Batu Caves: A Hindu Pilgrimage Site Infested With Monkeys

Brave the steps, stench and wild macaques at one of the most interesting Kuala Lumpur attractions.

The Batu Caves is a major pilgrimage site just to the north of Kuala Lumpur

The Batu Caves is a major pilgrimage site just to the north of Kuala Lumpur

The first thing you notice when you visit the Batu Caves — aside from the giant gold statue and all the monkeys — is the smell. It’s a pungent mixture of body odor, guano and garbage, all stewing in the oppressive Malaysian heat.

Hindu shrines are built into the limestone cliffs

Hindu shrines are built into the limestone cliffs

What are the Batu Caves?

This site, nine and a half miles north of Kuala Lumpur (often shortened to KL), has been a place of worship for Hindus for over a century. The limestone hills are 400 million or so years old and were once shelters for the indigenous Temuan people.

The Batu Caves are described as the most holy Hindu temple outside of India.

During the Thaipusam Festival, hooks and skewers pierce the skin, cheeks and tongues of penitents. Eww.
A depiction of Kamadhenu, the Mother of All Cows

A depiction of Kamadhenu, the Mother of All Cows

Hindu statues tend to be awash in bright colors

Hindu statues tend to be awash in bright colors

The iconography around the site can be a bit of a shock — especially if you've never visited a Hindu shrine before. Churches tend to be less flamboyant, even those awash in a gilded glory. And mosques are often understated, austere, devoid of excess ornamentation, in part because of the absence of statues — Muslims believe it’s sacrilege to portray their holy personages.

Not so Hindus. In fact, you'll find numerous statues of their deities and the animals associated with them throughout the Batu Caves. They're painted in bright rainbow colors. This was the first time I had seen this style of Hindu statuary. It surprised me how cartoonish the bizarre figures were. It struck me as more of something to decorate a theme park than a temple.

At the base of the stairs, vendors sells floral offerings to the gods

At the base of the stairs, vendors sells floral offerings to the gods

Food and flower vendors peddle their wares at the base of a dauntingly long set of stairs.

To reach the main cave, you have to climb a lot of steps — 272, to be exact

To reach the main cave, you have to climb a lot of steps — 272, to be exact

Duke and Fatima found that going down was a lot easier than going up

Duke and Fatima found that going down was a lot easier than going up

Maybe the smell got to be too much for Vanessa, though our hostess Angie, who lived in KL, seems used to it

Maybe the smell got to be too much for Vanessa, though our hostess Angie, who lived in KL, seems used to it

How many steps are there?

272. In fact, they’re numbered for your convenience, though I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Everything in the caves is cast in an eerie yellow glow

Everything in the caves is cast in an eerie yellow glow

What’s inside the caves?

The reward at the top of the stairs is Cathedral Cave, the main cavern. You’ll find various shrines to Hindu deities scattered throughout the interior. There’s nothing impressive about the shrines; they’re quite small and, if I’m being honest, sad-looking.

In one nook of Cathedral Cave, a man wore a snake

In one nook of Cathedral Cave, a man wore a snake

A lizard lounging in the caves

A lizard lounging in the caves

Small groups of worshippers sit in rows in front of the shrines, and when we visited, there was a man with a snake around his neck and a large lizard perched on a stick.

The artificial lighting casts an eerie, jaundiced glow to everything.

We only explored the main cavern, though there are other caves at the foot of Batu Hill: Art Gallery Cave and Museum Cave, which feature Hindu statues and paintings. The Ramayana Cave is a newer addition and is said to have psychedelic paintings and a 50-foot statue of the monkey god Hanuman (appropriate for a site teeming with his brethren).

The Batu Caves are popular with Hindu worshippers, especially during the Thaipusam Festival, when hundreds of thousands of pilgrims descend upon the temple

The Batu Caves are popular with Hindu worshippers, especially during the Thaipusam Festival, when hundreds of thousands of pilgrims descend upon the temple

Who visits the Batu Caves?

The caves are one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Kuala Lumpur area. It’s also a major pilgrimage site for Hindus during the festival of Thaipusam. The number of devotees who descend upon the Batu Caves is said to reach 1 million. I can’t even imagine how crowded and claustrophobic that would be — not to mention the gag-worthy stench.

Cows are revered in Hinduism

Cows are revered in Hinduism

What’s the Thaipusam Festival?

