Tranquil travel hits Bali as the entire island falls silent during Nyepi

While many cultures around the world celebrate their New Year with fireworks, parades, and loud parties, the island of Bali in Indonesia takes a different approach. In fact, travelers looking to enjoy some peace and quiet in a beautiful setting should consider taking a trip to the island on March 23 to take part in the Balinese New Year, or Nyepi, “Day of Silence”.

During Nyepi, the entire island of Bali falls silent in an effort to cleanse and purify. In fact, shops aren’t allowed to open, vehicles and machinery may not be used, work is forbidden, electricity must remain off, and even the Bali airport closes down.

Just because the island falls silent, however, does not mean you shouldn’t visit. In fact, an array of cultural activities and package deals are offered in honor of Nyepi, making it the perfect time to visit Bali.

AYANA Resort and Spa

For those who would like to experience Nyepi for themselves, the luxury, cliff-top AYANA Resort and Spa allows guests to stay on the property and continue to use the restaurants, spa, and other facilities during the event as long as noise is kept to a minimum. They also take part in the festivities that lead up to the day of silence, including creating a giant paper mache figure called ogoh-ogoh (shown above). On the night before Nyepi, locals from all over the island come out to show off their own ogoh-ogohs, which tend to resemble skeletons and monsters, while live bands play in the background. It is believed that those taking part in this cultural ceremony confront their own negativity and purge it from their souls.

Rates start at $239 per night plus taxes and gratuities. Email or click here to book. The Radiant Hotel and Spa

The Radiant Hotel and Spa is a 5-star boutique hotel that sits on 50-acres of pools, palm trees, tropical gardens, and magnificent fountains. In honor of the Balinese New Year, the hotel is offering a 3 day/2 night Nyepi Package which includes two nights in a Superior room, daily breakfast for two, an evening at the buffet, unlimited soft drinks, a 45-minute foot and shoulder massage, and 10% off beverages. And to help you enjoy the tranquility a little more, you can add-on one of their relaxing spa packages, like a 30-minute Jacuzzi soak followed by a 70-minute full-body natural oil massage, shower, and snack, or a combination that includes a sauna session, massage, body scrub, and facial.

Package rates start at $154 plus taxes and gratuities for the dates of March 22-24. E-mail or click here to book.

Conrad Bali

This contemporary designed, beachfront property is all about creating unique and worthwhile experiences for their guests, from cooking classes to brunches on the beach to tennis lessons. For Nyepi, the Conrad Bali is helping guests cleanse their souls by hosting an array of holistic and healing activities, like yoga and meditation. They are also keeping their spa open so that guests can enjoy treatments like a tea-infused aromatherapy bath followed by a marine mud and sea salt body wrap, or a full-body massage and natural yogurt body mask.

Rates start at $168 per night plus taxes and gratuities. Click here to book.

Sun Boutique Hotel

The Sun Boutique Hotel is a modern hotel with enjoyable features like spacious rooms, soothing wall art, a delicious bistro, and a beautiful rooftop garden. In honor of Nyepi, they are featuring a Sun Nyepi Package which includes a welcome drink, daily buffet breakfast for two, daily tropical fruit basket, two water bottles each day, coffee and tea, and lunch and dinner for two on March 23.

Package rates start at about $174 for a standard room. E-mail or click here to book.


If you love being surrounded by nature in a peaceful setting, this is your perfect hotel. From March 22-March 24, Komaneka will be offering a Nyepi Package, which includes two nights in a Bisma Suite room, a 60-minute Balinese massage, two lunches and dinners, welcome drink, daily breakfast and afternoon tea, daily en-suite cookies, fruits, and flowers, daily entrance and return transfer to Neka Art Museum, free mineral water each day, free activities like cultural offerings, dance lessons, and wood carving, and free shuttle service to and from central Ubud.

Package rates vary depending on when you book. E-mail or click here to book.

Cold-hearted thieves steal “lovers’ padlocks” off Cologne’s Hohenzollern Bridge

Police in Germany have arrested two thieves who were in the process of cutting “lovers’ padlocks” off Cologne’s Hohenzollern Bridge, a popular tourist attraction that spans the Rhine River. The padlocks, which were left by amorous couples who attach the locks to the bridge and then toss the key into the river below to symbolize eternal love, were presumably being stolen for their scrap value.

“I spotted two men on the other side of the bridge tampering with the lovers’ padlocks, so I called for back-up straight away,” a police officer said. The men tried to flee but were apprehended on the bridge. In a wheeled suitcase, police discovered 50 padlocks and a lock cutter. According to police, the men will appear in court on charges of property damage.

Click here to view a gallery of the lovers’ padlocks taken last May in Germany.

