National Park of American Samoa

Vatia Coast
Vatia coastline and Pola Island in the National Park of American Samoa

The National Park of American Samoa is a United States national park spread across the islands of Tutuila, Ofu and T’au in the U.S. territory of American Samoa. Along with several national parks in Alaska and Isle Royale National Park in Michigan, it is one of the most remote and least visited of the national parks. It also holds the unique distinction of being the only U.S. national park located in the southern hemisphere. The park holds and protects tropical rain forests on the islands’ volcanic slopes, beaches and coral reefs as well as birds, fish and other wildlife that thrive within those environments.

I chose to visit the National Park of American Samoa partly out of fascination with its remoteness and an interest in South Pacific islands in general, but also out of a desire to visit as many national parks as I can in my lifetime. Coming from Taiwan where I reside for part of every year, the park seemed closer than if I were to come from my home in South Carolina. Still, getting there involved flying from Taiwan to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to New Zealand, New Zealand to Samoa, taking a long taxi ride across the island of Upolu in Samoa from one airport to another, and then flying on a small plane from Samoa across the International Date Line and back in time 24 hours to American Samoa. The entire journey took well over a day.

Once in American Samoa, traveling to the more remote sections of the park in the Manu’a Islands involved a flight on a well-used Twin Otter aircraft to T’au and chartering a small fishing boat that puttered across rough seas from there to Ofu. The splendid isolation coupled with the beauty of the island and the park was well with the journey and the adventure of getting there made my experience on the island that much more enjoyable.

In the coming weeks, I plan to share some photos and accompanying stories from my time in the National Park of American Samoa, so please check back or subscribe to this blog if you are interested.

Bagan Evening

Bagan Evening
Full moon over Bagan, Myanmar

Thousands of Buddhist temples dot the plains around Bagan, Myanmar. Built between the 9th and 13th centuries, and heavily restored starting in the 1990s, the sheer number of these temples and ruins is an impressive sight. Outside of the most famous temples, their multitude makes it easy to find temples, stupas and ruins available to explore completely on one’s own. I did not find such isolation when I arrived at one of the several small hills in Bagan that are popular viewing spots for sunsets.

Crowded with what seemed like hundreds of other people and souvenir sellers, I watched the sun slowly recede behind the nearby temples. Small herds of cattle grazed nearby, their tinkling bells punctuating the evening air as they stirred up dust that diffused the rays of dying light. It was a scenic moment, but its serenity was hampered by the crowds. Once the sun disappeared, the crowds evanesced, and I was left alone on the hilltop. As I turned to leave, I saw two temples nestled in the scrub of the plain with a soft backdrop of pastel evening sky and a full moon overhead. I drank it in, captured this photo and enjoyed the unexpected serene and contemplative moment.