Travel Articles

Crazy Japanese Food Find: Placenta!

I love Japan. I lived there for five years, I speak Japanese, my wife is Japanese, I even walked a 900 mile Japanese pilgrimage twice. And yet, every time I think that I have nothing more to learn, that Japanese culture cannot shock me any further I am pleasantly surprised. Actually there is nothing pleasant about this. While I was shopping I came across the wonderfully named drink Placenta! It is no secret that the Japanese love English, not speaking it fluently, but pasting it on anything and everything to make it seem cooler. Most items make no sense and are just random words strung together. Others are more unfortunate, like the  5 year old girl in my elementary school English class who showed up wearing a t-shirt that said “Smack the Bitch and Pump the Hoes.” I’m still trying to figure out if this was supposed to be a gangster tag line or that of Read full article…

Kotor, Montenegro: undiscovered natural beauty and history

The medieval town of Kotor, Montenegro sits at the end of a placid bay that cuts deep into the surrounding limestone mountains. Often called the southernmost fjord in Europe, it is actually a submerged river canyon. Once you arrive in Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you’ll have to catch your breath before you can attempt to name the majestic scenery surrounding you. You’ll be surprised that more people haven’t discovered it. No matter where you look your senses are overwhelmed by either the natural beauty of the area and the depth of history from which the Venetian influenced town has emerged. While tourists flock to the nearby, cheesy and overdeveloped town of Budva to party throughout the summer, Kotor has managed to maintain a sense of history and tradition. There is still a nightlife to be found as delicious restaurants dot the bay’s shores and a few nightclubs rock the old town’s Read full article…

Hiking in Letnica, Kosovo: A Black Madonna, abandoned villages and the old Croat miller

The road ends at the small Kosovar village of Letnica on the border with Macedonia. The white church of the Black Madonna watches over the town from a small hill. The large church only magnifies the empty feeling of the town where only about 100 people are left. Dirt roads snake into the town in between dilapidated stone houses. Despite the abandoned air the town is surrounded by forested rolling hills, giving the area a peaceful feel. The twittering of songbirds floated through the air as we climbed the small hill to the church. If the town was ever to have a crowd we found it as four men sat outside the church socializing and taking in the surrounding views. A middle aged man reeking of raki (the Kosovar equivalent to Italian grappa) shadowed us the whole way, pleading for money and trying to be best friends the way only Read full article…

Fighting Fires in Luang Prabang, Laos

This article won the People’s Choice award from the Southeast Asian Travel Writing Competition. Thanks to everyone who voted!   No, Thank You Laos How many people can you feed with a 600 pound catfish I wondered as I walked down the deserted street in northern Laos. Somewhere, in the darkness close by, the mythical Mekong River snaked its way through the intense blackness, hiding the massive catfish and the largest population of gigantic species in the world. It was just after 9:00 PM but there was no one else on the streets. I walked cautiously, afraid to disturb the romantic stillness in the air and the humming wildlife from the encroaching jungle. I was in Luang Prabang, the ancient capital of Laos and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995. Lost to a bygone era, the French inspired Indochinese houses surrounded me, converted to coffee and gift shops but Read full article…

Experiencing Sri Lanka’s Providence- Part 2: The Ancient Buddha Rock Statues of Polonnaruwa

Called Serendib by Arab traders (the origin of the word “serendipity”), Sri Lanka has an amazing diversity for a small island and offers the possibility of experiencing vastly different climates, history, and cultures during a short vacation. In this Four Part Series I will share a glimpse of four vastly different areas of Sri Lanka that can, and should, be a part of any itinerary to the island of providence. The first part in this series explored the the East Coast city of Trincomalee and the Hindu  Koneswaram Temple. Nestled in the lush central jungles of Sri Lanka sits Polonnaruwa, the 10th century ancient capital on par with Cambodia’s Angkor Wat,  Myanmar’s Bagan, or Thailand’s Ayutthaya. The rectangular archeological site sits on the shores of the Topa Wewa Lake, slightly north of the modern day town of Polonnaruwa where you can buy your entry ticket. Crumbling palaces, dozens of dagobas Read full article…

