Travel Letters

The Vine Retreat

The Vine Retreat

Phnom Vor Village

Kep, Cambodia

January 22, 2019


About a year ago, my Bangkok friend Robert invested his considerable talents in the ten-room guest house, spa and adjoining farm and gardens called The Vine Retreat.

Robert, a native of Quebec Province, Canada is a Certified Accountant.  But somehow, he has morphed into a civil engineer, electrician and carpenter as he repaired, renovated and rebuilt the long-neglected site in the jungle uplands of Kep Province in southern Cambodia.

Dependent - Independent Part Two





October 24, 2018

Out west, in the Mangystau Region, a herd of camels in the desert is a common sight, especially for my driver.  But I insist we stop at a watering station. 

I introduce myself to the camel herder and his sons.  They are most welcoming and certainly curious about me.  I watch in fascination as their tall and thirsty animals slurp, shake and swallow big gulps. (Camels can drink 30 gallons of water or 113 liters in just 13 minutes.)

My driver Vladimir suggests we visit one of his secret places.  Of course, I agree.  Our “secret place” is a long, white, crenelated valley that can easily be missed from the road.  We are alone above the valley as we observe the blindingly bright white, deeply gouged formation.  

Dependent - Independent Part One

Hotel Aigai Kum

Bashi Village

Altyn Emil National Park

Almaty Region

Republic of Kazakhstan

October 11, 2018                                 

                                         Nyet! and Da!


I refuse to drive the 50 kilometers (31miles) to the “Singing Sand Dunes.”    I anticipate the “road” will be uncomfortable, uneven and rough.  In addition to my back brace, I will need a dental mouth guard.

I am thinking, “How many sand dunes do I need to see?   I have already climbed the dunes in seven countries.  I don’t recall if any of them ‘sang’ or even ‘whistled.’   Regardless, enough is enough.”

“Ali,” I suggest to my driver, “Please take the afternoon off.”

Boszhira Valley

Boszhira Valley

Mangystau Region


October 18, 2018

I couldn’t find the appropriate words to describe my visit to Boszhira.  My only reaction was, “This is another planet.”

Here are excerpts from

Many people think that Kazakhstan is one huge flat steppe.  But there are places in the country that are true natural wonders.

One example is the tract of Boszhira, a mountain range located on the Ustyurt Plateau on the Mangyshiak Peninsula in the Mangystau Region in south-western Kazakhstan.  It is one of the most beautiful places in Kazakhstan

Giant Stone Balls

Torysh Valley



Торишская долина, Казахстан

October 21, 2018

I was privileged and fortunate to have visited Torysh Valley or the Valley of the Giant Stone Balls in Kazakhstan.  At first I thought they were unique.  But I learned that these formations appear in other parts of the world. (See the essay below for locations in California, North Dakota and Ontario.)

Please take your time to read the essay below and to view my photo galleries and videos of this astonishing site.

Valley of Castles

The Peninsula of Mangystau


October 20, 2018

Hello from the Valley of Castles,

Here are excerpts for an official Mangystau publication:

The system of small remnant mountains is known among the local population under the name of Airakty-Shomanay.

In 1851, the great Ukrainian poet and artist T.G. Shevchenko was in exile here. These mountains so impressed him that he made a series of drawings under the poetic name "Valley of Castles."