Luang Prabang – Day 2: The Temple Death March

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Next morning I was up bright and early for a quick breakfast and an early start on my 10 temples, the Royal Palace and museum day. So, I spent my day walking, sweating, taking my shoes off and putting them … Continue reading

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Luang Prabang – A Short Flight but a World Away Culturally

Traveling from the anything goes sexual attitudes of Thailand to the culturally conservative and devoutly Buddhist Laos is quite a shock to the system. Laos is a small landlocked mountainous country wedged between China, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam. The Lao economy seems primarily based on agriculture and much of that is subsistence farming.

At first glance, you might think the entire community lives in small one room dirt floor hovels. My late evening drive in from the airport definitely left me with that impression as we passed one sad little home after another. Everyone with the door wide open and people either sitting or sleeping on mats on the floor in semi darkness.

But, there are wealthy people living in Laos and plenty of beautiful mansions built during the French Colonial era still in service. I’m not sure if the wealthy of Laos are foreigners or local party officials but a lucky few are living high while over 80% of the population lives in poverty and struggle for day to day survival.

The truly remarkable thing about these people is that their daily struggle to survive does nothing to dampen their spirit, good will and friendly attitude toward strangers. I don’t think I met a single local that wasn’t nice, quick with a smile or bow, and willing to offer assistance. The people here are universally polite and the culture has ingrained a healthy respect for anyone older.

And at some point, when I wasn’t paying attention I became the older person. This big bellied Grand Papa Smurf was treated like a celebrity. Although it does feel a little weird to have women (total strangers no less) address me as daddy. I have been assured that it is a term of respect and not derision but I can’t be sure lol. But it still takes I little bit of getting used to everyone from the hotel reception to hawkers in the night markets calling out daddy daddy.

Luang Prabang was such an interesting place and since I crammed 6 days of activities into 2 quick days I will divide my Laos experiences into two blogs. The first blog will cover an absolutely magical day that extended from 4am until after midnight and the 2nd blog will talk about my Temple Death March across the city.

Day 1

My day began with a pre-dawn wake up to prepare and travel to the city center for one of the coolest customs I have ever observed. Every morning before the sun chases the moon from the sky people from all over the city rise and prepare food for the morning alms giving ceremony. And with the first cracks of dawn the town’s people are lined up along the streets and alleys patiently sitting and waiting for the monks and acolytes to leave the temples and monks’ quarters to walk the streets collecting food for the day’s meals.

As dawn breaks 400 monks and acolytes walk the streets receiving the blessings of the towns people. They collect whatever the donor can afford to share with them. It might be milk from one, or rice from another, bread, fruits and vegetables. This procession is very dignified and formal. There are strict rules of conduct when donating food to the monks with a lot of bowing. I chose not to take any photos out of respect for their religious customs.

The images of people so poor they live in poverty themselves sharing their meager daily bread with the monks is seared into my mind without the use of a photo though.

After the alms ceremony, I grabbed a quick breakfast at my hotel and headed out of town to the Kuang Si Waterfall. The ride out to the waterfall turned out to be an experience in itself. I hired a Tuk Tuk for the morning. A Tuk Tuk is a modified motorcycle that has been retrofitted to carry passengers over two rear wheels on benches. I’ve included photos of several different types of Tuk Tuks but all have a couple of elements in common. First, the passenger compartment is not air conditioned, second, the benches are not padded (just plastic or cloth stretched over wooden planks, and third – no shock absorbers.

Every bump or pit in the road sends you off the seat and into the tin roof of the Tuk Tuk. Though there is a floor and roof to protect the passenger from the sun and rain – the four sides are open to the outside air allowing for airflow, dust flow, and all sorts of odor flow from the surrounding homes and fields. And have I mentioned the sewer systems are primitive in the best of places and nonexistent in other locations – just open ditches.

As we trundled along I watched women washing clothes on rocks and concrete abutments in small streams as they have for a thousand years. People bathed out of plastic buckets in their front yards totally oblivious of passing traffic. And throughout my time in Luang Prabang there was the constant distinct odor of dung. The bouquet would shift at times from horse to cow to pig to dog to elephant to human but the smell was always there in the background.

After bouncing along in the back of the Tuk Tuk for half an hour I finally reached the Falls. I arrived just as the national park was opening for the day at 8:30am so I had the entire place to myself for the first two hours. And it was an incredible two hours walking among the enormous ancient teak and gum trees that guarded the many cascades and pools of clear blues and turquoise. By 10:30am the locals and other tourists began showing up and filled the pools with summer bathers. Plenty of photos accompanying the blog.

On my way out of the forest I stopped at a black bear rescue sanctuary and watched the bears they have saved from poachers. Unbelievably, poachers use wire snares to trap bears for their spleens. Once captured some of these bears spend up to 10 years in cages no bigger than a large dog kennel. Then they are dispatched for their spleen.

Apparently, the Chinese believe bear spleen can make a man a bear in bed. But then again Asians say everything makes a man bigger better and longer lasting when and where it counts. I was told the same thing in Cambodia by an old toothless woman trying to sell me some kind of alcohol concoction with a pickled cobra and scorpion in the bottle. Just made me sick as a dog for 7 days. lol. As they say Caveat Emptor.

I gave a donation to the sanctuary in the name of a nature loving friend of mine and headed on down the trail. Next stop was an elephant rescue sanctuary where I spent an interesting two hours learning about elephants and the work they do at the sanctuary. Fed the elephants pineapples and sugar cane, helped bathe one and even took a little ride along the Mekong River.

Once back in Luang Prabang grabbed a quick lunch and was off for a two-hour cruise down the Mekong River to a couple of sacred caves to see more Buddhist shrines. I have since learned that Buddhist shrines are sort of like places George Washington slept. There are more shrines with Buddha’s teeth, bones, and hair than he could have possibly had.

The boat that I rented was rather interesting. I had assumed it would be a small 4 to 6 passenger pleasure boat. Instead it was a large boat with upright seating for 40 and two Cleopatra type lounges with pillows. So, there I sat in one seat with 39 empty cruising down the river feeling a little self-conscience as we passed other boats packed to the rafters with hot sweaty tourists.

After two-hours we made it to the caves which quite frankly were underwhelming. But as they say it is all about the journey. And I did get some great photos both coming and going especially at sunset on the river. Once back in Luang Prabang I had dinner on street food in the local night market washed down by more Chang Beer.

