Yearly Archives: 2014

Escaping to the Mountains of Nong Khiaw

Escaping to the Mountains of Nong Khiaw

After Luang Prabang, it was hard to believe that Laos could get any prettier. But four bumpy hours north by minivan is the little town of Nong Khiaw, whose dramatic mountain scenery left us gaping. Nong Khiaw sits where two regional transport routes—a paved road and the Nam Ou river—meet. Read More

The Nong Khiaw Area in Pictures

The Nong Khiaw Area in Pictures

Stunning mountains rise above a broad river that dominates the lives of the many villagers living along its banks. What’s not to love for a photographer? Read More

Turning Laotians Into Readers

Turning Laotians Into Readers

On our first day in the town of Luang Prabang in northern Laos, we spotted a small book in a cafe that made a big impact on us. It tells the story of a local organization called Big Brother Mouse that is doing amazing work introducing Laotians of all ages to the wonders of reading. Read More

Difficult Emotions

Difficult Emotions

I admit that I knew very little about the 20th century history of Southeast Asia when we decided to come here. I’m too young to remember the Vietnam War. My history classes somehow never seemed to get much past the end of WWII. I’ve never been enough of a fan of military history to read… Read More

Everything Old Is New Again

Everything Old Is New Again

In affluent Western countries, repurposing or recycling things has become a trend in order to avoid adding more trash to landfills. In the parts of Southeast Asia that we’ve visited, we’ve also seen old objects being put to new uses, but here it’s a vital way to make existing resources go farther. Read More

Livin’ Life in Luang Prabang

Livin’ Life in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang has many claims to fame: The entire town was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1995; it was the capital of the Kingdom of Laos (and of various earlier regional kingdoms) off and on from 700 AD until 1975; and it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Laos. Read More

Kuang Si Waterfalls

Kuang Si Waterfalls

One of the major sights outside Luang Prabang (our base in northern Laos) is a beautiful series of pearly blue cascades known as the Kuang Si waterfalls. Read More

Impressions of Laos

Impressions of Laos

The Laotians have a reputation (deserved or not) for being easy-going, laid-back people, never in a hurry or working too hard. We must have absorbed some of that spirit because, although we’ve been in Laos for three weeks, we haven’t written about it yet. Read More

Phenomenal Penh

Phenomenal Penh

For someone my age, the name Phnom Penh conjures up images of a long, far-away, disastrous war. So I had no idea what to expect from Cambodia’s capital. Arriving in the dark after a bumpy, dusty 8-hour bus ride from Siem Reap didn’t offer any immediate impressions of the city. Read More

700-Year-Old Words That Still Ring True

700-Year-Old Words That Still Ring True

The only written records of ancient Cambodia that survive today are inscriptions on temple walls and the account of a Chinese ambassador, Zhou Daguan, who visited the court at Angkor Wat in 1296. Reading his descriptions of the country, its famous temples, and the everyday life of its villagers, one is struck by how much… Read More

Everyday Life in Cambodia

Everyday Life in Cambodia

Cambodians have a reputation for eating almost everything that grows, walks, flies, or swims in their country. And because this is such a fertile and well-watered land, that means a lot of different things pass a Cambodian’s lips (often accompanied by the national staple, white rice). Read More

Reflections on Thanksgiving

Reflections on Thanksgiving

Somewhere in between shopping, gorging ourselves silly on turkey and stuffing, watching parades and football, and getting quality time with our quirky extended families, most Americans use Thanksgiving to reflect at least a little on what we are grateful for in our lives. Although there are many things I am always grateful for in life,… Read More

Our Final Angkor Temples

Our Final Angkor Temples

Some 60 kilometers from flat Siem Reap, on the side of the Kulen Mountains, is one of the most remarkable ancient Khmer sites: not a soaring temple but a splashing river whose sandstone bed was carved with Hindu imagery, sanctifying the water as it flowed over the holy images. Read More

Angkor Wat: Summit of the Universe

Angkor Wat: Summit of the Universe

Like many other people, I’m guilty of using the name Angkor Wat to refer to the whole complex of ancient Khmer temples found near Siem Reap, Cambodia. But Angkor Wat is a single, specific temple—the biggest and, arguably, the best. It was built between 1113 and 1150, during the height of the Khmer empire’s power.… Read More

Life on the Great Lake

Life on the Great Lake

As we flew into Cambodia on the plane, our first impression was of a land underwater. As far as the eye could see in this flat country, there were flooded fields, swollen rivers, submerged forests, and an enormous lake. Read More

Gallery: Floating Village

During Cambodia’s dry season, the village of Kompong Khleang has a dirt road running down the middle and canals on either side, leading to the Tonle Sap lake. Like other villages, it’s surrounded by farm fields and forest. Read More

