Temple of Doom

Temples are to Asia what Starbucks is to New York. If you can't see one from where you're standing, you need new glasses. As a sophisticated, culturally sensitive traveler you might be tempted to visit all of them (temples, not Starbucks). I thought I was a sophisticated, culturally-sensitive traveler once, but recently traded sophistication for clean feet and never looked back. Here's why you should consider joining me:

1.     The interior of every temple is the same. My theory is that ancient temple decorators went to an ancient Ikea and bought an ancient temple decorating set - probably called the Buddhasmoulder. The Buddhasmoulder did come with three Buddha options: round Buddha (Buddhadagstorp), horizontal Buddha (Buddhaflardful), and surprisingly thin Buddha (Buddhasmordsull). There was also a Hindu decorating kit called Karmasmulffjen, but it was just 2 dozen golden statues with horns.

2.     Monkey poo. Your initial reaction to the monkeys that surround Asian temples might be, “Oh look, exotic and adorable reminders of the ancient civilization that surrounds me.” That’s before you’re forced to remove your shoes at the door. Once barefoot, your reaction to monkeys is generally, “Oh look, those exotic creatures have thrown poo all over this ancient holy temple.” Monkeys throwing poo is cute in Madagascar (the movie, it’s equally gross in the country), but its not so great as your pick your way, barefoot, up the 777 steps to shrine at Mt. Popa.

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

The Best Sunset in Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar. Lonely Planet suggests ending your day in Bagan with a sunset cruise on the Irewaddy, but we remain unconvinced. Why pay $17 for a seat in an aging boat when a superior (and free) view can be had from the roof of a temple. We’re sure that the sunset views from the river are wonderful, but sunsets are wonderful from any river anywhere in the world. Even Phnom Phen, possibly the most depressing city in the world, has great sunset cruises on the Mekong. Instead of the boat cruise, save the $17 and watch the sunset from the roof of a temple - or spend your $17 on a bottle of wine at the Aureum Palace pool - pictured below.

P1012115 (800x600).jpg

The Perfect Day in Penang

Penang is the city Singapore should be. Warrens of sidestreets - packed with restaurants and coffeehouses - hide behind gleaming waterfront hotels. Metal trays of steaming Indian food can be had for $2 - or, just two blocks away, the E & O serves unlimited lobster and wine under a waterfront pavilion, flanked by immaculate lawns with the occasional cannon (after all, what's a great colonial hotel without some ancient artillery). 

Our perfect day in Penang begins with breakfast in the Museum hotel courtyard and ends with a table full of dishes at the Red Garden Food Paradise (or, if we're feeling fancy, at the E & O). The Red Garden is like the food court at your local mall - that is, if the food court was outdoors, and if every restaurant at your local mall served cheap, authentic food from every country in Asia, and if your local mall served beer, and if instead of Justin Bieber CD's the music was a local singer belting out Karaoke hits from the last 30 years (Careless Whisper is still REALLY big here)    In between, we rent a scooter ($8 for the day), and shoot off to the North of the Island for a hike to the beach and lunch at one of the organic restaurants in the hills.  

P1011881 (640x548).jpg