Backpacker Friendly

Orangutan Sanctuary: Visiting Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, Borneo

The allure of seeing orangutans in their natural habitat draws visitors from all over the world to Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, a nature reserve just 20 kilometers south of Kuching City in Sarawak, Borneo. Open all year round, the Centre is home to a colony of semi-wild orangutans and is the ideal place to spot this incredibly rare, shy and endangered species in the jungle. Started in 1975 as a sanctuary for orangutans that were injured, orphaned, or illegally kept as pets, today Semenggoh is the largest orangutan rehabilitation center in Sarawak. The Centre offers visiting hours twice a day during which guests can watch the orangutans descend from the treetops to feed. 

A BRIEF HISTORY

With their name meaning ‘people of the forest,’ orangutans only exist in two places in the world: the lush jungles of Borneo and Sumatra. Tragically, deforestation, human encroachment and habitat loss continue to threaten these amazing creatures with extinction. Semenggoh Wildlife Centre exists to conserve these animals and their habitat, while educating the public about the orangutan and their need for protection. 

Run by Sarawak Forestry, Semenggoh boasts a rehabilitation program that has been so successful there are now three generations of orangutans living in the reserve. Beginning with just 11 animals in the 1970s, each rescued between the ages of 1 and 5, the sanctuary now has nearly 30 healthy adolescent and young-adult orangutans living in a population that is so strong the park cannot introduce any more outsiders. The rehabilitation program has since moved to Matang Wildlife Centre in nearby Kubah National Park.

During their rehabilitation, the orangutans undergo training to allow for their eventual release and subsequent independence in the wild. Though they spend most of their time in the jungle, they are also trained to return to the Centre during feeding times when they can receive a free meal, as needed. Since the reserve cannot supply enough wild food for all its inhabitants, the Centre offers feedings to supplement the orangutans diet. While orangutans primarily eat fruit, they also forage for bark, honey, insects, young shoots, and occasionally bird eggs and small vertebrae. During feedings, the Centre offers bananas, sweet potatoes, coconut, papayas, pineapples, sugar cane and hard-boiled eggs.

VISITING

The best time to view the orangutans is outside of the fruiting season, which lasts from November to March, when the animals may not venture back to the Centre to feed. We visited in May, which turned out to be perfect.

The Centre is open twice a day: from 8 – 10 AM and 2 – 4 PM. This is to limit potential contact between humans and orangutans. Feedings occur from 9 – 10 AM and 3 – 4 PM. The entrance fee is about $2.50/person for foreign adults. Pro Tip: Your ticket can be used for the entire day, making it ideal to visit in the morning so that if the orangutans don’t show up for breakfast, you can come back in the afternoon for a second try.

Semenggoh is a 30 – 40 minute drive from Kuching City and is accessible by public transit. We began our morning early, but not early enough to make the 7:15 AM bus, and instead opted for an Uber ($5) which got us to the Centre 20 minutes before feeding time. On the way back, we took the bus.

Upon arrival we purchased our tickets at the main gate and walked down the long road to a small gift shop and information center housing photos and bios of each of the orangutans living in the reserve. After a quick look around, we wandered on toward the viewing platform and found a roped off path leading to the feeding area where we waited in front of a sign reading ‘Sarawak Forestry.’ Shortly after, our guide for the morning, Dominic, appeared and addressed our large crowd of about 40 people.

Dominic advised the group about safety – no eating or drinking, no flash photography, and to stay 20 feet from the orangutans at all times, and of course, to remain quiet. After the introduction we ventured down a short trail to the feeding area and secured ourselves a spot directly in front of the feeding platform surrounded by dense jungle. A staff member tossed bananas onto the platform before calling to the orangutans in a melodic tone that sounded like “aaaoooo!” several times. 

Then the mesmerizing happened: the trees began moving in the distance, limbs shook and swayed until we caught a glimpse of some large orange bodies shifting through the canopy. Two sisters born in the park, each with their baby, descended long ropes to the platform to gather bananas. The ropes allow the orangutans to swiftly and easily access the feeding platform and return to the trees to eat, rather than having to move from tree to tree to get there and back. This also provides visitors with great viewing and photo opportunities. We saw Analisa, the first orangutan to be born in the park, and her young baby, and Saddamiah with her 3 year old, Ruby.

The orangutans moved deftly and quickly through the trees, at once strong, fluid and incredibly acrobatic. It was an immense joy to see them traveling through the jungle, so close to us, yet at a safe distance. Once happily fed, the orangutans departed, disappearing back into the thick forest. In all, we saw them for about 30 – 40 minutes.

By the end of the hour, only a dozen or so spectators remained. At that point, our guide, Dominic, shared with us which orangutans we had seen along with their ages, all information we wouldn’t have known had we left early.

While park staff is eager to usher everyone out after feeding, the reserve is also home to a botanical garden, a crocodile habitat, and other rare animals including the giant squirrel, pigmy squirrel, gibbons and a variety of birds. Those who arrive early may have a chance to spot some of the other flora and fauna the sanctuary has to offer.

ENJOY YOUR VISIT!

Having a chance to view orangutans in the wild was an incredible experience, and one we will never forget. Their grace and majesty is truly awesome to behold. We highly recommend a visit to Semenggoh Wildlife Centre where each ticket sold helps support orangutan conservation.

Visiting: The Ice Castles

Tucked into the base of the White Mountain National Forest are NH’s Ice Castles, an acre of hundreds of thousands of hand-placed icicles aglow with LED lights, creating a maze of dreamy frozen canyons, tunnels, squeeze passages, slides, fountains, sculptures, icy thrones, and more. The experience is one of 6 across North America, and the only one of its kind in the Northeast.

Now in its 6th season in NH, visitors can take a horse drawn sleigh around the property, fly down a tandem ice luge slide illuminated by pulsing rainbow lights, and warm up around controlled fire pits with hot cocoa and sweet treats.

The Ice Castles can be found in the following cities: North Woodstock, NH, Dillon, CO, Excelsior, MN, Lake Geneva, WI, Midway, UT, and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

This fun and beautiful attraction is a wonderful way for families, couples, and friends to celebrate the magic of winter.

Tips for Long-Term Backpacking on a Budget: Part I

Padar, part of Komodo National Park, Indonesia

Each New Year brings with it a welcome refresh, and the excitement of new experiences, relationships, and destinations. Will you be traveling to new vistas this year? We know there’s lots to think about when planning a long trip abroad – passports, visas, finances, gear, health, and just plain traveling all the time – especially when backpacking on a budget. The lightness of your pack is freeing, adding more weight to each item brought along, while you collect stories and insights throughout the journey to carry back with you.

This is the first of two articles sharing some of the tips, tricks and hacks we learned along the way through research, mistakes, and experience during our travels in South East Asia. Here we’ll cover planning your trip, transportation, accommodations, and health and wellness.

 

BEFORE YOUR TRIP

US Passport Know Stone Unturned

Passports & Visas: Make sure your passport is up to date well in advance of your trip. Express passport renewal services exist but they’re more costly. Find more information on getting or updating a U.S. passport here.

Some countries require Visas for any length of stay, while others may allow you to visit for anywhere from 1 – 3 months before requiring a Visa. You can determine what countries require Visas by visiting their embassy websites. We used the Department of State website which lists a ton of relevant information by country, including Visa requirements, vaccinations, travel advisories and other tips.

chuttersnap-348304-unsplash.jpg

Onward Ticketing: If like us, you’re vision of long-term travel is one of freedom and openness without having every destination pre-planned, you should know that you will often be expected to have an onward ticket when entering any foreign country. We learned this in the wee hours of the morning at Boston International Airport on our way to Indonesia. Eager to get to Bali and expecting to decide where we’d travel next from there, we discovered that we would not be able to board our plane without proof of our onward destination. This applies to anyone flying internationally with a one-way ticket. For the airlines, your onward ticket is proof that you won’t be staying in a country beyond the time allowed, which is often 30 days. We booked a flight from Bali to Phuket, Thailand, on the spot for just under a month after we would arrive in Indonesia. Crisis averted. Thus armed with the knowledge that we would always be at risk without an onward ticket, but still not wanting to pre-plan our entire trip, we discovered an onward ticketing website that offers a solution to this problem. The site allows users to rent onward tickets for $10 with their names on them to use as proof for the airlines. We used it once or twice, and always with success.

Marry Me Bali Know Stone Unturned

Choosing Your Gear: This was one of the most agonizing decisions we made leading up to our trip, but the amount of research put in more than paid off. We both chose Osprey backpacks: the Farpoint 40 for Nikki and the Porter 46 for Chadley. Those numbers correspond to the volume of each bag, measured in liters. We brought packing cubes to condense our belongings and organize our packs, and day pack Osprey bags for everyday living (these bags are super light and fold up into a neat little ball for easy packing when not in use). Nikki also brought a cross body purse, Chadley brought a Martin Backpacker guitar, and both of us took along sealable waterproof bags, just in case. They came in handy. 

Bali Know Stone Unturned

Pack Light: Less is more, especially in a hot region! Not only will schlepping too much stuff cost you at the airport (see below), but you’ll want to have room to take some special trinkets home with you, including new threads. We saw lots of folks dragging rolling suitcases in the most unlikely places, and even met a backpacking couple with a huge rolling suitcase they called their souvenir bag. You really only need to pack enough clothes for a week or so. (Soap isn’t that hard to find) Ultimately, it’s good to remember whatever you bring with you is what you have to carry, and lift into the overhead bin.

TRANSPORTATION

belinda-fewings-977695-unsplash.jpg

Your Baggage Weight Matters: We tried to take our bags with us as ‘carry-on’ every time, and usually we were successful. Once however, we had to pay nearly $100 (more than the plane ticket) to have 2 backpacks checked at the last second, because they weighed too much. While we were used to baggage size requirements in the US, in Asia there are also strict weight limits. As your travels go on your bags tend to get heavier. Go to your airline’s website to find out their weight requirements and check your bag online in advance if needed, it’s much cheaper. However if you are able to travel with only carry-on sized bags, you can reduce costs, and more importantly the risk of being separated from your bags.

Bagan Know Stone Unturned

International Driver’s License: It’s good to look into this if you plan to drive a car or even a motorbike abroad. Getting caught without a valid license by local police could cost you precious time and money you’d rather spend elsewhere. We drove motorbikes without the license and didn’t have any problems, but we were advised by locals to avoid police ‘traps’ on a few occasions.

yifei-chen-354761-unsplash.jpg

Expect Chaos at Airport Taxi Stands: The moment you leave an international airport pretty much anywhere, you will likely be bombarded by taxi drivers wanting to give you a lift. This can be overwhelming if you’re not expecting it. If you are expecting it, it’s much easier to hold your ground, choose the right transport for you, and get the price you can afford. Be confident and take your time. Don’t let anyone rush you into a decision. Extra tip: Look up the standard cab rates in the city you’re traveling to before you get there. If you forget to do that, this information is often in the back of your in flight magazine.

ACCOMMODATIONS

Eden Hotel Bali Kuta

Search Multiple Booking Sites for Accommodations: There are often different deals at different times for many hotels and hostels across platforms. We used Agoda, Orbitz, HostelWorld, and AirBNB primarily. And check the hotel website you’re interested in, too. Technology changes, but the concept of perusing multiple websites for the best deals will remain.

Serenity Eco Guesthouse and Yoga Bali

Where to Stay: We typically stayed in hotels, hostels, and occasionally AirBNB’s that cost between $15 and $25 a night, with a preference for $15 - $20/night. In South East Asia this was most often achievable. We looked for the following in a place to stay: breakfast included, private room with ensuite bathroom, walking distance to attractions yet outside of the hustle and bustle of ‘town,’ WiFi, and a pool if not near the beach. Note: Staying in the shared room at a hostel will run you much less than a private room anywhere, and can be as little as $5 - $10 per night. This is a great way to stretch your funds while meeting lots of new people at the same time.

HEALTH & WELLNESS

Charcoal Powder

The Dreaded D: Bali Belly, Montezuma’s Revenge, traveler’s diarrhea, whatever you call it – nobody wants it, but almost everyone gets it. Pack activated charcoal and/or clay tablets for a gentle remedy. This always worked for us. That said, if your condition persists, take something stronger and consider heading to the doctor.

anna-pelzer-472429-unsplash.jpg

Avoid Raw and Uncooked Veggies: Unless you know your salad greens were washed in purified water, that super looking health salad might be setting you up for a day or several in your hotel bathroom in some countries. When in doubt, opt for cooked meals.

rawpixel-687066-unsplash.jpg

Drinking Water: In some countries its best not to drink the tap water without boiling it first to avoid illness. If this is the case, you can take further precautions by not opening your mouth in the shower, and brushing your teeth with filtered water. Pro Tip: Most countries with water sanitation issues use filtered ice, but if you’re unsure whether the ice in your drink is clean, just ask.