It’s held at the end of January or beginning of February, with a procession that starts in the evening at the Sri Mariamman Temple in KL. Worshippers arrive at the Batu Caves in the wee hours of the morning.

It’s not unusual for Hindu deities to have multiple faces and arms

It’s not unusual for Hindu deities to have multiple faces and arms

To make the festival even more intense, the devotees carry large wood or steel frames called kavadis (literally, “burdens”) on their shoulders. They’re brightly colored, decorated with flowers and feathers and can weigh over 200 pounds. The kavadis carry offerings of containers of milk to Lord Muruga. Hooks and skewers attached to the kavadis pierce the skin, cheeks and tongues of those carrying them. Eww.

The gold statue of Lord Murugan rises 140 feet into the air

The gold statue of Lord Murugan rises 140 feet into the air

Who’s the huge statue of?

That’s Lord Murugan, the milk-loving young god of war in Hinduism. He’s the son of Shiva and Parvati, who meditated until a giant fireball formed that eventually became a baby with six faces. Primarily worshipped in Southern India, Murugan led an army of devas, or divine beings, in a successful battle against demons.

The statue stands 140 feet tall, its framework of steel bars and concrete covered by 300 liters of gold paint from Thailand that can be blinding in the sunlight.

Wild macaque monkeys roam the grounds of the Batu Caves

Wild macaque monkeys roam the grounds of the Batu Caves

What about those monkeys?

There are long-tailed macaques everywhere at the Batu Caves. They’re mangy-looking and can be quite aggressive in their scrounging for food. I don’t recommend getting too close to them — which is why I was somewhat horrified that Duke decided this was when he’d get over his fear of monkeys.

The monkeys at the caves rummage for food — be careful!

The monkeys at the caves rummage for food — be careful!

The macaques clamber about the stair railings and pick through the garbage that’s scattered throughout the complex.

Standing at the top of the steps on a hazy day, looking toward KL

Standing at the top of the steps on a hazy day, looking toward KL

How can I get there?

The KTM Komuter Train from KL Sentral downtown will take you right to the Batu Caves. –Wally

Batu Caves
Gombak
68100 Batu Caves
Selangor, Malaysia

All About Indigo: A Natural Color to Dye For

Our favorite tie dye clothing designer in Chiang Mai explains how indigo is made.

Pattaya Mee, owner of HaNa Natural Indigo, with one of her designs

Pattaya Mee, owner of HaNa Natural Indigo, with one of her designs

Mysterious and alluring, indigo has a long and storied history, spanning millennia, cultures and continents. One of the oldest natural dyes known to man, its hue is a symbol of status amongst the nomadic Tuareg of the Sahara. In Hinduism, the god Krishna’s complexion is depicted as blue, and the Virgin Mary is typically draped in a blue veil in Christian art.

There are many different species of indigofera, the plants used to produce indigo dye. One of the most common is the indigofera tinctoria, native to India and Asia. Indigo is the only dye in the world that starts blue, changes to green, and transforms itself again to blue.

I love it when the dye changes from green to blue with oxidation — it’s magic!
— Pattaya Mee, owner, HaNa Natural Indigo

Though it has been used continuously for thousands of years, the natural dyeing process is long and arduous. In order to extract the dye, the leaves of the plant must be fermented for a week. To achieve the darkest of indigo blues, the fabric is dyed as many as 40 times!

A dip-dyed ombré T-shirt Patty created hangs to dry

A dip-dyed ombré T-shirt Patty created hangs to dry

HaNa Natural Indigo

While exploring the Anusarn Night Market in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Wally and I were drawn to Pattaya Mee’s booth with its variety of beautiful hand-dyed apparel. We struck up a conversation with her and were charmed by her smile and her story.

Before starting HaNa Natural Indigo as a full-time business, Patty worked at a media company in Bangkok. In her spare time, she attended workshops, where she learned about natural dyeing. With no formal training, she began nurturing her hobby, selling her pieces around Bangkok and Chiang Mai. In 2015 she relocated to Chiang Mai and established HaNa Natural Indigo.

What drew you to indigo?
I experimented with many different types of natural dyes, but fell in love with indigo. I love it when the dye changes from green to blue with oxidation — it’s magic!

 

What type of plant does the indigo you dye with come from?

I use the leaves from the Baphicacanthus cusia Bremek plant, which we call hom in Thai.