Getting back to my hotel turned out to be an experience after a few beers. The old city is on one side of the river and my hotel is on the other side. There are three ways to cross the river. A modern bridge for cars and trucks that is way out of the way. An old dilapidated wooden bridge that is only for motorcycles and scooters and with a narrow three plank section off to the side for pedestrians. And, finally during the dry season a rickety bamboo bridge.

The bamboo bridge was my shortest route to a bed. And since I had been up for 20 hours and enjoyed too many Changs I opted for the bamboo pedestrian bridge. I’m not sure when they built that thing they had a 240 pound Farangie stumbling across it in the middle of the night in mind. The bridge is constructed of forearm size bamboo poles driven into the mud every ten yards or so then the same size bamboo runners along the edges with two smaller one inch bamboo ribs used in the center for support. Over all this bamboo reeds are woven into a mat for the floor of the bridge.

So as you walk the entire bridge sways and bounces with your weight and to add to the experience the woven matting has sort of a spongy feeling. BTW have I mentioned I don’t know how to swim! So that is how I made it to my bed that night and from that point on took the motor bike bridge to and from town.

But more about my further trips to and from town in my next Luang Prabang blog.

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Chiang Mai Day 2 – Temple Crawl

Chaing Mai was once a great city and center of a powerful kingdom. Within the old city walls there are dozens of Buddhist Temples of all sizes and shapes. And I made it my mission to visit as many as I could cram into 5-hours with time for a quick lunch before catching my plane for Luang Prabang, Laos.

My first stop was the Wat Buppharam just outside the old walled city. The first temple was built on this site in 1497 by the Lanna King Muang Kaeo. The oldest surviving structure in the temple complex is the white chedi (pagoda) with a golden spire though it is only a little over 400 years old.

The Dhamma Hall contains Thailand’s largest Teak wood Buddha image and was carved over 400 years ago.

Next temple on the list was the Wat Chang Man – the oldest temple in Chiang Mai (1296). When King Mengrai decided to build the new city of Chiang Mai to be the capital of the Lanna Kingdom he built Wat Chiang Man as the city’s first temple.

This temple complex is the home of two important and ancient relics. The first is the Phra Sila Buddha Image – a bas relief stele, sculpted from stone over 1000 years ago depicting a standing Buddha. He other is a small Buddha image carved from quartz crystal known as the Crystal Buddha. It is believed to have been carved in the 8th century.

Next up was the Wat Lok Molee. This is one of the oldest and largest temples in Chiang Mai. The Lok Molee is believed to be the Royal Wat of the Kings of the Megnrai dynasty and one of the largest and most impressive chedis (pagoda) in Chiang Mai.

Wat Chedi Luang’s massive chedi was built just after 1385 and is the most compelling feature of the Chiang Mai city scape. The huge structure is 200ft across and 260ft tall. The Chedi was once the home to Thailands most sacred relic – the emerald Buddha now relocated in Bangkok.

The Wat Phan Tao sits next door to the more famous Wat Chedi Luang and is a beautiful wooden temple and stupa with a pond and huge stand of bamboo on the grounds of the complex.

Wat Suan Dok was built in the late 14th century and its grounds include a garden of white mausoleums housing the ashes of late Chiang Mai rulers.

Wat Sri Suphan – Chiang Mai Silver Temple. The temple is completely covered in hand crafted silver decoration. The walls, roof floor and all displays are detailed silver carving and etchings denoting Buddhist legends. Buddha statues are even covered in silver.

Having worn myself out taking my shoes off at all of these temples, I headed to the airport to catch my plane for Laos. Photos of all the temples are included.

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Chiang Mai – City of Misty Mountains, Colorful Hill Tribes and a Bazillion Temples

Chiang Mai was a welcome change of pace from the over sexed frenetic pace of Patong Beach.  There were still plenty of offers for massages and Boom Boom on Pub Streets off the Night Bazaar but they were much less aggressive.

I spent my first day in Chiang Mai outside of Chiang Mai.  I rented a car and driver and headed about 30 minutes out of town to the Huay Keaw Waterfall.  Turns out the Huay Keaw is not actually a single waterfall but a series of small cascades climbing 5 or 6 hundred feet with shelves and small pools connecting the blue threads of crashing water.

The climb up the scree trail alongside the series of falls was strenuous and made even harder by the heat and humidity but the views were spectacular.  And as I would reach each new pool I would find yellow and red rough spun cloth hanging on the lower branches of trees. Then no sooner than my mind register the robes of monks I would hear the laughter and shouts of boys and young men from behind the boulders.  A few steps further and I could see the secluded pool was the swimming hole for novice Buddhist monks.

And as I climbed higher up the cascades I found every pool occupied by young happy monks and acolytes.  I guess being a monk is not all work and no play!  Even a monk would let their hair down once in a while if they had any.

After my climb up the Huay Keaw and back I found my driver and we drove on to Bhubling Palace (Thailand’s Royal Retreat from the heat of Bangkok).  The property is designed a lot like how I would imagine our Camp David is laid out.  Bhubling Palace occupies the entire top of a mountain and despite the presence of heavy security much of the grounds are open to guests as a tourist attraction.  The retreat is beautifully landscaped with a mixture of exotic plantings of flowers and annuals beside natural old growth trees.  In addition to the King’s Residence the compound contains housing for visiting dignitaries (Clinton was the last American President to stay here), banquet hall, something called the log house, housing for the troops and security force, and assorted green houses and Buddhist temples.

I seemed to be the only non-Asian visitor and I guess that fact was noticed because everywhere I went there seemed to be gardeners working about but not doing much.  It was only on my way out that I noticed the gardeners were carrying side arms and radio sets in addition to their rakes and hedge clippers.  I’m not sure what they thought I was up to but they were not taking any chances.

After my visit to the Bhubing Palace and a nice refreshing lunch of fried rice and shrimp, we drove on to visit the Doi Pui Hmong Hill Tribe Village.  The Doi Pui Hmong are one of Thailand’s many ethnic hill-tribes and their village is basically a living museum.  Up until recently the villagers made their living growing and selling opium poppies but the king’s sustainability project has redirected the village’s efforts to agricultural farms and making and selling tribal souvenirs to tourists.

These villagers live very simple lives much as their forefathers except of course for the iPhones, Motorbikes, and satellite dishes. Lol But their homes and culture remains the same.  And many of the older women continue to dress in the traditional way.

