Saturday, November 2, 2013

Interview (5) - let me introduce you to Yen Baet

My name is Yen. I am however you want to describe a perennial traveler: a nomad, a transient, a migrant, a wanderer. I haven't lived in a place long enough to claim it as my home, so home becomes wherever my heart is. I spent most of my life in the Philippines where I was born, and have since lived in the United States, Japan, Germany, and for the time being, England.

 I am a freelance travel photographer. My penchant for travel was spurred on by my discovery of photography a little more than 5 years ago. I like to travel light and by light I mean 2 or 3 shirts, a hairbrush, a few packets of toiletries and 20 pounds of photography equipment. I don’t have a long-term goal as far as traveling is concerned, but my immediate goal is to travel as much as I can while I still can.

1.  What was your first travel experience?
I feel like I’ve been traveling all my life although in some instances it was mostly from being uprooted and moving to a different location due to personal life circumstances. My first solo travel was to Singapore 10 years ago. That was merely a pleasure trip. Nowadays, I still travel for pleasure, but it’s pleasure derived from doing the kind of work I love to do.
 Selfie with a view of Trakai Castle, Lithuania. Traveling solo doesn't always mean you have to ask others to take your photos. Selfies are popular these days, and in my case, I mount my camera on a tripod with a remote release attached. 
2.  Have you ever felt lonely traveling (solo)?
I couldn’t really say that I’ve felt lonely while traveling solo. That’s because I travel with an agenda or a purpose, and the moment I step out of those big sliding airport doors, I am only focused on achieving what I went there for, so there’s hardly any time for me to feel lonely.
3.  What was your best travel experience?
I would have to say my trip to Peru was my most memorable because it was one I did not have to plan or pay for myself. The trip was sponsored by National Geographic and Lindbland Expeditions, as a result of having won a photo contest. It was probably the best out there as far as organized tours are concerned and it exceeded all my expectations. They treat you like royalty. And of course, I also got to see Machu Picchu – a destination that is a must-have in everyone’s bucket list.
Enjoying a view of Ollantaytambo (top) before joining the llamas in Machu Picchu (bottom) in Peru.
4.  Is there anything you would have done differently/ any regrets, if you could do it over again?
It would be those times when I planned on going somewhere but backed out for no apparent reason. Also those early mornings, and all the future early mornings that I would give in to the comfort of my bed instead of going out to take photos at dawn – I always kick myself for that, yet still do it occasionally.
Part of my travel agenda is waking up before dawn to catch the sunrise. It doesn't always happen depending on the weather or my willpower, but when it does happen, I never regret it.
5.  What was your worst travel experience?
I’ve been lucky to have not experienced anything really traumatic on my travels but there were some bad moments like being burglarized in Hawaii, my camera briefly dying the day before Machu Picchu, getting stranded in a blizzard in New York which was followed by waking up to flooding or acgua alta in Venice, being hounded by drunks too many times, and my usual falling, tripping, and scraping myself up.
I've been going to the Venice Carnevale for the past 5 years but it was the first time this year that I experienced snow there, which was later on followed by flooding overnight and into the morning.
6.  What’s the strangest situation you have found yourself in?
I was out doing a night shoot on a bridge in Stockholm when an old lady stood beside me and started chanting strange words. Although I still went on with my business, I kept one eye on her in case she decided to jump off the bridge or worse, push me over. I encountered the same woman later on in a dark alley on a different location that night, and this time she yelled at me belligerently. I ignored her and proceeded taking photos in the same dark space, and seeing that I wasn’t fazed at all, she left me alone.
I was photographing the Central Bridge in Stockholm from an obscure location when I had unexpected company. It was definitely a night to remember.
7.  What advice would you give women traveling solo to your home country?
Like in any other countries, and especially in the big cities, you need to keep your wits about you when traveling by yourself. The same rules apply: be careful in crowded areas and avoid walking by yourself at night. For the ultimate experience, spend a couple of days in the fabulous white-sand beaches that the Philippines is known for. Hop on a jeepney. Plan your trip around our colorful festivals. Try our local delicacies and experience our culture. Mingle with the people; Filipinos are widely known to be very hospitable people.
Filipinos are a cheerful group of people by nature. Here I was greeted by a welcoming tune before heading out to the beach in El Nido, Palawan.
8.  What are your future travel plans?
There are too many to mention.
I could skip a meal while traveling, but I hardly pass up dessert. The delicious cream cake and a view of Bled Castle in Slovenia are a match made in heaven.
 9.  What are your top three tips for women traveling solo?
(1) Trust your instincts but use your common sense; (2) Plan your route and have an exit strategy; (3) Always let someone know where you will you will be.