Ko Lanta Boat Thailand

Motion Sickness: We're not into pharmaceuticals, but if you’re prone to motion sickness, pack some Dramamine. Rule of thumb, if you hear from other travelers that the route ahead is nauseating – believe it. Nobody wants to be the one person barfing on public transportation all the way to your next destination. Trust us. Additional things that help – Fishermans Mints can calm the stomach, but they are not a solve all.

rawpixel-780506-unsplash.jpg

First Aid: It’s always good to pack a first aid kit, especially if you’re planning on some adventurous hikes. Here’s what was in ours (italics indicate those items we actually used during our travels): band aids, tweezers, alcohol wipes, antibiotics, anti yeast medication, Dramamine, activated charcoal, goldenseal/Echinacea pills, probiotics, melatonin, turmeric pills, solar powered battery charger, hydration pills, anti-diarrheal medication, heavy duty insect repellent, organic insect repellent, feminine products, and sunscreen. These last two items can run you a pretty penny depending on the country, so you might opt to bring them with you. 

hyttalo-souza-1074680-unsplash.jpg

Vaccines: Depending on where you’re traveling, you may face some mandatory vaccinations. A quick look at the US CDC website per country will help you determine this, along with all the recommended vaccines, which can seem like a long and scary list. Other than what’s mandatory (nothing for where we traveled in South East Asia) the rest of the recommended vaccines are really a personal choice. We opted with two of the plethora of options available - Hepatitis A and Typhoid - and got our shots at Passport Health, which is available in most major cities internationally.

Good to Know: We paid out of pocket because our health insurance would not cover any of the recommended vaccines. If you have great health coverage and it won’t cost you an arm and a leg to get yours at your primary care doctor, obviously opt for that. Passport Health was a good service with kind and knowledgeable staff. We went in Boston, MA, just 24 hours before our flight. Also note, some vaccines require multiple doses over a period of several weeks or months. Do your research in advance so you know what’s required. Regarding insect borne illness – yes, the threat of malaria, and other mosquito born diseases is scary, but unless you’re going to be in the deep jungle trekking for weeks this is probably not a huge issue for you. We bought heavy insect repellent, but never used it and regretted bringing it along. Passport Health gave us a comprehensive booklet with detailed worldwide health information, including what seasons would be worse for certain diseases, as well as the regions affected. All this said – to each their own. Please remember we are not doctors and this is not medical advice.

ENJOY YOUR TRIP!

Elephant Nature Park Chiang Mai Thailand

Long-term backpacking is wondrous, life changing, and often a once in a lifetime experience. While traveling on a budget can be challenging, the experiences you’ll have will far outweigh the difficulties. In the next article we’ll share our tips on budgeting and finances, insurance, identity theft, technology, equipment, and adjusting to long-term travel.

Where are you going this year? Let us know in the comments!

GUIDE to Visiting Angkor Wat Archeological Park, Cambodia

Siem Reap

On the outskirts of Siem Reap, Cambodia, lies Angkor Archeological Park, home to the relics of the Khmer Empire’s once thriving ancient city consisting of hundreds of temples spread across 154 square miles of jungle and farmland.

Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire, which thrived from the 9th to 15th centuries, and may have supported over 1 million people. UNESCO declared the archeological park a World Heritage site in 1992, and considers the remnants of this once great civilization to be one of the most important archeological sites in Southeast Asia.

For many Cambodians and Buddhists, the temples remain sacred places of worship, but no matter your faith, these relics will move you with their undeniable soul.

Here’s what it’s like to visit. (Click on the headers below for a detailed review of each temple.)

RECAP: GETTING THERE, RULES & REGULATIONS, WHAT TO BRING

  • Visa On Arrival – Many foreign travelers will need to obtain a Visa On Arrival when traveling to Cambodia. No prep work or applications needed. Simply fill out the appropriate form at your port of arrival, wait in line, have your passport stamped by an immigrations agent, and carry on your way.

  • USD is the Official Tourist Currency – USD is the expected cash currency at all sites, restaurants, hotels, etc. Only fresh, unmarked and recently issued bills are accepted.

  • Dress Code – The temples are active places of worship, requiring respectful and appropriate garb. Women and men are expected to cover their shoulders, and legs should be concealed past the knee.

  • Get Your Pass – Passes can be obtained at the main archeological museum for 1, 3, and 7 days. Pass purchases are cash only with fresh US notes. Proper attire is required. The pass is a photo ID that you will have to present at each temple entry point, and it will be stamped each day it’s used.

  • Tuk Tuk’s – Hiring a tuk tuk driver to take you to the sites near Siem Reap costs about $20/day. With this fee you are hiring a private driver to wait for you at each site and take you to your next destination. Tuk Tuk’s to further destinations, like Banteay Srei and Kbal Spean, will cost about $40/day. Check with your driver in advance.

  • Biking – You can bike to Angkor Wat from Siem Reap and the surrounding area, but keep in mind the possibility for extreme heat, and that you’ll be required to bike through downtown Siem Reap to get there.

  • What to Bring - Sunscreen, your pass, water, camera, snacks, handkerchief, hat or parasol, US cash (small bills a plus).

  • Tour Guides – Tour guides can be very helpful if you’d like to dive into the history at each site. If you only have the cash to spring for a guide once, we recommend doing so at Angkor Wat or Angkor Thom to get the most bang for your buck. Look for guides from the tourism department. They’ll be in uniform with official tourism patches and badges. A two-hour tour at Angkor Wat costs about  $15, plus tip. 

We purchased a 3-day pass, which was good for 10 days, allowing us to spread our tour over a week, giving us plenty of time to rest up in between our temple days. If you have the time to spare, we recommend this approach. Visiting the sites is incredible, and exhausting. Make sure to hydrate and relax in between! 

DAY 1: ANGKOR WAT AND TA PROHM

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat, meaning ‘temple city’ is the main attraction at Angkor Archeological Park. Built in the 12th century by Suryavarman II as the king’s state temple and capital city, Angkor Wat, which was originally dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu, was transformed into a Buddhist temple in the 14th century, and remains an internationally relevant Buddhist site today. When the Khmer Empire left Angkor in the 15th century to build a new capital, Angkor Wat remained one of the only temples that was never fully abandoned. Historians believe this is the reason it has remained so intact. Its large moat added further protection by prohibiting the jungle from reclaiming it. French explorer Henri Mouhot introduced the site to westerners in the mid-1800s.

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm has been left much in the condition in which it was found by westerners in the 1800s, and is one of Angkor’s most famous jungle temples. Overgrown with enormous trees, the temple has largely merged with nature making it a mystical sight to behold. Built in the late 12th and early 13th centuries under King Jayavarman VII as a Buddhist monastery and university, the temple was famously brought back into the spotlight by the 2001 film Tomb Raider.

DAY 2: ANGKOR THOM AND PREAH KHAN

Angkor Thom

After Suryavarman II’s death and the ransacking of Angkor Wat by Khmer enemies, King Jayavarman VII moved the capital to Angkor Thom in the 12th century where under his reign the present day ruins were built on the same site as a former Khmer capital. Angkor Thom houses the famous and widely recognizable Bayon temple, or temple of 1,000 faces, featuring over 200 gigantic blissful faces topping 37 towers. The old city is also home to the royal palace, the temples Baphuon and Phimeanakas, the Elephant Terrace, and the Terrace of the Leper King. This walled city is believed to have supported 80,000 – 150,000 people at its height. 

Preah Khan

Like Ta Prohm, the jungle is steadily re-claiming Preah Khan, and features incredible feats of crumbling temples supporting the growth of enormous trees with roots that have become part of their foundations. Built in the 12th century under King Jayavarman VII to honor his father, the site was a combination of city, temple and Buddhist university serving as a hub for nearly 100,000 officials and servants, including 1,000 teachers and another 1,000 dancers. The temple is built on the site of Jayavarman’s victory against the invading Chams in 1191. It’s modern name, adapted from the original, means ‘holy sword.’

Surrounded by a moat, the temple is built in a flat style with successive rectangular galleries gathering around a central Buddhist sanctuary. Like it’s neighbor, Ta Prohm, it has been largely unrestored, allowing the jungle to slowly overtake it.

DAY 3: BANTEAY SREI, KBAL SPEAN, AND PRE RUP 

Banteay Srei

Built from striking red sandstone and lined with well-preserved intricate and elaborate carvings, Banteay Srei is unlike any other temple in Angkor Wat Archeological Park. Located 16 miles northeast of the main Park, visiting Banteay Srei and its surrounding sites is a worthy commitment.

Known colloquially as The Pink Lady Temple and The Lady Temple, Bateay Srei is a 10th century temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and is the only major Angkorian temple that was not built by a monarch. It is most famous for its color, its small size, and equally miniature yet mightily impressive artwork. 

Kbal Spean

A jungle trek into the Kulen Hills will lead you to Kbal Spean: an archeological site of river carvings leading to a sacred waterfall. The site’s famous reliefs were carved by hermits into the naturally formed sandstone of the riverbed and its banks between the 11th and 12th centuries under the reign of King Suryavarman I, and King Udayadityavarman II. The site is also known as the ‘valley of 1000 lingas,’ and the ‘river of a thousand lingas,’ for the many lingas carved there (lingas are the phallic symbol representing the Hindu god Shiva). The Siem Reap River, which flows over the sacred lingas into Angkor, was believed to bless the city. Many other Hindu gods are also featured in the carvings. When the water table is low, the carvings are visible in a 150-meter section of the river in the middle of which is a naturally formed sandstone bridge. They stretch to a waterfall where visitors can bathe and be blessed beneath its spring.

Pre Rup

Overlooking the countryside and surrounding jungle, Pre Rup glows with a lovely reddish hue in the hours near sunrise and sunset due to its brick, laterite and sandstone construction. Aligned with a north south axis, this temple is dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva. Locally believed to have been a mortuary, Pre Rup was built as a state temple under King Rajendravarman in the 10th century in the temple mountain style that is characteristic of many of the Angkorian sites.

GOOD TO KNOW

  • Handling Solicitation – The moment your tuk tuk arrives at any location expect to be approached by men, women and children looking to sell you anything from pants to guide books, postcards and trinkets before your driver can even park. When inside the sites, you may meet locals asking for donations, and encounter park staff or even police officers that will offer to take your photo in exchange for a ‘tip.’ The best way to handle these situations is a simple, brisk and sometimes repeated no thank you.

  • Temple Fatigue is Real – There is so much to see at Angkor Wat that it could easily take a month to dive into all the details of each of these ruins. Don’t try to do it all. Rest when you need to and call it a day when you’re ready. Though many people begin their tour at Angkor Wat as early as sunrise and trudge through the rest of the day in the heat, we opted to start between 8 and 9AM and wrap up by closing, which was perfect for us. The amount to see can be over-stimulating. We recommend taking time to just sit and be in those spaces, really commune with it. You may see a little less, but you’ll likely feel more. Pro Tip: We visited in March, one of the hottest times of the year, and noticed that the heat of the afternoon drove away much of the masses allowing us to enjoy several temples with very few other visitors. A real treat!

ENJOY YOUR VISIT!

These are the kinds of places that stir the heart and the imagination, that strike us not only with their awesome beauty and gateway to spirituality, but with their undeniable humanity that gives us pause by daring us to look at ourselves, where we’ve come from, where we are, and where we are headed as a global people.

Visiting: Pre Rup, Cambodia

Siem Reap

Pre Rup was the last temple we visited on our epic three-day tour of Angkor Wat Archeological Park. We arrived near sunset after spending the majority of the day in the Kulen Hills touring Banteay Srei and Kbal Spean. The brick, laterite and sandstone construction made this temple glow with a lovely reddish hue as the day neared its end, and we enjoyed the beginnings of a sunset from the top of the temple, overlooking the countryside and surrounding jungle. 

A BRIEF HISTORY OF PRE RUP

Aligned with a north south axis, this temple is dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva. It was built as a state temple under King Rajendravarman in the 10th century – as early as 961 or 962 AD. Pre Rup’s construction is in the temple mountain style that is characteristic of many of the Angkorian sites, consisting of several outer walls leading to towering temples at its core. It was the second temple to be built in Angkor after the Khmer capital was returned to Koh Ker.

The temple’s name is relatively modern and translates to mean, “turn the body.” This is in reference to the common Cambodian belief that the temple was a hosting site for funerals, during which the body’s ashes were ritually turned in several directions throughout the services. 