 The villagers still leave the village to tend the rice crop in the forest during the day returning at night to grind the rice in the traditional way.  I’ve included photos of their milling process as well as village life and street scenes.

Two final things I found interesting in the village – first at the very top of the village is a small coffee plantation with a small café where you can sample their locally grown coffee while taking in a spectacular view of the valley below.  I don’t drink coffee but fortunately they also make a great glass of very strong ice tea.

The second thing I learned while in the village is that the women that you see in the old National Geographic Magazines with the silver rings around their long-stretched necks are from Southeast Asia and are native ethnic hill-tribe women.  For some reason, I always assumed they were African women.

And, I was fascinated to learn that the stretched neck is an optical illusion.  The length of the neck is not affected by the heavy silver rings.  Rather, the heavy rings force the bones in the shoulder down over time along with the woman’s ribs.  An X-ray of one of the women showed her shoulder bones and ribs were permanently set at a 45 degree angle down instead of 90 degree angle that is normal for the rest of the world.

And with that worthless piece of trivia firmly cemented in my brain I headed back to Chiang Mai for a quick shower and night out on the Night Bazaar Street.  Dinner at the Chiang Mai Hard Rock Café then a night of blues and beer at the Boys Blues Bar.

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Patong Nightlife – Let’s just say it’s a little different!

In a nutshell, the nights in Patong or any city in Thailand is not for the faint of heart. This is without question the most overtly sexual place on earth. You can not take ten steps outside your hotel without being bombarded with offers ranging from happy ending massages up to and including – what the locals refer to as Boom Boom.

The verbal offer for Boom Boom is always accompanied by the woman balling her fist, bending her arms 90 degrees at the elbow and with a couple of quick aggressive hip thrust – they call out “hey big handsome Americano you want BOOM BOOM with me. Me love you longtime” Leaving no doubt as to the meaning of boom boom. And when you beg off any interest in a massage or a little boom boom the next course offered is “you like Ladyboy, Mr?”.

Once the sun goes down in Thailand it would seem anything goes. There is no such thing as a legitimate deep tissue therapeutic massage. And walking down Bangala Street in search of a nice blues club and a cold beer requires fending off a gauntlet of hawkers offering ping pong shows, ladyboy shows, massages, Russian Strip Shows, Thai Strip Shows, boom boom and many other services that remain a mystery to this Farang. By the way, Farang is what they call us white guys in this part of Southeast Asia.

For a while this is all pretty amusing and becomes a bit of a game creating new and imaginative ways to beg off (My first night I was a catholic priest and chaste – seem to work pretty well and they took my blessings and offers to pray for their souls in good humor). But in time the constant propositioning tends to wear you out. Clearly, a lot of Faranges respond positively or there wouldn’t be so much supply. But it all seems so surreal. Women, men, ladyboys of all ages all offering themselves for a few dollars with absolutely no shame or embarrassment. For them selling themselves by night is no different than the hawkers during the day selling bracelets, magnets, and silk scarves to feed themselves and their families.

So, after two nights of running the gauntlet I decided to try a new strategy – find a structured activity to occupy my time. The first attempt at this was a show called Fantasea. It was billed as an extravaganza dinner show including singing, dancing and parading elephants. It turned out to be a ridiculous waste of time and money.

The night began with a nearly one hour bus ride picking up other people foolish enough to purchase tickets. Then once we arrived at the venue (a cheesy low rent version of a Thailand Disney World) – we were herded thru the park to an enormous banquet room to assigned seating. This was a little strange because the room seated thousands and there were less than a few hundred of us.

Fortunately, the seafood buffet was actually good and I enjoyed a combination of Thai and western foods. One funny moment was when the banquet host brought these two huge black Bahamian women to sit with me they threw a fit. I’m not sure what their problem was but they wanted no part of this big bellied Papa Smurf! In time, they settled down accepted their fate and waddled off to the buffet lines.

Holy Crap! Could these women eat! They both came back with two plates of food stacked 6 inches high. They dropped the plates at the table and went back for more. I like to eat, but watched in a combination of fascination and horror as these women shoveled plate after plate of everything imaginable down their throats all while complaining about the quality of the food and size of the men in Thailand.

As I watched the scene around me I began to wonder where was the floor show supposed to take place. Turns out nowhere near the banquet hall and no time soon. Seems the show would be in the Elephant Palace and not for another two hours. This was fine for the two Bahamian Pachyderms they could just graze for the next two hours. But what the hell was I supposed to do in a kids park?

The staff recommended I visit the zoo or shop for souvenirs for two hours. I don’t like the concept of keeping animals in cages so had no interest in the zoo and had even less interest in buying a bunch of overpriced crap made in China so I just watched the girls eat until a hawker came thru announcing a free cabaret show on the street’s main stage.

Turns out the 45 minute free cabaret show was the only thing interesting in the entire night. Once the doors opened to the Elephant Palace I learned, along with a thousand other very angry ticket holders, that cameras and cell phones were not allowed in the theater.

We were searched and our contraband phones and cameras were all locked away to prevent the theft of intellectual property. We were then marched to assigned seats to await the “Extravasea” Which turned out to be two hours of people in costumes running back and forth across stage and around parading elephants. In short this was the worst Eastern Dudley Do Right Special I have seen in all Asia.

And I still had an hour wait for my phone and an hour drive back to the hotel to look forward to. If offered the opportunity to see the Extravasea – Don’t Do It.

My second night of a planned evening turned out much better. I bought a ticket to Simon’s Cabaret. This Cabaret of singing, dancing and a little vaudeville comedy was performed with an entire Ladyboy cast. And you can judge for yourself from the photos – but these boys made absolutely beautiful and very talented women. They all looked incredible, were very good dancers and the ones that actually sang had great voices.

I had sort of imagined Simon’s Cabaret was going to be just a seedy little dive with a half a dozen performers taking the stage one at a time and singing karaoke style. Boy, was I ever wrong. The very plush theater seated at least 500 people and every seat was filled. Turns out they sell out three shows a night 7 nights a week!

The show is professionally lit and choreographed, the background sets are top notch and the outfits the girls/boys were wearing were perfect for their individual body’s. The dance routines were imaginative and precise. These ladies took great pride in their show and obviously spent a lot of time rehearsing. Again, no photos during the show but after the show the cast were happy to pose for photographs. And I was happy to take photos for my blog including a few with the girl/boys.