Experiencing Sri Lanka’s Providence- Part I: Trincomalee’s Koneswaram Hindu Temple

Sri Lanka. For many people it conjures images of a strident Colombo with its pollution and bottleneck traffic, the relaxed idyllic beaches in the South and a suffocating civil war in the North and East. Quite a contrast and one that kept many people from visiting the country during the intense fighting that erupted from 2006-2009. Now that the war is over tourists are streaming into the country, filling up hotels and weighing down tour buses. Locals are also fanning out and visiting areas once considered too dangerous. Called Serendib by Arab traders (the origin of the word “serendipity”), Sri Lanka has an amazing diversity for a small island and offers the possibility of experiencing vastly different climates, history, and cultures during a short vacation. In this Four Part Series I will share a glimpse of four vastly different areas of Sri Lanka that can, and should, be a part Read full article…

Sexual Secrets of a Japanese Buddhist Temple

Japan is full of secrets hidden in plain view. To the casual observer Japan is a conservative and reserved society. Even those “breaking” with conformity tend to gather together and dress alike. But as most Japan insiders know, scratch the surface just a little and shocking secrets can come to light. I discovered one such secret while visiting a rural Japanese Buddhist temple on the island of Shikoku. While walking the Shikoku Pilgrimage, a 900 mile route which hits 88 Buddhist temples, I stopped for a rest at a simple mountain village temple in Ehime Prefecture. Sitting between Temples 65 and 66, Jofuku-ji Tsubaki-do, is an unassuming and polite temple. Precise cedar beams mirror the thoughtful manicured garden as every detail of the clean temple grounds  was carefully planned out.  Japanese temples are wonderful places that incorporate the the more mundane concerns of folk religion right alongside the loftier goals Read full article…

Diving in the Maldives…for “cheap”

“You’re going to Maldives? I’m so jealous!” Pride radiated from my blessed face as I was fawned over by hundreds (OK a few) friends as I discussed my plans. “Which resort are you staying at? Or are you going on a safari boat again?” I was untouchable as rapture and envy captivated my audience. The crowed hushed and shushed as it was clear I was about to speak. “I’m staying at the Holiday Inn.” Silence. Brains worked hard to grasp the shift in reality. I love shocking people with my travel plans, usually to war torn countries, but the Holiday Inn has so far received the greatest reaction…or maybe disappointment. Most people would rather stay in one of the lavish resorts or even use Maldives timeshare resorts, but I wanted to try something different. After a fresh dose of explanation and cajoling everyone finally agreed that a) it’s one of Read full article…

Reconciliation and Human Rights in Timor-Leste (East Timor): more to travel than just beaches and beer

When I decided to take my own advice and re-visit Timor-Leste, I didn’t expect to find myself in a dark suffocating prison. Travel is not just about beaches, bars and mountain tops; its also about learning the history of the country and its people. I am sure the 13 odd government employees I brought with me to learn about post-conflict land administration and conflict management were hoping for the former. I can’t name where the officials are from as elements of their own government might not be happy we discussed ethnic reconciliation. If you know me well, I am sure you can guess. The Indonesian era prison is actually home to a permanent exhibit on the Reconciliation process that occurred in Timor after independence, called the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR). It is tricky business getting people together to admit to crimes they committed against their neighbors, but Read full article…

How to make Singapore interesting

Every time I travel through Singapore I am disappointed. Compared to the surrounding countries Singapore is a bland wasteland of identical shopping malls and artificially created tourist attractions. It lacks the gritty cultural depth filling the cracks of its less prosperous neighbors. A bold statement? Indeed, but one backed up by countless uninspiring trips through the small city state. For the first time visitor to Asia, Singapore is a great stepping stone to getting acclimated to this diverse area of the world. But for the experienced Asia hand it can easily turn into an exercise of waiting for the water to boil as the seconds tick by and time stretches out. You may be questioning why I even bothered to go back to Singapore at all. This time I was routed through Singapore to wait for a visa while on a work trip to Timor-Leste and then Sri Lanka. As Read full article…

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