them on clearance at Walmart in Canada. This project remained unfinished post-reno last summer. I leapt into action, sent my husband off to the lumber yard and out to his workshop to whip up shelves for staining while I painted the back wall in a dark gray. I then researched aging wood and applied tea (for tannins) and a vinegar/steel wool concoction to get the most amazing barn wood look for the sliding door (not to mention the ridiculous cheap cost of this method). I took my galvanized sliding hardware down, ORB’ed it, reinstalled it all. Then I loaded up the closet. I can barely keep the door closed….I love how the inside of my closet looks so much I’d rather keep it open!
    So that behind me, I went back to your blog, bookmarked it, and sat down to read your most recent post. AND you’d left home ! I have to say I was a bit disappointed. I felt like I’d missed the boat. But I absolutely LOVED reading about your travels. I have gone back to read some of your older posts, have since sent my husband back to the lumber store and his workshop to build ceiling beams based on your kitchen. So…..I will continue to read no matter where you take your blog. You are clearly a talented creative person on many fronts and I have found lots of inspiration and trust you will continue to share your talents and inspiration and experiences. I look forward to reading !

  17. Wow, my thoughts echo Molly and Britt and others, they said it so well. I have been following you for maybe about a year, made myself start at the beginning and read every blog post in order. I binge read your blog for awhile! Just when I caught up, it was about summer, and then you were off on your trip! I have loved it all, but I think it is because you are honest, write from the heart, and are just so good and gifted at all you do. You are also beautiful on the outside, but haven’t let that go to your head, and spoil who you are on the inside, like some shallow people do. That is so refreshing in this day and age of what the media pushes on us, especially women. Because you have such a joie de vivre, and write about what you enjoy, and can do all that while being introspective, and communicate to us in a clear way about anything from projects to philosophy, and reveal your humanity at the same time….that is why we think you are amazing!!! Blog on! Natalie S.

  18. I stumbled across your blog part way through your trip and have loved reading every word. I think I connect to it and you because I’ve been feeling lost lately (in life and a relationship) and I enjoy how you’re approaching life. While your blog isn’t a self help blog, to me it has helped in more ways than you know, offering a different view and opening up possibilities in life. I only wish I could sit over coffee with you and hear your stories and gain your advice and knowledge 🙂 Wherever the blog goes, I’ll definitely follow along whether it’s personal or decorating. Thank you for opening up and sharing your amazing adventure!

  19. I knew some of those images had to be timer shots. Takes nothing away from the artful composition and subject matter. In fact, it’s more impressive. Thank you for sharing this work with us.

  20. I didn’t know you had a blog much less had been keeping up with your travel. I happened to see a post mentioning your blog. I started to read from your first blog of leaving home. I am not a big decorated :/. I enjoyed your travel blogs as this is the first and only blog I have ever read or kept up with. I enjoy the pics and with this entry, very interested in the “behind the scenes” of the pics. I love photography :). Your blog is certainly an inspiration!

  21. I just absolutely love reading your blog! I have never followed a blog before but am in love with your writing and hearing about your travels. I also live in Sonora and saw you grocery shopping. I wanted to say hi and tell you how much I enjoy reading everything you have to say but I am shy! I hope you continue to share!

  22. Hi Jenna Sue!
    I found your blog during the 6 week design challenge (or something like then when you redid that cute bathroom). The two types of blogs I love to follow are design and travel blogs. As a young twenty something the day I decorate a home is a long way off, but travel is my true passion. Travel is what I do, so I of course have loved following your journey through SE Asia! I started my blog a year ago just to have a broader place to document my travels and have really found your transition inspiring. Thank you for keeping it real and bringing us along! I have to say SE Asia now might be next on my list! I’ve done multiple countries in Europe and in Africa, India and Costa Rica and I would love to further explore both Asia and South America.

    Thank you and I can’t wait for what’s next!

  23. While reading your posts, I’ve often wished I could download or purchase prints of your photographs. Is that something you would consider for the future?

  24. Love all your pictures! How did you travel around Asia with your camera? I will be going this summer and would love to bring my Nikon D5000 but worry with the limited space/theft.

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