 

My last day on Phuket Island I decided to see the rest of the island on my way to the airport. I rented a car and driver for 6 hours and began my day visiting the Big Buddha on the southern tip of the island. And yes, it was a big ass Buddha! And I enjoyed wandering around the grounds. After the Big Buddha it was on to Wat Chalong for a quick walk thru then lunch at the Blue Elephant.

Wet Chalong

The Blue Elephant Restaurant and Cooking School is located in Phuket City’s Old Town and is housed in a beautiful yellow colonial era mansion. The 11 restaurant chain of upscale Thai dining establishments began in of all places Belgium in 1980. The Thai celebrity chef has been married to a Belgium for 40 years and decided she wanted to bring traditional Thai imperial cuisine to the world long before Thai food was cool.

Since then the couple has opened Blue Elephant locations in Bangkok, Phuket, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, London, Paris and Malta. These restaurants are considered the best of Thai cuisine in the world. And if you decide to go – this is not casual dining and bring your credit card!

I showed up for lunch after a morning climbing the hills and up the steps to the Big Buddha so lets just say I was a little damp from the heat and humidity. The hostess immediately attempted to take me outside to dine on the veranda but I was having none of that. I insisted on enjoying my lunch in one of the more formally decorated dining rooms with air conditioning.

Once seated, staff quickly figured out that I wasn’t there for a big mac and fries. I enjoyed one of their signature alcohol infused fruit drinks – a Blue Elephant Mai Tai while I waited patiently for Duck Thai Spring Roll appetizer followed by a Grouper in Flower Sauced Luck Lu entrée. And I finished the lunch with a very nice Chocolate Mousse made with rich Belgium Chocolate and a cup of Earl Gray.

The food alone is worth the price but when combined with the ambiance of the old colonial mansion and the attentive and well trained staff the entire experience is a bargain and well worth the price if you wish to impress someone special. That is as long as some sweaty big bellied Papa Smurf isn’t sitting at the next table spoiling the moment lol.

After my wonderful lunch I made a quick tour through the colonial architecture of Thalang Road and Soi Romanee then on to the airport and my flight to Chiang Mai. But Chiang Mai is a story for another day….

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Phuket Island, Thailand – Land of Smiles and Any Thing Goes Attitudes

Next up after my Singapore Sling was five days on Phuket Island. I chose to stay in Patong Beach just one short block from both the beach and the famous party hot spot Bangala Road. Phuket offers the international traveler all sorts of interesting daytime activities including: swimming, snorkeling, diving, parasailing, surfing, kayaking or just cruising the many islands and rocky limestone crags dotting the coastline.

For my first full day in Patong I chose to take an eight-hour speedboat tour of five area islands. There were just over 20 of us from across the world on this tour but fortunately the boat captain/guide spoke to us in English. The guide had a great sense of humor and did a great job of keeping us entertained between stops.

Our first stop was a small limestone crag that rose straight out of the sea. As we neared and slipped along its sheer walls the crew began passing out hard hats. A little puzzling until the captain explained there was a cave we could explore in a small lagoon on the backside of the island.

And as it turned out, I was glad to have the hard hat. Even walking in a crouch and bent at the waste my head was still skimming the cave’s ceiling. Being over 6ft is not always such a blessing – especially in the land of midgets. Nothing is sized for big people over here. The cave opened into a small dramatic clear blue pool surrounded by lush ferns and orchids with a small sandy beach then sheer limestone walls.

Next stop on the Gilligan’s Island Tour was a fairly large island of just limestone cliffs and sea caves. Here we traded the speedboat for kayaks and paddled thru the lagoons and sea caves offering spectacular views and photo opportunities.

Third stop on the tour was Phi Phi and Khao Phing Kan islands (better known as James Bond Island). This island provided the iconic backdrop for Roger Moore’s famous 1974 James Bond Thriller “Man with the Golden Gun”. The scenery was stunning but more interesting and very amusing was watching all the goofy tourists line up to pose for photos in front of the limestone pillar.

People of all shapes and sizes would turn in profile, position their arms and legs in the appropriate angles, make a gun with their fingers and strike their pose. Didn’t matter if it was a middle-aged man with a beer belly, a blue haired lady, or six year old kid – they were all Bond, James Bond for just a brief second.

Moments like this provide one of the unexpected joys of travel – simply watching people act as though no one is watching or judging them. Except for me of course a natural voyeur that judges everybody lol.

And once our boatload of James Bond wanna-bees were safely back on board we headed to the island home of a small group of Indonesian Muslims that live in a floating village for lunch. The lunch was a small buffet and pretty tasty considering it had been sitting out in the heat for a few hours.

After lunch, I had plenty of time to wander thru the village taking photos and buying trinkets from the kids. All thru Asia there are hundreds of thousands of people of all ages aggressively trying to sell you something. The thing to remember is that the magnet or bracelet that they are trying to sell you might be the difference between whether they eat fish or chicken with their rice that night.

I try to buy a few things each day from the most interesting of the personalities – most of which I leave in my hotel room when I move on.

We made one last stop after lunch to an island with an actual beach. Here we were given a couple of hours to swim, parasail, rent skidoos, bake in the sun, or as I preferred – seat myself under a thatched roof and drink a mai tai out of a hollowed out pineapple while listening to a little Willie Nelson on my IPhone.

Then once again loaded aboard the S.S. Minnow for the cruise back to Patong Beach to sample the nightlife. I have so many photos from this day trip and the nightlife was so different I will end this blog and pick up the rest of my time in Patong in the next blog.

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On to Malaysia and Singapore

It is just a short flight from Java to Kuala Lumpur and an even shorter hop on to Singapore.  Again, I lucked into a situation.  The hotel I had blindly selected thru Hotels.com turned out to be directly across the street from the World-Famous Petronas Twin Towers and upscale shopping mall (one of KL’s biggest tourist attractions).

 

Kuan Ti Temple

My KL to do list in KL was pretty short, consisting of only the Sri Mahamaimman, Chan See Shu, and Kuan Ti Temples, the Central Market, Merdeka Square, the Chinese Night Market, and the Batu Cave. I managed to see it all in a short 24 hours then back to the airport for the quick hop to Singapore. I will let the photos of the KL temples speak for themselves.  But two stops were interesting enough to point out.