ENJOY YOUR VISIT!

After a long day of temple touring, visiting Pre Rup was markedly relaxing. There were very few tourists when compared with the other sites we visited, allowing time for us to sit still and be. If you’re looking to capture this temple’s rosy pigment, keep in mind that Pre Rup shines its brightest in the hours near sunrise and sunset, making this site a perfect beginning or ending to your day or tour.

 

SNAPSHOTS

Visiting: Kbal Spean, Cambodia

Siem Reap

About 16 miles northeast of the main Angkorian ruins is Kbal Spean, a jungle trek into the Kulen Hills to an archeological site of river carvings leading to a sacred waterfall. We visited after touring Banteay Srei in the same area, also known as the Pink Lady Temple. Being a bit farther out of town, and costing more to get there, Banteay Srei and Kbal Spean are often paired together as a day trip. Visitors can also take a tour at the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity, which lies at the foot of the trail to Kbal Spean.

A BRIEF HISTORY

Tucked into the jungle, Kbal Spean is famous for its relief carvings made into the naturally formed sandstone of the riverbed and its banks. Carved into the rock by hermits between the 11th and 12th centuries under the reign of King Suryavarman I, and King Udayadityavarman II, this site is also known as the ‘valley of 1000 lingas,’ and the ‘river of a thousand lingas,’ for the many lingas carved there. Lingas are the phallic symbol representing the Hindu god Shiva. The Siem Reap River, which flows over the sacred lingas and into Angkor, was believed to bless the city. 

Yonis representing the Hindu goddess Shakti in the feminine symbol of fertility and genitalia are also represented. Many other Hindu gods are also featured in the carvings, such as Vishnu, Brahma, Lakshmi, Rama and Hanuman.

After the monsoon season when the water level begins to drop, the carvings are visible in a 150-meter section of the river in the middle of which is a naturally formed sandstone bridge. They stretch to a waterfall where visitors can bathe and be blessed. The site was ‘discovered’ by westerners in 1969, but exploration was halted by the Cambodian civil war. The site reopened for safe visits beginning in 1989.

WHAT IT’S LIKE TO VISIT

We found ourselves at the trailhead to Kbal Spean after a 20-minute tuk tuk ride from Banteay Srei and eagerly headed in. We walked leisurely through the jungle, taking about an hour to reach the falls, stopping now and again to watch a troops of ants, and linger in a grove of tall trees where monkeys shrouded by leaf cover high above ate fruit and spit pits down to the ground. We trekked barefoot on the soft red earth over roots and rocks, a path tread for centuries, watching a rainbow of butterflies float by in singles and pairs while listening to monkeys hoot and tropical birds call until we reached the lingas at the rock bridge. Two dogs – a three-legged puppy and its mother – greeted us.

We were lucky that it had rained heavily the night before, uncommon for March leading up to the rainy season, making the falls full and cleansing, and carrying the rush through the forest. Hot and sticky from a jungle hike in jeans, it was both exhilarating and joyous to cleanse beneath the clean and powerful falls that had been blessed by the age-old lingas. Vines draped over the falls trickling droplets of water. It truly felt like a hidden oasis.

Good to Know: Throughout our time at Angkor Wat we quickly discovered that pretty much anyone who offers to take your photo for you expects to be paid in return. At Kbal Spean, a park staff member accompanied by a young boy followed us the whole way from the lingas to the waterfall continually offering to take our picture, and encouraging us to take off our clothes and get into the waterfall. Though we repeatedly declined, the ranger hung around for quite a while. It was a bit uncomfortable to feel like we were being watched, but he eventually left allowing us some peaceful moments alone at the falls. 

ENJOY YOUR VISIT!

Kbal Spean is a unique site at Angkor Wat Archeological Park taking visitors out of the city to enjoy the Cambodian countryside and its abundant nature. After several stiflingly hot days of touring the park’s busy temples, it was wonderful to get away from the crowds and play in the falls!

 

SNAPSHOTS

Visiting: Banteay Srei, Cambodia

Siem Reap

Built from striking red sandstone and lined with intricate and elaborate carvings, Banteay Srei is unlike any other temple in Angkor Wat Archeological Park. Located 16 miles northeast of the main park, visiting Banteay Srei and its surrounding sites is a worthwhile commitment. Beginning at 8AM, the hour long drive on the back of a tuk tuk through the Cambodian countryside was both beautiful and eye opening, revealing at once the country’s picturesque pastoral landscape, and its poverty.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF BANTEAY SREI

Banteay Srei, known colloquially as The Pink Lady Temple, and more simply, The Lady Temple, is a 10th century temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. It is the only major Angkorian temple that was not built by a monarch. The site was ‘rediscovered’ in 1914, and first restored in the 1930’s.

When compared with the rest of the Angkorian sites, which are very large in scale, Banteay Srei’s construction seems miniature; making for a relatively quick visit.

Though widely known as ‘The Lady Temple’, and fabled to have been built by women, the translation of Banteay Srei means ‘citadel of the women’ or ‘citadel of beauty’ likely referring to the delightfully complex carvings and devatas, or female deities, they portray.

Sadly, the temple has suffered a great amount of theft and vandalism since the early 1900s targeted mostly at its statues, causing the Cambodian government to remove some of the statues and replace them with concrete replicas.

BEYOND THE TEMPLE

Being a smaller complex than the other major temples we visited, Banteay Srei felt the most crowded. It’s good to know that tour groups quite literally arrive by the busload at all of the historical sites. Having patience with the crowds is critical, and is how we got many of these shots!

We enjoyed perusing the pink temple and marveling at the incredibly detailed and very well preserved works of art that still line its walls today.

After our tour, we sat down to listen to The Landmine Victims Band (a common sight in tourist sections of Siem Reap), which played traditional tunes. One man even used a leaf as a kazoo!

We then strolled the grounds surrounding the temple, which led to a broad and secluded open field. On our way back, we encountered two young girls attempting to sell us various items. When we politely refused, one tried to snatch something out of Chadley’s pocket. Though this was the first and only time we faced potential theft along our travels, it is a cautionary tale. As a general rule, visitors are discouraged from buying wares from children, as this practice perpetuates systemic poverty.

Good to Know: While renting a tuk tuk and driver to motor us around the main Archeological Park was only $20 a day, trekking out to Banteay Srei and the surrounding area cost double. Though $40 for such a day trip is pretty standard (you can always try to negotiate for a lesser rate), we did not have the foresight to discuss the day’s cost with our driver in advance. Nor did our driver reveal the steep price hike until the morning of, when he approached us with a few other drivers to inform us of the price increase. Blindsided, we reluctantly agreed, which put a damper on the morning and our relationship with the driver, to say the least. Though we felt initially swindled, our research later revealed that this wasn't such a bad deal. Regardless, we highly recommend negotiating such things in advance to avoid any confusion.

ENJOY YOUR VISIT!

Banteay Srei’s rosy relics offer something different from the rest of Angkor Wat, revealing a side of Khmer art and culture that cannot be seen anywhere else.

 

SNAPSHOTS

Visiting: Preah Khan, Cambodia

Siem Reap

When exploring Preah Khan you are immediately struck by the majesty of trees, for they are just as impressive and monolithic as the structures that root them, creating a mystical atmosphere that is this temple’s very own.

Like the Angkorian temple Ta Prohm, the jungle has steadily re-claimed Preah Khan. Yet there appears to be a symbiotic relationship in how the trees embrace the ruins, their roots growing around columns that would otherwise be crushed by their mammoth weight, and instead of crashing through the roofs they stretch around corridors, becoming an integral part of these incredible relics.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF PREAH KHAN

Preah Khan was built in the 12th century under King Jayavarman VII’s rule to honor his father. Once a hub of nearly 100,000 officials and servants, the temple is built on the site of Jayavarman’s victory against the invading Chams in 1191. It’s modern name, adapted from the original, means ‘holy sword.’

At its height, the site was a combination of city, temple and Buddhist university housing 1,000 teachers and another 1,000 dancers.

Surrounded by a moat, the temple is built in a flat style with successive rectangular galleries gathered around a central Buddhist sanctuary. The temple has been largely unrestored, allowing the jungle to slowly overtake it. Clearing of brush and other vegetation was undertaken from 1927 – 1932, and The World Monuments Fund has maintained the site since 1991.

The largest of all the trees rooted amongst the temples are of the spung variety, with roots resembling elephant trunks. They’re even hollow! Their appearance throughout the ruins is quite magical.

We visited Preah Khan in the late afternoon in March, which proved to be a quiet time with very few crowds.

ENJOY YOUR VISIT!

At Preah Khan, visitors get the sense the jungle is not simply engulfing, but honoring this treasured temple. It is a place where ancient history lives both in defiance and harmony with the nature.

 

SNAPSHOTS

Visiting: Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Bayon Angkor Thom

Siem Reap

Angkor Thom is the largest and one of the most historically important sites to visit at Angkor Wat Archeological Park. With its name translating to “Great City,” it’s easy to see why. Established in the 12th century as the capital of King Jayavarman VII’s Khmer Empire, this 9 square KM relic is believed to have supported a population of 80,000 – 150,000 people at its height! It’s home to the former king’s royal palace, the famous state temple, Bayon, also known as the Temple of a Thousand Faces, and many other important Khmer monuments from King Jayavarman VII’s reign, his successors, and predecessors.

It’s easy to get lost, literally and figuratively, in the majesty of these ruins as you walk the path of the many before you who lived, worked, played and prayed behind the walls of this once great empire. 

Bayon Faces

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ANGKOR THOM

Though originating in its present form in the 12th century under King Jayavarman VII, the city dates back three centuries earlier when another Khmer capital stood there. A few temples remain from that time, including Baphuon and Phimeanakas, which was later included in the royal palace site.

In order to enter Angkor Thom, visitors must pass beneath its impressive gates adorned with the famously serene Bayon-style heads, which face each of the cardinal directions.

One of the city gates to enter Angkor Thom.

One of the city gates to enter Angkor Thom.

The city is surrounded by a moat and 8 meter high wall, with many roads entering and exiting crossing over bridges decorated with balustrades depicting larger than life human figures carrying the body of the Naga, a seven-headed snake guardian.

Angkor Thom also features a multitude of pristinely intact limestone bas reliefs. These incredible works of art line the walls at Bayon, the Elephant Terrace, and the Terrace of the Leper King, depicting stories and poems of ancient Hinduism, as mixed over the centuries with Buddhism, historical events, day-to-day scenes, and the region’s local flora and fauna.

Bayon

BAYON

The most famous and widely recognized temple at Angkor Thom is Bayon. Here, visitors walk amongst and beneath towers topped with more than 200 gigantic blissful faces, argued to have been designed either to resemble King Jayavarman VII himself, or the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokitesvara. Where there were once 49 towers, today, 37 remain.

Angkor Thom’s main gates at each of the cardinal points all lead to Bayon at the center of the city. Like Angkor Wat, Bayon is built to resemble Mount Meru, with the city’s walls and moat interpreted to represent the outer lying mountains and ocean. The temple is primarily maintained by the conservation organization JSA (Japanese Government Team Safeguarding of Angkor).

Bayon

Bayon is one of Angkor Wat’s most visited temples, and the number of people at this site can be overwhelming. Featuring out-of-this-world photo opportunities, we felt at times that it was difficult to linger and simply marvel at the temple’s beauty without sensing that someone else was waiting for us to hurry up and move out of their shot. This feeling was strongest on the upper level where visitors can come eye to eye with Bayon’s majestic faces. Eventually, we found a quiet place above the crowd where we weren’t in anyone’s way and could truly enjoy the serenity the space has to offer.

The Royal Palace

The Royal Palace

THE ROYAL PALACE

After our visit to Bayon, we headed to the Royal Palace, and from there intended to go to the Terraces. We trekked up and down the incredibly steep and narrow steps spanning four levels of the Royal Palace, at the top of which we enjoyed some truly fabulous views. At the back of the palace a reclining Buddha has been reconstructed from stones.

Somehow after this, we got lost, and ended up taking a detour down an unmarked path through the jungle that we thought was a short cut…It ended up at a field of cows. Oops!

“Hidden” bas reliefs at the Terrace of the Leper King

“Hidden” bas reliefs at the Terrace of the Leper King

TERRACE OF THE LEPER KING

Eventually we found our way back to the Terraces and first visited the Terrace of the Leper King, or Leper King Terrace. The site is named after a statue found there in the 15th century depicting Yama, the Hindu god of death. The statue was later dubbed the Leper King because of its discoloration, and it’s growing of moss, resembling someone with leprosy. This new name also fit with a Cambodian legend about a king with leprosy. Hence, the Terrace of the Leper King.

