The Year of Extremes: Life Update, March 2019

The Year of Extremes: Life Update, March 2019

Howdyyyyyy, friends!

This is going to be a recurring blog theme every month or two, where I lay out some fun things going on in my life, and give you some insight into projects that are in the works. As my YouTube channel & Instagram page have become more centred on certain kinds of content, I wanted to have a place to touch base and discuss both mundane & interesting things going on in a 24-year-old freelancer’s life.

It’s the year of getting shit done, HENNY.

Sooo, where to begin with 2019?! Well, I always try to “theme” my yearly goal at the beginning of January. 2017 was all about trying new experiences, like moving to a new city (moving back in with my parents!), and testing out content creation as a full-time gig. Buuuut, I ended up working a lot of hours in 2017, which took a bit of a toll on my relationship and social life — so 2018 had to pivot. 2018 was focused on self-improvement, which involved working more closely with my agency, Fourth Floor Management (love them!), and passing off administrative tasks that were getting in the way of creating actual tangible content.

So, what’s my theme for 2019? Bare with me… but 2019 is the year of extremes! I’ve spent the last couple years working on my platforms and voice, both online & offline, but I’m ready to start doing more. For instance, throughout January & February, I uploaded TWELVE videos to my YouTube channel. I’m tired of saying to myself, “oh, I’ll just do that tomorrow” — I want to take ~life by the balls~ and make my goals a reality. Last week, I decided that I wanted to start creating colourful style videos for Instagram; 7 days later, and I’m 90% done creating the set in my apartment, and I’ll be publishing style videos later this week. 2019 being the “year of extremes” just means that I’m done being on the fence about life. If I want to do it, then let’s get it done.

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Mid-20s? Shantay, you can STAY.

If you’ve been following my platforms enough, you’ll know that I’ve been on a pretty regular fitness routine since I was 19-years-old. Over time, I’ve learned so much about fitness and nutrition, and creating tangible & reachable goals for myself. For the most part, ages 19 – 23 was all about sustaining my fitness level — maybe I gained a bit of weight here, lost a bit of weight there, but my overall shape didn’t change much.

After turning 24, I started noticing a lot more changes with my body. I literally feel like my body is producing more testosterone than it ever has, which has been an interesting feeling! My strength and endurance have been peaking over the last year, and I feel more motivated than ever to continue my fitness regimen and push for results.

One noticeable change is that ‘ya boy has been working out his legs + glutes two times per week. It’s not that I used to skip leg day… it’s just that I used to avoid leg day at all costs!!! But not anymore! As I’ve been building more muscle on my legs, I’ve noticed a general weight gain throughout my entire body — which makes sense, considering our legs have so much muscle tissue. Pass me the booty shorts because ‘ya boy is ready for a peachy summer 2019!

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Pass the champagne!

Next month, I’ll be kissing goodbye to the first half of my 20s as I turn 25-years-old on April 25th — which just so happens to be my champagne birthday. Admittedly, I don’t often celebrate my birthdays with much passion or energy. Throughout university, my 19th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd birthdays were overshadowed by university exams. No one had much time to go out for a birthday drink, so I haven’t prioritized my birthday in YEARS. So this year I’m having a bunch of my friends over for a ‘lil house party as we ring in my 25th year!

I’m really looking forward to 25. I’m ready for new experiences & challenges!! I’m considering doing a boudoir photoshoot, which is basically a tastefully naked photoshoot, once I turn 25. I’m aware of the fact that I’m in the ~peak of my youth~, and I’m sure I’ll want my ~glory years~ captured. THESE WILL NOT BE INSTA-FRIENDLY LOL. They will be for my eyes, and my eyes only (plus Christian xo). He’s actually the one that’s been pushing me to do the photoshoot, but no surprise there!

Lights, camera, action!

Part of my 2019 career goals is to diversify myself beyond social media. Social media and content creation has proved to be an incredible asset in my life, but I never want to feel like my worth is tied to a platform. I’ve seen first-hand what can happen when a platform begins to define your success (namely, the YouTube LGBTQ+ ~ad-pocalypse~ of 2017 & 2018). As a freelancer in the digital space, it’s important to remember that platforms will continuously change, and you must be able to adapt & diversify yourself.

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So what does that mean for me? Well, since 2016 I’ve co-hosted a red carpet segment at the Much Music Video Awards, and I’ve learned how much I love being a host. It’s led me to co-hosting various digital series, such as MUCH PRIDE (which was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award!), and creating lifestyle television segments for Canadian media. Recently, I put together my first on-air lifestyle segment for a local television station, Inside Durham, and I’m hoping to do more on-air segments in 2019. ‘Ya boy is just trying to be the gay Martha Stewart!! I’ve learned that I love sharing my passions with the world, and inspiring people to insert more colour into their life.

 

Sooo, that’s my life as of late! A lot to accomplish, but I’m feeling more motivated than I’ve ever felt before. It’s all about setting ambitious, yet attainable, goals.

Have a lovely week, and I’ll see you somewhere online v v v soon, xoxo.

-MR

Colourful & Instragramable Spots in Kissimmee, Florida (includes DisneyWorld!)

Hey humans!

If you’re like me, you like to scope out fun & Instagramable spots before you travel to your destination. Recently, the Experience Kissimmee team invited me to experience everything that their city has to offer — and I was not disappointed! The city is *filled* with colourful & picture-worthy spots, I decided to compile a handful of the best Instagramable locations (with photos!).

SPOT #1: Margaritaville Resort Orlando

Located in the heart of Kissimmee, Margaritaville Resort Orlando has both hotel accommodations and colourful cottages for larger groups! I was instantly drawn to the beauty of their cottages — hundreds of colourful homes in the cuuuutest community of other vacation-goers. Their end-game goal is to build over 900 colourful cottages, which pretty much amounts to my DREAM community.

If you plan to stay here while traveling in Kissimmee, Florida, be sure to bring your camera, because this will be a spot you won’t want to miss!