We are lucky to live in a world abound with natural beauty. The Jagala Joa falls in Estonia is but a small part of it.
10.  What would you tell women who are looking to travel alone but worry about their safety?
For me, the only thing that eases my fears about safety is by doing my research. When I know where I have to go or shouldn’t go, I feel better. It’s also a wise idea to keep a list of emergency numbers, such as the police or hospital, of your destination. Include a few important foreign phrases with it too. I also visit online travel forums and read about people’s firsthand account of their travels.
Even man-made structures can be just as astounding as nature. The interior of St. Mary's Basilica in Krakow is a sight to behold.
If you want to know more of my traveling tips, I have written about the joy and fear of traveling. I wrote it for female travel photographers, but it applies to just about anyone traveling solo:
11.  Couch-surfing, what do you think about that?
I probably won’t consider it. It’s simply not my style. Personal space and comfort to a certain degree is important to me; it helps keep me focused.
People are generally kind and friendly when you are too. I had a little chat with these gentlemen who, along with the rest of Dubrovnik, were showing their support for their team at the Euro 2012.
12.  Tell us about the best food you have ever eaten on your travels?
I always look forward to sampling desserts or pastries from different countries, followed by a good cup of coffee. The best coffee for me is Italian. I’ve enjoyed the best apple strudel in Vienna’s Café Mozart, the best gelato in Florence’s Vivoli, the famous cream cake of Bled Slovenia, crème Catalan in Mallorca, the Dobos cake of Budapest, sticky rice with mango in just about any place that has them in Thailand, and the list goes on.
Although most of my travels are solo, I've also been fortunate to have had great company: our group of photographers led by National Geographic's Alison Wright in Thailand (top), and our expedition group led by National Geographic's Peter Frost in Peru (bottom). Both trips were sponsored by NG as a result of having won their photo competition.
13.  What is the most breathtaking view you have ever witnessed on your travels?
As a photographer, I have trained my eyes to find beauty even in the simplest things. The beauty of a mountain or a landscape can be just as breathtaking to me as the inside of a palace or a church or a market. It’s hard for me to classify or rank places as far as beauty goes.
I traveled to New York early this year for my first photo exhibit that was hosted by National Geographic and Thailand Tourism. On my first night, I was thrilled to see myself in Times Square's famous billboard and having to experience the city that never sleeps.
14.  What do you miss about your home when you go traveling?
My family of course, and the comfort of my own bed.
It pays to book a room with a view, but with research, it doesn't always have to cost a fortune. I captured a trained diver in the nick of time while on the balcony of my hotel room. Diving from the historic Stari Most is an extreme sport and a popular tourist attraction in Mostar, Bosnia.
15.  What item will you always carry in your backpack?
Aside from the obvious, which would be my photo gear, my phone is my lifeline and I need it at all times. That’s where my maps, itinerary, lists, reminders, and all travel and photo apps are stored. I also need to have extra copies of my passport, ID, and flight and hotel bookings.
 I live for festivals when traveling, and as part of our itinerary in Thailand, I got to experience the Yi Peng or lantern festival in Chiang Mai.
16.  Who was the kindest or most generous person you met on your travels, and what did they do?
In my travels, I have realized that people are generally kind and generous if you treat them nicely and more importantly, respect their culture. Having lived in Japan for several years, I have to say the Japanese are some of the most polite, disciplined and honest group of people I’ve encountered.
Another festival I've always wanted to attend was Spain's Semana Santa. This brotherhood in Seville had just made it to the Cathedral after a long and tedious march.
17.  What have you learned from travelling?
Being given the opportunity to be independent, I’ve learned to trust myself and my instincts, where there is no one else to rely on but myself. By virtue of wanting to be better at my craft, traveling motivates me to explore outside my comfort zone and to push my limits even farther; in the long run, it also builds my self-confidence. I’ve also learned to enjoy my own company even more.
When in Santorini, one doesn't dare miss the main attraction: Oia's famous sunset.
18.   Who inspires you? What other travellers do you look up to?
No one particular in mind but I admire any strong-willed and independent woman who knows what she wants and has that unwavering drive to pursue it whatever the cost and whatever the situation.
New York is the perfect concrete jungle and is great to capture in many angles, but the best for me is from the top.

I've been lucky to have lived in some of the best places in the world, and my current home in London allows me front-row seating to some of the world's best events and landmarks.


  1. Awesome photos by a brave and adventurous lady! I'm a fan of yours Miss Yen :)

  2. Great article! You have really developed your craft in a relatively short time! You have a gift for photography, Yen!

  3. Kudos to you Yen....and safe travel...