More Brunique Brunei

One of the main attractions of Brunei is Ulu Temburong National Park. Brunei has preserved its rainforest, and to get there, one must take a commuter boat upriver to a car, drive to another river, and then take a longboat. Inside the park, the thing to do is to view the sunrise from atop the canopy walk, which rises 164 feet above the rainforest floor. This means getting up at 4:30 am for a quick breakfast and then about an hour’s walk steeply up the hills. A warning at the end:

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?…

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…

The Buddha Park

About 25 km outside of Vientiane is the Buddha Park. The Buddha Park was started—for devotional reasons, probably—in 1958 by a shaman, Bunleua Sulilat, who fused Hinduism and Buddhism into his own syncretic cult. The statues, which look like they were collected from ancient temples across Laos, are actually modern creations of reinforced concrete. The site made me think of a 1970s lawn ornament store, complete with a sales pitch: Come on down to Buddy’s Buddha Barn! We got Buddhas that are small—Buddhas that are tall— Buddhas lying down—Buddhas on the ground! A three-headed Buddha? A six-armed Buddha? You know…

Vientiane

Recently, I joined Abby on her trip to Laos, starting in Vientiane. This is a city I have long wanted to visit: just the name itself has always conjured up for me an air of romance and mystery. And having now seen it, I honestly can say that of all the world capitols I have visited, Vientiane is definitely one of them. It’s not that the place is without merit. The temples—similar to Thai temples, but a little more ornate—are lovely. The colonial-era architecture, where it still exists, is crumbly and charming. Everything else, though, is unremarkable. Take, for example,…

Banteay Kdei

The last temple is Banteay Kdei (“The Citadel of Cells”), also built by Jayavarman VII. Reportedly, it was built with an inferior grade of sandstone, which may account for its utter dilapidation today. One website notes, interestingly, that “Though Jayavarman VII was credited with building many temples, he was also accused of squandering money on extravagant temple building projects at the expense of society and other duties.”