The Baphicacanthus cusia Bremek plant, or hom, can be used to make indigo

The Baphicacanthus cusia Bremek plant, or hom, can be used to make indigo

How is your indigo dye made?
The exact recipe is a secret. Every artist and studio has their own set of ingredients. I can’t tell you what they are, but I can tell you that many use a dye-producing leaf mix that’s soaked in water and fermented until the mixture becomes yellow or green in color. This is an indication of good-quality indigo.

The exact method Patty uses to create her indigo paste is a secret

The exact method Patty uses to create her indigo paste is a secret

What are the steps taken for the dyeing process?

  • Step 1: Plant
  • Step 2: Harvest
  • Step 3: Soak
  • Step 4: Ferment
  • Step 5: Oxidize
  • Step 6: Filter
  • Step 7: Collect the paste
  • Step 8: Prepare the vat
  • Step 9: Dye
Creating and dyeing with indigo involves a nine-step process

Creating and dyeing with indigo involves a nine-step process

Your pieces are diverse and imaginative. Where does your inspiration come from for the designs?

Nature and music. There are always imperfections in nature, and with natural indigo dyeing, no two garments will ever be alike. Some patterns are exaggerated like the mountains or the sea. I listen to silly pop songs while creating and like to think that whimsy is reflected in my work.

Blue hands are a telltale sign that the person works with indigo (or is the god Krishna)

Blue hands are a telltale sign that the person works with indigo (or is the god Krishna)

One last question: How do you get the dye off your hands?

You can’t. :)


If you happen to be in Chiang Mai, you can visit Patty at the Kajidrid shop at the InterInn Hotel just outside the Old City. We purchased an indigo dyed T-shirt and silk scarf all at reasonable prices for handmade pieces — plus they’re easy to pack! –Duke

The adorable Kajidrid shop sells HaNa Natural Indigo products

The adorable Kajidrid shop sells HaNa Natural Indigo products

Kajidrid
17 Thapae Road, Soi 5
ChangKlan Sub-District
Mueang District, Chiang Mai

Elephant Nature Park: A Day You’ll Never Forget

Feed and bathe the residents of this elephant sanctuary outside of Chiang Mai.

Water buffalo coexist with the elephants at the park, one of the highest-rated sanctuaries in Northern Thailand

Water buffalo coexist with the elephants at the park, one of the highest-rated sanctuaries in Northern Thailand

Before we did a bit of research, we didn’t know any better. We thought the idea of riding an elephant would be fun. But the more we read in preparation for our trip to Chiang Mai, the more we realized we didn’t want to be a part of perpetuating the ill treatment of elephants and that we wanted instead to visit a sanctuary, a place where elephants were rescued and not exploited.

It’s heartbreaking to think how much these elephants suffered before their idyllic life in the sanctuary

It’s heartbreaking to think how much these elephants suffered before their idyllic life in the sanctuary

The Elephant Nature Park outside of Chiang Mai had great reviews, so we booked a half-day visit with them. A van came to pick us up at our hotel, stopping in town to gather other travelers. The ride takes over an hour, and be warned: You’ll have to sit through a horrific video detailing the barbaric practices of “training” elephants.



The sad fact is that en route to the park, while you’re learning about the cruel practices trainers use to break one of these creatures, you’ll pass tourist operations where people are riding elephants. Which means they’re guilty of the atrocities you’re watching on the small screen at the front of the van.

Spend a day at the Elephant Nature Park to feed, bathe and get to know rescued elephants

Spend a day at the Elephant Nature Park to feed, bathe and get to know rescued elephants

The Elephant Nature Park’s mission is to rescue elephants who have been retired from the logging trade, have been abused by the tourism circuit or have suffered in some other way.
Elephants live about as long as humans do

Elephants live about as long as humans do

The Elephant Nature Park was founded by Lek Chailert. Her mission is to rescue elephants who have been retired from the logging trade, have been abused by the tourism circuit (trekking, street begging, circuses) or have suffered in some other way.

Little Yindee is one of seven baby elephants to have been born in the park

Little Yindee is one of seven baby elephants to have been born in the park

The park purchases elephants for about 2 to 3 million baht and offers them a 500-acre sanctuary to roam freely. There are currently over 30. A lot of them have medical problems from their ill treatment in the past, and here they receive excellent medical care and the proper diet.

