Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

Yesterday morning dawned clear and the sites outside my hotel beckoned, but I have been without a good Internet connection for days, so I just had to catch up on email and blog posting before hitting the pavement. It was noon before I finished. I grabbed my backpack and headed out the front door of the hotel, surprised to discover that the weather had tuned grey and drizzly. The tuk-tuk drivers and taxis love this weather – they figure no one wants to walk in the rain. But I was determined and shook my head “no” to their advances. I noticed a bookstore just down the street and I needed something to read, so I headed in that direction.

Crowds shelter under awnings in Bangkok Thailand

Crowds shelter under awnings, waiting for the rain to let up

I hadn’t gone two blocks when the rain began in earnest – and I mean it was a deluge! I ducked under an overhang to wait it out. At first I was standing there, shifting my weight from one foot to the other and not really thinking or paying much attention to what was going on around me. Suddenly I noticed the Thai Lottery building directly across the highway from where I was standing. A set of cavernous covered steps led into the building and as the rain continued unabated, more and more people collected on the protected stairway. There were shirts and umbrellas of all colors, softly muted by the falling rain as in a watercolor painting.
Watching this moving canvas of color brought me into the moment and I started noticing all the little details around me.

A tourist bus sped by, casting an enormous shield of water from its windshield that formed an arc around the front of the bus, as if shielding it from harm.

An open-air tuk-tuk putted along, the driver and passenger both hunched under the vehicle’s narrow metal roof. Read More

What a birthday I had this year! First, I was tickled that my family and so many of my friends wished me happy birthday by email or comments on the blog. Then, I arranged to spend the day of my birthday with my friend Monika, who lives in the south of Bali. I met Monika several years ago at a Yoga retreat in Thailand. At the time she was living on Ibiza, one of Spain’s Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean. Although we were occasionally in touch by email, I was unaware she had moved to Bali, so I was surprised when she offered to put me up while I was in Bali. Although I was scheduled to travel throughout other parts of Bali for the majority of my trip, I took her up on her offer on my birthday – it’s always nice to share special days with friends. Not only did Monika treat me to an incredible massage that afternoon, but she and her boyfriend, John, and John’s lovely daughter, Jacqueline, took me out to dinner that evening at a popular local restaurant, where I indulged in a “half-and-half” – half Gado-Gado and half Nasi Campur. Delicious stuff!

birthday cake bangkok thailand

Delicious birthday cake after a sumptuous dinner

I thought this was probably the nicest birthday I’d ever had. Little did I know there was more to come. I arrived in Bangkok the following day (April 7th). I have another good friend here – Leticia – and I recently emailed her that I was coming to Thailand. I didn’t think about the fact that all my emails have a signature line on them, which contains my blog address. Leticia clicked on the link to the blog and read my post about my birthday, then emailed me and suggested we get together the day after I arrived. She, her son, Ron, and Ron’s girlfriend, Bee, picked me up at the hotel. After lots of hugs and squeals, we headed for the car, where Leticia presented me with a homemade cinnamon apple birthday cake. Read More

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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