Brunique Brunei

Recently, we visited Brunei. It wasn’t my first trip to Borneo, yet—because Brunei is a gas- and oil-rich country—I’d expected to see a miniature version of Dubai. It wasn’t Dubai. The capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, is about as low-key a capital as I’ve ever seen. Vientiane is bustling by comparison. Granted, we weren’t there during the height of tourist season, but it was midday, and the city felt largely deserted. I’m told that most of the commerce takes place in malls and shopping centers outside the city center. So what does one do as a tourist in Bandar Seri Begawan?…

Angkor Wat on a shoestring

Suppose you can’t get up to Cambodia because money’s tight, or because Interpol is waiting at the border. No fear—Thailand has its own Khmer temples you can visit! The temple at Phimai Historical Park is the terminus of the Ancient Khmer Highway, the most important road of the Khmer Empire, which started at Angkor Wat. A little further on is Ku Pueai Noi, which was reminiscent of Pre Rup and East Mabon with their brickwork, although not at all as large or as high.

Mun Bhuridatta

As I noted before, the Thais have a penchant for making life-size statues of important Buddhist monks. But for the most important monks, a life-size statue may not be enough. Meet Mun Bhuridatta (1870-1949), a monk who spent more than 50 years meditating in the forests of Thailand, leading a strictly ascetic lifestyle. We came across him while driving out of Khon Kaen, and there was no way we couldn’t check this out. The statue is part of a small temple and roadside museum to Mun Bhuridatta. Would Mun Bhuridatta have appreciated this commemoration? It’s hard to say. “Searching out…

Wat Nong Waeng

A few weeks ago, we went to Khon Kaen, a city in the northeast, because—well, because it was there and it was time for an adventure. In many respects, Khon Kaen looked like a lot of other places in Thailand, but there were a few interesting sights. First, we have Wat Nong Waeng (Nong Waeng Temple), which is allegedly the most famous temple in Khon Kaen. It’s notable for its nine-level tower, although the view from the top is about as interesting as the view from my 12th floor apartment, and not worth the film. However, the building itself has…

Scenes from the Ghost Festival

We were in Penang, Malaysia, during the Ghost Festival. The Ghost Festival is a Chinese holiday during which, it is believed, the gates of Heaven and Hell open and the dead return to earth in search of food and entertainment. Clans erect tents and set out enormous banquets for the dead, families offer food to their deceased ancestors, and they also burn piles of “hell bank notes,” money which has value in the afterlife. A few more shots: In addition to family offerings, community groups stage performances in the street for the week. Some of the shows are flashy and…

Critters

Australia has its share of unique animals. Kangaroos, obviously, but also the quokka (shown in the lower left photo), a raccoon-sized marsupial that is found only a few islands off the Western coast: primarily Rottnest Island, which is a recreational destination, and some smaller nearby islands. We found the kangaroos at the Caversham Wildlife Park, on the mainland, where they are completely domesticated to the point of eating kangaroo snacks out of tourists’ hand.  Domesticated kangaroos are lazy, unlike the quokkas, who are constantly hustling for food. The quokka in the lower right corner didn’t get that sandwich by being…

On the rocks

If you drive about three hours north of Perth, you’ll come to the Pinnacles, a desert area dotted with thousands of limestone formations. (Weirdly, the Indian Ocean is just a half-hour drive away, and you can see it from the high point of the park.) (Different filters on each of the lenses produce different colors.)