First the Batu cave is one of the stranger religious shrines I have ever visited.  To reach the entrance to the cave you must make your way thru a gauntlet of stalls of all sorts of food, drink and trinkets you would never give a second look back home.  But somehow out here people just can’t seem to live without.  Once you have made it thru the gauntlet you then must march up over two hundred brightly colored steps to reach the cave’s entrance.  And once at the top the cave has been turned into a surreal hodgepodge of Hindu Shrines and statues.  The cave is enormous and offers the Hindu faithful multiple alters from which to worship and nonbelievers plenty of eye candy to ponder its purpose.

The second interesting highlight of KL was a busy Halal Café next to the Central Market.  This huge complex offers the Muslim faithful a dining experience with food prepared to Muslim religious standards.  I ordered a house specialty of a non-breaded fried chicken that had been rubbed with the most incredible tasting concoction.  The chicken was served with briyani rice, nan (bread) and a curry soup.  And after lunch I enjoyed a delicious desert I had bought on the street called kue putu. This tasty desert consists of rice flour, color and flavor from the pandan leaf, coconut water, the middle is filled with brown sugar. All of this is put into a bamboo shaft and steamed in the bamboo and once cooked covered in shredded coconut.  Best eaten warm and I would dare anyone to try to stop at just one.

Singapore is a first world city surrounded by third world countries.  It is the financial hub of Southeast Asia and is a melting pot of transplanted Chinese, Indian, Malaysian, Indonesian, Pakistani, Brits and French nationalities.  The official language is English and they drive on the wrong side of the road.

The city has a ton of modern landmarks like the Marina Bay Sky Park, Gardens by the Bay, Cloud Forest, Sands Hotel and Casino, Orchard Street Mall, Ion Mall, Takashimaya Mall, Lucky Plaza Clarke’s Quay, and Boat Quay.  Sadly, two of the city’s historical landmarks I was looking forward to visiting were closed for renovation.  Raffles Hotel, home of the original Singapore Sling cocktail and the famous Singapore Lion Statue were both out of commission.

Also, a jazz bar that I had looked forward to visiting on Boat Quay has discontinued live jazz performances which was a bummer.  On the bright side – The Crazy Elephant on Clarke Quay was alive and well.  I spent a great night in the Elephant enjoying Tiger Beer, great Blues Music, and hanging out with a couple from Perth.

I also made time to explore Chinatown, the Sri Mariamman Temple and the Singapore Buddhist Lodge and Temple.  One bad thing about visiting temples across southeast Asia in May is removing your shoes and walking on hot pavement. Since I had seen everything I wanted to see in Singapore it was time to move on to Thailand.

Sri Mariamman Temple

Singapore Buddhist Lodge

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Java in One Short Stop – Yogyakarta (pronounced Jukja)

I only scheduled the one stop on Java and wished I had spent more time visiting some of the other sites on the island. But the good news, it gives me an excuse to come back! My purpose for visiting Jukja was to visit two very old temple complexes – one Buddhist for a sunrise visit and the other Hindu for a sunset visit and dinner/cultural show. I filled my time in between with a visit to another regional king’s ancient palace, another street market, and what turned into a bazaar float trip down a river thru a huge cave with every kid in Asia.

I arrived at the airport in the mid-afternoon so my guide and new friend Fitri Suryo (Fitz for short) had a car waiting to take me directly to the Prambanon Temple Complex for a tour of the complex followed by a buffet dinner and cultural show (same Dudely Do Right Theme as the two shows in Bali but at sunset and night with the Prambanon Temple Complex as the backdrop.

I had the good fortune to be accosted by two lovely and very sweet young ladies as I entered the Prambanon Temple Complex. The two girls, Witri (16-yr old Muslim girl) and her friend Gusti (16-yr old Hindu girl), were in the city for a two-month English Emersion Class. Their assignment for the day was to approach an English-speaking tourist and offer to be their tour guide for the day to practice their English.

How could I refuse – two cute charming young ladies giving me a free tour. Their English was excellent and they were very knowledgeable about the Temples and the Hindu Religion. I spent two delightful hours with the girls and had a ton of fun as well as receiving a first-class tour.

Sadly, the girls island had been hit by a major earthquake late in 2018. And both their homes and Witri’s Mosque was completely destroyed. They had been living in tents at a refugee center before coming to Java to study English. But their loss and suffering has done nothing to dampen their spirit and good humor.

The girls kept giggling and talking in their native tongue every time I said something. Finally, I had to ask what was so funny. That is when I learned that I sound funny. It seems they agreed I sound like a cartoon figure. It turns out that I sound like Grandpapa Smurf to them. First time anyone has ever told me that!

The other amusing and very sweet moment was when they were showing me the temple devoted to Ganesh. Ganesh is the deity in the form of a sitting elephant. According to Gusti, Ganesh is a deity devoted to wisdom. She explained this as she patted Ganesh’s huge elephant belly. She then turned to me with all the innocence that only a 16 year old -girl could have rubbed my belly and very seriously declared that I must possess much wisdom because of the size of my great belly.

So, there you have it – I’m a wise big bellied grand papa Smurf. The perfect ambassador for America. I was having so much fun with the girls I didn’t want the tour to end. But I had tickets to the dance performance and we went our separate ways.

I will spare you the repeating of the theme and acts of the dance since it is exactly the same story as the two shows in Bali. I will say that the caliber of the dancers and set design was much better with this show. As I mentioned before, this show came with a Javanese Buffet dinner that was excellent. One funny moment was when we were shown to our table and my guide, Fitz, through a fit.

The table was in the back under a canopy and off to the side. After several minutes of heated conversation several members of the staff picked up the table and chairs and moved them to the very front to the prime location. I asked her what had just happened and she said, “you just witnessed the power of Fitz!”

Next morning Fitz and the driver picked me up at my hotel at 3am for the 45 minute drive to the Borobudur Buddhist Temple Complex. The early start was to catch the sunrise from the top tier of the Temple and to beat the crowds. And the early start was worth the short night. The Temple was beautiful and the sunrise was spectacular.

The temple was built in the shape of a traditional Buddhist mandala. A mandala is a square with four entry points, and a circular center point. Working from the exterior to the interior, three zones of consciousness are represented, with the central sphere representing unconsciousness of Nirvana. The Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world and should be on anyone’s bucket list visiting southeast Asia.

The breakfast that followed not so beautiful or spectacular. There was very little western food so I had a chicken curry surprise and rice for breakfast. And with the chicken curry came more chicken intestines (not my favorite).