Elephants at the park get fed corn, rice, watermelon and squash — but they seem to prefer bananas

Elephants at the park get fed corn, rice, watermelon and squash — but they seem to prefer bananas

Insider Tip: You’ll do a lot of walking, so we don’t recommend wearing flip-flops as a lot of the other guests did. But you also don’t want to wear shoes you can’t get wet — at the end of the tour, you have the chance to go into the river to bathe an elephant, and we had to go barefoot. The best footwear would be walking sandals that can go in the water.

Wally and Duke had a fun day at the Elephant Nature Park while visiting Chiang Mai

Wally and Duke had a fun day at the Elephant Nature Park while visiting Chiang Mai

Please Do Feed the Animals

At the Elephant Nature Park, you get divided into smaller groups of 12 or so, and you make the rounds seeing the elephants as they go about their day. Our first stop was to feed Kham Moon. She’s 55 years old (elephants have the same life expectancy as humans!). She was involved in logging until she broke her leg and was deemed useless for those purposes. Now she’s a sweet, if spoiled, resident of the park.

There are baskets of food you’re allowed to feed the elephants. We fed her pumpkins at first, but after a while she spotted the bananas and only had eyes for them. These big beasts sure love to eat — they consume at least 10 percent of their body weight every day! Our guide, Nieo, told us that elephants eat for 20 hours a day and sleep only three to four.

Many of the elephants at the park show signs of their previously abusive lives

Many of the elephants at the park show signs of their previously abusive lives

An elephant's trunk is its most versatile tool. It’s used for breathing, smelling, trumpeting, touching, grasping for leaves, sucking up and sometimes spraying out water. This useful bit of equipment has 40,000 muscles (compared to the human body which has just 639 muscles), Nieo explained.

You don’t really realize how wise and sweet these animals are until you get up close and personal with them

You don’t really realize how wise and sweet these animals are until you get up close and personal with them

It’s really quite freaky but amazing watching elephants eat. The end of their snouts are able to grab food, moving like fingers. I’d hold out a banana, then quickly move my hand away as the snout pulsated, squealing like a little girl.

An elephant’s trunk is an amazingly useful appendage

An elephant’s trunk is an amazingly useful appendage

When near an elephant, always stand where it can see you — they don’t have peripheral vision. You also shouldn’t stand directly in front or behind an elephant, Nieo told us.

It’s true that elephants are scared of mice, our guide added. “They don’t like small things — including children. They move too fast.” Keep that in mind if you’re bringing little ones along.

Our next stop was feeding Sook Jai, an 82-year-old elephant. She’s blind and has no teeth, so we had to peel bananas before giving them to her.

Another elephant fun fact: They’re natural born farmers. They only digest 40 percent of their food, so whatever they eat grows out of their poop.

The elephants cool off in the water and use their trunks to spray themselves

The elephants cool off in the water and use their trunks to spray themselves

Bath Time

Our group moved through the hot sun over to the watering hole, watching the elephants cool off, spewing the brown water onto their backs. We learned that one of the elephants in the group had been rescued after stepping on a landmine.

A baby elephant named Yindee splashed in the water with her cohorts. She’s one of seven elephants to have been born in the park.

Duke thinks this elephant could use some good moisturizer

Duke thinks this elephant could use some good moisturizer

Wally makes a new friend

Wally makes a new friend

Some of the mahouts splashed one of the elephants who has bad legs and can’t lie down in the water. While we watched these giant creatures cool off, the operation across the river had people riding elephants right by guys recklessly driving off-road ATVs. Our group all disparaged them, and I suggested throwing elephant dung at them.

Our guide was informative and had a great sense of humor

Our guide was informative and had a great sense of humor

By the river, we fed an elephant named Jandee. That means “Kind Heart,” Nieo told us. It’s ironic, though because this 66-year-old is a bit feisty and would fight if she was near other elephants.

She doesn’t have any teeth, either, so we fed her rice balls.

I pretended like I was going to throw one. “Snowball fight!” I joked, giving Jandee her treat.

She swung her trunk around with the rice ball before eating it. “She likes to play with her food,” I pointed out.

Jandee is the second largest elephant at the camp. She’s from a photo studio on the island of Ko Tao, where people could take wedding photos with her. But the operator didn’t have license, and she was purchased and brought to the Elephant Nature Park.

You’ll also see a lot of elephants using their trunks to toss mud and dirt onto their backs. It acts as a natural sunscreen to protect their skin and keep them cool.

