Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

When I travel long term I have a tendency not to make a lot of hotel reservations. For example, for this six month journey, with the exception of the Safari I have booked in Africa, I have made reservations for six nights.

I always make a reservation for the very first night and perhaps even the second night, especially when traveling to Asia, because the flight is long and tiring and in most cases you arrive late in the evening. The last thing I want to do after traveling 36 hours is drag my luggage around town looking at various hotels. After the first two nights, however, I leave my schedule open and rely on the advice of people I meet along the way, or I look at other hotels as I travel around. It is commonplace to walk into a hotel in Asia and ask to see their rooms.

Bangkok was one of the places where I made reservations for the first two nights. I’ve been here twice before and sort of know the lay of the land. Previously I have stayed in the embassy section of the city along Sukhumvit Road, since it has easy access to the Sky Train, making it quite simple to get anywhere in the city. Rooms in this area are in the $50-60 range in moderate hotels. On this trip, however, one of my goals was to limit my budget to $25 per night to prove that travel does not have to be terribly expensive, so I decided to find a room at one of the budget hotels in Bangkok in the backpacker district along Khao San Road. After much research on the Internet I settled on Read More

I arrived in Bangkok,Thailand. safe and sound, if a bit travel weary, and am now ensconced in a flea bag hotel in the backpacker district on Khao San Road. More about that in the next day or so, after I get settled. I just wanted to let everyone know that I uploaded lots of photos to the Bali page, so if you want to take a look, just click on the button at the right labeled photos and navigate to the page for Bali. Thanks also to my family and many friends who emailed me birthday wishes yesterday!!! What a way to spend a birthday!

The Balinese don’t celebrate wedding anniversaries. They don’t celebrate birthdays much, either. What they do celebrate is their religion. Hinduism is the center of their everyday lives, which are steeped in religious ceremony and tradition. Towns prepare for temple festivals by weaving intricate designs of young palm fronds onto long bamboo poles, which are then displayed all up and down the streets. Each morning the Balinese weave palm leaves into small baskets, filling them with flowers, fruit, and various other food.

Spirit offerings on sidewalks bali

Spirit offerings ares set out on the sidewalks each morning

Spirit offerings ubud bali

Spirit offerings ares set out on the sidewalks each morning

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When I finally rolled out of bed this morning at 8AM I threw open the drapes of the window that looks onto my balcony. Instead of the view of the river valley below I found myself gazing into two coal black eyes. A huge monkey from the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary had climbed onto my balcony, perched himself on the table beneath my window, and was gazing intently through the crack in the drapes. Startled, I hopped backward. I’m pretty sure he was just as startled, because he immediately scampered up the wall and sat on the roof tiles above, screeching and clucking.

Monkeys run free at the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Ubud Bali

Monkeys run free at the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Ubud

Since the Monkey Sanctuary is only about 100 feet from my hotel I decided I’d better check it out, so I spent the better part of the afternoon walking around the park watching the antics of the monkeys. Actually, the species on Bali and in the Sanctuary are Balinese macaques, also known as long-tailed macaques. Aside from humans, macaques are the most widespread and successful of all primates. About 300 macaques reside in this park. The adult males can weigh up to 22 pounds, have large canine teeth, broad shoulders and facial hair that resembles a mustache. The adult females are smaller (up to 17 pounds) and have long facial hair that looks like a beard. Their coloring ranges from silver to grey to tan, with the largest males being the most silvery. Babies hang upside down from their mothers’ bellies, looking like newborn rats with little or no fur.
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With every step I take along the road in this sleepy village of Amed, Bali, someone tries to lure me into a conversation.

“Miss, you come in, I give you free drink.”

“Hello, where you stay? Come sit, try free drink.”

So far they have all been sitting under open-air, thatch-top pavilions that serve as restaurants. I just shake my head no and keep walking. I am in search of an Internet Cafe. There is a third guy now, standing on the dirt shoulder of the road.

“Good morning – how are you?” he asks. “I am fine,” I reply. The Balinese are so polite that you want to respond in kind, even when they are in-your-face aggressively trying to sell you something. It is a trap they use very effectively. “Where are you staying?” he asks, in perfect English. I motion to the end of the road, “Down there somewhere,” I say. “I want to be your friend,” he continues. “My name is Delta. You want to go sit on the beach and talk?” He flashes a brilliant smile at me. Delta is about 5’8″ tall with jet-black, curly shoulder length hair and stunningly white, perfectly straight teeth. He is cute and he knows it. He can’t be more than 30 years old, although it is hard to judge age with the Balinese. “Delta, are you hitting on me?” I ask, now being completely impolite. He is taken aback and seems a bit embarrassed, but the smile never falters. “No, no, just friends,” he says, adding, “But very good friends.”

Traditional hand-carved Balinese fishing boat

Traditional hand-carved Balinese fishing boat

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The knock came gently to my door promptly at 5:30 AM. “Hello, miss, you up?” I couldn’t help but laugh – and be glad I was already awake and downstairs in the bathroom. Otherwise, I never would have heard, much less wake up to this gentlest of knocks. My guide also laughed when I told him about it. “It is a Bali thing. It would be impolite to knock loudly and wake someone up, even when this is what you want. So they come with a gentle tap, tap, tap, instead. Balinese are always very polite.”

View of Lake Bratan, just before dawn in Bali

View of Lake Bratan, just before dawn

Why, you might ask, am I up at this ungodly hour when I am supposed to be enjoying myself? I am on my way to Lake Bratan in the village of Bedugul, where I will photograph the sun rising over the Pura Ulun Danau Bratan. And this is why I must scratch yesterday’s claim that the Brahmavihara Arama Buddhist Monastery is the most beautiful I have ever seen, because it cannot compare with the beauty of Pura Ulun Bratan.

This temple is mostly Hindu, which is the religion of the majority of Balinese, although there is a Buddhist Stupa on the grounds. I am immediately transfixed by the golden morning light playing on the lush grounds and am shooting photo after photo – but my guide hurries me along a path to the water’s edge. Again, I linger over the crystal clear waters, shooting dozens of photos of the colorful Balinese boats tied up at the shore. I watch, fascinated, as a man in a carved canoe glides silently through the reeds and lithely steps out onto the shore. Holding a long bamboo pole high over his head, he stalks the shoreline, crouching tiger-like, so as not to scare the fish. It was like watching one of those Karate movies and I could not imagine what he was doing. Read More