While it might seem like the statue is the main attraction here, we discovered a small labyrinth of incredible bas reliefs on either side of the stairs leading to the terrace’s platform. Don’t miss the hidden walls! This was one of the coolest parts of this terrace, featuring gorgeous and well-preserved artwork. It was also quite literally the coolest part: you can hide away from the sun and heat behind the walls!

The Elephant Terrace

The Elephant Terrace

ELEPHANT TERRACE

Onward, we continued to the Elephant Terrace, which as aptly named, features several walls held up by carvings of elephants. Though these carvings are well worn today, they still resemble pachyderms. 

This terrace is a platform from which King Jayavarman VII would view his victorious army returning home. It was also used during public ceremonies, and as the king’s grand audience hall.

The top of the Royal Palace

The top of the Royal Palace

ENJOY YOUR VISIT!

There is plenty more to see at Angkor Thom than the four sites we explored, which took us nearly an entire day beginning at 9 AM! So plan for your visit to be lengthy, and savor every moment in this surreal and historical space!

 

SNAPSHOTS

Visiting: Ta Prohm, Cambodia

Siem Reap

Roaming the temple complex of Ta Prohm makes you feel like an old world explorer whose come upon this ancient site while trekking through the jungle. Around every corner, through every doorway and down every hall you find the duality of growth and decay. Enormous silk cotton ceiba trees emerge from the walls and roofs of temples, wrapping their roots around something that once was. Piles of rubble decorated with intricate carvings lay beside edifices both destroyed and reconstructed, withstanding the test of time.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF TA PROHM

On the outskirts of modern day Siem Reap, Ta Prohm was built in the late 12th and early 13th centuries under King Jayavarman VII as a Buddhist monastery and university dedicated to his mother. Though many of the temples of Angkor were built in the ‘temple pyramid’ or ‘temple mountain’ style, such as Angkor Wat, Bayon, and Pre Rup, Ta Prohm was built in a flat style: a series of five rectangular nesting walls enclose a central inner sanctuary.

Also unlike most of the temples of Angkor, Ta Prohm has been left much in the condition in which it was found by westerners in the 1800s due to the magic of how it has merged with the jungle over time. The site has been conserved and restored by both the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme-Orient, and the Archaeological Survey of India. The temple was famously used in the film Tomb Raider in 2001, returning it to the international spotlight and cultivating mass appeal.

Consequently, it is one of the most visited temples of Angkor due to its awe-inspiring setting. Surrounded by jungle, the crumbling temples have literally grown trees, giving visitors the feeling they are discovering a hidden treasure.

Like all of the popular Angkorian archeological sites, expect to see many other tourists, but know there are also plenty of opportunities to find yourself alone as you wander these magnificent ruins.

ENJOY YOUR VISIT!

Ta Prohm evoked something deep in our core. It reminded us of the simultaneous transience and timelessness of life, to enjoy what we have, to be present and grateful for the ability to travel across the world and stand in the heart of such a potent site, a place that one day, like all things, will return to its source.

 

SNAPSHOTS

Visiting: Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Siem Reap 

One of the great things about travel is getting outside yourself and everything you know by becoming immersed in all things foreign – language, culture, food, landscape, people, religion, and so on. It’s about becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable, shaking up our routines and throwing ourselves into the unfamiliar. And what better way to do that, to reconnect with our deepest selves, our history, and humanity than by visiting some of the most impressive ruins this world has to offer: Angkor Wat?

On the outskirts of what is now known as Siem Reap in Cambodia, the relics of the Khmer Empire’s once thriving ancient city and temple complex attract thousands of visitors daily, making it Cambodia’s top tourist attraction.

For many Cambodians and traveling Buddhists, the temples remain sacred places of worship, but no matter your religion, Angkor Wat and its accompanying archeological sites will move you with their incredible history, artistry, presence and soul. To stand in Angkor Wat you are at once humbled by thoughtful, living architecture surviving the Khmer Empire, and elate with wonder like a fascinated child yearning to learn more. 

GETTING THERE

  • USD is the Official Tourist Currency – Having some US cash on arrival is a plus, but if you don’t, there are plenty of ATMs and banks where USD can be easily obtained. It’s important to note that only fresh bills are accepted (they must be unmarked and recently issued). So save those crumpled and ripped dollars in your wallet for another destination.

  • Dress Code – The temples remain places of worship for many, and you can be denied entry for wearing inappropriate garb. Women and men are expected to cover their shoulders and their legs past the knee.

  • Get Your Pass – Passes can be obtained at the main archeological museum for 1, 3, and 7 days. Pass purchases are cash only with fresh US notes. Proper attire is required, and visitors can be turned away for improper dress. The pass is a photo ID that you will have to present at each temple entry point. It will be stamped each day it’s used.

  • Tuk Tuk’s – Hiring a tuk tuk driver to take you to the sites within the main archeological park (ie - near Siem Reap) costs about $20/day. With this fee you are hiring a private driver (picture a motorbike pulling a cart) who will wait for you at each site and take you to your next destination. Alternatively, you can bike to Angkor Wat and the surrounding area, but do keep in mind the possibility for extreme heat.

  • What to Bring - Sunscreen, your pass, water, camera, snacks, handkerchief, hat or parasol, USD (small bills a plus).

TOUR GUIDES

As soon as you arrive, you are likely to be greeted by would-be tour guides. If you’re interested in hiring a guide for any of your temple visits, Angkor Wat should be first on the list, as it is considered the most important temple complex of the ancient empire, and therefore will set the stage for most of what you’ll see afterward, providing some context. Our guide, Thomason, was from the tourism department. Look for the guides in uniform with official tourism patches and badges. A two-hour tour with lots of precious photos taken by our guide was only $15 plus a well-deserved tip. In our opinion, it was more than worth it.

We were in awe to sit on the steps of the King’s Library

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ANGKOR WAT

Angkor Wat, meaning ‘temple city’ is the main attraction at Angkor Archeological Park, consisting of hundreds of temples spread over 154 square miles of jungle and farmland. Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire, which thrived from the 9th to 15th centuries, and may have supported over 1 million people!

The entirety of Angkor was a hydraulic city with a complex water management system used not only for irrigation, but also to stabilize its architectural foundations by preventing groundwater from getting too high or low. UNESCO declared the archeological park a World Heritage site in 1992, and considers the remnants of this once great civilization to be one of the most important archeological sites in Southeast Asia. Angkor Wat is such an important symbol to Cambodians it even appears on the national flag.

Built in the 12th century by Suryavarman II as the king’s state temple and capital city, Angkor Wat, which was originally dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu, was transformed into a Buddhist temple in the 14th century, and remains an internationally relevant Buddhist site today. The complex is unlike most other Khmer temples in that it is oriented west instead of east, likely in reverence to Vishnu, who is associated with the west. The temple features five towers in the image of Mount Meru, the legendary home of the Hindu gods, along with a series of enclosing walls and moats representing mountain chains and the ocean. The temple is aligned with the spring equinox, during which the sun rises directly over the central tower. Throughout the rest of the year the sun travels up and down the western entrance gate. The temple incorporates many other examples of advanced mathematics, astrology, astronomy, and numerology – all evidence of the Khmer Empire’s expansive knowledge.

After Suryavarman II’s death and the ransacking of the area by the Khmer’s enemies, King Jayavarman VII, moved the capital to Angkor Thom and restored Angkor Wat. When the Khmer Empire left Angkor in the 15th century to build a new capital, Phnom Penh, near the coast, Angkor Wat remained one of the only temples that, while neglected, was never fully abandoned. Historians believe it has remained much intact for this reason, and because of its large moat, which stopped the jungle from reclaiming it.

In the mid-1800s French explorer Henri Mouhot successfully exposed Angkor to westerners, drawing comparisons to the pyramids of Egypt, thereby popularizing the now internationally treasured archeological site. 

ENJOY YOUR VISIT!

We humans are explorers at heart. Visiting Angkor Wat and the surrounding archeological sites awakens this part in us, stirring a place in the soul that craves exploration and a deeper connection to the earth and our ancestry. It is a reminder that our world, our existence, and our history are at once mysterious and mystical, opening our eyes, as travel often does, to new ways of seeing.

 

SNAPSHOTS

Ubud, Bali – Where to Eat, Play & Stay

Indonesia

Ubud is a bustling city in the heart of Bali, abuzz with merchants and markets, temples, spas, yoga studios and retreats, co-working spaces, health food, arts, culture and innovation, all surrounded by some of Bali’s greatest natural attractions. The city has become a haven for travelers, especially yogis and digital nomads, and is really a must visit when in Bali. Below are some of our favorite places in and around Ubud, with our travel tips learned along the way.

 

Getting There

Ubud is inland and situated in the southeastern part of the island, only an hour from the major airport in Denpasar, and the same distance from Canggu by car (where we stayed prior to our visit). Though the drive can be upwards of an hour and a half during rush hour. Growing up driving in New York and Boston, we have to say that traffic in Bali is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. Narrow and winding streets not built for the volume of traffic they currently support, many without traffic signals, flood with motorbikes and cars during the heaviest commuter times. The jostling stop and go of such a drive can be nauseating. Best to pack some anti-nausea precautions. We were always stocked on Fisherman’s Friend mints, which did the trick 95% of the time (and they’re pharmaceutical free, yay!). Nausea aside, we enjoyed the scenic ride through villages and forests on the way to the city once leaving the populated seacoast.

 

Where We Stayed

Chadley singing songs on the balcony at Bisma Jaya.

There are hundreds of hotels, bungalows, hostels, AirBNB’s and guesthouses to choose from in Ubud, which can be a bit overwhelming. We pored over accommodations until we discovered Bisma Jaya on AirBNB, a relatively new guesthouse that was almost too-good-to-be-true affordable, with a pool, free breakfast, a secluded, jungle feeling yet within walking distance to all the city has to offer. Most notably, it’s just a 10-minute walk to Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, one of our main draws to the city.

We stayed at Bisma Jaya for about a week and loved it. We were lucky to have the guesthouse almost entirely to ourselves and enjoyed spending hours every day writing and playing music on our balcony overlooking the lush gardens backed into thick jungle. The location was even better than expected, truly tucked away from the hustle and bustle, yet right in the center of it.

Good to Know: After booking our stay we received a message from the owner through AirBNB saying she couldn’t accept payments through the site, and asked us to cancel our reservation. Through a series of messages our stay was guaranteed and we arranged to pay in cash on arrival. We were a bit nervous about the potential for misunderstanding, but our fears quickly dissipated when we met the friendly guesthouse manager, Made. However, to avoid this confusion, we recommend sending the guesthouse a direct message through Facebook to book a room.

 

Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary

The Monkey Sanctuary is home to 600 feisty Balinese monkeys, also known as long-tailed macaques. This sacred swath of forest is protected by a local village, features several ancient and active temples, and fantastical sculptures. It was so much fun to coexist with the monkeys for a few hours in their surreal surroundings. Read more about our visit to the Monkey Sanctuary here.

Tegallalang Rice Terraces

A 25-minute drive outside the city lies a Unesco World Heritage site: the lush and storied rice terraces of Tegallalang. Like the Sacred Monkey Forest, this is a busy tourist attraction, but large enough to find solitude. We felt transported to another place and time as we strolled through an intersecting maze of picturesque and tranquil rice paddies where a traditional form of agriculture has remained intact for over 1,000 years. After wandering up and down this vibrant valley we made our way to one of the many restaurants overlooking the terraces to sip on fresh lime infused coconuts before catching a cab back to our hotel. We enjoyed a pleasant ride through the rural outskirts of the city passing farms, temples and villages. Take a look at our article on what it’s like to visit Tegallalang.

  

See a Kecak Fire Dance

The modern Kecak Fire Dance has evolved from traditional trance rituals that feature an acapella male chorus. The dance was adapted in the 1930s by German artist Walter Spies, who was living in Bali at the time. Spies tailored the Kecak Dance to Ramayana, a Hindu epic poem that depicts the struggle of a divine prince rescuing his wife from a demon king. Kecak itself has been historically performed by groups of 150 or more men wearing traditional checkered Balinese sarongs repeatedly chanting ‘cak’ while carrying out a synchronized dance. It has roots in an exorcism trance-inducing dance called sanghyang. The first women’s kecak group began in 2006.

The dance is performed at temples throughout the city every week. You can even see it at the old palace downtown. We caught one at a nearby temple and were blown away by the hypnotic acapella paired with the fluidly orchestrated dance. The costumes were also original, depicting larger than life characters like a white monkey king. And of course, the finale in which one of the dancer’s kicks flaming coconut shells toward the audience was a thrill all its own. We highly recommend checking out this one-of-a-kind, affordable cultural experience.

