Mena Gobran is an Egyptian-American travel and commercial photographer who calls California home. After traveling in Southeast Asia and North America for the past four years, Mena’s eyes have been opened to new cultures and people. Deeply moved by his experiences, Mena has been motivated to share his travels through his carefully captured images, and he hopes to spark inspiration in others to do the same.
Singapore boasts incredible living walls, some of which can even be found in their airport where the vertical garden is made up of over fifty species of 100,000 plants! Living walls give back to the city with the benefits of noise pollution filtration, air purification, and quality of life enhancement for all who pass by. What was it like to experience a city brought to life in this way?
Before traveling to Singapore, I read that Singapore was aiming to be the greenest country in the world. I also saw many photos online that backed up that statement. The minute you got off the plane, it was truly apparent that Singapore was indeed pursuing just that. The feeling of walking around the city among so much greenery brought a sense of joy. Although Singapore is a very small and dense country, having so much greenery and plants everywhere made it seem much less dense. You couldn’t walk a few blocks without seeing some sort of plant installation on buildings or large trees at local parks, and you saw locals really enjoying it by taking advantage of the green spaces and parks. My main takeaway was realizing that being in that environment simply made me happier on a daily basis. If you felt like getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city, you always had an outlet amongst the plants to re-energize or just find peace. It felt like the true definition of an oasis.
What attracted you to the volcanic Greek island of Milos in the Aegean Sea, and now that you’ve experienced it, what was it about this small island that inspired you to explore more of Greece?
During the planning for my trip to Greece, I hadn’t even heard of Milos! Because I was taking my parents with me, I wanted to show them how I travel by going to places less frequently traveled, and Milos was just that! I read that this island was much quieter than some of the other more traveled islands like Santorini or Mykonos.
During my research, I saw landscapes on Milos that looked almost lunar with white rock and blue water, and I knew that I had to see it for myself. A lot of the island required going off the beaten path, whether we hiked or motored around in a 4×4. It’s exactly the adventure I was looking for! After experiencing this rural and more untouched island, I knew it was what I wanted to see in Greece as well, so we made plans to go to Crete because it has a lot of untouched areas similar to Milos.
The Ancient City outdoor museum in Thailand—an architectural masterpiece by renowned Architect, Kuhn Lek—looks much like a floating palace surrounded by natural landscape. What was it like exploring this “hidden gem of Bangkok”?
After seeing an image of this place, I knew I had to find it and see it for myself. It wasn’t easy to get to, but after an hour on a train and a short taxi ride, I made it to the ancient city. Once there, it took some time to find this beautiful masterpiece, but when I did, I was in awe of its detail and beauty. Luckily, I was the only one there, so I began walking through the temple on the floating walkways. It felt almost like a maze with large buddha statues guiding my way. I walked the complete length of the temple and at the center was a thirty-foot golden buddha which took my breath away. Surrounding it were dozens of golden soldiers which seemed to be guarding the temple itself. It truly was a unique place that I didn’t expect during my time in Bangkok.
Which phrase speaks to you more in terms of travel and photography: “light up my world” or “color my world”?
“Light up my world” speaks to me on many levels. I’m always on a mission to chase light, whether it’s light rays or shadows. Light is what can truly bring life to an image. During my travels, I always found myself waking up before dawn or sticking around past sunset to catch the best light in a lot of places that I had never seen before. Seeing them in that kind of light made the experience that much better.
What are some of the greatest joys you’ve experienced during your travels and immersion in local cultures?
One of my favorite experiences with local culture had to be sunrise and the famous Shwedigan pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar. Known as the most sacred place in Myanmar, you truly felt it there. I woke up before five in the morning to be one of the first people there. When I arrived, I found many locals already practicing their morning prayers and rituals at the base of the pagoda. I began to just observe and walk around the pagoda. People were fully immersed in what they were doing and it was beautiful to experience that energy.
Another important cultural experience had to be my time spent in Egypt. Being that I’m Egyptian and it was the first time I really got to see the country, it was very special. I explored the Temple of Karnak in Luxor one morning, and I was taken aback in every way by the sheer beauty and epic nature of this temple. Walking around and being one of the first people there had to be one of my top moments in Egypt.
A great joy during my travels has to be meeting amazing people along the way; it’s one of the most important things to me about travel. Meeting others on their journey and creating together allows you to learn new things from them and forge unforgettable friendships.
Often times, travel offers beautiful locations and moments to stop, take everything in, and reflect. What have been some of your favorite or memorable places for this, and have any of those reflections stuck with you such as a lesson or transformation that you take with you in your everyday life?
This image perfectly describes my time in India.
For me, India was a country that brought a lot of reflection. There was a calm in all the chaos, and I experienced so many moments that made me stop observing and instead reflect on what was going on around me. It wasn’t always easy to find a place of peace and serenity in India, so when I did, it made those moments that much more special. In this photo we had found that peace atop the Wall of Amer near Jaipur, India. It was a moment of pure reflection as we observed the city from above, allowing us to see all the hustle and bustle in a disconnected way. India taught me a lot, but most of all it taught me to really appreciate the moments of reflection and to take more time to step back and be more grateful for all the experiences I’ve had.
Where is one place you’ve traveled to that far exceeded your expectations?
This one is easy—it has to be Sri Lanka! I visited Sri Lanka during my first big tour through Asia, even though I hadn’t planned on stopping there. I had already spent a month in Myanmar and a month in Vietnam, and I was planning my next move when I saw some photos of Sri Lanka that beckoned to me. I’m so glad I went there because the country blew me away in many ways. After three weeks there, I dubbed Sri Lanka as “the country of pleasant surprises”.
I really didn’t know what to expect at first, and I loved that. There were so many pleasant surprises that followed, starting with the local cuisine. It was the first time I enjoyed eating with my hands, and I found that it really did make the food taste better! The meals were so vibrant, full of color and nutrition, and were so, so tasty. I was also surprised by the country’s history and beauty. There was so much to see and so much beauty waiting around every turn. To top it off, I loved the genuine and friendly people of Sri Lanka; they wanted to help you in every way they could. We even became good friends with some locals that invited us for breakfast and dinner with their family. I will truly never forget those moments and I can’t wait to go back and experience it all again!