Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur

I was hot, tired, and sweaty after a day of exploring the Colonial Walk along the Gombak River in central Kuala Lumpur. I could have hopped on the Metro, but the city’s historic Railway Station, with its lacy onion domes and turrets, was on the way to my hotel, so I set off on foot. The main road I was following, Jalan Kinabalu, suddenly became flooded with hundreds of men walking in the opposite direction. I dodged and wove through the oncoming masses, wondering what on earth was going on. Around the next corner the tip of a tall spire came into view and I realized what was all the foot traffic was about. That spire topped the National Mosque of Malaysia, and the men were leaving after a prayer session. Read More

Kuala Lumpur, capital of the Southeast Asian country of Malaysia, has always been a “pass-through” destination for me. Either I never made it out of the airport during long layovers, or my time was limited to an overnight stay. I’d made the obligatory trek to see famous twin Petronas Towers, once the tallest skyscrapers in the world, and walk around the lovely lake and park at the foot of the towers. I’d had dinner in the Brickyards neighborhood more commonly known as Little India. And I’d spent one evening exploring Petaling Street, with its gorgeous canopy of scarlet and gold paper lanterns lighting the way past Chinese shops and street food stalls. But other than those three attractions, I never thought there was much to see or do in the city that is commonly known by as KL.

Masjid Jamek Sultan Abdul Mosque, which stands on the spot where the city was founded, is one of the top tourist attractions of Kuala Lumpur and the focal point for the River of Life Project

Masjid Jamek Sultan Abdul Mosque, which stands on the spot where the city was founded, is one of the top tourist attractions of Kuala Lumpur and the focal point for the River of Life Project

This time, with three days at my disposal, I was determined to discover more of the top tourist attractions of Kuala Lumpur. I began at Masjid Jamek Sultan Abdul Mosque, the oldest mosque in the city. It stands at the confluence of the Gombak and Klang Rivers, on the spot where the city was founded in 1857. The original settlement was borne out of necessity and practicality. The royal family had sent prospectors up the Klang Valley to mine tin. The miners needed to bring in supplies and ship raw ore out to the Strait of Malacca. The point where the two rivers met was the farthest upstream that boats could navigate. A small collection of rudimentary wooden shacks sprang up on the muddy, flood-prone, mosquito-infested spit of land. The settlers named it Kuala Lumpur, which literally means “muddy estuary” in the Malay language. Read More

It wasn’t easy to be a vegetarian when I began traveling the world in 1997. At best it was difficult to find food without meat; at times it was downright impossible. Thankfully, the vegetarian/vegan trend has taken off over the past few years. Rarely do I have problems finding my kind of food these days, regardless of where I travel. Recently, however, I discovered Away Chiang Mai Thapae Resort in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which takes vegetarian travel to a whole new level.

Vegetarian travel is easy when staying at Away Resort, with its Moreganic Vegetarian Restaurant

Vegetarian travel is easy when staying at Away Resort, with its Moreganic Vegetarian Restaurant

Away, which is located just outside the eastern walls of the Old City in Chiang Mai, opened in December 2017. Built in an architectural style that infuses colonial touches with the traditional northern Thai Lanna style, the interior of its 39 rooms feature soothing grey and green tones, dark wood floors, and plush comfortable beds with fine linens. Each room also features a private balustraded balcony with table and chairs, perfect for sipping morning coffee or enjoying views of the resort’s gardens and lap pool. Accommodation prices for deluxe rooms range from 4,500 baht ($138 USD at this writing) per night in low season to 8,000 baht ($245 USD) per night in high season. Read More

The full moon’s reflection splintered into bronze ripples on the surface of the Mae Ping River. On the shore, worshipers lit tea candles and launched them into the river on handmade boats known as krathong. Like thousands of glittering sparks cast off from the moon itself, they floated down the gently undulating river. On this final day of the Loy Krathong Festival in Chiang Mai, I had joined thousands of Thais to pay my respects to the river goddess. The event is named for the Thai word “loy,” which means to float, and “krathong,” a type of boat made from folded banana leaves. But while the name of the festival is easy to explain, its origins remain shrouded in mystery.

Offering prayers before setting krathongs afloat on the river

Offering prayers before setting krathongs afloat on the river

Some claim it can be traced to a footprint that Buddha is said to have left on the beach of the Narmada River in India. Krathongs were believed to atone for the sin of riverboats passing over his footprint throughout the year. In rural Thai villages, elders launch krathongs to ask forgiveness from the river goddess, Phra Mae Kongkha, for having polluted the waterways. Interestingly, the word Khongkha in Thai translates to “Ganga” in Hindu, the word for India’s Holy Ganges River. Read More

My bed said it all. Using pieces carved from dried palm leaves, the housekeepers at Tahiti Pearl Beach Resort and Spa had meticulously spelled out “Ia ora na” across my king-size mattress. They added a dash of color with fresh flowers plucked from the garden and sweetened the offering with two bars of exfoliating soap made especially for the resort, using sand from its black beach. “Ia ora na” was a phrase I would hear repeatedly during my visit to Tahiti. Though technically it means “good morning” in Tahitian, I was greeted with it all hours of the day.

"Ia ora na" - the word that Tahitians use to greet one another - was spelled out on my king size bed

“Ia ora na” – the word that Tahitians use to greet one another – was spelled out on my king size bed

The rest of my deluxe ocean view suite was equally impressive. Fresh flowers and plush towels were scattered around my luxurious bathroom, which featured an enormous soaking tub. The spacious living room, which was divided into separate areas for relaxing and working, was decorated with murals based on indigenous Tiki designs. Details included two flat screen TV’s, a custom pod coffee maker, a large safe, cotton robes and slippers, iron and ironing board, and super fast wifi. Read More

The seaman was a shock at first. I’d stepped through the bulkhead door and into a dim interior passageway on board the Aranui 5 cruise ship. When my eyes finally adjusted from the brilliant sunshine outside, I found myself staring into the face of a sailor who was tattooed from head to foot. After my initial shock, I gathered my wits and asked permission to take his photo. He stared back, perhaps as curious about me as I was about him, but then nodded once. Over the next two weeks, I would learn that tattoos in the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia are not only accepted but cherished.

Seaman aboard the Aranui 5 cruise ship is covered from head to toe in tattoos in the Marquesas Islands

Seaman aboard the Aranui 5 cruise ship is covered from head to toe in tattoos

Tattooing was practiced at least as far back at Neolithic times. The mummified body of Ötzi the Iceman, discovered on the border between Italy and Austria in 1991, has been dated to between 3370 and 3100 B.C. The Iceman had 61 tattoos. Over the centuries, tattooing has been practiced for a variety of spiritual and protective purposes, but perhaps nowhere has it been more strongly ingrained than in the culture of the Marquesas Islands. Read More