The park is also a rescue center for cats (as well as dogs)

The park is also a rescue center for cats (as well as dogs)

Midway through the morning, we break for lunch so we could actually feed ourselves and not just the elephants. We had heard that the buffet was delicious, and the online reviews didn’t lie. There are numerous local dishes to choose from, and many of them are vegetarian.

After we were done eating, Duke and I wandered behind the kitchen to the Cat Kingdom. In addition to rescuing elephants, the park also saves water buffalo, dogs (avoid the ones with red bandanas around their necks, as they’re not good around people) and cats. The feline contingency has its own domain, which we explored.

When you join the elephants in the river, be advised that the muddy water can stain your clothes

When you join the elephants in the river, be advised that the muddy water can stain your clothes

The final stop of the day is watering elephants. In addition to not recommending you go barefoot (one of the girls with us stepped on something and cut her foot pretty badly), you also shouldn’t wear anything you won’t mind getting stained. The water is brown, and I got drenched when a young woman on the opposite side of the elephant overshot, and the bucketful of water landed right on me. The mud in the water must have some intense pigmentation because my shorts and shirt never got fully clean afterward.

The Elephant Nature Park has a noble goal, and it’s great to see these intelligent creatures up close and personal. If you’re spending five or so days in Chiang Mai, this is a day trip you should definitely put on your list (along with ziplining at Flight of the Gibbon and the colorful tour of temples in Chiang Rai, starting with the White Temple).

There were some Brits in our group who decided to skip the after-lunch activities and just sat in the pavilion getting wasted. We had to listen to them drunkenly shout and whine that they needed the loo the entire ride home.

That aside, a day at the Elephant Nature Park will make you better understand (and even fall in love with) elephants. They never forget, and neither will you. –Wally

We’re putting our foot down — go to an elephant sanctuary and don’t perpetuate the abuse of these amazing creatures

We’re putting our foot down — go to an elephant sanctuary and don’t perpetuate the abuse of these amazing creatures

Elephant Nature Park
209/2 Sridom Chai Road
Tambon Kuet Chang
Amphoe Mae Taen
Chang Wat
Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand

Mulligatawny Soup: Where It Originated and How to Make It

One of the more flavorful (and seemingly bizarre) soup recipes, this Indian dish has many variations. Here’s our favorite.

British colonists in India insisted on a soup course — and mulligatawny was born

British colonists in India insisted on a soup course — and mulligatawny was born

The British aren’t known for their culinary skills. Sure, they can whip up a myriad of delicious cakes, as The Great British Baking Show has taught us. But when it comes to meals, the Brits are about as bland as can be. My Welsh grandmother once told me, “The only spices you need are salt and pepper.” I disagreed, and with the rise of curry shops around England, the British seem to have come around as well. It’s strange to me that a country that colonized so many parts of the world took so long to add bold flavors to its cuisine.

When you try mulligatawny soup, there’s no denying it’s an unexpected but delicious blending of British and Indian culinary styles.

 

The Origins of Mulligatawny Soup

Indian meals are traditionally served all at once, the containers placed in the center of the table, family-style, with everyone digging in and helping themselves to the shared dishes.

During the British Raj, between 1858 and 1947, when the sun never set on the British Empire, the fussy British colonists and soldiers refused to alter their way of dining, which I’m sure they felt was much more civilized. And that included a soup course.

Well, there wasn’t really an Indian soup, per se, so the servants would water down one of their occupiers’ favorite dishes, milagu tannir, which translates to “pepper water” in Tamil, a southern Indian dialect. (One source says the dish was molegoo tunes, a broth drunk by poor Sri Lankans.) The British never seemed to worry about pronouncing things incorrectly, and they garbled the dish until it came out mulligatawny, as it’s known today.

The colonists brought mulligatawny back to Britain, where it’s a staple on pub menus, though the recipe varies widely. We’re partial to the version my mom makes.

 

Ingredients

  • 2-3 stalks celery, thinly sliced
  • 2 chicken breasts, cooked, cooled and shredded
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons garam masala
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2½ cups onion, chopped
  • 3 large Granny Smith apples, diced
  • 1 small can diced green chilies
  • 2 cups carrots, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup heavy cream
     
Apples, curry, carrots, garam masala, chicken, green chilies and onions all come together in a surprisingly cohesive and delicious meal

Apples, curry, carrots, garam masala, chicken, green chilies and onions all come together in a surprisingly cohesive and delicious meal

Preparation

Put oil and butter in a skillet until it melts.