After breakfast, we visited two smaller Buddhist Temples before returning to Yogyakarta to visit the Pagelaran Karaton Palace Complex. This Complex is the main seat of the current Sultan. The Palace was nice but a little underwhelming after visiting the Borobudur Temple. From the Palace, we visited Tamansari (one of the historical buildings of the Sultan’s Palace). Tamansari meaning “a beautiful garden” was built by Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono I in 1758 and was designed as a royal bathing place and became known as the Water Castle.

The complex is quite large and would take too long to describe the entire set up so I will just mention the small area and story I enjoyed the most as a dirty old man lol.

It seems the Sultan would allow the local commoners daughters to come use one of the bathing pools and observe them from above scouting for new talent for his harem. Long story short, many fresh new concubines were first spotted bathing in this pool. The Royal Bathing Pool – just another version of the infamous casting couch.

From the Water Castle, we walked over to the street market where I dined on an assortment of grilled meats sate (sate means grilled on a stick). I enjoyed chicken organ sate, lamb sate, and shrimp sate. All washed down by iced tea served in a plastic baggy. The market also provided me an opportunity to purchase a traditional Indonesian shirt – a Batik. This purchase was a little harder than you might think. I wear a 2X in America. But people here are quite small so I wear a 7X in Indonesian sizing. Not a very common size here at all. Lol

My final excursion on Java was to tube thru Pindul Cave. Fitz had been promising me this would be a nice cool way to spend an afternoon floating thru this cave in quiet solitude. Not a chance, It seems I scheduled my visit during a school holiday so my solitary float trip turned into a tube to tube traffic jam with over 4,000 Indonesian kids and teens whooping, laughing, giggling and splashing their way thru the mass of tubes inching along the river at a snail’s pace.

And while this may sound like a complete disaster it was actually fun. The kids loved the fact that there was an old fat Bule amongst them and treated me like a local dignitary. Reaching out to touch me and asking for photos with me. I even had a couple of teenage sisters comparing my nose to theirs and telling me we are the same.

I probably shouldn’t have told them I had been here 16 years ago and met their mother and that I was proud to have such pretty daughters but they enjoyed the lie and were telling all that would listen that I was their “Bule” father. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I was old enough to be their grandpapa Smurf.

While returning to the city from Pindul Cave Fitz suddenly demanded we stop the car at a roadside stand. The sign for the stand read Walang by the kilo. She assured me Walang was a great snack and I had to try it. I expected the snack to be some kind of boiled peanuts like in North Florida or Georgia but boy was I wrong! Walang is actually the Java word for grasshopper. So I tried my first deep fried grasshopper. And guess what? They are quite tasty. You basically grab the crispy critters by the two back legs, insert the head and body into your mouth and crunch down. The legs snap off and are discarded and the head and body with just a hint of chili and smoke are pretty good. And like the old commercial – you can’t just eat one! Before we reached the city I had finished the entire bag of Walangs.

And before I move on I would like to say a word about my guide Ms Fitri Suryo (Fitz). She is a very good guide who speaks English well because she has lived and worked in both Canada and Australia. She holds an undergraduate degree in Social Anthropology and a Masters degree in Marketing. She knows both Bali and Java like the back of her hand and I know she saved me far more than she cost with her relationships and bargaining skills. She is an excellent photographer. And most important Fitz protected me from the many panhandlers and aggressive street sellers that accost tourists.

Should you be planning a trip to Bali, Java, or even Singapore or Malaysia I suggest you contact her on Whats App for rates. +6281311085776

Well that is all for Java so on to Malaysia.

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A Bulu’s Tour Through the Temples, Palaces, Street Markets and Cultural Dance Performance of Bali

As I mentioned in my previous blog, Bali is predominately Hindu and there is a temple of some sort on nearly every street. But I visited only the four most famous and beautiful. Uluwatu Temple sitting far above the sea on a high bluff, Tanah Lot Temple perched on a high Rock about 50 yards off shore and can only be reached on foot during low tide, the Ulun Danu Temple located on Lake Beratan in central Bali, and the Besakih Temple also known as Bali’s Mother Temple, over 1,000 years old and sits 1,000 meters up the shoulder of Mount Agung. The biggest and holiest of Bali’s temples, Besakih offers breathtaking vistas of rice paddies, rolling hills, and meandering streams.

Uluwatu Temple

Uluwatu Temple was the first on my schedule. I scheduled my visit toward late afternoon/early evening to both capture the sunset and attend a cultural dance performance that is held on the temple grounds at sunset every night. As you will see in the accompanying photos Uluwatu sits way up high on the point of a cliff overlooking the sea crashing the coast from two different directions.

The temple complex is also the home of a large kleptomaniac monkey troop. There are signs posted everywhere warning visitors to protect their jewelry, eye glasses and wallets/purses. And despite the many signs, I watched as monkeys swiped sunglasses off unsuspecting tourists’ heads then ran off never to be seen again. The monkeys are quite used to people and have no fear of us. They will pester visitors for food and water and when the visitor drops his/her guard they snatch whatever is not secured.

But the highlight of the visit to Uluwatu was the Kecak Ramayana & Fire Dance. This performance of ancient ritual, dance, drama, a sunset and cliff backdrop that combine to make this a spectacular dance performance. The most unusual aspect of this show is that there are no accompanying musical instruments. A choir of 35 bare chested men chanting, grunting and singing provide the beat and rhythm to accompany the dancers.

A quick word about the storyline for this performance and it would seem every cultural performance in Southeast Asia. It is basically the Asian story of Dudley Do Right of the Mounties and Nell. Except Dudley is replaced by a mythical prince and Nell by his princess girlfriend. As they walk in the woods they hear a cry for help so prince Rama leaves his princess protected by a magic circle while he runs off to save the day. While he is away an evil rival for the Princess’ affections tries to kidnap her but can’t break thru the magic circle. This ancient version of Snidely Whip Lash returns dressed as an old man in need of help and lures the princess out of the circle and kidnaps her.

The prince then enlists the aide of the Red Monkey King to win her back and with the help of the Red Monkey King and the White Monkey King they prevail. And I’m pretty sure the evil suiter says something like “Curses Foiled Again” in the appropriate Asian tongue.

Just goes to show that there are no new stories just more reruns and remakes of time tested themes.