  

More Local Jams

Below are a few extra tips to guide you through this electrifying city.

  • Yoga, Yoga, Yoga – Ubud is a yogi haven with an abundance of styles, studios and retreats to choose from. Way too many to count, with more are cropping up all the time. For a recent review of the city’s myriad of yoga studios check out this list by the Never Ending Voyage.

  • Green School Bali – Ubud’s Green School is a non-profit, K-12 private and international school focused on sustainability from its curriculum to the physical space. Travelers can make an appointment to tour the school and even apply to volunteer.

  • Hubud – There’s a ton of innovation happening in Ubud, which draws digital nomads from all over the world. Across the street from the Monkey Sanctuary, Hubud is a busy co-working space that’s open 24-hours and fully equipped for getting work done, including access to printers, meeting space, private rooms, a small kitchen, café, and a lovely green patio. Take a peak at their promo video for a look inside.

  • Kopernik – We sat down with Kopernik’s Chief Strategy Officer to learn about what this non-profit is doing to improve the lives of people in poverty. With products ranging from solar lights, to eco-friendly stoves, and water purification systems, Kopernik is helping people in the most remote regions of the planet through technologies that focus on energy, water, sanitation, agriculture, fisheries, health, education and women’s economic empowerment. Check out their work to learn about all the people they’ve reached. If you’re looking for even more inspiration, this video is for you.

  • Atman Kafé – Absolutely, one of our favorite restaurants in Bali! With careful attention to clean, healthy, delicious food, Atman Kafe's enormous menu is filled with organic, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free goodies (they have meat, too). In Hindu philosophy, Atman means inner self or soul, and is defined as the spiritual life principle of the universe. True to it’s name, Atman Kafé definitely felt like it was on another level of awareness. We adored the watermelon salad, falafel beet balls, decadent smoothies and butter coffee.

  • Hike Mt. Batur – Mount Batur is an active volcano an hour and twenty minutes north of Ubud that’s famed for sunrise hikes.

 

Reality Check: Avoiding ‘Bali Belly’

What sounds kind of cute is actually an unpleasant right of passage many travelers endure in foreign lands, the dreaded stomach bug. A simple rule: don’t eat raw fruit or veggies washed in unfiltered water. We made a point of eating at health centric restaurants that boasted washing their salad greens in purified water, but the slightest slip up can really cost you! Takesumi activated bamboo charcoal and clay tablets work wonders for both avoiding and treating the symptoms. We cannot recommend these natural remedies enough. They were so effective we never had to use the heavy pills we brought along “just in case.”

  

Enjoy Your Visit!

It seems there’s something for everyone in Ubud, from the gorgeous rice terraces of Tegallalang, to taking in a fire dance, walking with primates in the Sacred Monkey Forest, or discovering the plethora of shops, restaurants, yoga studios and co-working spaces that make this city so exciting to explore.

Visiting: Ko Lanta, Thailand

Photo by Majestic Bar

Thailand’s coast conjures visions of calm, turquoise waters, white sand beaches lined with palm trees, and exotic islands offering beach bungalows, cheap drinks and delicious food. But which is right for you? This was the question we asked ourselves as we readied for a trip to the Thai islands. Though we had heard plenty about Phi Phi, Ko Pha Ngan, and Ko Samui, it wasn’t until we stumbled upon a glowing review of Ko Lanta that we felt we had found the island just for us.

Klong Nin Beach, Ko Lanta

WHY KO LANTA?

Ko Lanta is famed for its long, quiet beaches overlooking the tranquil waters of the Andaman Sea, its gorgeous sunsets, chill vibe, and refreshingly undeveloped shores. A short boat trip from Phi Phi, or a van ride from the mainland, Ko Lanta is popular with couples, families and expats looking for some distance from the party scene. While those who seek it can still find nightlife, Ko Lanta’s wild landscape is its real draw, and a beacon to those who value the healing power of nature.

GETTING THERE

Ko Lanta Yai, also known as Ko Lanta, is the larger of twin islands off the west coast of Krabi Province. Ko Lanta Noi, the smaller, less populated of the two, is closer to the mainland. These islands along with fifty others comprise Mu Ko Lanta National Park, offering exploration, boating, snorkeling and scuba diving adventures. Ko Lanta used to be quite difficult to reach, but a bridge completed in 2016 connecting Noi and Yai has improved accessibility.

We traveled by boat (on a backpackers budget) from Phuket, Thailand, and booked our trip through Phuket Ferry, paying a few extra dollars for a shared ride from our hotel to Rasada Pier (much cheaper than taking a taxi).

On the way.

Our 4-hour trip from 'Phuket to Lanta’ started by sailing directly into a storm. But by the time we approached Phi Phi where we were to change vessels, the sun had emerged to shine brightly onto the island’s mystical limestone cliffs and azure waters. As we approached Maya Bay, however, the rain returned forcing us to surrender as it soaked our luggage, and us, while changing boats. Despite the sudden downpour, we made our connection and for the rest of the journey enjoyed the scenery, watching the densely forested Ko Lanta Noi and Yai, each lined with a mix of pine and palm trees, come into view. We passed a long sand bar leading to the mainland, under the newly built bridge, and with our bags in tow, climbed to shore at the colorful Saladan Pier.

Saladan Pier.

While onboard, we had arranged a shared ride to our new digs, and after paying our entrance fee to the island ($2 each), shuffled into the back of a covered pick up truck with eight others, piling our luggage on the floor between us. At Klong Nin Beach (or MOO 5 on Google Maps), we exited the truck onto a dirt road and headed for our bungalow already knowing we had made the right choice.

 

LET THE FUN BEGIN

 

TRANQUIL WATERS

Much of our time on Ko Lanta was spent soaking up rays, swimming in the gentle sway of the Andaman Sea, and talking for hours while we played in the waves. We ran, did yoga, and took long walks on the beach exploring the coastline. It felt wonderful to just be. Listening to the rock of the waves was so relaxing, and at night we occasionally glimpsed glowing fish and plankton as they wove through dark waters.

Good to Know: At times we thought we were being stung in the water, but never saw any evidence of stinging sea creatures, nor did we emerge with any marks or adverse effects. After a hard rain, the sensation disappeared for the rest of our stay.

 

EXPLORE KO LANTA BY MOTORBIKE

We’d read ahead that another of Ko Lanta’s highlights is its fresh pavement. Despite being relatively undeveloped, motorists can enjoy easy cruising on straight, smooth roads that roll up and down the island’s hills, making it simple and fun to explore.

We rented a motorbike for just 200 Baht (about $6), and filled the tank to the brim for less than another $5. Then we were off to eat lunch at a precariously perched cliff side restaurant, discover hidden beaches, gorgeous views, and some of the island’s natives: monitor lizards and naughty macaques.

 

SNORKELING AT THE NATIONAL PARK

We enjoyed a lovely day of snorkeling Koh Ha and Ko Rok at three locations in Mu Ko Lanta National Park, plus lunch on the beach and a fun boating experience. For a view into our day at sea, check out our snorkeling article and video

Koh Ha

 

WHERE WE STAYED

We fell in love with Ko Lanta, and ended up staying for twenty glorious days. The first half of our trip was spent at The Hut, a group of rustic bungalows directly across the street from Klong Nin Beach found on AirBnB for $15 a night. Run by a French and Thai couple, Pat and Louise were wonderful hosts who made good company and truly helped us when we were in need (like chasing down our bank card after it was eaten by an ATM at 711).

Our bungalow was cute and simple with an adorable porch adorned with a festive hammock. The interior was sparse – a bed, mosquito net, and bathroom – but you don't need much to be content on Ko Lanta. Though we did miss AC on hot nights, the room came complete with a ceiling fan. Some more plusses: the Internet was great and Louise’s home cooked Thai dishes were delicious. We often sat in the open-air restaurant working at bamboo tables sipping smoothies or iced coffees and petting Pong, the resident dog, and his cat friends before heading to the beach in the afternoon. (We worked while we traveled.)

Good to Know: A nearby mosque delivered calls to prayer on loudspeakers throughout the day beginning at dawn and even on the beach. It was strange at first to hear chanting coming from the palm trees, but easy to get used to. Helpful to know if you're a light sleeper!

The Hut Lanta.

After extending our stay at The Hut, we eventually caved to our desire for AC and moved down the street to Lanta Nature Beach Resort where we snagged the cheapest room they had for about $25 per night. The hotel had 50 rooms compared with The Hut's 10, certainly making it less personal, but our room was at the back of the property close to the jungle, which created a feeling of privacy, and our AC worked great. The hotel’s beach access, restaurant, small pool, and rooms spread across both sides of the main road created a nice ambiance. We loved eating breakfast overlooking the beach and dipping into the ocean between bouts of work at the hotel restaurant. An added bonus was booking a day of snorkeling directly through the hotel.

Lanta Nature Beach Resort

 

FOOD & DRINK

We spent most of our time on Klong Nin Beach, which offered a variety of restaurants, bars and shops. These were our favorites around the neighborhood:

Majestic Bar – With lawn chairs on the beach offering ocean views of gorgeous sunsets, Majestic Bar had tasty drinks and the longest happy hour of the restaurants we visited. The staff was very sweet and always welcomed us when we returned. The bar doesn't serve food, but partners with the restaurant next door, which delivers snacks and meals to your table while you dip your toes in the sand. Get there early for prime seating.

Rasta Baby – Overlooking the beach, Rasta Baby had happy hour specials at sunset, tasty margaritas, live reggae on Friday nights, and a cozy, cool atmosphere featuring pillows on the floor, tiny bamboo tables and buoys hanging from the ceiling. The bohemian shop in front offered beautiful handmade bags, crystal and shell-adorned necklaces, clothing and more.

Richey’s – Also on the beach, Richey’s had great Thai dishes that were some of the cheapest on the water. The atmosphere was warm and had more of a family vibe.

The Monkey Buziness Cafe – This cute café selling coffee, tea, ice cream, sweet treats and some savory dishes has outdoor café seating decorated with vintage coffee bags and a store inside selling locally made crafts. The Old School Iced Coffee was our favorite.

 

CONCLUSIONS

Ko Lanta was so much better than we could have ever imagined. It was the perfect island get away, and one of the most relaxing places we’ve been.

Have you visited to Ko Lanta? Tell us what you thought!

 

SNAPSHOTS

Snorkeling in Thailand: Koh Rok & Koh Ha

Thailand’s shoreline is known for its picturesque ivy speckled cliffs and gemmy aquamarine tide ideal for water adventures like scuba diving and snorkeling.

During a month long stint on Ko Lanta, an island in the Andaman Sea off of Krabi in eastern Thailand, we experienced an unforgettable day of snorkeling at Koh Ha and Koh Rok, part of Mu Ko Lanta National Park (comprising the southern tip of Ko Lanta and several small nearby islands).

A strip of Ko Lanta's shoreline.

Walking up and down Klong Nin Beach, our stomping grounds for the month, we discovered a plethora of tour companies offering snorkeling and scuba packages of all varieties almost everywhere we turned, each featuring day trips, overnights, and a seemingly inexhaustible list of islands to choose from for an excursion.

After doing our own research, we identified Koh Ha as our top choice for a day on the sea: a group of five limestone islands jutting out of the ocean to form an aqua lagoon, and booked a tour of three snorkeling locations, including lunch at the national park. The full day out cost 1,800 Baht each (about $55 a pop) and was absolutely worth it.

The strait between Koh Rok Nok and Koh Rok Nai.

Our package explored Koh Ha and Koh Rok, consisting of the islands Koh Rok Nok and Koh Rok Nai, which are popular for their shared crystal clear strait, the potential for sea turtle sightings, and spotting large monitor lizards patrolling the shore.

Have a look at our video for a view into the adventure, and read on for more details about our tour followed by snapshots at the end of this article.

Our tour began early, with our bright green boat (as advertised in the brochure) set to pick us up on the beach in front of our hotel at 8:00 AM. But as things sometimes go in life, the boat was late and the pick up turned out to be farther down the beach than we were told (lost in translation?), but we made it.

Once aboard, the boat began to immediately experience engine trouble causing us to turn back to shore where we waited for the crew to complete the necessary repairs: about 45 minutes. Some guests left during this time, but we didn’t mind sitting on the beach waiting it out. Meanwhile, the friendly captain assured us that the crew would extend our trip, affording our group the same amount of time at the islands as promised during booking. This turned out to be exactly as he described and we enjoyed a full day out on the water. When all was fixed, we returned to the boat and headed toward Koh Rok.