Sauté onion for 4-5 minutes.

Add garlic, sautéing for 2 minutes.

Add the rest of the ingredients to a large pot, except the heavy cream. Cover and simmer.

Ladle out some of the warm liquid and slowly add the heavy cream while stirring. This will help prevent the cream from curdling. Add it back to the pot and cover.

Simmer for at least an hour. The longer the better.

Serve with fresh parsley (and a dollop of sour cream if you’d like).

 

Back in the day, the heavy cream was coconut milk, so feel free to substitute that.

The original recipe also called for a potato (peeled and chopped), but the Shirl swaps this out for another apple. You can’t tell the difference, she says, and she likes the added sweetness. –Wally

Azazel, Lucifer, Changelings and Cursed Objects

Protect yourself from The monsters of Supernatural, Season 3, Episodes 2-4 with this cleansing ritual.

You can tell something’s not right with the baby in this illustration of a changeling by P.J. Lynch

You can tell something’s not right with the baby in this illustration of a changeling by P.J. Lynch

S3E2: “The Kids Are Alright”

Monster: Changeling

Where it’s from: Ireland

Description: It looks like your kid — but it’s an imposter left behind by fairies when they spirited away your real child. You might catch its true form in a reflection: gross raw red and white sinewy skin. Oh, and the Supernatural version has a round sucker mouth with rings of spiral teeth like a lamprey.

There’s documentation of parents from the late 1800s who killed their kids, thinking them changelings. One woman put her child in the oven, while another drowned her 3-year-old son because he couldn’t stand or speak.
Keep iron by your baby’s crib if you don’t want fairies to kidnap it and replace it with a changeling imposter

Keep iron by your baby’s crib if you don’t want fairies to kidnap it and replace it with a changeling imposter

What it does: Fairies have the nasty habit of stealing away human children and leaving sub-par copies in their stead. What’s up with all this baby-napping?

There are a variety of reasons for this despicable act. Some say that fairy babies are actually quite ugly. Some think that fairies offer human babies to the Devil in a blood sacrifice. And some believe it’s so fairies can cross-breed with humans to enhance their bloodlines. A fairy’s true motives are nearly impossible to know.

A changeling typically exhibits signs of sickness. Even if it has a prodigious appetite, it will still end up weak and unhealthy, with long, bony limbs. Sometimes it’s deformed or has strange features, including a full set of teeth within a few weeks. It may be aloof or unable to talk. And it might cry nonstop, bite or otherwise misbehave.

“To any modern reader the symptoms of a changeling child can be conflated with autism, Down syndrome, and a host of other developmental and congenital disorders,” writes Randomdescent. It sounded like a somewhat condoned means of disposing of disabled children.

You see, parents supposedly could force the fairies to return their child by treating the changeling cruelly. There’s documentation of parents from the late 1800s who killed their kids, thinking them changelings. One woman put her child in the oven, while another drowned her 3-year-old son because he couldn’t stand or speak.

The Changeling by Johann Heinrich Füssli, 1780

The Changeling by Johann Heinrich Füssli, 1780

On Supernatural, there have been a series of deadly “accidents,” including a man falling (getting pushed) onto a power saw. They’re the work of changelings, which crawl in through windows and assume the shape of a child.

The mothers get marked with a red bruise on the back of their necks. Turns out it perfectly matches that creepy round mouth lined with razor-sharp teeth. The kids are draining their moms’ synovial fluid.

Saying that your kid was a changeling used to be a way to get rid of troublesome or impaired offspring

Saying that your kid was a changeling used to be a way to get rid of troublesome or impaired offspring

How to defeat it: It’s tough to kill these changelings. One woman puts her daughter in the car and sends it into a nearby lake. She returns home to find the little girl dripping wet, still wanting that ice cream she was promised.

Fire works, though it might be hard to get away with burning children alive. As Dean points out, “We’ll just bust in, drag the kids out, torch them on the front lawn. That’ll play great with the neighbors.”

The Winchester brothers realize that if you kill the mother changeling, all the others will burn up as well. Luckily, the real kids weren’t taken off to fairyland but were kept underground, and they all get rescued.

