I dont like everywhere I visit – but it seems I’m out of step here

Boats pushing a shoving to get the best spot, despite it being a world heritage spot this trip was too crowded for me – most others loved it.

the karst rocks are amazing
we are taken into a cave
it looks like a dragon
kids love doing this all over the world

Big travel lies – and the the truth: I have an Ayurveda massage :)

I could tell you a great big lie about why I have massages when I’m travelling.  I could say it’s for research, or I could say it so I can write a blog, but neither of them would be true.

Sure, I may write an article or blog about a massage – and I confess I have one everywhere I go – but nearly always the main reason is pure pleasure and relaxation.  Of course, sometimes I  have tight muscles or a sore back and massages are my go-to treatment for them too.

About 18 months ago, while staying at the Kannur Beach House in Kerala, I gave myself an early Christmas present – the day before Christmas – and had an Ayurvedic massage, here in what must be the Ayurvedic capital of the world (Kerala) – the first time I’ve had one.

So, what is Ayurveda?  Firstly, the word is evidently Sanskrit and translates as the knowledge of life or life science. It’s a holistic way of living that combines meditation, yoga, diet, herbal remedies and massage.  Its beliefs include: everything in the universe is made up of elements, including ear fire and water.  It is the balance of these bodily energies, which governs our physical and emotional health.  According to a book I read at the beach house.  These were written in the ancient Hindu scriptures, The Vedas, which describes health as balance and illness, as an imbalance.  Imbalance can be set right through eating foods based on body type, proper digestions, physical exercise and yoga or meditation.

Enough of my research, what about the massage?

I arrived by Auto (a 3-wheeled, Tuk-tuk type vehicle) and was first interviewed about my health history.

She started with a head massage, which was lovely, and finished with my face being massaged at the end. It felt luxurious having very warm oil poured over me.  No oil on her hands but poured directly onto my body in copious amounts.

The massage included long dramatic, two-handed swirls and strokes from my foot to my fingertips.  Smooth figure-eight movements travelled all over the front of my body and included long sweeps over my arms and torso.  This certainly was a different sort of massage and not at all like a Thai massage or Swedish.

With great care,

I climbed off the oil-covered massage table – fearing I would slip right off. I thought that was the end of it, but no, I was then put in a steam box and wish I had a photo of the box with my head poking out.  I found it very claustrophobic and quite scary and asked to be let out after about 5 minutes, which she did gracefully.  A shower followed – with shampoo and body wash provided.

So, I’m not sure if the herb-infused oil used in the massage purified me, detoxed, cleansed or removed any toxins, but I can say it was a great massage and next time I’m back in Kerala I will return for another!

However, like all massage therapists each one differs: that first one was magic, it felt authentic, but then I had another one further south, which seemed more tourist orientated, and more like a regular massage> I’m pleased I was able to ask a local where to go, who they could recommend,  when I was at the Kunnar Beach House 😊

 

Taiwan’s “Lantern village” has a train running through it

An unexpected road trip, with 2 local Taiwanese women,  ended at a lantern village that, surprisingly, had rail tracks running through the middle of the settlement.

Playing chicken for a photo

Here, daily, and at night time, people write wishes on paper lanterns, before releasing them into the sky in the hopes ancestors will answer their prayers.

It seems this ritual started during the Three Kingdoms period and were first to send military signals and, lighting these lanterns grew widespread during the mid-19th century when bandits often attacked these towns. So now, although once used as signals for villagers to let their families know they were safe, they now carry people’s wishes, dreams and hopes, skyward.

An annual lantern festival also takes place on the last day of the Lunar New Year but you can set off the lanterns any time of year.

There are many lantern colours and it seems the different hues have different meanings -from hoping for greater wealth and fame and fortune through to marital happiness and everything in between. Although I didn’t see them, there are also animal-shaped lanterns such as cats, monkeys and pandas.

“You can’t just let the lantern go, there’s a ritual to it and a meaning” I’m told. It seems you can even buy digital, electronic, lanterns for virtual prayers! (an environmentally-friendly version :))

For safety reasons, a shop worker lights the lanterns and controls the release – another safety measure is they now use soybean oil instead of kerosene.

