The Padaung Conundrum

A group of Padaung at Inle Lake

The Padaung, sometimes annoyingly referred to as the “long-neck” tribe, are one of the most recognizable ethnic groups in the world. More properly called the Kayah Lahwi (their name for themselves), the Padaung embrace one of the most extreme beautification practices out there. As Padaung women grow, heavy brass coils are added to their necks pushing down their shoulders to create the illusion of a long neck. From Discovery Channel specials on “body modification” to literature on “body mutilation” the Padaung story has been told and sold and used and abused for a variety of purposes.

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The Red Spider Lilies of Kinchakuda

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Spider lily time is coming up in September!!!

No, we didn’t come to Japan during the cherry blossom season. šŸ™ But it turns out that Japan has a whole lot of surprises up its floral kimono sleeves. We just randomly stumbled upon this little known (outside Japan) event, the blooming of the red spider lilies of Kinchakuda (å·¾ē€ē”°).

Located a mere hour outside Tokyo in Saitama Prefecture, Kinchakuda Park lies on a forested bend along the shores of the Koma River. For about 8-10 days each year, a spectacular red carpet of lilies forms beneath the trees creating a fairy tale scene unlike anything we have ever encountered before.

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Reveling in Taroudant

Riad Maryam feast

We came for Morocco’s best preserved city wall and wished we had stayed longer for the food. Yes, Taroudant regularly makes it into lists of the world’s top walled cities (and you know I love those.) It’s stunning pisĆ© walls studded with crenelated towers and gates stretch for eight kilometers.

We explored them in one of the local horse-drawn caleches and wound our way through the fortified kasbah district on foot thinking that the fabulous fortifications would be the highlight of our visit to the city. But that was before we found Riad Maryam.

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15 Must-See Tourist Attractions in Bangkok

Wat Arun

There is no city in the world quite like Bangkok. The steamy cultural heart of Southeast Asia beats to a rhythm of cool chaos and quirky contradiction that makes it one of the most fascinating and diverse cities on the planet. Where else do veiled Gulf Arabs, Scandinavian sun worshipers, African money changers and local lady boys line up for a dish of sticky rice and mango, all backed by a mishmash of golden temples and steel skyscrapers? Nowhere.

Over the last three decades, we have visited over a dozen times and cumulatively spent more than a year in the metropolis. We have grown to love our crazy home away from home in Asia, but if you are new to the city, it can be hard to know where to begin. There are so many amazing things to do in Thailand’s capital that taking a couple of Bangkok private tours with locals might be a good idea to help you discover some hidden treasures. Here are Continue…

Kyoto Autumn Leaves: Japan’s Most Colorful Season

Excited about the foliage in Kyoto's Eikando Temple

I’ll admit that our trip to Japan was a bit last minute, but that didn’t mean our timing was totally random. For years, we had been wanting to experience one of the country’s most stunning natural spectacles, the Technicolor fall foliage season. Autumn leaves? Don’t you mean cherry blossoms?

No. While most Westerners associate the country with the world famous spring cherry blossoms, many Asian tourists are equally drawn to Japan’s gorgeous fall colors, which for religious and cultural reasons have become something quite unlike anything else on the planet.

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The Akha of Northern Laos

Akha woman in northern Laos

The first time I went to Thailand in 1990, I had the opportunity to trek through portions of the North to visit many of the hill tribes. At that time, traditional clothing and culture were still very intact. Yes, there were already too many tourists, but there was still much to be seen and experienced especially in the remote regions along the borders of Myanmar and Laos. The markets of the Golden Triangle were filled with a mix of exotic hill people donning colorful garb buying and selling goods in a dozen languages.

The obvious stars of the markets were the Akha, a group whose unique culture, blood-red betel nut stained teeth, and over-the-top headdresses made them one of the most recognizable tribal groups in the world. I had hoped to share this amazing culture with Thomas during our visit to less developed Laos in 2010, but that proved a bit more challenging than I had thought.

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The Jain Temple of Ranakpur

The spectacular Jain Temple of Ranakpur, India

During our 16 months in India, I dragged Thomas from one temple to another. Yes, I have a bit of an obsession, a rather insatiable appetite for architecture… temples, mosques, churches, fortresses, walled cities… I can’t get enough. (Stop laughing! If I have to spend hours watching him photograph every bug between Hong Kong and Rajasthan, he can visit a few temples.)

Well, my somewhat obsessive quest took us to one of the Grand Daddies of Indian architecture, the Jain Temple of Ranakpur, a VERY small, one-kiosk town northwest of Udaipur. Considered one of the masterpieces of Jain architecture, the huge fortified temple opens up into a surprisingly large multi-storied structure containing a series of vaulted chambers supported by 1,444 pillars. Each pillar is carved with unique designs ranging from sensuous dancers to geometric patterns to fine floral motifs. If you have never seen Jain carving, you are in for a treat.

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San Cristobal’s Indigenous Markets

Thomas exploring the Zinacantan Market

Without a doubt, the highlight of any trip to beautiful San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas is a visit to the bustling indigenous markets full of Tzotzil andĀ TzeltalĀ people. We decided to plant ourselves in the idyllic, colonial-era town for a couple of weeks to explore the markets as well as those in Tenejapa, ZinacantĆ”n,Ā and Chamula.

Each market is an extraordinary event, a feast for the senses and a quick course in the diversity of the region. Traders descend from the hills wearing beautiful traditional clothing marking them as members of different villages. Non-indigenous visitors might be surprised to see twenty women sitting together in basically the same outfit. But this clothing has meaning in Chiapas: it ties the people together and displays their heritage. It’s a modern-day sign of the tribal unity of the past and present.

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Ten Crazy-Cool Experiences in India

Thomas at the Chariot Festival in Hampi

Having spent almost a year and a half in India, we know there is no other country on the planet more overloaded with cultural attractions, spectacular architecture, gorgeous scenery, impressive wildlife, and bustling markets. India is also full of quirky surprises. The country managed to leave us gaping in astonishment on a daily basis.

To capture just a bit of what this awe-inspiring country has to offer visitors, we decided to put together our list of ten unique experiences that make a visit so intriguing. And with Etihad booking, finding a flight into any corner of India is easier than ever.

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Komodo, Diver’s Paradise

Tony diving off the coast of Rinca

It’s not exactly a secret among experienced divers, but Komodo has some of the best diving in the world. While land-lubbers are more focused on the famous Komodo dragons, underwater fans realize that Komodo National Park protects some of the best-preserved coral and underwater life on the planet.

Why? As with Nusa Lembongan, deep channels with cold currents from the south seem to be protecting much of the coral from the hot water streams that have ravaged calmer Asian waters to the north. So far, bleaching seems to be less of a problem than in other parts areas of the tropics. Moreover, nature has gifted Komodo with wild ripping currents which make dynamite fishing difficult. Poachers can blow up the reef, but the strong currents drag all the fish away.

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