SPOT #2: DisneyWorld Magic Kingdom

SO, I know it’s pretty common knowledge to snap a picture in front of Magic Kingdom’s castle, but placement is key! If you plan to visit Magic Kingdom, don’t fuss over snapping a shot with the front of the castle. To be honest, there’s so many people trying to do the exact same thing, it’s quite difficult to capture the beauty of Magic Kingdom. Instead, cross over to the right side of the castle on the bridge, and you’ll capture the side profile of the castle with gorgeous greenery & water. AND don’t forget — always strike a pose!

SPOT #3: DisneyWorld Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom has some incredible photo opportunities, and to be honest, you don’t need to prepare much before heading into the park. You’ll see plenty of beautiful trees and organic structures as you naturally walk through the park. However, a little known spot allows you to capture their Expedition Everest ride with a beautiful mountain in the background. Right after you’ve finished the ride, you’ll exit next to a line of shrubs — this is the prime spot to snap a picture (see photo above!).

SPOT #4: Disney Springs

Best known for being the go-to shopping, dining, and entertainment destination for Disney lovers, Disney Springs is a gorgeous place to bring your camera for some eye-turning shots! We ended up arriving at Disney Springs later in the afternoon, so there wasn’t a whole lot of time to shoot, but I can assure you there are plenty of photo opportunities. Everything from their hot air balloon ride, to bustling cobble-stone streets, to their picturesque bridges & ponds, you’re bound to find something you’ll like. Personally, I was just amazed at the beauty of Disney Springs’ greenery & lakefront!

SPOT #5: Celebration, Florida

If you’re traveling in the Orlando area, you have to visit it’s neighboring town, Celebration. The land that Celebration sits on was originally bought by Walt Disney, but was later sold to developers in order to create a picture-perfect town, with white-picket fences and all! I’d recommend taking a tour with Celebration Bike Rentals, and snapping shots of the picture perfect town along the way. From perfectly aligned palm trees, to white-picket fences and tripped hedges, to a 1-mile long boardwalk in the middle of the forest, you’re bound to find a shot that speaks to your creativity!

Happy Traveling!

-MR

Easy Jumbo Meatballs (COMFORT FOOD!)

Easy Jumbo Meatballs (COMFORT FOOD!)

Whenever the weather gets chillier around this time of year, I always find myself craving comfort food. Dishes that are hearty, satisfying, and fill my apartment with the yummiest aromas! Today, I wanted to share my recipe for easy-peasy weeknight Jumbo Meatballs.

NOTE: If you’d like to make a tomato sauce to accompany your meatballs, simply blend 10-12 roma tomatoes with olive oil, garlic, and salt (to taste), and cook over medium heat for 45 minutes. OR, just buy a jar from your grocery store. Whatever works!

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The Ingredients You’ll Need:

  • 700g – 800g of extra lean ground beef
  • 1 large white onion, diced
  • 1 tsp garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup of parmesan cheese, plus 3 – 4 tbsp
  • 5 – 6 cremini mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/3 cup of breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup of olive oil, plus 2 – 3 tbsp
  • sea salt, to taste

STEP 1: In a medium-heat pan, add 1/3 cup of olive oil until heated thoroughly. Once heated, add white onion & mushrooms. Stir every couple minutes until translucent, then stir occasionally. Onions and mushrooms should cook for about 40 minutes, so the natural sugars have enough time to release their yummy flavour! Add your cooked onions & mushrooms to your tomato sauce, and place aside for the time being.

Tip: don’t put your cutting board in the sink just yet! You’ll be able to use it as a platform for your raw meatballs in Step 3.

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STEP 2: In a large bowl, add ground beef, parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, and 1 egg. Mix until all the ingredients have combined sufficiently.

STEP 3: Roll 5 – 6 large meatballs, roughly 3inches in diameter, and place aside on a cutting board.

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STEP 4: Using the same pan that you cooked the onions and mushrooms, add 2 – 3 tbsp of olive oil on medium-high heat. Your pan will need to be quite hot for the next step, so occasionally add 1 drop of water to test its level of heat. The drop of water should crackle and pop immediately.

STEP 5: Carefully add each raw meatball to your pan, searing each of the 4 sides for about 3 minutes each. Searing meat is 100% about building flavor, as the surface instantly begins caramelizing.

STEP 6: Once all 4 sides have been seared sufficiently, reduce heat to medium-low, add your tomato sauce to the pan, and cook the meatballs covered for 15 minutes. After that, uncover the pan and cook for an additional 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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STEP 7: Once cooked, sprinkle 3 – 4 tbsp of parmesan cheese overtop, and broil for 5 – 8 minutes.

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Pro tip! Grab a few baguettes & turn this meal into meatball sandwiches! YUUUUM.

Until next time, happy eating!

-MR

My Yummy Vegan Chili Recipe!

My Yummy Vegan Chili Recipe!

Over the past couple years, I’ve tried to incorporate plant-based alternatives into my diet for health & sustainability. In fact, one of my favourite recipes to make for a crowd is my vegan chili, because it’s got heavy flavour, a good level of spice, and it’s hearty enough for a crowd.

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This recipe is not fancy by any means. All required ingredients can be found at any grocery store. My recipe is straight-up vegan comfort food, and it’s perfect for the chilly winter.

For this recipe, you will need:

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 5-6 white or cremona mushrooms
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, diced (seeds optional!)
  • 2 large cans of diced tomatoes (no added salt!)
  • 1 can of tomato paste
  • 2 cans of red kidney beans
  • 1 can of corn
  • 1/3 cup of yellow mustard
  • 1/3 cup of olive oil
  • 1 vegetable bouillon cube (this will salt + flavour your veggies!)
  • 2-3 tbsp chili powder
  • Other seasonings (your choice!)

