“Happy Diwali!” the father told his daughter, who was shrieking with delight and twirling as the sparkler spouted light from her hand. They placed a firework on the ground and lit it, and a shower of sparks fountained out, bouncing off the buildings lining the narrow alley and causing everyone to duck under cover. I stayed back and watched for a spell as crackers and fireworks exploded in the sky and streets around us.
Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” — John Muir
Nestled into a lushly wooded hillside overlooking the Lang River, the Cave Lodge serves as a hub for travelers interested in caving and visiting hill tribes in Northern Thailand. From there, you can visit one of over 200 caves, trek into the hills to visit nearby tribal villages, or kayak down one of the nearby rivers.
For my first excursion with the Lodge, I went on a single day trek to a Karen village and Long Cave. The day started with a short drive up a dilapidated jungle road to what seemed like the middle of nowhere. “Everyone out!” yelled John Spies, the owner of the Cave Lodge, from the cab of the truck. We disembarked, and our guide, Pat, led us up a slippery path into the woods.
Immediately, the road seemed distant. We walked and munched on fruits and leaves which Pat found along the path, letting her show us which ones we could eat and learning about their various uses.
The first time I went to the Siam Rice Thai Cookery, I experienced the single greatest day of over-indulgence of my life. For my second visit, I expected more of the same, and I wasn’t disappointed.
As friends and family might attest, I have two remarkably hollow legs in which I can store large quantities of food. That said, a full day cooking course at Siam Rice pushes my limits, and I found myself mentally preparing for a painfully
something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.
The Chao Phraya winds through Bangkok like a serpent, muddied waters twisting through the haphazard urban sprawl before emptying into the Gulf of Thailand. The canals are lined with communities and open spaces; as we walk up, children play basketball across the water while their elders eat noodles and smoke. The throaty roar of an engine sounds and a longboat races towards the dock, pulling alongside with a swelling of water as passengers disembark. More jump on before it speeds off again, the water churned to a froth behind it.
Jeonju is famous throughout Korea as one of the centers of Korean culture and is without question the epicenter of Korea’s vibrant culinary scene. Name a Korean dish, and chances are that your Korean friends will inform you that Jeonju has the best variety of it in the country. So, with my time in Korea dwindling, I made the obligatory foodie pilgrimage to the Mecca of Korean cuisine. Here are some things you must eat in Jeonju if you make a similar trip!
Jeonju is famous for its bibimbap, a Korean dish so well-known it’s on CNN readers’ list of the World’s Top 50 Most Delicious Foods. There are many different varieties, including the creatively named Jeonju bibimbap, but my variety of choice was one with raw beef piled on top. The meat offers a nice contrast to the typically veggie-heavy bibimbap and goes down easily. When mixed, the flavors mesh well, and the dish leaves you feeling sated and healthy.
I can’t explain why it happens. Perhaps it’s due to the novelty of meeting a foreigner or just a way of breaking the ice. Perhaps it just comes down to how honest my hips are. Whatever the case, for some reason, someone usually ends up forcing me to dance at some point during a trip.
The truth is, I kind of loath dancing. Sure, when the mood hits me–whatever, but I rarely go out of my way to get in a situation where dancing is inevitable. I just get forced into it. Take, for example, that time in Tajikistan after I’d just crossed the border from Kyrgyzstan. Stranded and suffering from altitude sickness, I somehow ended up dancing ‘Tajik style’ with the border guards. In Iran, a country notorious for being ‘dry’ and conservative, I figured I was safe. I figured wrong…
We bid the day farewell before we even saw the town. Overlooking an arid valley surrounded by hills tinged in hues of rose, we watched the dying light of the sun as we relieved ourselves and guzzled piping hot tea. By the time we reached the village, it was dark.
As I mentioned in my first post about Khiva, a large part of the reason I decided to go there was Christopher Alexander’s excellent book on the UNESCO sponsored carpet weaving workshop he helped set up there. He spent seven years in the city, most of which were spent at the workshop. Throughout the book, readers are exposed to the city of Khiva, the traditional art of carpet weaving, and all the fascinating intricacies of each.
Now independent of UNESCO, the carpet weaving workshop is still functioning and open to visitors who want to come see how silk carpets are made. Unlike most attractions in Uzbekistan, admission is free. I stumbled upon the entrance while wandering past an old madrasah and couldn’t resist stepping inside. The hubbub of the traders outside faded to a murmur as I stepped into the courtyard. A woman greeted me and led me to a side room, where three girls were hard at work on a loom.
The legend goes something like this…
Arslanbob-Ata, a disciple of the Prophet Mohamed, embarked on an ambitiously vague quest to find a ‘heavenly place on Earth’. That journey led him east to a small valley in what is now Kyrgyzstan. Finding the place beautiful, but lacking vegetation, he beseeched the Prophet for assistance. He was given seeds of many kinds, including those for walnut trees. He walked into the nearby hills and scattered the gifts to and fro, planting the seeds for what would become the largest walnut grove in the world–now measuring 11,000 hectares.
By many accounts, Alexander the Great was so taken with the walnuts, he had some sent back to Greece–introducing walnuts to the Western world, where they are sometimes referred to as ‘Greek’ nuts.
Today, the town of Arslanbob bears the name of the inspired traveler, and relies on the massive walnut grove for its sustenance.
I first read about the Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan in my Lonely Planet Guide to Central Asia. A small organization, their goal is to promote adventure tourism, trekking, and the enjoyment of the outdoors. Naturally, I was eager to give them a try. I signed up for two hikes: one to Kashka-Suu and the other to Ala-Archa.
We all met in front of the Trekking Union office at my least favorite time: early. After everyone showed up, we set off; I resolved to keep my eyes open for the trip so I could see the scenery rolling past. The city disappeared quickly, the roads turned to dirt, the mountains grew larger. Rugged and capped in snow, they contrasted starkly with the crisp blue of the morning sky.
We reached the launch point for the trek and started walking. The air was so crisp and cold, I could feel my lungs celebrating the change from the city. The hills around us were brown from the roasting of the summer sun, the grass cropped short by the endless grazing of livestock. On the ridge, a herder sat by his horse, watching over his flock of sheep.
Sokcho; the last major city on South Korea’s east coast before the DMZ. It is an international port, the gateway to Seoraksan National Park, and home to a small community of North Korean refugees. Spending a full two days exploring Sokcho and the attractions around it was an awesome experience. Here is a list of four great things to do in Sokcho!
Explore Abai Village
A small island community of North Korean refugees lingers in Sokcho’s Abai Village (아바이마을). Though many residents have moved away from the tiny fishing village, a core group of several hundred remain. The island is a maze of well-preserved homes and seafood restaurants.