- Making Merit (Thailand & Laos): For centuries, the sangha, or monkhood, has lived off the donations of food and money from the community. The tradition continues to this day: Every morning, monks walk the streets around their temple not just to receive their daily food, but also to allow the giver to make merit. By giving food in this lifetime, Buddhists believe that they will not go hungry in the next lifetime. If you are interested in making merit this way, talk to your hotel's concierge.
- Staying in a Hill-Tribe Village near the China Border (Laos): They still ask visitors, "Why do you come here, anyway?" in villages along the Nam Ha River in northern Laos. Thanks to the folks who run the Nam Ha Ecotourism Project, these vast tracts of pristine jungle won't be overrun by tourists anytime soon. Jungle trekking or river kayaking takes you through lush jungle terrain where you're likely to see monkeys and exotic birds. You'll arrive in villages where kayaks are still an oddity, and spend fun evenings around the fire communicating by charades or stick figures in a notebook. It's not about the villages being "pristine"; it's about the fact that your visit is part of a cultural exchange.
- Participating in a Baci Ceremony (Laos): The Baci is a touching Lao ceremony used to say welcome or farewell and to honor achievements. Participants sit in a circle and receive group blessings, after which there is traditional dancing and lao lao, rice wine. It's a chance for the ultrafriendly Lao people to express their hospitality to you, their honored guest.
- Sailing the South China Sea (Vietnam): Opportunities for watersports and sailing are many as you travel along Vietnam's coast. Most resorts have boats for rent, and Nha Trang is a good bet, as is the area off Mui Ne Beach near Phan Thiet, which is becoming a very popular kite-surfing and windsurfing spot.
- Waiting for the Magic Hour at Angkor Wat (Cambodia): You'll want to plan your day around it, and temple aficionados all have their favorite spots; but whether from a hillside overlooking a glowing temple facade or from the heights of the main temple itself, with the horizon framed by the famed ancient towers, be sure to see an Angkor sunset. Sunrise is equally worth the early morning ride.
- Sipping a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel (Singapore): Ah, the Long Bar, home of the Singapore Sling. Sheltered by long timber shutters that close out the tropical sun, the air cooled by lazy punkahs (and air-conditioning), you can sit back in an old rattan chair and have a saronged waitress serve you sticky alcoholic creations while you toss back a few dainty crab cakes. It's fun to imagine the days when Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling, or Charlie Chaplin would be sitting at the bar. Come in the afternoon, before the tourist rush.
- Walking the Streets of Georgetown (Penang, Malaysia): Evidence of former British colonization and early Chinese, Indian, and Arab immigration is apparent in many major cities in Malaysia, but Penang has a special charm. In some ways, the city still operates the way it did half a century ago. Life hums in these streets, and for anyone who has witnessed the homogenization of Singapore or the modernization of Kuala Lumpur, Penang is a charming reminder of what life might have been like in these old outposts.
- Observing Open-Air Public Cremations (Bali): Hindus believe that cremation is the only way a soul can be freed of its earthly body and travel to its next incarnation (or to enlightenment), so cremations are joyous occasions, full of floats and fanfare that can resemble a Mardi Gras parade. Complicated towers hold the body, carried aloft by cheering men. At the burning ground, the body is placed in a receptacle resembling a winged lion, a bull, or some other fabulous creature, and is set on fire. It's beautiful and awesome, a marvelous show of pageantry and faith, and yet a natural part of everyday life. Western visitors are welcomed.
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