Photos of the temple complex, views of the sea from the bluffs, monkeys, and the Kecak Ramayana and Fire dance accompany this blog

My next temple visit was to Tanah Lot Temple in the mid-morning. Though I would like to report my visit was well timed by careful research and attention to detail – I can not. I arrived at the perfect time entirely by blind luck. The temple is on a huge rock about 50 yards from shore. I arrived at the perfect low tide so that I could wade across in just 3-inch water. The second part of my well executed plan was to accidentally arrive on an important Hindu holiday.

Tanah Lot Temple

So, I had the good fortune to observe the Hindu Holy Men preparing the Temple for the ceremony and then watch as the faithful entered the open air shrine to be blessed. One of the Holy Men noticed me and motioned for me to join them at the sacred spring and offered to bless me.

So as they say, When in Rome…, I followed the procedure I had watched the faithful enact and washed my face from the cool water of the fresh water spring. The Holy Man then used a hollow stick to shake some incense and a liquid on my head and shoulders, dipped his thumb into a bowl of uncooked wet rice and placed his rice covered thumb to the center of my forehead and said some magic Hindu words like “Another Jack Ass Bulu corrupting our sacred sites forgive him Lord Shiva”. Then his assistant placed a flower over my ear and asked for a donation. And I felt blessed!

And while all this was occurring the tide was coming back in and the 3-inch crossing had turned into a knee-deep crossing on the return trip. I’ve included a lot of photos from this Temple because the setting and the people’s dress were so beautiful and interesting.

Ulun Danu

Next on my schedule was the Ulun Danu Temple on the shore of the picturesque Lake Batetan in the Bali Highlands. I should probably mention that when I refer to a Temple this isn’t exactly correct. These are all huge Temple complexes with multiple temples and shrines.

What makes Ulun Danu so interesting is the combination of the temple’s (built on the water’s edge) reflection on the clear calm lake surface that gives the Temple an almost floating appearance. And the scenic backdrop of the surrounding mountains.

BTW I had my first taste of Duck Betutu in the Temple Restaurant. Simply incredible edibles!!!

Besakih Temple Complex

My final Bali Temple visit was to the Besakih Temple Complex high up on the Shoulder of Mount Agung. As I mentioned before, Besakih is considered the Mother Temple. The temple complex has 23 separate but related temples but the largest and most important is Pura Penataran Agung. This temple is built on six levels up the terraced slope and overlooks miles upon miles of rice terraces, rolling hills and fast flowing streams.

If you look closely at the temple photos you will notice that in at least one temple I am decked out in a sarong and official Balinese Hat. Visitors to Hindu temples are required to wear long pants and shirts that cover the shoulders. And I had worn shorts that day so I bought a sarong to cover up.

I visited two Palaces and have included photos from the Water Palace up near the Besakih Temple. The Taman Tirtagangga Water Palace must have been quite the engineering and construction marvel of its day. And all for the private enjoyment of one man. Beautiful ponds were strategically constructed to offer fantastic views of the rolling hills and valleys below while offering plenty of eye candy within the water palace. Intricately designed fountains, lush gardens, statues, and most interesting – stones placed in wandering patterns throughout the pond allowing the king to stroll over the water and ponder the problems of the day or maybe decide which of his many wives and concubines he would later invite to join him for his evening’s entertainment.

I’ve already talked about the first cultural dance I watched at the Uluwatu Temple. I attended a second dance performance in Puri Saren Royal Palace courtyard in Ubud. Exact same storyline (Dudley Do Right (Prince Rami saves the day) but this time the dance is to actual musical instruments. No piano or guitars though – all drums, metal kettle looking things played with little golden hammers, flutes, and strange stringed instruments.

This dance seemed to be a little smoother and appealing to the eye. The first performance accompanied by chanting men seemed choppy and less fluid. Most of the movement seemed to be with the fingers and eyes. In this performance accompanied by musical instruments allowed the dancers to use their entire bodies and looked much more interesting. (photos attached)

Finally, a word about street markets. These uniquely Asian markets are a riot of colors, sounds, smells and tastes. Amongst the hundreds of stalls, you can find everything imaginable from toilet seats to authentic hand-made Bali souvenirs made in a factory somewhere in China. Most interesting are the food stalls. You can walk from stall to stall grazing on all sorts of meats cooked over small charcoal grills on spits, fresh fruits of all sorts to be eaten or pressed into a juice or a smoothie, veggies both raw and cooked, and of course rice and noodles galore.

I think to get the most out of the experience you need to throw caution to the wind and try things you would never try at home. Fried grasshopper – sure why not? Chicken guts – taste like chicken and a bit like chicken sh_t!, deep fried scorpion – breakfast of champions. But as I tried all this crap I couldn’t help remembering what a Chinese guide told me in 2017. He said, “Yuk we don’t eat that crap – we just sell it to the western tourists”.

That is all from Beautiful and Exotic Bali – Next stop Java! See you there.

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The Bulu Arrives in Bali

Bulu

And the first thing you should know is Bulu is what Javanese call White People – the literal translation is albino. It took a few days for me to understand why everyone kept saying bulu as I passed but my driver finally explained what was happening. And all though it may sound like a derogatory term it was generally used with affection. Everyone I met on both Bali and Java seemed to really like Americans or at least our tourism dollars. And while on the subject of words and phrases you hear a lot – sip sip is another.

Sip Sip has nothing to do with drinking it simply means okay in Javanese. And is used practically with every sentence. And you will notice Javanese never seem to raise their voice to denote the importance of what they are saying rather they repeat the word. If you are being warned to slow down – you will hear “slooowly slooowly”, Or if you need to get the lead out – “hurry hurry”.

The second thing you should know – do not drive yourself on Bali or Java! It is far too dangerous. These people drive like they are insane. There are absolutely no rules of the road. People ignore lanes, traffic signals, pedestrians, motor bikes and other cars but somehow manage to never collide. Plus, the sites are so beautiful you will not want to miss a single thing by concentrating on the demolition derby around you.

In fact, if you ever find yourself in Bali I recommend you contact my friend and driver Babak Made. Made only charged me $45 per day and was always on time and in a good mood. And he not only drove me around he suggested things to see and do that I had not found in my research as well as fantastic restaurant recommendations. Plus, he is a pretty good photographer and interpreter.