In Irish tradition, fairies hate iron, so people would leave something made of this metal near their baby’s crib, such as fire tongs, scissors or a knife. Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me, but I suppose you have to weigh your risks.

Baptizing a baby as soon as possible also prevents fairy abduction.

Why do we think these grotesque maimed animal parts are so lucky?

Why do we think these grotesque maimed animal parts are so lucky?

S3E3: “Bad Day at Black Rock”

Monster: Cursed object

Where it’s from: All over the world

Description: Cursed objects can be a variety of things, including paintings (such as The Hands Resist Him, which you can read about in this post), mirrors, dolls — or tombs, like that of King Tut.

What it does: Curse boxes have binding runes and are meant to keep the bad stuff in, like Pandora’s box. And we all know how well that worked out.

What’s inside the curse box Dean and Sam find in their father’s storage space? A frickin’ rabbit’s foot?!

They wouldn’t be smiling if they knew those rabbit’s foots might be cursed!

They wouldn’t be smiling if they knew those rabbit’s foots might be cursed!

While that doesn’t sound like much, it’s actually a super powerful token of hoodoo magic. If you have a rabbit’s foot that was cut off in a cemetery under a full moon on a Friday the 13th, you’ll have a run of amazing luck — for about a week. Then you lose the rabbit’s foot, your luck runs out…and you die.

Of course when Dean gets his hands on the cursed object, he says, “I’m Batman!”

If you really want a lucky charm, cut off the left hind foot of a rabbit on an evil person’s grave at midnight on a Friday the 13th

If you really want a lucky charm, cut off the left hind foot of a rabbit on an evil person’s grave at midnight on a Friday the 13th

Hoodoo lore adds that it must be the rabbit’s left hind foot, and that the meaner the person whose grave you’re on top of, the more powerful the charm will be.

The association with rabbits and good luck supposedly goes all the way back to 600 BCE. It was believed that holding part of an animal would give you that creature’s strengths — in this case, the ability to run swiftly from danger or be extremely fertile, according to WebVet.

How to defeat it: Perform a heavyweight cleansing ritual. The boys use one that involves bone ash and cayenne pepper. It takes place in a cemetery, cuz why not? Here’s another you can try, from Wiccan Spells:

Cleansing Ritual

You’ll need something representing each of the four elements:

  • Air: Sage incense
  • Fire: Silver or gray candle
  • Earth: Sea salt
  • Water: Chalice filled with water

Hold your hands over the incense and say, “With air I cleanse myself.” Let the smoke swirl around your fingers for a few moments. Feel the cleansing properties of sage immerse you.

Hold your hands above the candle (at a safe distance) and say, “With fire I cleanse myself.” Visualize the flame burning away anything unwanted within you.

Take the sea salt and crumble it between your fingers and gently rub it on your hands, saying, “With earth I cleanse myself.”

Dip your hands in the water, again gently rubbing your hands, and say, “With water I cleanse myself.”

Sit in silence for a moment while you let the elements do their work.

Say: “Any energy that no longer serves me, please leave now. Thank you for your presence. Now I am sending you home.” Say it with conviction. Keep repeating it until you feel you’re done — this might be 10 times, or it might be 50. Negativity will shed from you like the skin off a snake. You may experience a pulling sensation or a feeling of suddenly becoming lighter.

After releasing the negative energies, you will have holes in your aura that must be filled with light — otherwise other negative energy will easily latch onto you and you’ll have to start the process again.

Visualize the top of your head opening up, with a funnel going from the heavens into your body. Pull down divine light to fill every gap in your aura as you repeat the words, “I ask that my energy body is filled with pure healing light.” I know that phrasing is a bit odd, but I figured there’s power in words, so just go with it. Repeat a few times, then thank the spirits and elements.

Lucifer arouses other fallen angels in this Paradise Lost illustration by William Blake

Lucifer arouses other fallen angels in this Paradise Lost illustration by William Blake

S3E4: “Sin City”

Monster: Demon

Where it’s from: All over the world

Description: These powerful evil creatures are usually distortions of nature — though on Supernatural they tend to be hot chicks.

What it does: Fellow hunter Ritchie goes home with a bartender. He follows her down to the family crypt — and promptly gets his neck snapped.

Demons usually like to possess people. As this demon colorfully describes it: “You know what happens when demons piggyback humans? They leave ’em rode hard and put up wet.”