Two of the cliffs comprising Koh Ha.

The speedboat took about an hour splashing over the waves, and soon we were sailing between the tree-covered islands that form Koh Rok's lagoon. Eager to get underwater, our caravan of 15 jumped in to explore what the site had to offer. We dove two different points, swimming amongst tropical fish, a group of small clear squid, over colorful, textured coral patches and spiny sea urchins waving in the current.

We stopped for a pre-prepared lunch on the island, which also offers camping, and enjoyed more snorkeling off the beach, reveling in the opal waters, and digging our toes into the most powdery sand we’ve ever felt.

The national park at Koh Rok.

After lunch, we were back on the boat ferrying to Koh Ha for more snorkeling amongst beautiful plant dusted cliffs jutting out of the sea. A protected cove roped off to warn ships from entering offered sightings of more tropical fish, enormous clams, coral reefs, and bright blue and pink starfish.

An hour or so of fun and play later, our troop piled back into the speedboat and shipped off to Ko Lanta with satisfied smiles on our faces, arriving back at our hotel just before sunset.

A boat moored at Koh Ha.

This journey into the ethereal, mysterious and otherworldly universe of the sea remains one of the most memorable during our travels in Asia. It’s these kind of experiences that can deliver a renewed perspective and awe for the ocean, its incredible creatures, the importance of this ecosystem, and the diversity it contains.

 

SNAPSHOTS

Visiting: Big Buddha Phuket, Thailand

It was our first morning on the island when we noticed Big Buddha serenely overlooking the landscape. Gazing out our hotel window sipping instant coffee and taking in the palm covered hillside decorated with villas, restaurants, shops and a turquoise slice of Kata Beach’s half moon cove, we looked up at the behemoth Buddha while listening to the morning breeze that carried sounds of chirping birds, vehicles cruising the active roadside, and the mix of languages being spoken in the hotel lounge.

When looking into the area, Big Buddha hadn’t appeared in our research. Intrigued, we wanted to know more, and agreed to make an adventure out of hiking to the monument and scenic viewpoint.

Big Buddha's silhouette.

The bells to the right each dangle a heart inscribed with prayers in many tongues left by visitors.

A quick visit to the website offered some basic information and a brief history.

Entry is free and the site is open everyday from 6AM – 7PM.

Though construction began as early as 2006 the project was still in the finishing stages (as of our visit in 2017). Despite visible construction materials, the site offers outstanding panorama views from every angle, featuring, of course, a stunning 45-meter marble and jade Buddha seated atop the peak of Mount Nagakerd.

The back entrance to Big Buddha's interior.

A smaller 12-meter high glimmering gold Buddha serves as a replica for the larger statue and can be found beside its big brother. A path through the bottom of Big Buddha allows visitors to walk through and take a look inside.

At the base of the site is a traditional temple where monks can be found partaking in daily rituals and interacting with visitors. Being an active religious site, it’s good to know that guests, especially ladies, are expected to cover up shoulders and legs.

We had scarves that served this purpose, but shawls are provided and available for sale on site if needed at one of the plethora of shops offering souvenirs to take home with you.

Have a look at our video below for a walk through of Big Buddha.

If you'd like to know where we stayed in Phuket, learn about our adventurous hike, and peruse our gallery of snapshots (at the end of this article), please read on.

 

GETTING THERE

Relaxing on Kata Beach.

The drive from Phuket International Airport in a shared van with 15 other travelers to our hotel took about two hours stopping intermittently at each passenger’s accommodations. While this isn’t the fastest or most luxurious way to travel, it only cost about $6 per person, which makes it all worth it when you’re on a budget.

 

WHERE WE STAYED

While planning our trip to Asia we had always envisioned visiting Phuket, Thailand’s famed tropical resort laden island, a bridge away from the mainland, and a jump off to the country’s myriad of dreamy emerald islands, each with their own charm.

This was the second stop on our six-month journey overseas following a month in Bali, Indonesia. After pouring over reviews of Phuket’s beaches and hotels, we decided on Kata Beach on the southwest side of the Island. We arrived in February during the dry season and enjoyed remarkably flat teal waters. Generally speaking, Thailand doesn't have a lot of surf. Despite that, Kata Beach does have some of the surf culture we were looking for in a place to stay.

On a backpacker’s budget, we admittedly struggled to find a hotel with the amenities we wanted within our price range. That is, until we found Boondaree Home Resort through AirBNB, tucked away from the tourist center offering both ocean and mountain views.

For about $20 a night we enjoyed a private room with en suite bathroom, a pleasant view, free and reliable Wi-Fi, free coffee, a fridge, a tiny pool, and a quiet place to get work done within walking distance to town. While the hotel is on a very busy street, it's less than a thirty minute walk through sleepy back roads to the beach, and 10 minutes walking distance to nearby restaurants. The staff at Boondaree was super friendly and helpful, too. (A note of reference: all the hotels we looked at with similar amenities near any beach were at least double the price per night.)

 

OUR TREK

Let's Go!

While it seems most drive to Big Buddha we decided to hike for adventure and exercise.

We didn't have cell service at the time, and identified our route using Google Maps (the screenshots below were the road maps that guided us). Others who’d made the journey recommended leaving early to avoid walking during the hottest part of the day, but not being the earliest of risers we left at about 10AM. Hindsight is 20/20 and we can see now we would have been more comfortable if we heeded the advice.

It's important to know that Phuket is a developed city experiencing increasing growth, more so than we expected. Our hotel was on a steep and busy road not well suited for pedestrians. No sidewalks, just a little slice of asphalt on either side of the street littered with trash and broken glass.

Sunscreened, donning sun hats, sun glasses, sneakers, and carrying back packs filled with water and scarves, we started out on our hike. Motorists honked as they passed, some hoping we'd hire them for a ride, others simply alerting us to their presence. But once set out on our pilgrimage, we were determined to complete it.

The day grew hot fast as we walked the twisting highway that crossed the island from east to west. In a particularly narrow section passing a cliff side, we walked along a cement guardrail, enjoying the view of the other side of Phuket

The view from Mount Nagakerd.

After about forty minutes of trekking when the road started to dip downhill we began to wonder whether we were lost, and turned into a hotel restaurant to use the Internet and take a break from the heat. While sitting at the covered outdoor café, we watched a cat try to catch a stork (the stork prevailed), and consulted our map over watermelon juice and spring rolls.

At the end of the hotel’s driveway was a security shack that guarded a small road leading up the mountain. All signs pointed that we were to go that way. So we did.

The quiet street lined with fancy villas felt like a scenic road compared to the bustling highway, and soon, the asphalt met with a dirt path heading straight into the jungle. Now, this was the “hike to Big Buddha” we had in mind!

We forged ahead through a narrow trail along a steep cliff overlooking the east side of Phuket and Phang Nga Bay peaked with forested islands. Built into the hills, we passed both small shelters made of tin and boards, and abandoned half-built luxury homes. Orange and purple butterflies danced around us avoiding florescent black and yellow orb spiders perched in intricate webs.

We anticipated passing an elephant camp along the way, but were nonetheless arrested by the sight of a beautiful Asian Elephant walking toward us on the path, her mahout (trainer) on her head and tourist on her back. This was our first encounter with an elephant in our travels, and we found ourselves taken aback by both her majesty and plight. We stopped and waited, watching the elephant suck water from a small puddle on the side of the road and spray it under her belly to cool off. We continued on, passing two more elephants on a tourist trek, one with all of her four legs bound in chains.

Exiting the short and quiet forested segment of our walk, we came to an intersection with a winding road going straight up and down the mountain. To either side were outposts featuring young elephants. One juvenile that was harnessed to the ground by a chain on the side of the road paced and pulled at its fastened leg, only ceasing when tourists gave him a banana. In the opposite direction heading toward Big Buddha a baby elephant paced in a pen. We were offered to feed the baby, but declined.

*The cruelty inflicted on endangered Asian Elephant’s by the elephant tourism industry is well documented, and as such we do not condone elephant riding whatsoever. This is a complex issue, and in many cases both elephants and people are forced into bad situations that cause pain for both parties. If you want to interact with elephants in Phuket, please consider giving the power of your dollar to an elephant sanctuary like Elephant Nature Park's project, Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, the first ethical elephant sanctuary in Phuket.

 

ARRIVING AT BIG BUDDHA

Up and up the mountain we climbed for at least an hour more passing restaurants and viewpoints, until finally we came upon the entrance. Once inside, we took our time exploring the complex and catching some gorgeous views before making our way up the imposing set of steps to greet Big Buddha himself.

When finished exploring the main attraction we visited the temple, and finally found a cozy bench to sip some cold coconuts before heading back to Kata Beach, stopping along the way for a late lunch overlooking the sea.

Nearing the top of the massive set of steps leading to Big Buddha.

The walk was easier on the way back thanks to knowing the way and what to expect (going downhill helped, too!), along with our self-made agreement to finish the journey without any griping. Inspired by Big Buddha, we made an effort to simply be in the now, to accept what is – whether pleasant or unpleasant – and enjoy these little moments.

By the time we reached Boondaree after 5 hours of walking through the heat we were exhausted and slightly dehydrated, but also gratified. We had overcome a physical exercise, an exercise in faith when we doubted our way, and an exercise in patience. And back at the hotel, after a fun and memorable day of exploration, the tiny swimming pool awaited us.

 

SNAPSHOTS

Visiting: The Tegalalang Rice Terrace in Ubud, Bali

Indonesia

Tegalalang is a dreamy delight. Just 25 minutes outside of busy Ubud, emerald rice fields cascade from parallel slopes into a lush, rich valley, transporting visitors back in time. The pace of life slows down here once you dip off the main road that overlooks the terraces, which comes well stocked with taxis, tour buses, restaurants and shops.

With your back to the modern age, the countryside feels vibrant and alive in a place where man’s relationship with the land is the same today as it was over 1,000 years ago. The gentle flow of the subak, a traditional Balinese irrigation system, provides a soothing backdrop of trickling and bubbling that blends into the ethereal and picturesque landscape, providing a serene experience to its visitors.

 

The Subak System

Subak Tegallang Rice Terrace Ubud Bali

Tegalalang relies on subak, an irrigation system built on Tri Hita Karana, a Hindu philosophy focusing on how humans can maintain a harmonious relationship between themselves and fellow man, their environment, and spirituality in daily life.

The subak system of cooperative water management obtained through the use of canals, tunnels and weirs is a cultural landscape consisting of five rice terraces and their associated water temples spread across 49,000 acres. The system, which comprises egalitarian and democratic farming practices, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the 9th century. Not only does it support a dense population, subak is so effective that it makes the Balinese the most successful rice growers in Indonesia.

 

Getting There

Tegallalang Rice Terrace Ubud Bali

From the center of Ubud, traveling to Tegalalang should take 20-30 minutes, depending on traffic. If your driver knows the scenic route through the farm country it will mean a shorter and much for pleasant ride for you.

Uber is available in Bali for a much cheaper rate than the typical taxi fare, but like anywhere where Uber is transforming the marketplace, taxi drivers abhor it. If you choose this option, note that your driver will want you to be as discreet as possible so as not to draw the cabbies’ ire. We booked our driver from a restaurant and waited inside until he was about to arrive. With Uber, we paid about $3 to get to Tegalalang, and double that on the way back to our hotel by taxi.

 

Entrance Fees

Bamboo Bridge Tegallang Rice Terrace Ubud Bali

There’s no entrance fee to Tegalalang, but you will be expected to pay a donation of a few thousand Indonesian Rupiah at various check points manned by local farmers across the terraces in order to continue on your journey. This is to help support the system, upkeep bridges, and so forth. We saw a few travelers putting up a fight about the small fees, but to put it in perspective, 10,000 Rupiah is less than one U.S. dollar. Considering the amazing work being done and how much foot traffic Tegalalang absorbs per day, this is a small price to pay. (Note that you’ll only be asked to pay on your way up and across the terraces, not on your way down.) We spent several hours exploring Tegalalang and only paid twice.

 

Fees for Photos

Love Bali Sign Tegallalang Rice Terrace Ubud Bali

You may encounter farmers offering to pose with you while balancing their rice basket on your back, or to take your photo at the ‘I Love Bali’ sign in exchange for a tip. In general, we’ve found that any local who offers to take your photo at a tourist attraction – even if they're a police officer or a park ranger – will expect money in return. Remember that you are visiting a developing country in which many locals are struggling financially, and especially those in rural areas. If you can shell out an extra dollar in exchange for that special photo, don’t feel bashful about it. Go ahead! At the same time, if that’s not in your budget, it’s lousy to feel like you’ve been duped by what seemed like someone’s kind gesture. Having this in the back of your mind can help you make a fast decision in those moments when you may feel pressured by locals and uncertain of what to do. Simply put, if you don’t want to pay, kindly decline the offer.