Impressions of Cambodia

Impressions of Cambodia

Cambodia, at least what we’ve seen of it so far, is a beautiful country. It’s very flat and, at this time of year, very green. Everywhere you look in the countryside, vast rice fields dotted with sugar palm trees stretch away to the horizon. Now that the rainy season is tailing off, the sky is very… Read More

Angkor Temples 3—The Towers of 200 Faces

Angkor Temples 3—The Towers of 200 Faces

Imagine a perfect square, 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) long on each side, enclosed by a wall and, outside that, a wide moat. That describes the city of Angkor Thom, which was the Khmer capital for more than 400 years, starting in the late 1100s. Although the wall and moat remain, most of the city’s buildings… Read More

A Celebration of Water and Light

A Celebration of Water and Light

Siem Reap, the town in northwestern Cambodia where we’re currently staying, is best known as a gateway to the Angkor Wat temple complex. But it has a life apart from tourists and archeological sites, and by chance, we got a great example of that during our first few days in town. Read More

Angkor Temples 2–Remains of an Early Khmer Capital

For our second real day of temple sightseeing, we went back to the early days of the Khmer empire—to the late 800s, when the capital was at a place called Hariharalaya, about 15 km southeast of Angkor Wat. Although the city’s other buildings are gone, a few temples remain, including pretty, plastered Preah Ko and… Read More

Angkor Wat in Small Doses

Angkor Wat in Small Doses

The number one thing that drew us—and most visitors—to Cambodia is Angkor Wat, a large complex of temples built by Khmer kings between about 800 and 1200 AD. At times during that period, the Khmer empire covered virtually all of mainland Southeast Asia, including much of what is now Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. Read More

Food in Bali (and How We Learned to Cook It)

Food in Bali (and How We Learned to Cook It)

Before we start posting about our current location, Cambodia, we want to finish up a few posts about our much-loved first destination, Bali, Indonesia.  One of the best parts about exploring a new place is getting to know the food. After all, we eat it three times a day, so food is a big part… Read More

Last Bali Galleries

Last Bali Galleries

One of our last sightseeing days in Bali involved a loop around the eastern end of the island, with stops in villages known for weaving and basketmaking, a place that produces very special coffee, Read More

Wonders Under the Waves

Wonders Under the Waves

Stunning as the landscapes can be, some of the most beautiful parts of Bali lie under the waves. One of the main things that drew us to this island—besides the distinctive culture—is the coral reefs. Now that we’ve had a chance to snorkel some of them, they’ve been everything we hoped for. Read More

The Other Side of Travel

The Other Side of Travel

Many of the posts we put up here focus on the things we find fascinating about where we are: interesting customs and ceremonies, historic sights, beautiful landscapes. I’m sure it’s enough to make many of you jealous! So I thought I’d write a post about the less wonderful parts of being a vagabond: Read More

Gallery: Munduk

To escape the heat of the coast, we fled inland and upward to the small mountain town of Munduk in north central Bali. There we found a beautiful guesthouse, Aditya Homestay, with a terrace overlooking the mountain valley. Read More

The Meaning Behind Names

The Meaning Behind Names

After you’ve been in Bali for a few days, you realize that you keep seeing and hearing the same given names over and over again. Once you talk to enough people (or bother to look it up), you learn that it’s because most Balinese people are named according to their birth order. Read More

Pemuteran Galleries

Pemuteran Galleries

Our second snorkeling destination in Bali (after Jemeluk on the east coast) was the town of Pemuteran on the far northwestern coast. It’s a place where mountains come almost to the sea. It’s also near the strait that separates Bali from Java, and you can see the volcanoes of eastern Java in the distance. Read More

How a Balinese Temple Celebrates Its Birthday

How a Balinese Temple Celebrates Its Birthday

While we were in Ubud, the Hindu temple across the street from our guesthouse—the temple for our “banjar” (neighborhood)—was celebrating the anniversary of its founding. This celebration, called an “odalon,” occurs every 210 days, according to the traditional Balinese calendar. Our hostess invited us to attend the multi-evening event, which is how we once again… Read More

Galleries Galore!

Galleries Galore!

We finally had some time, and a decent Internet connection, that allowed us to upload lots of new pictures (and to fix the galleries that were broken when posted before). Read More

An Art Immersion in Ubud

An Art Immersion in Ubud

Ubud, Bali, is a big enough town to allow for many different experiences: There’s the health and fitness Ubud, with yoga and Pilates classes, Reiki healing energy sessions, vegan cafés, and “detox” drinks. There’s the adventure-travel Ubud, with excursions for whitewater rafting, sunrise hikes up 6,000-foot volcanoes, and bike tours through the blazing heat. Read More

Behind the House Gates

Behind the House Gates

Much of Balinese life takes place behind the walls of family compounds. Our first two lodgings, in Denpasar and Ubud, were located in the backs of such compounds, and conversations with the (English-speaking) inhabitants helped us understand how Bali’s domestic architecture reflects the island’s traditional culture. Read More

