Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

The Potala Palace in Lhasa, capital of the autonomous region of Tibet in China

I’d seen it in pictures, of course. The magnificent Potala Palace, rising vertically from its perch atop Red Mountain in the Tibetan capital city of Lhasa. This number one destination on my travel wish list had long eluded me. Until now. After years of waiting, I had finally made it to the exotic kingdom that some believe to by the mythical Shangri-La. I stood on a viewing platform across the street from the iconic edifice and drank in its 13 stories, the inward-sloping walls that measure up to 16 feet thick, and its more than 1,000 rooms. As a devoted Buddhist, I knew the palace was home to the Dalai Lama until 1959, when he fled in the face of the invading Chinese army. I knew that it contains more than 200,000 statues and nearly 700 invaluable murals that depict some of the most important historic events in Buddhist history. I even knew that the Red Palace in the center of the immense structure was used for religious purposes, while the white portion was used mostly for administration and government purposes. But what I hadn’t contemplated was actually climbing to the top of the Potala Palace. Read More

I celebrated Nepali New Year in Nepal, this past April. My second home of Pokhara sponsored three solid days of performances in the park, including band performances, traditional dancing, and singing. But for me the most interesting part was just roaming the streets and watching the families that had traveled from afar, shopping, meeting with their friends, having picnics in the park, and maybe even taking a boat ride on the lake.

People flock to Fewa Lake in Pokhara to celebrate New Year in Nepal

People flock to Fewa Lake in Pokhara to celebrate New Year in Nepal

There are more than 60 ethnic groups in Nepal, each with their own traditions, customs, and in some cases, separate languages. So it is hardly surprising to learn that as many as nine different New Year holidays are celebrated around the country. However, Naya Barsha is considered to be the National New Year celebration of Nepal. It falls between the 11th and the 15th of April each year, according to the lunar calendar. If you want to experience an authentic slice of Nepali life and customs, celebrating New Year in Nepal is one of the best things you can do. Read More

If you want to experience an authentic slice of Nepali life and customs, celebrating New Year in Nepal is one of the best things you can do.

Each time I return to Kathmandu, Nepal, I find a new craze. This year it was Tibetan singing bowls. Not only were they for sale in shops all over the city, every Yoga studio or meditation class seemed to offer singing bowl healing sessions.

Learning to play Tibetan singing bwls in Kathmandu, Nepal

I was fortunate to meet a nice young man from Hong Kong, Mok To, who had just completed a week-long class on how to play the handcrafted brass bowls. He invited me to a rooftop performance, where he showed a group of us how to make the bowls “sing.” Afterward, we all tried our hand at playing them. After a bit of practice and a lot of patience, I was able to make the large ones “sing,” but found it much more difficult to sustain a tone in the smaller bowls. Check out the video below, where Mok To shows us how to play the Tibetan singing bowls. Read More

Tibetan Singing Bowls are for sale in shops all over Kathmandu, Nepal, and every Yoga studio or meditation class was offering singing bowl healing sessions.

When I started this blog, just about 12.5 years ago, it was one of the first travel blogs in the world. Those were the days when no one knew what a blog was. Like everyone else during those early days, I was feeling my way, trying different things to market myself and gain a following. I didn’t really know what I was doing…none of us did. In fact, I clearly remember attending the first ever Travel Blog Exchange Conference in Chicago, during which one of my fellow travel bloggers told me it would be nearly impossible to be successful doing what I was doing – telling travel stories. She insisted I needed to start writing “top ten” articles if I ever wanted to build an audience. I refused. I would have shut my blog down rather than write that kind of garbage.

Evelyn Hanon, publisher of Journeywoman.com, often said to be the first ever travel blog, passes away at79Fortunately, I connected with Evelyn Hannon, publisher of Journeywoman.com, soon afterward. I would learn that Evelyn had beaten me to travel blogging by about nine years. She’d begun writing a travel newsletter that encouraged women to travel solo back in 1992 and converted to blogging in 1997, when the technology was in its infancy. Evelyn was long regarded as the first ever travel blogger and her site quickly became “the premier travel resource for women.”

But I digress. This story is not about Evelyn’s success. It’s about the wonderful person she was and the impact her kindness had on me. You see, Evelyn did me a great favor in the beginning of my travel blogging career. I wrote her, asking if she would consider featuring me in her newsletter. She couldn’t, for good reason. If she featured my blog, she would have to do the same for others, and that would have been impossible. So I asked if she would let me advertise in her newsletter. I don’t think anyone had ever asked her that, but after some thought she agreed to let me run a three-line classified ad. That one little ad did much to increase the visibility of my blog and set me on the path to success. Read More

Traditional King Ka-La Dance is performed during the Umbrella Festival in Bo Sang Village in northern Thailand

Decked out in spectacular fan-shaped costumes, a troupe of Thai dancers at the Bo Sang Umbrella Festival performed the traditional King Ka-La folk dance. Their mincing steps and fluttering arms so perfectly mimicked the movements of birds that I seriously thought they might take flight. Read More

Across Thailand, thousands of small craft villages dot the landscape. Each one specializes in the manufacture of a particular handicraft. Especially in northern Thailand, the choices seem endless. In tiny Ban Ton Pao in northern Thailand, everyone in the villages is involved in the production of handmade paper from Mulberry bark. In nearby Baan Tawai, the focus is on handmade furniture. Other villages produce lacquerware, silk clothing and linens, indigo dyed material, hand-woven baskets, hammered silver, jewelry, and more. But my all-time favorite is the village of Bo Sang, which specializes in handmade paper parasols.

Artist paints a giant handmade paper umbrella at the Bo Sang Umbrella Festival

Artist paints a giant handmade paper umbrella at the Bo Sang Umbrella Festival

I had an up-close view of the process during this year’s Umbrella Festival, held every year during the third weekend of January. For three days, local artisans demonstrated every step of the process, from shaving down bamboo strips for the ribs of the umbrellas to painting the parasol tops. In addition to umbrella making classes and demonstrations, bicycle parades featured elegant Thai women in traditional attire, each holding a gorgeous parasol aloft as they pedaled down the main street. The town was decked out as well. Multicolored parasols decorated the facades of buildings. Riotous umbrella arches spanned the streets. Even mosaic murals created from mini-parasols were scattered around town. Read More

Each year during the third weekend in January, the Bo Sang Umbrella Festival is held in the craft village of Bo Sang, near Chiang Mai, Thailand.