To prevent the mountainside from being littered with lanterns, they have a recycling programme and residents can exchange used lanterns at shops for items like toilet paper or detergent.

WHOOPS

On rainy days, visitors can write their prayer on a piece of bamboo, which is hung along a fence in the village.

rainy day prayers

This was my first visit to Taiwan was fantastic and more stories will be written about it soon!

 

 

 

 

How to pack for business and leisure – my Asian adventures

 

Packing for both business and pleasure is often seen as difficult – I solve the problem by using different packing cells for the 2 different parts. One for business, one for leisure.

One or 2 items may belong both bags, in this instance, it’s a white T-shirt that, once the 5-day business meeting is over, it will be moved into my leisure cell for the month-long exploration in SE Asia at cheap and cheerful destinations and accommodations.

My travel is in Southeast Asia, so will have the extreme heat of July and August, and I suspect, the over-cold meeting rooms in the hotel. This just seems to be what they do in Asia – overcompensating for the heat.

I’m taking 2 pieces of luggage, my trusty red suitcase in the hold, and a daypack no. The suitcase will be left behind in Hong Kong with all my business stuff in it, while the backpack will be my luggage for Taiwan, Cambodia, and Vietnam. My red suitcase will be about 10kg max. (22 lb) while my backpack will be under the regulation 7kg. (15lb). What

carry-on luggage

It’s always a treat to just have carry-on luggage when travelling – no waiting at the luggage carousel for my red case to appear. I will also use my backpack as my carry-on luggage when I leave New Zealand for Hong Kong. It will contain vital business papers, my camera and tablet, as well as medication, Kobo e-reader and phone.

So what are in those cells? Two trouser suits – a white one with 2 tops to wear with it, and a yellow one with the white T-shirt. So over the 5 days of work, I have 3 different outfits, so one will be repeated, and if I decide to, I could wear my black travel trousers with one of the tops. One pair of black shoes will accompany them all :-).

business clothes cell

All these will remain in HK storage when I leave for Vietnam, Cambodia then onto Taiwan, before returning to Hong Kong for a couple of days and pick up my red suitcase, and go home to New Zealand’s late winter weather – and where my daughter will meet me at the airport with a warm coat 🙂

My red leisure cell contains a long sundress, a loose pair of trousers, 3 tops and my trusty Teva’s while the blue one has underwear, swimming costume, and nightwear. So that’s how I pack for a combined trip that is both official and laid-back – very different needs clothes-wise

I hope this helps you keep your clothes to the minimum -after all, we don’t have to dress to impress when we’re on holiday, you will, mostly, see a person only once, so even if you are in the same clothes daily, most of them would not even notice. We, humans, are pretty self-centred and concentrate on ourselves.

 

I’m given a very small umbrella for sun protection
ready for the airport

When a heatwave strikes, this tip will help

An umbrella lowers my temperature as I struggled up a hill in Cambodia.  People struggling with the heatwaves in Europe right now would benefit from an umbrella too.

Cuba Street Wellington, NZ -framing my apartment block at the end of the street

Here is an excerpt from my book, Naked in Budapest travels with a passionate nomad, which explains how I learnt to always carry an umbrella in hot places.

See, others carry them too … being out of the sun lowers my temperature by about ten degrees it feels

‘You go ahead. I can’t walk up here. It’s too steep, too hot.’

‘Yes you can. We’re nearly there. You will love the waterfall.’

‘We have waterfalls in New Zealand; I’ll give this one a miss.’

‘Come on. You can get up here. Just around the next corner is the last steep bit – you can make it. Just take it a step at a time. We’re in no hurry,’ Rob tells me.

‘No, I’ll sit here in the shade and wait for you all to come back down. I won’t go away from the track.’

‘Here, I’ve got an umbrella, use that, it will reduce the heat for you.’

‘I don’t have the bloody energy to hold a damn umbrella.’

‘Well you walk and I’ll hold it,’ says Rob and step by slow step I get up the mountain, feeling like a cross between a missionary with her servant and a stupid, overweight, unfit, old fool.