Yields: 8 servings

Here’s how to make yummy vegan chili:

  1. In a large pot at medium heat, add 1/3 cup of olive oil and 1 vegetable bouillon cube; stir until the cube has dissolved into the oil. Once oil has heated sufficiently with the dissolved cube, add diced onion, red/green peppers, mushrooms, and jalapeño pepper. Continue to routinely stir vegetables until translucent and soft. Typically, this can be done in 15 minutes, but I like to cook them for about 25 minutes because it releases their natural sweetness.
  2. In a blender, blend 1 can of tomatoes for about 10 seconds. Add blended tomatoes to your pot and continue to stir. Add the other (1) whole can of tomatoes to your pot, and continue to stir until heated.
  3. Drain red kidney beans & corn from their cans, and add these to your pot, continuing to stir until heated.
  4. Add yellow mustard, chili powder, tomato paste, and other seasonings of your choice. The reason I don’t specify on seasonings is that everyone has their preferences! Some people prefer the nutty flavour of cumin, others opt for the aromatics of a bay leaf. When it doubt, just add a bit of salt + pepper 😉
  5. Your mixture should be relatively thick. In order to cook everything down, slowly add 1/2 cup of water. Increase heat to medium-high until it reaches a rolling simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low.
  6. Cook your chili, stirring every 10 minutes, for 90 minutes. The result will be a thick, velvety, and hearty chili that will please any crowd!

 

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2018 TOP PRODUCTS FOR THE FAB HUMAN

2018 TOP PRODUCTS FOR THE FAB HUMAN

Hey humans!

For the last year, I’ve been fine-tuning my morning and nighttime routines, to find a skincare, hair care, and shaving regimen that fits my busy life. I’m so thrilled to share a handful of these products with you, as most of the containers are almost finished! I think a big testament to the quality of any product is reaching the bottom of the package.

SO, here are my top products of 2018 for the ~fab~ human…

 

SKINCARE

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NEUTROGENA DEEP CLEAN MICELLAR CLEANSING WATER

Alright, it’s time to stop what you’re doing, and forget everything you think you know about washing your face. Simply put, micellar cleansing waters removes makeup, cleanses skin, eyes and lips without rubbing or rinsing. By applying micellar water to a cotton pad, the micelles capture and life away dirt like a magnet! It leaves your skin perfectly clean and refreshed without over-drying. I’ve managed to try a few different micellar waters this year, and I can honestly say that Neutrogena’s is the BEST! I usually see it retailing for about $12 – 14 CAD, and one bottle will last you 2 – 3 months. When I stay on a strict regimen of cleansing 2 x per day, I almost never break-out.

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MURAD ACNE CONTROL CLARIFYING MASK, 4.0% SULFUR

Once again, stop what you’re doing. This time, head to the closest Sephora and purchase this mask by MURAD. DISCLAIMER – this mask retails for about $45 CAD, but is the most effective acne-clearing mask I’ve ever used. The mask’s formula is thick and rich, so you don’t need to use a lot, roughly a quarter-sized amount for your whole face. The 4.0% Sulfur treatment perfectly reduces the appearance of redness within a couple hours, and blemishes are cleared within a day or two. I use this as an end-of-week skin treatment, or as a rapid spot treatment for days that I have video or photo shoots.

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ORIGINS CLEAR IMPROVEMENT CHARCOAL HONEY MASK

Let me preface by saying that I’m not big on the whole charcoal craze. I do have a few charcoal products, but by no means do I think this is some magic ingredient that’s going to change your life. HOWEVER! The Origins Charcoal Honey Mask is the perfect addition to your skincare, because it manages to bring out a radiance in my skin that makes me appear more awake and alert. As such, this is not a cleansing mask, as it’s more of a short-term treatment mask. If you apply the mask at night, your skin will look visibly more radiant and even-toned the next day. However, I wouldn’t say that the mask’s effect lasts more than a day or two. If you’ve got a special event or occasion that you want to look radiant for, this is the mask to use! It retails for $42 CAD, which in my opinion is a bit pricey. However, the jar has lasted me 3 months so far, and I’ve got a couple more treatments left in the package. At the very least, you’re getting a lot of product for the price, which is great.

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THE ORGANIC PHARMACY FACE CREAM

Interestingly, this face cream is marketed as a day cream, mean’t to be applied in the morning before you head out the door. I’ve actually been using the product as a nighttime cream, because it’s extremely thick and rich, which helps my skin retain moisture throughout the night. To be honest, I like lighter face creams for the day, especially if I’m on-the-go. However, as a nighttime cream, this stuff is 10/10. It retails for about $85, but will last you at least 8 months. I’ve had this cream for about 5 months now, and I’ve only used about 65% of it.

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OARS + ALPS FACE MOISTURIZER + EYE CREAM

Full disclosure, the brand directly sent me this product. We had planned to work on a partnership together, but it fell through last minute. Since I already had the product, I thought I might as well use it! I’m SO thrilled that I took full advantage of this face cream, because it’s been the perfect day cream! The cream is super light, which keeps my skin moisturized without feeling heavy or greasy. They also claim that this duals as an eye cream, but I’m not totally convinced on that. At best, it’s a superior day cream that dries almost instantaneously (and only costs $22 CAD!)

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PATCHOLOGY FLASHPATCH ILLUMINATING EYE GELS

I’m in LOOOOVE with this product! Interestingly, my partner, Chris, picked up a sample of this product at a recent product preview — so of course, I used it for myself! I had a photoshoot one morning, and wanted to sure that my under eyes we’re bright and awake. The product are these eyedrop-shaped gels that you place under your eyes for about 10 minutes after your morning shower. After 10 minutes, your eyes are visibly brighter, tighter, and more awake! Each eyepatch sells for $3, which makes it a great stocking stuffer for the holidays.