 

Exploring & Capturing This Inspiring Landscape

Balance Tegallalang Rice Terrace Ubud Bali

Expect to see hundreds of fellow tourists during your visit, potentially even arriving by the busload. But don’t fret! Patience pays whether you simply want to enjoy this magnificent and historical treasure on your own, or if you’re in search of that perfect photo without another soul in your shot. The further you explore into the paddies, the fewer tourists you’ll encounter and the more intimate an experience you’ll have the privilege to take home with you.

 

Dining

Farmer With Rice Basket Tegallang Rice Terrace Ubud Bali

After trekking up and down the terraces you’ll likely have worked up an appetite. Luckily, there are plenty of restaurants lining the hilltop above the rice fields where you can enjoy a bite or a drink with a gorgeous view. Finding the restaurants closest to the tour path to be the most crowded and expensive, we chose to wander further down the main road, and settled on the last restaurant in the row where we enjoyed good prices, free WiFi, and a relaxed environment with a splendid overlook. We highly recommend the coconuts, which come filled with ice and slices of lime. A Tegalalang specialty. Yum!

 

Making A Difference

Go Up Tegallalang Rice Terrace Ubud Bali

Your visit to Tegalalang supports hard working farmers and an ancient water management system that takes conservation seriously. You’ll leave with a new appreciation of where rice comes from, the labor that goes into growing it along with the extraordinary thought put into the subak system, and a sense of inner peace from simply being in this calming environment.

 

SNAPSHOTS

Visiting: Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, Bali

INDONESIA

The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, or Mandala Suci Wenara Wana in Balinese, is a top tourist attraction in Ubud, seeing roughly 10,000 visitors a month. If you’re traveling in the area, it’s likely the Monkey Forest is on your list, and it should be. Here, you’ll find yourself tucked away from the hot and bustling city in 30 acres of jungle comprising over a hundred species of trees. Transported to another time, you’ll have the opportunity to cross a dragon bridge amidst temples built in the 14th century all while surrounded by moss-covered statues, and of course, hundreds of monkeys!

Male macaques begin growing their beards and mustaches after they start having babies, as early as 3-5 years old.

 

The Monkey Business

The sanctuary is home to 600+ Balinese Monkeys, also known as long-tailed Macaques, divided into five groups that live in different territories from the main temple to the cemeteries. About 100-120 individuals make up each group and range in age from infants to adults. You will see them everywhere, roaming the premises freely, and even in the surrounding streets, making it important to remain mindful and alert that you are in a wild animal’s territory.

Living in such a large population makes conflicts among the groups of monkeys unavoidable due to territory infringements. This is pronounced in the dry season when certain groups must cross into others’ territories to bathe in the river. You may see some squabbling, particularly at group borders. Though listening to the monkeys holler and watching them chase one another can be a combination of interesting, amusing and intimidating, their disagreements have nothing to do with visitors, who can skirt around the spats without incident. Though the monkeys are not aggressive by nature, they will defend themselves if feeling threatened. This is doubly true when it comes to mothers and their babies.

Seated with two juveniles, a mother holds her baby close.

Although the sanctuary expressly asks visitors not to touch, grab or disturb the monkeys, especially babies, expect to see many visitors interacting with them, feeding the monkeys from piles of sweet potatoes provided as part of their daily diet, attempting to hold hands, and coaxing them onto their shoulders for a photo op. Though this is permitted, it’s not recommended, and injuries can occur if visitors attempt to get too cozy with the monkeys. To help guests better understand how to properly behave around the residents, the staff provides a very comprehensive list of do’s and don’ts.

For an inside look at the Monkey Forest, watch our video tour.

While filming, a juvenile macaque grew interested in Chadley’s camera and started climbing up his leg, but by staying calm and following the procedures outlined below we avoided an incident.

Pro Tips Directly from the Staff: The number one rule is to stay calm, especially if a monkey jumps on you. This will be unlikely unless you’re holding food, hiding food, looking them in the eye (it can be interpreted as a sign of aggression), or anything that might interest them (including your camera) close to their face. If this happens while you’re holding food, simply drop it and slowly walk away. The monkey will jump off for the snack. Apply the same guidelines even if you’re not holding food. Just start slowly walking away and the monkey will likely get bored of you.

Regarding snacks, visitors are asked not to feed the monkeys anything outside of what is provided for them onsite in order to keep them healthy. It’s also not recommended to bring any food into the forest, and both plastic and paper bags are prohibited. This is both to temper the monkeys curiosity and to keep the sanctuary litter-free.

 

A Bit More On the Balinese Monkey

Snacking on offerings on Jl. Monkey Forest Road outside the sanctuary.

Snacking on offerings on Jl. Monkey Forest Road outside the sanctuary.

Long-tailed Macaques are native to South East Asia. The species is not endangered, but like many wild animals continues to face habitat loss. Luckily, they are very adaptable and can live in diverse environments. In fact, the largest threat to the species is hunting, as they are considered food sources and pests in various parts of the South East Asia.

The Balinese Monkey is active by day and rests at night. They are omnivores whose diet in the Monkey Forest consists mainly of sweet potato (given 3 times a day), banana, papaya leaf, corn, cucumber, coconut, and other local fruit. Though they are well fed at home, they will leave the forest to search for food in the busy streets surrounding the sanctuary where they can snag a plethora of goodies from trashcans, restaurant tables and daily offerings placed in front of homes and businesses. On average, male macaques live up to 15 years. Females can live to be 20. 

 

Planning Your Visit

A welcoming committee monkey's around the main entrance.

Have we mentioned that macaques are known for being naughty? When planning your visit it’s good to be aware of what you plan to wear and bring along with you. Definitely watch your accessories while in the forest. Sunglasses, earrings, jewelry, flip-flops, etc. are all very appealing items to steal if you’re a Balinese monkey. We probably went above and beyond in being cautious about our apparel, and opted not to bring backpacks to avoid attracted extra attention from the residents. Chadley wore a shirt with snapping pockets, which was great for storing cash. We made sure to wear the straps on our camera to avoid taking things in and out of our pockets too often. The monkeys are very curious about what visitors might have tucked away.

Hearing that a friend had her sandal stolen off her foot by a monkey in Uluwatu, we wore sneakers, and after seeing photos of women having their tube tops pulled down by the monkeys, I wore a button up shirt and shorts.

As mentioned earlier, it’s best not to bring any food into the sanctuary. The monkeys will know and try to find it. But there are plenty of restaurants and food carts outside for when you get hungry. Most people only spend 2-3 hours visiting, anyway. At the time of this writing, the Monkey Forest is open daily for a small fee. Click here for the most up to date information on hours and pricing. 

Pro Tip: Since the sanctuary hosts over a million visitors a year, it’s good to expect crowds. If you’re looking for solace, however, there are plenty of paths to roam and benches to sit where you can escape the groups gathered at the Main and Holy Spring Temples to watch the monkeys go about their day.

 

Tri Hita Karana – Conservation, Culture & Well-Being at the Core

The dragon bridge at the Holy Spring Temple sits before a wall of banyan tree vines.

The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary upholds the Hindu philosophy of Tri Hita Karana as its principal mission, meaning “three ways to reach spiritual and physical well-being.” With ‘Tri’ meaning three, ‘Hita’ meaning happiness, and ‘Karana’ meaning cause or manner, this philosophy focuses on how people can maintain a harmonious relationship between themselves and their fellow humans, their environment, and god in daily life. As an international tourist destination and ‘living laboratory’ for educational institutions, this philosophy reflects the Monkey Forest’s desire to create peace and harmony with its staff, visitors, inhabitants, plant life, historic temples, local community, and the city of Ubud.

The forest is owned by the village of Padangtegal where it is located in Ubud’s southwestern corner flanked by a multitude of hotels, shops and restaurants. The village considers the sanctuary an important spiritual, educational, economic, and conservation center for its residents, who protect the monkeys and serve on the forest’s governing council.

When it comes to Balinese culture, the forest and its inhabitants play an important role in religion and tradition. Monkeys and their mythology are prominent in Balinese art, for example, appearing in the Kecak and Ramayana dance where the monkey is an important character in the story. And while the forest is home to 186 species of trees, some are considered particularly holy and are used in spiritual practices. These include the Majegan, which is used exclusively to build shrines, the leaves of the Berigan for cremation ceremonies, and the Pule Bandak, which is thought to embody the spirit of the forest and is used to make powerful masks (don’t worry, the trees aren’t killed to make them).

 

Making A Difference

Monkeys are often seen helping one another keep clean.

With a booming tourism industry resulting in increased deforestation and massive amounts of waste, Bali’s environment from its forests to shorelines is under threat, making wildlife sanctuaries like Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest critical to the eco-tourism movement. With Tri Hita Karana at the heart of their mission, the Monkey Forest honors humanity, environment, education, and religion by providing a conservation area for Balinese monkeys, rare plants and those used in ritual to visitors and city-dwellers alike, offering an oasis in an urban environment.

Knowing your visit will not only provide you with lasting memories and a one of a kind experience, but with the knowledge that you are supporting locals and important conservation efforts while you travel feels great, too. Have fun, be respectful, and watch your stuff!

 

SNAPSHOTS

Canggu, Bali – Where to Eat, Drink, Play & Stay

Indonesia

Canggu is home to one of the premiere surf beaches in Bali, a vibrant but laid back community with much more of a small town feel than its populated neighbors, Seminyak and Kuta. Only 45 minutes from the airport, here, you’ll find temples, rice fields between city blocks, cows grazing on the sides of the road and the white egrets that follow them, pass roosters, hens and chicks, and meet many dogs. The community is quite international, reflected in the many restaurants and shops around town, and artists abound. Enjoy a walk through the streets or down the beach and you’ll discover a burgeoning graffiti scene of beautiful and thought provoking murals. We loved Canggu so much we visited twice, for a total stay of over a month. Below is a list of our favorite places.

 

Old Man's

Old Man's Entrance Canggu Bali

At Old Man’s on Batu Balong Beach you’ll find a happening bar and restaurant open from 7 am til late offering a varied menu from breakfast to dinner including western and Indonesian dishes. The food is great, but the atmosphere is the real draw. The bar is open air, colorfully decorated with cheeky murals to catch your eye from every angle, and the staff changes the seating arrangements daily, keeping it fresh. There’s always entertainment at night, too, from live music to ping-pong and even organized drinking games, if you’re into that. Happy hour is the jam. You’ll see almost everyone carrying two drinks each, and it can get pretty crowded once the sun goes down, so if you want to ensure yourself a table snag one early. You can rent surfboards in the parking lot during the day, too, and shower off at the restaurant when you’re done at the beach.

 

Betelnut Cafe

Betelnut Cafe Facade

Betelnut is a health conscious café offering delicious bites and superfoods. The smoothies are particularly tasty. We loved the dragon fruit betelnut smoothie and the chunky monkey with cacao. This is the kind of place where you can get apple cider vinegar and wheatgrass shots. The smoothie bowls and salads are some of their signature dishes, along with their divine array of cheesecakes. You can hole up here to work from your laptop, too. There’s two floors, an air conditioned space downstairs, and a covered open-air deck with more seating upstairs. For dreamy, drool-worthy food pics, check out their Instagram.

 

Roti Canai

Roti Roti Canggu Bali

Roti Canai is a cafe styled around the roti or chapati, an Indian street food that is similar to nan bread. The café creates sweet and savory crepe style sandwiches, serves a great curry, and has Teh Tarik, a traditional Indian tea that uses condensed milk as a sweetener. The original, hot or iced, is quite tasty. You can get alcohol here, too, if you like. This is the most affordable restaurant we found outside of the local warungs, which we highly recommend, too. The dishes are only a couple of dollars each. To review the menu, click here.

 

Love Anchor

Love Anchor Canggu Bali

We found Love Anchor after wandering into their weekly Sunday Market selling jewelry, clothing, sunglasses, and more at bargain prices. The namesake bar and restaurant offers happy hour everyday and serves up the best margaritas we had in Bali (no ice!). The bartender who goes by Johnny Cash is a character, too. This reggae bar has a pool table, foosball, and an upstairs terrace with hammocks and pillows sprawled out on the floor. The food is Italian, offering mainly super yummy pizza and sandwiches. After happy hour, the prices on the drinks get steep, so mind your watch.

