Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

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.

On April 3, 2019, the Sultan of Brunei imposed Islamic sharia law on all residents of the country, including the 30% of the population who are not Muslims. In a nutshell, this means that people will be whipped or stoned to death for gay sex, adultery, sodomy, and rape, and the crime of theft will require a hand and a foot to be cut off. This is an escalation of previous laws, which carried a sentence of 10 years in prison for anyone caught in the act of same-sex relations. Normally, I avoid such discussions on this blog, as it deals with travel – not politics. However, in light of the current environment in Brunei, I felt it important to address this situation. Brunei is NOT currently a safe destination for LGBTQ travelers.

Some will undoubtedly criticize me for even publishing a story about Brunei, insisting that the country should be boycotted by tourists. I have never agreed with this thinking. Quite the opposite, I feel it is very important for people to continue to visit Brunei. Citizens of the country need continued exposure to outsiders so they can see and hear first hand how horrifically the situation is being regarded around the world. Rather than avoiding travel to the country, I believe we can have much more impact by boycotting hotels around the world that are owned by Brunei, as celebrities including George Clooney, Elton John, and Ellen DeGeneres advise in this article. I say “hit ’em in the pocketbook, where it really hurts.” Having said that, however, the following is my assessment of Brunei, which I visited at the beginning of this year.

Brunei is not a country I’d go out of my way to visit. Located on the north coast of the island of Borneo, the country is split into two parts, both of which are surrounded by the Malaysian State of Sarawak. Its widest point on the South China Sea is less than 100 miles long. Most who have written about what to do in Brunei describe it as a boring destination. But since I was already on Borneo to see the orangutans, sun bears, and proboscis monkeys, I decided to stop for a couple of nights in Brunei’s capital city of Bandar Seri Begawan.

Long oval-shaped fountain in the city center of Bandar Seri Begawan represents an oil tanker

Long oval-shaped fountain in the city center of Bandar Seri Begawan represents an oil tanker

If I had to pick one thing that defined Brunei for me, it would be the fountain in the city center. At first glance it was attractive enough. A single row of water spouts danced down its long oval shape, ending at a red, black, and yellow backdrop that resembled a giant Lego structure. Upon closer examination, I realized the backdrop represented the superstructure of an immense oil tanker, while the water spouts were emblematic of gushing oil wells. I was amused that a country would represent itself with the symbol of an oil tanker, but in the case of Brunei it couldn’t be more appropriate. Literally 90% of the country’s economy derives from petroleum and natural gas.

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When asked what to do in Brunei, many will say there is nothing to do. But I found it wasn\'t nearly as boring as everyone says it is.

Mirror image of the Kota Kinabalu City Mosque

Kota Kinabalu City Mosque was the highlight of my half-day tour of Kota Kinabalu (KK), capital of the Malaysian State of Sabah on the island of Borneo. The mirror image of the mosque reflected in its surrounding lagoon has earned it the nickname “floating mosque.” Knowing my tour would include a stop at an important Islamic religious site, I had dressed respectfully in long pants and short-sleeved T-shirt. Upon arrival, however, I found I had not dressed conservatively enough. Women are required to cover their arms from shoulder to wrist as well.

The issue of appropriate dress has recently been a hot topic of debate in Malaysian Borneo. In 2015 the Muslim community was enraged by a group of Brit, Canadian, and Dutch tourists who stripped naked and posed atop sacred Mount Kinabalu. In June, 2018, two Chinese tourists dressed in Read More