 

HAIRCARE

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VICHY’S DENSI-SOLUTIONS PRODUCT LINE

SO, I’m pretty sure this 3-part product like is marketed towards women, but for some reason the Vichy Canada team decided to mail it over to me to try! Yaaaass, gender is a construct anyway. SO! While my hair isn’t receding or going through any balding process, I am noticing some minor thinning as I move through my 20s. As someone who’s been styling their hair since the 9th grade, my hairstyle is very important to me. The product line consists of a shampoo, 1-minute rinse-off hair cream, and a leave-in spray. After using all three products, I noticed that my hair styled easier, and look visibly thicker. I’d highly recommend it for other guys like me, who are noticing minor thinning, and want to sustain their fuller hairstyle. The product line costs $86CAD, so not cheap! BUT, I can honestly say that the product line delivers what it says it’s going to deliver, so it’s worth the money in my opinion.

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THE PERTH SOAP CO. MOROCCAN ARGAN OIL

I’ve been obsessed with this product since 2017, because of its effectiveness, versatility, and affordability. I primarily use the product as a leave-in hair oil to help replenish some of the lost nutrients from blow drying & styling my hair. I found that it helps to keep my hair moisturized and shiny. However, you can also use argan oil on your face, skin, facial hair, nails, and cuticles as an organic moisturizer. It sells for $30CAD, so once again, makes a great stocking stuffer for the holidays!

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MISTER POMPADOUR BEESWAX PASTE

Mister Pompadour’s Beeswax Paste is a 10/10 hairstyle product for groomed pompadours. The brand uses all natural products, which allows it to rinse out of the hair effortlessly, so you don’t get any waxy residue after your shower. Additionally, the product is very light, but packs a huge hold for all-day style. It retails for $20USD, and consistently sells out online due to its sheer popularity by users. An absolute MUST for men’s hairstyling.

SHAVING

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GILLETTE ON DEMAND

As most of you know, I’ve been exclusively using Gillette for my shaving needs over the past 10 years. While I don’t normally think of including Gillette in my round-up posts, I wanted to highlight their new Gillette On Demand service! Gillette On Demand sends you blades (+handle) to your door over a pre-set time period, depending on how often you shave. You end up saving several dollars each shipment, when compared to buying cartridges individually at the store. It could make for a great gift or stocking stuffer for that bearded family member of yours! Prices range depending on shipment frequency.

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That’s my 2018 round-up of my top skincare, haircare, and shaving products! Happy holidays, everyone.

-MR

Supporting Innovation with Capital One

Supporting Innovation with Capital One

This month, I had a really unique opportunity to attend Capital One’s third annual Gift the Code HACKATHON. The event brought together over 200 of the country’s foremost charity leaders and young digital experts. Leaders from technology companies like Microsoft and Facebook, as well as like-minded peers and experts, shared knowledge in an effort to help non-profit organizations understand the tools available to help advance their digital journeys. The six charity partners that attended this year’s event were Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, Camp Quality, The Centre for Mindfulness Studies, Kids Help Phone, The Movember Foundation and Toronto Cat Rescue.

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The room was filled with young, smart, passionate coders that came together for one common goal: to help Canadian charities solve some of their most pressing problems. Over the past year, I’ve been so lucky to attend a handful of Capital One’s tech events, and learn how the company is influencing Canadians to #UseDigitalForGood. There are many charities in Canada that lack the funding and resources to help them keep up in an ever-changing digital world — and that’s where Capital One aims to help!

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In my opinion, the best part of Gift the Code is that all code created will be available open-source on public code repositories to provide other charities with the possibility to leverage and further develop the solutions. So, even if you weren’t one of the charities attending the event, you’ll still have access to coded solutions that can be personalized for your charity!

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Over a full weekend, coders came together in teams to listen to their respective charity partner’s problems, and identify a solution! At the end of the weekend, teams had five minutes to present their solutions to a group of judges in a science-fair style set-up. *AND* I had the opportunity to act as a judge for the coding teams that created solutions for the Toronto Cat Rescue!

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After chatting with the Toronto Cat Rescue team, they told me that their charity faces three main problems:

  1. They needed a fluid, user-friendly, enjoyable adoption process for adopters and an easy to use, one-stop-shop, frictionless system for adoption managers.
  1. They needed a living, comprehensive and user-friendly solution to store, analyze and utilize information about their cats (basically, they needed a cat database!).
  1. They needed a solution for how to manage the transportation of their cats in an efficient, safe and user-friendly way that can be accessed by their many volunteers and fosters.

Think about it… all these problems had little to no digital solution just one decade ago. Within just a handful of years, our digital world has made it possible to solve these problems; but yet, how do charities, with a growing lack of funds and resources, access these solutions? That’s why an event like Gift the Code is so vital for Canadian charities.

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Also, my team of judges were SO interesting. Admittedly, I was the least qualified to be judging coding-based solutions — however! I think I was able to bring a valuable perspective on judging the visual & eye-catching qualities of the coders’ projects, since I have experiencing building social media platforms for my audience. While I’m not the most tech-savvy person, I’d like to think I have an eye for effective solutions that are visually pleasing; which, if you take a look at the charity’s three main problems, is part of their difficulty.

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After careful deliberation, we awarded a group named Catalist (I love a good pun!) as the winning team for the Toronto Cat Rescue. They created an online database for the charity’s cats that auto-filled a Google Spreadsheet, allowing Toronto Cat Rescue to always have a master list of their cats’ information. I thought it was a genius approach, as many charities need a safe place for their information.

On top of the winning team’s coding solution, Toronto Cat Rescue (and Canadian charities alike) will have immediate, open source access to countless codes for their charity to use. Now THAT’S a way to #UseDigitalForGood!

Until next time,

-MR

Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Capital One Canada. All opinions are my own.

A Story of French Polynesia

A Story of French Polynesia

While I could write for ages about my experience in French Polynesia, I want to tell you a story of Tahiti through the lens of my camera.

Flying from Toronto to Pape’ete was a JOURNEY! Well worth it, don’t get me wrong… but nonetheless, a journey. From Toronto, we flew to San Francisco, then from SFO to Pape’ete with a budget airline, French Bee. Honestly, a really great airline for the price.

Once we landed in Pape’ete, we took one last flight to Bora Bora, where our paradise adventure began. We actually had no idea we were headed to Bora Bora, as it was a last minute itinerary change by the tourism board. Honestly, it was probably the best change we could of asked for, because Bora Bora was breathtakingly beautiful. The water was crystal clear, and the volcanic mountains were large and vast.