I’m the first to fall into the cool water – my T-shirt, shorts and sandals are off in seconds and in my underwear, I’m wallowing like the buffalo. Later, back in the boat, we make a list of the 20 different creatures we’ve seen: leeches are not on the list. The others return to Sihanoukville leaving me in this small village to find a bed for the night.

Next day I’m the only foreigner in the taxi when I travel through the mountains towards Thailand. We get pushed through sticky orange clay and cross four rivers by ferry and at each one, I’m the centre of attention – few westerners have used this road that opened two months ago: no one in the taxi speaks English.

 

“Psst … ” I’m offered an illegal money deal. And drugs :)

I’m off to Cambodia soon to write some more travel stories …. wonder what I’ll be offered this time. Drugs? Illegal money exchange? Or?

Extract from Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad

Kings guards outside the Palace walls

‘Pssst! Want to change money? Opium? Marijuana?’ Women, standing on the steps of the 1901 building, mutter the offer from behind hands and I succumb to temptation.

‘How much?’ I ask and, with that sign of encouragement, I’m whisked into the hidden walkways of the market and negotiations start.

‘Eighteen.’ says the younger one and I laugh, aware that laughter is a good lubricant in Asia.

‘Twenty.’ I reply knowing it’s the rate she gave a young man just 10 minutes ago.

‘Nineteen,’ she tries again to which I give the same reply as before. Conceding, to what is a fair exchange rate she hands me a few rubber-band-held-bundles, each containing, I hope 10,000 kip. A quick flick through convinces me it’s all money and my first illegal transaction is complete.

It’s hard to believe that such huge bundles, casually dropped into my bag, are worth so little: all those zeros are still confusing me. I’m a kip millionaire yet the money is leaking out of my daypack. 3,500 kip to replace a small towel, 15,000 for a basic room, 14,000 for an Indian meal and for another 4,000 I can walk up a gigantic rock hill, Phousi, for a 360-degree view over Luang Prabang, (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) the Mekong River and surrounding mountains.

See more about this book and author here on Amazon

The ‘navel of the world’ erupts on Bali – I was warned about its powers

With Mt Agung erupting again it seems appropriate to repeat the warming I was given when staying, for a month, on the lower slopes of the holy mountain some years ago, by reposting this.

Don’t go in the men’s shower. If you do the water will stop.” Within minutes of arriving at Tirta Gangga, Bali, I’m shown the bathing area and warned.wshing cattle

The day winds down, birds become silent, bats replace swallows swooping over the rice fields, frogs start their nightly chorus, and men and women call to each other as they bathe in communal showers.

The water is from the Tirta Gangga  (Holy water of the Ganges) on the lower slopes of Gunung Agung – the 3142 metre, conical volcano that the Balinese consider the ‘navel of the world.’

Lying on cushions and gazing at the night sky I can understand why locals believe that heaven is paradise and paradise is Bali.

Of course it depends on the Bali you experience. Apart from two days in Ubud and Sanur, my Bali does not include the tourist traps of bars and cockfights – so this little village on the Indonesian archipelago feels like heaven to me.

I relax into the rhythms of the locals: early to bed, early to rise and lots of jalan jalan – walking aimlessly – and around each corner I find new and even better vistas.

My camera clicks its way through the rice fields in the various stages of cultivation: burning, flooding, ploughing, planting, weeding, cutting, threshing, and finally, drying the kernels on the sun-warmed roads. It’s here that photos of sculptured rice fields are taken for the postcards you’ll send your envious friends and family.

Tirta Gangga has grown around the Water Palace, which was built in 1947 by King Karangasem and is his final resting-place. Although the palace and pools were damaged by an eruption of the sacred mountain in 1963, it’s been restored to its past glory.

water palaceThe water in the pools flows down the mountain in a constant, cool, clear stream, and is the lifeblood of the area. Locals believe swimming in the palace pools washes away their sins and the palace grounds are the centre of activities; I attend a concert there. The extended family – of the owner of my rented bungalow – and I share a picnic of fruit (mangosteen, banana, jackfruit) and nasi campur from the local warung (foodshop) while we listen to traditional and modern music and songs.

