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Finding Balance in Bhutan

What I remember most fondly about the week Bama and I spent in Bhutan last October is the untainted mountain air, cool autumn nights, an overriding sense of peace and tranquility. And of course, who could forget that heart-pumping arrival? Read more

Flores: It Takes a Village

One thing I relish about travel is the fact that it turns our daily routines upside down; it jolts us out of our comfort zones and tends to flout the unwritten rules we live by. I realize this one bright Monday morning in Kampung Melo, a small mountain village on the Indonesian island of Flores. It turns out that any visit here must involve a welcome drink of sopi – a clear, colorless spirit distilled from the sap of the areng palm – in a shaded pavilion beside a small field. “If you don’t drink alcohol,” a spokesman says to our group, “just touch the glass.” Read more

Sleeping Dragons and a Stirring Town

Five years ago this June, Bama and I embarked on an unforgettable week-long adventure across the island of Flores. It remains one of my favorite corners of Indonesia not just for its astonishing natural beauty. Here, in a predominantly Muslim nation, the Catholic faith brought by Portuguese missionaries mingled with tribal traditions; the rugged landscape held megalithic villages that seemed nearly as old as time itself, perfectly formed volcanoes, and superb coffee made with local arabica beans grown in the mist-laden highlands. At the end of our journey lay Labuan Bajo, a sleepy fishing village turned tourism boomtown, where a glorious sunset bode well for an overnight cruise around the UNESCO-listed reefs and islands of Komodo National Park. Read more

Surviving Jakarta

At a recent dinner inside a five-star hotel fronting Jakarta’s most-photographed roundabout, hosted by a visiting uncle, an Emirati diplomat based in Hong Kong recounted her experience of a weekend traffic jam from a beauty parlor down south. “On the way here, the driver told me it would be another 15 minutes but it was really 45. I wanted to hang myself!” she half-jokingly declared. “How do you even live here?” Read more

April Snow in Lebanon

Wafik was late. “Sorry, sorry,” he said as we shook hands before piling our bags – and ourselves – into his roomy SUV. “Very bad traffic coming here.” Beirut might be somewhat infamous for its clogged roads and lack of public transportation, but having come from Jakarta, Bama and I felt very much at ease with the whole thing. Once on nearby Damascus Street, Wafik gestured to the barely-moving stream of vehicles stretching past the heavily fortified French Embassy and the National Museum. “I was stuck here for 20 minutes,” he explained. Read more

A Taste of Lebanese Hospitality

Bama and I have just returned from our first-ever foray into the Middle East, and we cannot even begin to describe how much we loved Lebanon. It has been an exhausting 20-hour journey from door to door involving two flights and a nail-bitingly short transit in Doha, where I was felt up by airport security (lesson learned: do not attempt to smile at the staff when passing through the metal detector) – but the trouble and fatigue have been well worth the adventure of the past nine days. Read more

On Assignment in Hua Hin

“There’s not much there.” I looked on in surprise as a coworker wrinkled his nose at the memory of a trip to Hua Hin some years ago. That harsh pronouncement didn’t bode well for my own upcoming assignment during the middle of Thailand’s monsoon season – we had similar tastes in travel and the resort town roughly 200 kilometers (124 miles) south of Bangkok wasn’t exactly on my wish list. Read more

An Afternoon at Ancol

Jakarta is not a beautiful place. Not, at least, in the conventional sense. No decent travel publication would describe this gridlocked, teeming megalopolis of 10 million people – or 28 million if you include the surrounding suburbs and smaller cities – as “picturesque”, “stunning”, or “postcard-perfect”. Unlucky commuters associate the Indonesian capital with unbearable, hours-long traffic jams; civil engineers proclaim it the fastest-sinking city on the planet; and environmentalists warn of Jakarta’s worsening air and plastic pollution. In short, it is not the kind of place most people would fly halfway around the world to see. Read more

Lost in Buriram, Northeast Thailand

Barreling down a four-lane Thai highway on the back of a motorcycle, sans helmet, I wondered what on earth I was doing. Riding pillion was a risk I would never have taken back home in Jakarta – and yet there was no denying the thrill of feeling the wind on my face as we breezed past warehouses and low-slung cafés toward a monumental bronze likeness of King Rama I, presiding over Buriram’s main roundabout from atop a war elephant. Read more

A Visit to the Embassy

As a young immigration officer flipped through my passport at Bhutan’s Paro International Airport last month, I saw a look of mild confusion cross her face. Eventually she turned to the last remaining blank page and held it up for me to see. “Can I stamp here?” she shyly asked. “Yes, of course,” I smiled. With that, there would be just enough room for the entry and exit stamps I’d be given on a work trip to the Philippines a couple weeks later. My passport had simply run out of space. Read more