With our luggages, we boarded a water taxi and headed to a nearby beach for lunch.

aaaaaaand had myself some fresh coconut water… when in Tahiti, right?

Of course, I had to give myself a peachy Bora Bora moment once we got to our accommodation for the night. While most people stay on the water in over-water guest houses (which can be VERY expensive), we got the opportunity to stay at a bed & breakfast called Villa Rea Hanaa.

Listen, I understand the hype with over-water guest houses… but I mean COME ON. The view from my room was spectacular, the art was local, and their accommodation is a fraction of the price of over-water guest houses.

But before we left Bora Bora, we took a ride to a top lookout point on the island, and enjoyed the views. Breathtaking. My favorite thing about Bora Bora is the island’s diversity in terrain. There’s vast mountainous spots that capture your attention, yet flat and accessible areas where local’s come together to share their culture.

All I have to say is that Bora Bora is far more than a luxury vacation spot; it can be a destination for true adventure, without breaking the bank.

With a 1-hour flight from Bora Bora, we arrived in Mo’orea (Air Tahiti is the primary flight service throughout French Polynesia)! We stopped at a nearby resort for lunch, which was a unique experience, as most of our trip revolved around staying in local guest houses. It was really cool to see the over-water guesthouses up close, pictured above.

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Here are a couple drone shots from Mo’orea. The incredible thing about flying a drone in French Polynesia is that the wind is almost non-existent; which, if you own a drone, you’ll know that wind speed is a big factor in restricting flight. If you’re planning to visit French Polynesia, I would highly recommend investing in a consumer drone! Your shots will be AMAZING.

Later that day, we checked into our Mo’orea accommodation, Hotel Hibiscus. It’s labeled as a 2-star hotel, but honestly felt more like a 3.5 star. Don’t get me wrong, the accommodations at Hotel Hibiscus are quite simple, but you didn’t come all the way to Mo’orea to hang out in your room. The accommodation offered everything I needed (hot running water, clean room, simple breakfast), in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

This is when I learned that the coral reef is very sharp… I landed myself many cuts on the bottom of my feet. If you’re going to swim in French Polynesia, bring water shoes. Lesson learned.

Also, you can now call me Queen Mikey.

At the end of our second day in Mo’orea, our Tahitian tour guide took us to try-on traditional Tahitian Grand Costumes. I was hesitant to call this a costume, but our guide (and the locals we spoke to) reassured us that these are called Grand Costumes. They’re made using the fibers of the hibiscus tree, and can take weeks to make. Since the hibiscus tree’s fibers are so strong, each Tahitian Grand Costume has a lifespan of about 50 years!

Next on our itinerary was visiting the remote island of Ahe. The island is so remote that it only has 2 accommodations (we, of course, stayed at one of them). Our accommodation was called Pension Chez Raita, and was by far the most memorable part of my trip. I mean… check this place out…

HOW IS THIS PLACE REAL??? The water is calm and still, and the water doesn’t make much sound. Everything is quiet and peaceful.

By far, one of the highlights of visiting Ahe was fishing my own lunch! YUP! We went to the middle of the lagoon, fished our lunch, and had it prepared for us about an hour later. It doesn’t get more fresh than that!

The island is shaped like a hollow circle, surrounded by the ocean with the lagoon in the middle. For lunch, we simply travelled by boat to another point on the island. All I have to say is that there were palm trees EVERYWHERE! It was spectacular.

All in all, visiting Ahe was like entering a postcard. It didn’t feel real, because everything felt perfect. In our digitally-driven lives, it can often feel difficult to unplug and enter a quiet space (especially on vacation!). In Ahe, there was limited internet connection, and quiet spaces were practically everywhere. It made relaxation easy!

I would totally recommend visiting Pension Chez Raita in Ahe with your romantic partner. If you’re looking for a getaway, away from the modern world, Ahe is the place to go.

With a budget airline out of San Francisco, and accommodations that don’t have to be luxury, French Polynesia is getting more and more accessible for the average traveler. With that in mind, I can honestly recommend the Islands of Tahiti as a must visit with your romantic partner. The remoteness offers the perfect balance of beauty & disconnect from the modern world.

Happy traveling, friends.

-MR

5 Things I Wish I Knew About Cannabis

5 Things I Wish I Knew About Cannabis
Disclaimer: This post is meant to further educate and inform people about recreational cannabis. As I write this, recreational cannabis is legal throughout Canada. I wanted to write this post right after legalization, as many newbie cannabis consumers will rightfully have many questions about the basics.

Remember when Michelle Obama famously said about Republicans: “When they go low, we go high!” Well… Canada might be going just a little higher!

It’s a historic time for Canada, as we become the second country (and first major economy) to legalize the sale and possession of recreational cannabis. It’s a long time coming for Canada, as Canadians have been (illegally) consuming cannabis for many years. In 2017, Statistics Canada found that 18% of Canadians consume cannabis; of course, it’s widely believed that this number is closer to 30% – 35%, as many people might not disclose their activity.

I find the outlook on cannabis very interesting, especially because it varies depending on your geographic location. I know that people in the U.K. are a lot less friendly towards recreational cannabis than Canadians (I have no source for this, just experience from speaking to my friends). Regardless of the location, it’s a fact that cannabis is far less harmful than cigarettes or alcohol, when looking at its effect on responsible adults.

While I may not be a cannabis pro, I do enjoy consuming cannabis in a responsible manner. This includes consuming in my apartment, after I’ve completed my work, with no intention to operate any motor vehicles, or make any important decisions. I treat cannabis the same way another Canadian might look at a glass of wine or scotch.

Now, there are a few things I wish I knew about cannabis before I started. It would have taken away a lot of confusion and misunderstanding around it!

1. You may feel NOTHING the first time you consume 

Yep! As you may have heard, it’s surprisingly common to not actually get high the first time you try cannabis. What’s even more surprising is that no one’s quite sure why!