Balinese have only four first names, translating as one, two, three, and four, and which are given to both sexes. Wayan, the housekeeper, is a great source of information about customs and language. As in most Pacific islands, the yard is swept twice daily and a layer of dirt is removed along with any stray leaf, stone or blade of grass that dares to grow. Every evening, after she has bathed and changed into a good sarong with the usual temple scarf wrapped around her waist, Wayan, often with flowers in her hair, performs a ceremony. Small offerings or gifts are given to various deities to ensure all is well for us – a combination of thanks, prayers, and pleas for protection. Incense, flowers, and rice are placed at the entrance to the property, the bedrooms and kitchen, on top of the refrigerator, in the dinning room and, of course, in the spirit-house and small temple which every home has.

Each day I walk and each day people ask “Apa kabar? Mau ke mana?”(How are you, where are you going?) Each day I reply, “ Bagus. Jalan jalan” (I’m good and just walking.)rice padi feilds

blessing the houseWandering around these beautiful hills and valley, from one village to the next I see a very different Bali to that of most tourists. I sit and watch women carrying huge loads on their heads; see fields being ploughed and rice threshed; the activity at the market; children walking to and from school and talk with the hairdresser with his bicycle hair-dressing salon on the side of the road. I also see cattle being lovingly bathed, roosters having their feet soaking in the streams to ‘strengthen their legs’, and children weeding the fields to feed the pigs.

I become part of a farewell party. Flowers are strewn over the ground, incense is burning, and the men are drinking spirits from Lombok.  Old men lead the singing and laughing exposes their betel-stained teeth.

As the cliché says- the best things in life are free – and so it is in Bali. Orange sunsets, green rice fields, a rich culture and best of all, getting off the well-worn tourist trail is still possible.

Drumming at the Rainforest World Festival

Last year I went to the Rain Forest World Music Festival in Kuching, Sarawak , Malaysian Borneo, for about the fourth time. My longtime friend, writer, and tour guide, Judy Shane, there for the first time, said ‘it was so amazing it is hard to put it in words.’

The next one is in three weeks – 13th – 15th July 2018 – so, for this years performers check out the official website

Mornings started with media briefings with a panel of artists and we were then left to explore the tribal villages, the musical workshops, and the schedule of performances. Add delicious local food and its a festival not to e missed. (Its a great stopover destination between the hemispheres too) But for me, Sarawak IS the destination.

The highlight for Judy was being part of this drum circle which I insisted she participated in – I had done so every other year and had a ball – so I just ignored her almost kicking and screaming, protesting she was ‘not musical’. She loved it! I believe it was her festival highlight .

As befitting a rainforest, two out of the three nights had a downpour and while some fans left, others danced and slipped in the mud. Next morning the international musicians commented on what a great sports the fans were and how they had never seen such enthusiastic dancing in the rain before.

We avoided the downpour by slipping into a van to go back to our room at Damai Beach Resort. While escaping into a van in the dark I had a young man sit on my knee – their drums and other instruments were taking up the rest of the van – He thought it was only fellow band members in the vehicle – I laughed, but the boy leapt out of the van with mortification – fancy sitting on an unknown Aunties knee.

This festival has thrived for two decades and is for all; young ,old, couples, families and people alone – it is the friendly festival.

Here are just a few photos from one of the drumming circles which is set in the grounds of the Sarawak Cultural Village

Water around the world – and waka, birds and mermaids

Really busy right now so instead of words here is a photo-based blog  of water from around the world – well not all over the world, just some that were already web-sized and still on my laptop.

China, India, Wellington and Christchurch, New Zealand and Florida too – which is where the mermaids are to be found.

Encounters with creatures in Udaipur, India

In India, architectural heritage is often linked to the major religions of the country: Buddhist stupas and monasteries; Hindu and Jain temples in  many styles – many share structural characteristics such as stone columns and horizontal blocks carved with sacred imagery or decorative motifs sculptures of the vast pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses are everywhere the various deities have many manifestations which becomes confusing as their names, like many Indian cities, are interchangeable.

Udaipur, Rajasthan, is a fairy-tale city with marble palaces and lakes – and I will blog about them later. In the meantime, here is a slideshow (23 pics) some of the local wildlife.

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