Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

Boiling eggs at San Kamphaeng Hot Springs in the hills outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand

San Kamphaeng Hot Springs in the hills outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand, is a great day trip for visitors. Twin geysers erupt perpetually, throwing the stinky sulfur water into the air. The scalding water is piped into a concrete pool where visitors can boil fresh eggs that are available for purchase in the park. Wicker baskets with long handles allow the eggs to be immersed into the 105 degree Celsius water (221 degrees Fahrenheit!) without risk of scalding. There’s even a sign that advises how long to leave the eggs immersed: three minutes for soft boil, five to six minutes for half-boil, and 10-15 minutes for full boil. Read More

Man carves and shapes bamboo for paper lanterns at the Saa Paper Festival in the village of Ban Ton Pao in northern Thailand

The villages around the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai have long been known for the production of traditional handicrafts such as furniture, wood carvings, paper umbrellas, silk, hammered silver, jewelry, lacquerware, and Celadon ceramics. However Saa paper products, made from the bark of Mulberry trees, may be the most unique of these handmade products. Mulberry trees naturally shed their bark each year, thus the raw material used in the production of Saa paper is renewable. The bark is shredded, immersed in water, cleaned, and churned into a pulp. Fine mesh screens are dipped into vats containing the pulp solution and drawn out quickly, leaving a fine layer of pulp on the screen. After decorating the pulp with flowers, leaves, or other natural elements, the screen is placed in the sun to dry. The cured paper is carefully peeled from the screens, leaving a unique deckle edge. No two pieces are alike. Read More

Eleven and a half years ago I set out to see the world. I was 54 years old at the time and had spent the last 36 years working at various jobs that had included, among other things, selling newspaper ads, managing a women’s department store, owning a public relations firm, and managing real estate franchises. At one point I even co-owned and operated a Sno-Cone kiosk in the largest water park in Puerto Rico! None of my jobs, or the comfortable lifestyle they afforded me, had ever made me happy. In fact, I was miserable. But rather than changing my life, I kept repeating the same behavior and expecting different results. And that, as they say, is the definition of insanity.

Fortunately, a severe illness kicked me out of my complacency. When I realized I might die, I promised myself that if I recovered, I would walk away from corporate life to pursue my true passions of travel, photography, and writing. (Read more details about my journey of self-discovery on my about page). A year later, I slung a backpack over my shoulder and set off on a six-month around-the-world journey. One of my stops was Thailand. I’d visited in 2004 and loved it. After my second visit, I was addicted to Thailand.

Living Room of my new apartment as I settle in as an expat in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Living Room of my new apartment as I settle in as an expat in Chiang Mai, Thailand

In 2009, I finally gave up my apartment in Florida and became a full-time digital nomad with no home base. I worked wherever I could get a wifi connection and carried everything I needed in a 22″ carry-on suitcase and a small backpack. More than 3,000 stories and thousands of photos later, I’d successfully recreated myself as a travel writer, but I was also searching for my perfect paradise. During my 11+ years on the road, I visited 94 countries and seriously considered a number of destinations as potential homes. Budapest, Croatia, and Bulgaria, though intriguing, just weren’t right for one reason or another. But Thailand kept drawing me back.

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, the most important Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is one of the most important Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai, Thailand. According to legend, a monk from the Sukhothai Kingdom dreamed that he would find a relic of the Buddha in Pang Cha. The monk dug at the site he was shown in his dream and found what was believed to be the shoulder bone of Buddha. Said to have mystical powers, the bone was placed on the back of a rare white elephant, which was let loose to wander. The elephant climbed halfway up Doi Suthep Mountain, stopped, trumpeted, and dropped dead. Believing this to be a sign, Doi Suthep was built on the very spot where the elephant perished, and a statue was erected to mark its grave. Read More

Women wear traditional dress at the 2018 Flower Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand
A women in traditional dress marches down the parade route during the 2018 Flower Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The annual event is held during on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of the first week of February. The highlight of the Flower Festival is the Saturday morning parade, which features flower-bedecked floats, marching bands, and groups of men and women who, like this beautiful young woman, proudly wear their traditional ethnic garb. This woman is wearing a silk striped longyi (an ankle-length wrap-around skirt) and traditional white lace blouse, which is topped with a colorful flowered sash. Her hair is done up in a traditional bun and decorated with fresh orchids. The crossed peacock feathers are a final touch that are not only beautiful, but have religious significance. In Buddhism, peacocks are a symbol of wisdom, thus they are a common motif found in Thai dress. Many beautiful ball gowns are embroidered with images of peacocks in full tail feather display. Read More

In April, 2015, a massive earthquake in Nepal killed nearly 9,000 people and injured up to 22,000. The worst damage occurred in Gorkha, an area located in the foothills of the Himalayas, about halfway between Kathmandu and Pokhara. Within minutes, entire villages crumbled to the ground. Roads and other infrastructure were so damaged that rescue efforts were hampered for weeks, adding to the loss of life. Though the earthquake was not felt as severely in the country’s two largest cities, structures in Kathmandu suffered significant damage because the city was built upon the soft soils of an ancient dry lake bed. Some of the worst damage occurred at the seven ancient UNESCO World Heritage sites that are scattered around the Kathmandu Valley.

Boudhanath Stupa, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most important Buddhist temples in the world, a few months after the earthquake

Boudhanath Stupa, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most important Buddhist temples in the world, a few months after the earthquake

My first view of the damage to these UNESCO sites was in November of 2015, approximately six months after the quake. I stood in front of Boudhanath Stupa, the most important Buddhist site in the country. It’s immense white dome, which had always sparkled under the sun like freshly fallen snow, was ashen gray and streaked with dirt. The golden pinnacle and its famous all-seeing eyes, which had crowned the dome, was entirely gone. Boudhanath had always been my favorite temple in Kathmandu and I was overwhelmed with sorrow as I surveyed the destruction. I wept unashamedly. Read More