There are theories, of course: firstly, you probably didn’t consume cannabis 100% properly the first time, which is totally understandable. But those beginner’s mistakes don’t necessarily account for everything. Some experts also think there’s a “sensitization period” during which you won’t feel high. That’s because THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, can cause your brain to increase its amount of cannabinoid receptors. You’ll have to wait for your body to create enough receptors in order to feel high, which might take a couple of tries.

Remember, cannabis is not (and should not) be compared to drugs like heroine. Don’t feel that you’re going to lose control of your body and inhibitions just because you consumed some cannabis. The main feelings you’ll get are relaxation, laughter, followed by a bit of the munchies!

NOTE: If you’re someone who experiences mild to severe anxiety, please consume cannabis slowly. Start with a very small amount, and work your way up!

2. INDICA vs. SATIVA vs. HYBRID : Which do I choose?!

Cannabis has three strains: indica, sativa, and hybrid (both combined).

Sativa grow taller and thinner than Indica strains. Sativa strains originated in the equatorial countries of Columbia, Mexico, Thailand, and South East Asia and thrive in warmer weather. The leaves of Sativa are much more narrow than those of Indica, and are typically a lighter shade of green. Think of Sativa cannabis sort of like products with 25% less salt. It’s still cannabis, but the psychoactive effects are more muted, and don’t last as long as indica. This is why most people tend to smoke Sativa during the day!

Indica are short and stout in composure (2-4 feet tall), and typically yield smaller (1.5 to 2.5 ounces per plant), higher quality crops (~18% THC) than Cannabis Sativa. The plants are believed to have originated in the Middle East (Pakistan & Afghanistan), and thrive in cooler environments. Indica strains are typically darker green than sativa and have shorter, fatter leaves. When you’re thinking of Indica, think of in-da-couch; when you consume Indica cannabis, you’ll be sinking into your couch, feeling much more relaxed, lethargic, and hungry.

Hybrid cannabis has a few different categories: Sativa-dominant, Indica-dominant, and 50/50. I think those are self-explanatory? Basically, one has more sativa, one has more indica, and one has an equal share of the two! If you’re a beginner, I’d stay away from hybrids; it’s best to go for an indica or a sativa, as you’ll know exactly what you’re getting yourself into.

3. Edibles 101

For this section, I have to already assume that you’ve found someone to bake and sell cannabis edibles to you. Unfortunately, I don’t have any tips for sourcing edibles, as they’re very difficult to regulate and sell in a safe manner. When you bake an edible, you have to merge cannabis’ THC into a fat, like butter or oil; because of this, it can be difficult to measure each edible’s individual THC %. If you bake a tray of “weed brownies,” it’s very likely that some brownies might be more potent than others.

Regardless, the main rule for consuming cannabis edibles are to TAKE THINGS REALLY SLOW. In my personal experience, it takes about 1.5 – 3 hours to fully feel the THC effects of cannabis edibles. This is due largely because the food product needs to make it to your liver, in order to process the THC.

Please don’t consume edibles by yourself! Have a friend or family member nearby, incase you accidentally consumed too much THC. DON’T WORRY: you’re not going to “overdose,” but rather, your brain’s cannabinoid receptors will get overloaded with THC. Your body will need to filter out the THC over the course of a few hours, so having someone nearby never hurts.

4. How much cannabis should I buy?

Whenever I walk into my local dispensary and see a new customer (they usually state that it’s their first time), I always hear them struggling with how much cannabis to buy.

Cannabis is sold by gram, but you might hear buyers using terms such as quarter ounce (7g), half ounce (14g), and ounce (28g). If it’s your first time purchasing cannabis, stick to 1 gram! While it might sound and look like too little, you only need to consume a pinch of ground cannabis at a time.

In regards to pricing, these can vary depending on the strain. Just like there’s various kinds of vodka (Smirnoff vs. Greygoose), there’s different levels of cannabis. In my experience, cannabis ranges from $8 CAD – 18 CAD per gram, with some exceptions. This is pretty self-explanatory, as the cheaper cannabis has less THC, and the expensive cannabis has more THC.

All in all, head to a legal dispensary or legal online store and spend $8 – $10 on 1 gram of cannabis for your first time.

5. What are some tips for smoking cannabis in a safer way?

Overall, cannabis consumption is quite safe for adults, although there are questions surrounding its safety for those under the age of 25 (with developing brains). However, there are some things to keep in mind, in order to make your cannabis consumption as safe as possible!

Tip #1: Buy hemp twine! By using your lighter to light hemp twine, you won’t be inhaling the small amounts of butane that transfer from lighters. Once your hemp twine is lit, you can use it just like you would with a conventional lighter.

Tip #2: Try vaping! Instead of smoking joints, or buying a bong, try investing in a vaporizer. Vaporizers are devices that heat cannabis flowers or oils at temperatures low enough to melt fatty cannabis resins and oils without burning plant material. Once melted, these resins transform from their solid form to a type of steam. This steam is the vapor you exhale after using a vaporizer. Heating at lower temperatures has several benefits. However, when purchasing a vaporizer, it is important to opt for a device that allows for temperature customization.

Tip #3: DRINK WATER! If you’re going to indulge in the arts of cannabis, make sure to chug a bunch of water before the occasion like you’re about to play in a high school state championship game.

Tip #4: Know your limits, and never apologize for turning down cannabis from your friends. If you’re stoned out of your mind after one hit, feel free to pass on the joint in rotation. Your mission was to get high for the first time, not melt your entire face off. Know your limits and act accordingly.

Tip #5: Never, ever, under any circumstance, smoke cannabis & drive. You’re endangering the lives of others, and your own.

Happy 420, and consume responsibly!

-MR

WHERE I STAYED: Thailand

WHERE I STAYED: Thailand

Throughout my 8-day adventure through Thailand, I stayed at 4 different hotels / resorts. They were all beautiful and unique in their own way, which is why I wanted to share some additional photos of my hotel experience with you!