Something to be aware of: Months after we returned to the States, a hack on our bank accounts was traced to an ATM at the plaza, which we used during the Sunday Market. Bank detectives said it was likely a memory film had been placed on the keypad, allowing hackers to gain access to both our pin numbers (and likely those of hundreds of other shoppers). We were fully refunded, and don’t think this had anything to do with Love Anchor or its employees, but urge travelers to use caution whenever using random ATM’s. A good tip is to use ATM's at bank locations during business hours whenever possible.

 

Serenity Eco Guesthouse & Yoga

Serenity Eco Guesthouse_Buddha and Bayan Tree

Serenity is the perfect all in one place to stay in Canggu. Here, you’ll have a dozen yoga classes a day, and the Indian Ocean at your fingertips. The guesthouse is located at the end of a quiet street five minutes from the beach. The onsite health conscious all organic Alkaline Café offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and the guesthouse has dorm rooms and privates at reasonable rates. Perfect for surfers, yogis, and anyone else looking to detox, eat well and chill out. You’ll meet lots of awesome people, too. The staff and guests are truly great.

Read our full article on Serenity, and watch our video for an inside view of the guesthouse.

 

Batu Balong

Strolling on Batu Balong Beach Canggu Bali

The Indian Ocean is a force! We visited during the rainy season and the surf was very strong. Eight-foot waves greeted beach goers at the shore, making being knowledgeable about what to do if you get caught in a rip tide an important skill. For surfers, the beaches are laid out from beginner to advanced. Beginners should surf at Batu Balong, intermediate surfers at Old Man’s, and for the advanced, Echo Beach. 

A few things to be aware of: The strong tide can also churn up trash from nearby islands, along with whatever garbage gets washed downstream (especially during the rainy season). Beach bums should also be ready to fend off vendors if you choose to lay out on the sand between Batu Balong and Old Man’s (a popular place to rent boards, relax, and buy food and drinks from the warungs). Locals selling jewelry will approach you one after another to buy their wares. Some of the ladies will even wake you from a nap to try and sell you something! You can avoid this if you choose to sunbathe on the southern side of Batu Balong, where abandoned concrete huts covered in graffiti line the beach. This stretch was typically secluded. Despite these tiniest of drawbacks, we absolutely loved this beach and have the fondest memories of our daily sunset strolls, and actually befriended some of the ladies most often seen slinging bracelets (we also bought some).

 

Surf & Swim Wear

Surf Boards Old Man's Canggu Bali

If you’re looking for swim wear you’ll find many options in Canggu, but if you’re searching for something sporty you’ll probably want to check the surf shops. For ladies, most swimsuits are pretty skimpy and the waves are quite strong. I wanted something I could trust would stay on my body. We got our swimsuits at Good Hood, and a surf shirt at Board Riders, which had a large selection of surf and skate wear, far more options than any of the other shops we checked in the area.

 

More Local Jams

The salt and peppered stones of Pura Batu Bolong overlook the wild surf of the Indian Ocean in Canggu.

The salt and peppered stones of Pura Batu Bolong overlook the wild surf of the Indian Ocean in Canggu.

Last but not least, here are a few other recommendations from around the neighborhood, some key phrases in the mother tongue, and details on local cuisine you might want to know before your trip.

Around the Block:

  • Yogi Cha – Our favorite yoga teacher in Bali! We highly recommend taking classes with Charlotte if you have the opportunity. Follow her on Instagram for an up to date class schedule. If you’re not visiting Bali soon, you can still practice with her on YouTube.
  • Dojo – A co-working space with a café and classes for entrepreneurs at Echo Beach.
  • Baba Yaga Tattoo Studio – They specialize in black and white ink in many styles.
  • Pretty Poison – A skate bar boasting movie nights, live music and art shows.
  • Gimme Shelter – A smoky rock and roll bar near Serenity Eco Guesthouse.

Speak the Language:

In Bali, two languages are primarily spoken, the traditional Balinese and Indonesian, also called Bahasa Indonesia. Most locals know both (many people also speak English), but it's always nice to make the effort to speak Balinese when in Bali! Here's some phrases you'll use often.

Balinese

  • Hello = Om Suastiastu or just Suastiastu (pronounced phonetically -- Om SwASti AStu)
  • Thank You = Matur Suksma or just Suksma
  • You’re Welcome = Suksma Mewali
  • Good Morning = Rahajeng Semeng
  • Good Afternoon = Rahajeng Sanja
  • Good Evening = Rahajeng pPeteng
  • Good Night = Rahajeng Wengi
  • I’m Sorry = Ampura
  • If you’d like to learn a few more key phrases in Balinese, click here.

Bahasa Indonesia

  • Hello = Halo or Hi
  • Good Morning = Selamat Pagi
  • Good Afternoon = Selamat Siang
  • Good Evening = Selamat Sore
  • Goodnight = Selamat Malam
  • Thank You = Terima Kasih
  • You’re Welcome = Sama Sama 
  • Good or Great (can be used when describing food or other objects) = Bagus!
  • I’m Sorry = Maaf
  • This video will teach you how to say hello and goodbye in Indonesia with proper pronunciations.

Local Flavors You’ll Find Almost Anywhere

  • Nasi Goreng and Mie Goreng = Fried Rice (Nasi) and Fried Noodles (Mie, pronounced ME) with egg, chicken or shrimp (or all of the above). You can find these delicious meals for as low as $2 at the local warungs.
  • Gado Gado = A salad of slightly boiled, blanched or steamed vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, boiled potato, fried tofu or tempeh (tempeh originates from Indonesia), and rice crackers with a peanut sauce dressing.

 

Enjoy Your Visit!

Canggu Bali Ornate Door

With its surf culture and backpacker vibe combined with a strong yoga and wellness scene, Canggu is a truly special place to soak up the waves, smiles and sunrays Bali has to offer.

 

SNAPSHOTS

Visiting: Serenity Eco Guesthouse & Yoga - Canggu, Bali

INDONESIA

Located in Canggu, home to some of Bali’s premiere surf, international restaurants, co-working spaces, temples, tattoo studios, shopping and nightlife, Serenity Eco Guesthouse focuses on just that: Serenity. Only a five-minute walk to Batu Balong Beach, quietly tucked away from the noisy beaches in Kuta, while still being 45-minutes from the airport and an hour to Ubud, Serenity is a sanctuary for travelers looking for an affordable, quiet, nourishing and soulful space to rest their heads.

While planning our trip to Asia we scoured the web for insight on where to stay in Bali, poring over reviews of beaches, neighborhoods and accommodations until we found Serenity, which promised to provide the perfect mix of location, activities and health food we sought. Though we had only planned to stay five days at the guesthouse, it didn’t take long for us to extend our stay. In total, we spent about five weeks here in five different room types on two occasions, bookending our trip with plenty of yoga, clean food, relaxation and beach time. We recommend staying at least five days to truly soak up all Serenity has to offer. For a closer look at the guesthouse watch our video tour.

 

AFFORDABLE ACCOMMODATION IN A BEAUTIFUL SETTING

Founded by owners Daniel & Yatna on their personal property in 2009, this family run business now has dozens of employees and three additional branches of guest rooms in short walking distance from the main complex.

Despite increased demand for rooms, the guesthouse never feels crowded. The yoga studios are spacious, guests are always willing to share a table in the health conscious Alkaline Restaurant, and the gorgeous pool is surrounded by plenty of seating. Every room is equipped with a safety box, and comes either with full or discounted breakfast. Guests are invited to store food in shared refrigerators, and a shuttle service is provided between the main house and branches for added convenience.

While eco resorts may feel out of reach for many budget travelers, Serenity instills the feeling that sustainability is achievable for everyone, and at a reasonable price. Presently, Serenity’s dorms cost about $10 a night, and private rooms range from $15 - $30 per night. Check out their website for the most up to date prices.

 

YOGA & WELLNESS

The guesthouse pays careful attention to wellness for the body, mind, spirit, and environment. A dozen yoga and meditation classes are scheduled daily. Taught by Balinese, Indonesian and international teachers, classes range from ashtanga, mysore, hatha, yin, and various vinyasas, to yoga for surfers, chakra flows, aerial yoga, life coaching workshops, gong meditation, acroyoga and more. A meditation room, massage, surf lessons, bicycle and motorbike rentals are also available.

A variety of 100% organic, natural and mindful oriented products are sold on-site, including: virgin coconut oil, mosquito repellent, activated bamboo charcoal (a detoxing purifier), reusable straws, sunscreen, and books on consciousness.

Serenity’s Alkaline Restaurant offers an organic menu filled with raw, vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free items. Meat options, are available, too. Super foods abound, from electrolyte packed coconuts, to iron-rich moringa (a native plant grown on-site), to wheatgrass shots, turmeric juice, a variety of homemade detox juices, multiple brands of locally made kombucha in many flavors (including Serenity’s very own), alkaline water, and divine cacao bars made in Ubud, to name a few. Daily and weekly specials add even more variety. But best of all, it’s obvious the food is made with love.

 

SUSTAINABILITY – ADDRESSING BALI’S DESPERATE NEED

Sustainability is another of Serenity’s core values, and this is seen throughout the property, from the banyan tree that stands at the entrance, to the composting and recycling bins placed throughout the common areas, the cleaning products used, the array of eco-friendly goods sold on-site, and the reminders in every space to reduce energy use.

The growing movement toward eco-tourism is of international importance, and especially in rapidly developing areas like Bali where there is little pre-existing infrastructure to handle the intense growth and resulting waste generated by the industry. A shortage of waste management systems coupled with a lack of community awareness on how to properly dispose of mass quantities of garbage – 20,000 cubic meters of trash is discarded daily – is a huge problem in Bali, and notably so in the beach communities. It’s estimated that seventy-five percent of trash is not collected by official services, meaning it’s likely burned, washed into waterways, or otherwise illegally dumped. This problem is only exacerbated by the large quantities of non-biodegradable trash produced by the booming tourism sector.

In 2016, Bali hosted close to 5 million foreign tourists, a number that surpassed the island’s total population in 2014. While the industry has a positive impact on Bali’s economy, mass tourism takes a serious toll on the paradisiacal environment, which is one of the very reasons travelers make the trip to the ‘island of the gods' in the first place. Offering over 6,000 hotels on 2,175 square miles, the tourist industry absorbs approximately 65% of Bali’s total water supply, with four- and five-star hotels requiring at least 50,000 liters of clean water every day, according to the Bali Hotel Association. Despite the stresses tourism puts on the island, the Balinese remain welcoming of tourists, and an increasing number of organizations are cropping up to combat the problem.

While the hotel business, in particular, is in desperate need of improvement, this is an area where Serenity truly shines. The Eco Guesthouse offers conscious travelers the ability to be good stewards in their host country by making a positive impact on the local environment, while still having fun, eating well, and staying in budget.

Serenity boasts a number of sustainable practices focused on reducing, reusing and recycling. Rather than burning trash and grass, they compost organic waste, and recycle used plastic bottles and paper at Eco Bali. Many other items are reused, too, including glass, scrap wood and plastic bags. Local building materials, bamboo, and plastic bottles are used in the infrastructure, and gorgeous works of art are created from broken materials that would be otherwise trashed. Inorganic waste is further reduced by the restaurant, which provides biodegradable takeaway boxes.

At Serenity, water is saved by staggering linen washes in guest rooms. Drying linens in the sun further reduces energy. Low energy light bulbs and natural septic tanks are also used.

The charming grounds incorporate permaculture gardens, an organic nursery, a wastewater garden, and organic worm farm. The gardens provide a variety of fresh fruit and medicinal herbs, and incorporate homemade organic fertilizers. They are kept mosquito and pest free by growing neem, lemongrass and zodiac, and by using garlic spray and neem oil instead of toxic chemicals.

In addition to all this, the staff makes a point of using eco-friendly products for their dish and linen washing, and to keep their beautiful swimming pool clean and pristine. Guests are asked to do their part by washing off inorganic sunscreen and bug sprays before entering the pool, hanging their towels out to dry, composting, recycling, and reducing energy by turning off lights, AC and fans when not in use.

At Serenity, you know sustainability is a team effort in which we all play a part. As a guest, patron at the Alkaline Café, or a student in a yoga class, you know that you are part of a movement to make a positive impact on the world while minimizing your global footprint.

 

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

When you stay at Serenity you know you're helping to care for the world while taking care of yourself. The feeling you get throughout your visit is one of mindfulness and intention. The thoughtful, friendly staff, artful attention to detail – from the yin-yangs, murals, and mirror mosaics, to the labeling of plants and information on super foods placed around the restaurant – and intuitive sense of sustainability and well-being that permeates the guesthouse all contribute to the peaceful atmosphere, making it a wonderful place to reflect, relax and grow.

 

SNAPSHOTS