Turkey gets ready to celebrate its annual Mesir Festival

Every spring for the past 500 years, Turkey has been celebrating the traditional Mesir Festival in the city of Manisa. Not only does the event encompass parades, concerts, and exhibits, but also the throwing of spices.

Mesir, also known as “power gum,” is a blend of 41 different spices made into a thick paste. The story of its origin is that the wife of the Ottoman Sultan Yavuz Sultan Selim and the mother of Süleyman the Magnificient, Hafsa Sultan, became very sick while she was in Manisa. Since there were no known treatments at the time, a concoction of herbs and spices was created, and actually ended up curing the ill woman. After that, mesir became a popular remedy for sick patients.

So how was the Mesir Festival born? Once demand for the cure grew, the mixture was wrapped in paper and thrown from the Sultan Mosque once each year. Now, thousands of people who attend the festival can stand at the bottom of the mosque and catch their own healing mesir paste. Other festival highlights to look forward to include skeet shooting matches, a canine beauty competition, a traditional mesir paste mixing ceremony, live music in the park, a Ukrainian art exhibit, and much more.

The Mesir Festival will take place this year on March 21-25, 2012. If you’d like to practice some traditional Mesir Festival singing to get you in the mood for the celebration, click here to listen to the official Mesir Festival song. For information on the celebration in general, click here.

A guide to giving alms in Laos, South East Asia

Giving alms is an important part of Laos culture and occurs in many South East Asian countries. When I took a trip to Luang Prabang, I was actually traveling with a Thai woman named Jaeb who asked me if I’d want to take part in the tradition with her. While I shuddered at the thought of waking up at dawn, I was excited to get the chance to be a part of a local tradition and get a deeper look into the culture.

Almsgiving is a religious ritual where the community gathers around the monastery at 5:30 AM to give food to a silent procession of monks. Monks are not allowed to cook or hoard food, so for many this is their only daily meal. The monks do not eat for pleasure, but to sustain their bodies, which are conditioned and trained to live with very little materials things, including food. I was also told that not having to think about food later on in the day clears the mind of distractions.On the sidewalk, women kneel down on mats holding baskets full of sticky rice balls and bushels of bananas while the men stand around them. While the setting is of a peaceful nature, you still need to be careful, as local women looking to make money off tourists will literally throw you down onto a mat and shove food in front of you before telling you to pay a ridiculous amount of money. The problem with this is not only will you be getting ripped off, but you are often given low-quality food. Only the best food should be given to the monks, so buy fresh fruit the night before or have your hotel prepare some sticky rice for you.

There’s some etiquette for women that goes along with the giving of alms, as well. Women should never touch a monk or their pots. Otherwise, the monks will have to go through a purification process. Also, a woman’s head should always be lower than the monks and shoulders and knees should be covered, although this goes for whether you’re in the presence of a monk or not.

So, what can you get out of the experience? To me, it was about more than just feeding the monks. Almsgiving really showed the sense of community in Luang Prabang, and how easy it really is to give to others and let go of addiction and neediness. If you attend with an open mind and make sure to be respectful of the customs, the tradition of Almsgiving can be a very worthwhile and eye-opening experience.

American students bring Thanksgiving’s message of coexistence to the Middle East

This Thanksgiving, holiday traditions and messages are going farther than the family dinner table. In fact, they are going all the way to the Middle East as American young adults spending time abroad will be spreading the message of coexistence throughout diverse communities by recreating the Thanksgiving feast from their childhood.

Masa Israel Journey, a project of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli Government, sends more than 6,000 young Americans to Israel each year to study, intern, and volunteer, as well as spread a peaceful and harmonious message. Diverse groups of people such as Arabs, Israeli Jews, Palestinians, Europeans, and American peers are all positively affected by the introduction and blending of Thanksgiving traditions.

Some examples of how American young adults have spread their traditions and the message of coexistence include:

  • Abra Berkowitz, a Boston-native who studied at Masa Israel’s Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, shared a potluck dinner with other students from Jordan, Isreael, the Palestinian Territories, South Africa, Canada, and Australia. A blending of cultures could be seen by a turkey seasoned with zaatar and a side dish of tahini stuffing.
  • Detroit-born Josh Kanter, who enrolled in Masa Israel’s Career Israel internship program, celebrated Thanksgiving at a Herbrew University-sponsored dinner with other international students from Argentina, Uruguay, Guatemala, Israel, and the United States. While there was turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, hummus was also a big hit at the table.
  • Jessica Simon from Philadelphia, who studied at Masa Israel’s Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, was also volunteering at Jerusalem Open House, the organization that supports LGBT people and their allies in Jerusalem. She planned a Thanksgiving potluck and read from a gay friendly prayer book with Hebrew explanations about Thanksgiving to the Israeli attendees. Because sweet potatoes were not available, Simon substituted them with carrot soup.

For information on Masa Israel Journey and how they help spread the message of coexistence, click here.