Gallery: Kecak Dance

Ubud is a center for traditional Balinese dance, and performances take place every evening. We saw one of the most dramatic: the kecak, or monkey dance. It enacts scenes from the Hindu epic the Ramayana and combines vocal music, dance, and drama. Read More

Galley: Gunung Kawi

About 10 miles outside Ubud is Gunung Kawi, the site of giant memorials carved in the 11th century into the rock walls of a lush ravine. They’re one of Bali’s oldest monuments and are thought to memorialize a Balinese king from Java and his consorts, but historians aren’t sure. Read More

On to Ubud

On to Ubud

Our next stop after Bali’s official capital, Denpasar, was its cultural capital, Ubud. What should have been an easy trip was slowed to a crawl by traffic jams (at one point caused by a road blocked by preparations for a cremation ceremony outside a temple). Read More

Gallery: Balinese Tooth-Filing Ceremony

Our first day in Bali, on the advice of our innkeeper, we watched the early stages of an important coming-of-age ceremony at a nearby temple. The ceremony involves a ritual called matateh, or tooth filing, in which young adults have the tops of their teeth filed into a smooth row Read More

Gallery: Balinese Offerings

Bali’s version of the Hindu religion includes many rituals, the most common of which involves leaving small offerings of flowers, food, incense, or other things to various gods. Offerings are left every day on a family’s shrines, at neighborhood shrines or temples, and in front of the entrances to homes, shops, and offices to encourage… Read More

A Lucky Look Inside Balinese Traditions

A Lucky Look Inside Balinese Traditions

Our first day in Bali began unexpectedly and amazingly when our landlady mentioned that a big ceremony would be taking place soon in a community temple around the corner. So, of course, we postponed our plan to visit the national museum to check that out instead. Read More

The View From Behind the Lens

The View From Behind the Lens

In many ways, Bali is a wonderful place for photography. I’ve already gotten the chance to shoot part of an interesting and visually awesome ritual (if only I’d had my battery charged all the way…). The markets are a flood of images, from produce to flowers to street food to people carrying impossible-looking loads on… Read More

Diving Right In

Diving Right In

Bali is seen by an awful lot of people as the perfect island paradise. Beaches of all sorts—party beaches, surf beaches, resort beaches, scuba/snorkel beaches. Endless green rice paddies dotted with luxurious villas where visitors lounge next to swimming pools and platters of tropical fruits. Read More

Predawn Sounds In Denpasar

Predawn Sounds In Denpasar

Drifting between sleep and wakefulness in the early hours of my first morning in Bali, I heard a variety of sounds: car and motorcycle engines, a rooster crowing, the rhythmic swish of someone sweeping pavement with a reed broom, Read More

Our First Hours in Asia

Our First Hours in Asia

Kami di sini! We’re here, on the Indonesian island of Bali. After 35 hours in transit from the U.S., we finally reached our destination last night: a big, hard bed with very clean white sheets at the small, simple, and unaptly named Familiar Inn in Bali’s sprawling capital, Denpasar. Read More

The Past Five Years in a Nutshell

The Past Five Years in a Nutshell

In early 2008, when Melissa and I traded our settled suburban life for a vagabonding life, we hoped to do it for a long time. We had a fabulous year traveling slowly in western Europe, followed by a four-month jaunt through parts of Central America and then a four-month housesitting job in a beautiful, semirural… Read More

We’re Married Ladies Now

We’re Married Ladies Now

We’ve had lots of good days during the past five years in Washington, D.C. But one of the best was September 26, 2010, the day we legally married each other. More than one-third of states in the United States now give same-sex couples the same right to marry as opposite-sex couples, but D.C. was one… Read More

The Find of the Week

The Find of the Week

I’ve heard of ultralight backpackers who will cut off the handle of their toothbrush to lighten their load. I’m not that fanatical, but when there’s a chance to reduce the weight on my back, I’ll gladly take it. That’s why I was thrilled when Melissa found a new type of super-light, comfortable, and durable flip-flops,… Read More

What Will Be Different This Time

What Will Be Different This Time

The last time we were full-time travelers, in 2008 and 2009, the world was a very different place. The only way we could look something up online was to find an Internet cafe and pay hourly rates for dubious computers. E-mails typed hurriedly on those computers were our best way to keep up with family… Read More

Who Doesn’t Love Kittens

Who Doesn’t Love Kittens

When Melissa’s beloved 15-year-old cat, Loki, died a few years ago, we knew we couldn’t commit to getting another cat for the long term, given our vagabonding plans. But our apartment felt so quiet and empty with no little furry friends. To fill that void and to help out homeless animals, we started fostering kittens… Read More