Thailand can be quite expensive to fly round-trip, especially for a Canadian like me. However, their accommodations are quite inexpensive, especially for the quality, service, and amenities that you receive in return. SO, here’s my personal review of four different hotels / resorts in Thailand…

CHIANG MAI – 137 PILLARS HOUSE – 4.5 / 5

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During my stay in Chiang Mai, Thailand, my group and I stayed at the 137 Pillars House. It’s located in the heart of Chiang Mai, so you really can’t do much better in regards to location.

While checking into the hotel, we were offered chilled sweet tea and cold facial towels. Especially in August, the temperatures in Thailand are quite humid, so the chilled welcome package was very much appreciated.

  • ROOM SIZE: Perfect for two, feels very intimate
  • BED: Very large, romantic bedposts, solid wood
  • BALCONY: Very large, perfect for relaxing with morning coffee or tea with a loved one
  • VIEW: Covered by trees and branches, gives the room a private feel
  • BATHROOM: *Huge* bathtub, indoor & outdoor shower, private toilet section
  • OVERALL: Incredible!! My only constructive criticism was that the hotel rooms were not very modern (this may not be important for many people, though!)

Bonus point! I had no idea of this prior to checking in, but every room receives a butler service. Now, I’m not a very high maintenance person, so I didn’t see the need for this… until I got back from the Patara Elephant Farm. Upon arriving back to the hotel, my shoes were filthy with dirt and dust. My butler offered to clean my shoes, and return them the following morning before check-out. LET ME TELL YOU: my shoes were *spotless* when my butler returned them. Definitely a nice touch on an already spectacular hotel.

 

CHIANG RAI – ANANTARA GOLDEN TRIANGLE – 3.5 / 5

Upon driving a few hours North-East towards Chiang Rai, we arrived at the Anantara Golden Triangle. If you’re looking to visit the Golden Triangle, which is a unique spot where Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos meet, this is the hotel to stay at!

  • ROOM SIZE: Standard, more functional than elegant
  • BED: Standard, with a variety of pillows offered
  • BALCONY: Standard
  • VIEW: Breathtaking, with a clear view of the Golden Triangle
  • BATHROOM: Connected to the main bedroom area, with an *ENORMOUS* bathtub/shower, easily the highlight of the room
  • INFINITY POOL: Quite beautiful, with a view of the Golden Triangle, and attentive service to bring you beverages or food (if desired
  • OVERALL: Great! My only constructive criticism was that the hotel rooms were a bit outdated, and could use some modernizing.

 

FLIGHT – CHIANG MAI > PHUKET – 5/5

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While we primarily used a mini-bus to get from location to location, Phuket was a bit too far away to transit by bus. Instead, we used Bangkok Airways! Bangkok Airways is an affordable, boutique Asian airline, that really reminds me of Porter Airlines (those who are Central / East Coast Canadians will get the reference!). They have a premium lounge available to all of their passengers, filled with drinks, snacks, and sandwiches! Nowadays, when it feels like airlines are constantly cutting down on premium perks, Bangkok Airways does it RIGHT.

I’d highly recommend y’all use Bangkok Airways if you’re travelling in Thailand.

 

PHUKET – PARESA RESORT – 5/5

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Let me introduce you to the pinnacle of elegance in Phuket, Thailand: The Paresa Resort! Perched on the seaside slopes, amid tropical forests, over azure blue waters and a picturesque panorama of the Andaman Sea, Paresa is an oasis of tranquility and unrivalled luxury. A secluded retreat to get away from it all and enjoy an island escape!

  • ROOM SIZE: Large, plenty of space to run around!!
  • BED: Large, and notably the most comfortable bed I slept in during my Thailand trip
  • BALCONY: 10 / 10! A large, wide balcony with a private infinity pool, two reclining chairs, and an outdoor shower oasis
  • VIEW: My view was *slightly* obstructed by a large tree, but I’m really stretching to find something wrong here. The view is breathtaking, with a great view of the ocean.
  • BATHROOM: Easily the largest bathroom of all the hotels, it’s about the same size (if not larger!) than the bedroom. Perfect for couples, there’s two sinks, closets, showers, with a shared toilet and tub!
  • OVERALL: A perfect spot for an oasis getaway in Thailand! My only constructive criticism is that my breakfast took about 20-25min to arrive at their restaurant, with only a few other guests present. Other than that, it was a perfect experience.

 

BANGKOK – BANYAN TREE BANGKOK – 4.5 / 5

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Our final hotel during the 8-day Thailand trip was the Banyan Tree Bangkok. With 61 floors, this hotel has everything you could possibly need. While the three previous hotels could be labelled under the luxury category, the Banyan Tree Bangkok was slightly more family-friendly. However, the ambiance, service, and cuisine at the hotel made it feel like the most luxurious family-friendly hotel I’ve ever been too!

  • ROOM SIZE: Larger than standard, but no balcony
  • BED: Large and comfortable! I had no trouble sleeping on the bed.
  • VIEW: While there isn’t a balcony, the views from the room are spectacular. I don’t know if you’ll find a better room view in Bangkok. Towering over the city, the hotel is the second-largest building in Bangkok.
  • SENSES: The Banyan Tree Bangkok is all about sensory pleasure. My room had both an daily incense and essential oils kit, which scent changed from day-to-day. It was a marvellous touch that, in my opinion, elevated the hotel from family-friendly to slightly luxurious.
  • BATHROOM: Cozy, but quite functional. It might be tough for two people to get ready at once, but definitely not a deal-breaker for the hotel.
  • POOL AREA: As hectic as Bangkok can be, the hotel pool area is a quiet oasis where you can swim, sleep, or just sit back under one of the many trees surrounding you.
  • BARS: There are two bars at this hotel, both located on the upper floors.
  • OVERALL: The Banyan Tree Bangkok is THE place to visit if you’re staying in Bangkok. Especially if you’re someone who enjoys taking advantage of every hotel amenity, this hotel has carefully thought out how to offer you as many perks as possible.