\The third thing you should know about Bali and Java is that you should at least try to eat all kinds of things you have never heard of or thought about. Fruits of every kind (Star Fruit, Milky Banana, Dragon Fruit, Hairy Fruit, Snake Skin Fruit, Durien-which I do not recommend), Walang (deep fried grasshopper and quite tasty), shrimp crackers, fried tempe and herb chips, tea in a bag, Rambak (skin of a cow with chili paste), Gudeg (Jack Fruit cooked for 6 hours with coconut water and spices then eaten with Rambak), Chicken Intestines Sate, Quail Eggs Sate, Chicken Organs Sate, Fried Tahu (Tofu), Kikil Sate (Cow Hoof Cubes on a stick), or Duck Betutu (Ballanese duck dish cooked for 6 hours with coconut milk, shallots, and herbs in a bamboo steamer then served with Gudeg and rice – and it is wonderful).

And, why go to Bali or Java in the first place? Because there is no place on earth like it! There are beautiful beaches, forests, waterfalls, rice terraces, secluded lagoons, majestic mountains/volcanoes, and sea cliffs. There are 1000 year old Hindu and Buddhist Temples and palaces from long forgotten kingdoms. You will find colorful and bustling street markets and food vendors willing to bargain for all the things you are sure you just can’t live without. But mostly, go to meet the people.

Indonesia is primarily a Muslim Country although there are sizable Hindu, Christian and Buddhist minority populations. Interestingly, the island of Bali is primarily Hindu with a Muslim minority. But no matter the religion everyone seems to get along and everyone seems to generally like Americans. And very strange – everyone wants their photos taken with Americanos.

I was asked to pose for photos with the locals at every stop. Mostly with young people but also a few middle-aged adults. There are now photos floating around Bali and Yogyakarta of me with hundreds of giggling teenage girls and boys. And one photo is never enough. Each photo shoot requires a standard smiling photo, followed by a crazy face photo (contorted faces and Metallica Finger Wave) and if the photo is with a girl or group of girls “cute face”. In this photo they always tilt their heads and cradle their face in the backs of their hands. Very odd but somehow quite endearing.

In the remainder of this blog I will talk about the beaches, waterfalls, rice terraces, and the hike up Mt Batur. In my final Bali blog, I will talk about my incredible experiences visiting four Hindu Temples, a water palace, street markets and two cultural shows/dances performances.

In Bali you will find a beach for any sort of activity you can imagine. Surfing, Parasailing, Snorkeling, Diving, Jet Skiing, Beachcombing for shells, tanning or just people watching – there is something for everyone. During my brief stay on Bali I only had time to visit three beaches but there are many more that need exploring.

I visited Kuta Beach, Sanur Beach, and Pandawa Beach all located in the Southeast corner of the Island. But, let’s face it, this is an island so there are hundreds of additional beaches that can be explored. All three of the beaches I visited are in cities and offer beach side hotels, restaurants, bars, toilets and art markets within meters of your rented lounge chair/beach umbrella. The beaches are covered in a fine clean sand with plenty of room to stretch out and bake in the sun or kilometers of surf to walk along.

The most interesting of the beaches to me was Pandawa. To reach Pandawa you must drive thru the hills and down a winding road descending the high bluffs above the beach. All along the descent of the bluff there are sculptures of Hindu deities carved into the rockface of the bluff every so many meters. And there are plenty of places to pull over and take photos of the beach below or the sculptures in the rock face.

The highlights of my time at this beach were: bought my official Bail traditional hat, tried my first chilled coconut water from the coconut, tasted my first snake skin fruit, star fruit, milky banana, and hairy fruit. The accompanying photos will speak to the beauty of all three beaches and the weirdness of these fruits.

Thanks to a suggestion from Mr. Made we made a detour from my scheduled itinerary to visit a little known river that flows thru a deep ravine and into and thru a huge cave. The hike down to the river from the road above was steep and long but when I arrived at the river bottom it was all well worth it. Little did I know that the hike down was the easy part. Once at the river, I had to remove my shoes and socks and wade to the waterfall barefoot over sharp painful rocks for several hundred meters.

But again, the pain was certainly worth the gain! Take a look at the photos and I think you will agree – this place is special! BTW that is Babak Made in the photo in front of the waterfall standing with me.

Once the photos were all taken we once again picked our way over the sharp rocks and waded back to our shoes then trudged up several hundred vertical feet of steep track to reach our car. Then we were off to see Jatiluwih Rice Terraces.

Rather than try to explain how vivid the greens were or how beautiful the vista as far as the eye could see – I will simply let the photos speak for themselves. But please understand it was a rainy overcast day and a photo simply can’t do justice to such natural beauty.

And finally, my hike up Mt. Batur to catch the sunrise – at least that was the plan. I woke up at 1am for a two hour drive to the base area of Mt. Batur to meet my guide. We arrived at the base area at 3:30am and began a very grueling scramble straight up the side of Mt. Batur. And after two and half hours of climbing over an uneven track using sharp and jagged volcanic rock for hand holds and foot placement we reached the summit in a very thick cloud.

And there I sat with several hundred new friends waiting in the cold damp cloud patiently for another hour for the cloud to go away and the sun to come up. LOL the cloud never drifted away and the sun barely penetrated through the thick mist. But we enjoyed and cheered the little rays of orange that did peak thru, drank freshly brewed hot tea, watched the monkeys that live at the summit, and even got a few travel tips about my visit to Lebanon from a Lebanese couple on their honeymoon.

Once I gave up on ever seeing the sun again my guide took me on a walk along the crater rim to show me some steam vents just inside and below the cater rim (did I mention this is still an active volcano that last erupted in the 1970s). After a couple of quick photos in the steam it was time to trudge back down the track for our descent. And guess what – half way down the cloud finally moved off and a perfect blue bird day.

Once off the mountain it was time for a quick breakfast and then a long soak in some natural thermal pools at a nearby outdoor spa. And the hours in the hot mineral water did wonders for my tired old muscles.

The accompanying photos are from the summit of Mt. Batur, the descent, and from the Thermal Spa.

One final note of caution – do not try the Durien Fruit! You may have heard about this fruit that smells so bad that you can not open it in doors but supposedly taste good. Bull Shit – it tastes just as nasty as it smells. Durien Fruit is the Asian’s big practical joke on white people! It is simply the nastiest thing you will ever put in your mouth.

I was telling a nice Taiwanese woman I met in Sydney via Whats App about trying durien and how terrible it was. And her simple reply back was – “White people don’t eat Durien – what is wrong with you?” Wish someone had told me that before I ate it. Photos attached.

Street Food 

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