 

If you’re planning to travel to Thailand in 2019, consider these hotels! While I visited some different areas of Thailand, most people visit Bangkok — so with that in mind, I would definitely recommend the Banyan Tree Bangkok. I just wanted to make an extra note that I completely felt at home during my stay, and I know y’all would have an equally pleasant experience.

Happy Travelling! ❤

-MR

Disclaimer: My trip to Thailand was covered by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. For more information, please visit: http://gothaibefree.com/

Top 5 Insta-Worthy Spots in Thailand!

Top 5 Insta-Worthy Spots in Thailand!

Last month, I embarked on a 8-day press trip to Thailand with other LGBTQ+ media. Since we were only in Thailand for a little over a week, I wanted to try and capture as much of the country’s beauty as I could. I mean, if I’m going to travel for 24+ hours, I’m GOING to get some insta-worthy shots to share on my social media.

A lot of us in our new digital age can relate to this desire to capture social-media-friendly images. Pictures that tell a story, capture people’s attention, and (briefly) take them alongside your adventure. SO, here’s my top FIVE insta-worthy spots in the beautiful country of Thailand…

#1: Wat Phra That Doi Suthep – Chiang Mai, Thailand

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Overlooking the city of Chiang Mai, the Doi Suthep Temple is a sacred site to many Thai people. On top of that, the sites are straight out of a postcard.

The images above are from the lookout point that is immediately adjacent to the sacred temple, which is why my shoulders aren’t covered in the photos. When I stepped back into the temple area, I ensure to cover my shoulders to respect the Thai traditions.

The lookout point is BEAUTIFUL, and must-visit in Chiang Mai. We were lucky enough to reach the lookout point during a light rainfall, which created a double-rainbow in the distance. The best part about this location is that the breathtaking views do all work for you. While I shot with a 10-22mm wide-angle lens, a smartphone would create a similar impact. The vastness of the clouds, mixed with the mountainous backdrop is sure to WOW your family and friends as they scroll through your vacation feed.

Accessibility Note: Please note that you have to climb about 100 steps to reach the temple. From what I witnessed, there wasn’t any accessibility spots.

#2: Patara Elephant Farm – Chiang Mai, Thailand

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Imagine this: you arrive to a sanctuary farm, and all you see are elephants, jungle green space, and waterfalls. The Patara Elephant Farm is located in Chiang Mai, and is a must-visit (and ethical!) elephant sanctuary. You’ll get a chance to meet, feed, and bathe their elephants, which is a life-changing experience in itself!

Not only that, but the people at Patara Elephant Farm take professional photos of you during the entire experience — for free! Now, I obviously took a few photos of my own, only because I was keen to share the experience on Instagram shortly afterwards. However, for no additional charge, you can enjoy the elephant experience without worrying about snapping shots or video footage along the way.

The farm has thousands of acres, filled with aesthetic waterfalls, lakes & ponds, and beautiful elephants that are quite friendly.

I know “likes” on Instagram can be a bit of a self-serving thing to talk about, BUT! It’s interesting to note that my shot from Patara Elephant Farm went mini-viral (at least for me!) on Instagram. It garnered over 10,000 likes, with almost 100,000 impressions. I think those numbers are more of a testament towards the beauty that you’ll experience at Patara Elephant Farm. Next time you visit Thailand, definitely have this on your list!

#3: The Golden Triangle – Chiang Rai, Thailand

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Located a few hours away from Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai’s ultimate Insta-Worthy spot is the Golden Triangle: a unique border spot where you can experience three countries (Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos).

The location of these photos were at our host hotel, the Anantara Golden Triangle. The hotel’s primary selling point is their breathtaking view of the Golden Triangle. They offer an aesthetic infinity pool, which I think helps to amplify the grandness of my shot. Standing on the edge of their infinity pool, you have mountains, trees, and two different countries in the background!

I wanted to highlight some spots in Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai, because so many people skip over to tourist hot-spots such as Bangkok & Phuket (which are GORGEOUS!). If you happen to have some extra time in Thailand, be sure to visit these spots & share their beauty on social media.

#4: Wallflowers Upstairs – Bangkok, Thailand (Old Town)

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Walking around in Bangkok, it can be quite difficult to find the hidden gems amongst all the noise. Trust me when I say: Wallflowers Upstairs is one of those hidden gems! Located in the Old Town of Bangkok, this café is a literal hole-in-the-wall. Once you start moving up the café’s spiral staircase, you’re teleported to a Tumbr-worthy, botanical paradise! There are plants everywhere, cradled by the antique and slightly run-down benches and table tops (it feels really aesthetic though!). When I say “run-down,” I mean it in a positive way; this café is truly one of a kind, and will feed ALL your #CoffeeGoals on Instagram.

To make matters even more aesthetic, the café, in addition to selling coffee items, sells a delicious Rosé Soda. I mean, COME ON. Can it get more aesthetic than that?! I think not.

#5: Vertigo Bar – Bangkok, Thailand (61st Floor!)

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Travelling through a new-age metropololis like Bangkok, it can be difficult to find locations that truly capture the city’s beauty. Let’s be real, the “concrete jungle” of New York is Bangkok’s baby brother; when you’re out on the streets of Bangkok, you’re surrounded by buildings, cars, and pedestrians. BUT, let me introduce you to the Vertigo Bar on the 61st floor of the Banyan Tree Bangkok — one of Bangkok’s other hidden gems!

Located in the heart of the city, the Vertigo Bar is the second-highest point in Bangkok.  Grab a drink or dinner, and snag one of the most astounding views in Bangkok.

Pro tip: If you want to elevate your shot, use a wide-angle lens to fully capture the immenseness of Bangkok’s size & beauty. If you don’t have a wide-angle lens, simply purchase a wide-angle smartphone attachment. You’ll be glad you did!

Happy Exploring, you cuties!

-MR

Disclaimer: My trip to Thailand was covered by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. For more information, please visit: http://gothaibefree.com/