She most definitely has a superiority complex. “All you got to do is nudge humans in the right direction,” she says. “Some whiskey here, a hooker there, and they’ll walk right into Hell with big, fat smiles on their faces.”

Later, Dean comments, “Demons are evil,” to which she replies, “And humans are such a lovable bunch?” throwing out Dick Cheney as an example. She has a point, especially given our current president.

In another Paradise Lost illustration, this one by Gustave Doré, Lucifer is cast out of Heaven by God

In another Paradise Lost illustration, this one by Gustave Doré, Lucifer is cast out of Heaven by God

She talks of Lucifer like he’s the Second Coming. Lucifer means Lightbringer, she explains. The name is also a reference to the Morning Star, Venus. She says that people believe Lucifer created demons and that he will come again one day.

Although he was once an angel, Lucifer is now associated with Satan. Ezekiel 28:17 describes his downfall: “Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor.”

This excessive pride pissed off God, who threw Lucifer down to Earth. Eventually, he ended up in Hell, which he pretty much took over.

Ancient Israelites sacrificed goats to Azazel to send their sins back to the original source — the demon who corrupted humanity

Ancient Israelites sacrificed goats to Azazel to send their sins back to the original source — the demon who corrupted humanity

It’s in this episode that we finally learn the name of the Yellow-Eyed Demon: Azazel.

Azazel is another fallen angel, this one with the claim to fame of having corrupted humanity. At least Eve with her apple finally gets cut a break.

He’s described as an unclean bird that feeds on carcasses in the Apocalypse of Abraham (which didn’t make it into the Bible’s official version).

Nowadays, he’s depicted as having red skin, glowing yellow eyes and a barbed tail, according to Mythology.net. His favorite fashion accessories are goat skulls and bones. Jewish desert tribes, including the Israelites, would make sacrifices to Azazel at the same time that they made sacrifices to Yahweh. Offerings to Azazel were accomplished by driving a goat into the wilderness or by pushing it into a deep ravine. These sacrifices symbolized sending sins back to their original source, Mythology.net says. This is why Christian versions of the Bible translate Azazel as “Scapegoat.”

Azazel became the leader of the Grigori, a group of rebellious angels who married human women and produced a line of monstrous children.

How to defeat it: Try the trusty Devil’s Trap. But even though a demon is bound within the area, it can still cause destruction, as this one does. She destroys the crypt, which crumbles around Dean, leading to this witty exchange:

Dean: What are you laughing at, bitch? You’re still trapped.

Demon: So are you, bitch.

Dean wants to perform the exorcism rite. Trouble is he’s forgotten it. To be fair, it’s a lot of Latin to memorize. That’s what you should bookmark this page. –Wally

5 Off-the-Beaten-Path Chiang Mai Temples

There’s no shortage of things to do in Chiang Mai. Spend a day visiting some of the lesser-known wats.

With literally hundreds of ancient and beautiful temples (known as wats) to choose from it’s easy to become overwhelmed when trying to decide which to visit when staying in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The city’s history is a melting pot of cultures which are reflected in the architectural influences from outside the region, including Sri Lanka, Burma, China and Laos. Here’s our guide to four hidden gems you might miss unless you know where to look.

 

A giant Buddha head greets visitors to Wat Jetlin

A giant Buddha head greets visitors to Wat Jetlin

Wat Jetlin (aka Jedlin, Chedlin)

While this temple is not exactly a major tourist destination, it does contain a few quirky elements worth seeing.

Just inside the entrance a massive stone Buddha head greeted us. The courtyard includes a bizarre five-eyed panda-like creature that eats hot coals and poops out gold, as well as an open-air pavilion with a seated skeleton sporting a pair of black sunglasses and a colorful dashiki shirt. We saw a variation of the coal-eating creature at Wat Sang Kaew, just outside of Chiang Rai.

Say hi to the dapper skeleton at Wat Jetlin

Say hi to the dapper skeleton at Wat Jetlin

This mutated beast eats coals and defecates gold!

This mutated beast eats coals and defecates gold!

The interior of the Lanna-style viharn contains red lacquered columns and a large golden Buddha seated in the Bhumisparsha mudra, or Earth witness position, a gesture that symbolizes the Buddha’s enlightenment under the sacred bodhi tree. King Mekuthi, the 18th monarch of the Mangrai dynasty, was coronated here.

Most chedi throughout the province are clad in copper, brass plate or white plaster. The chedi of Wat Jetlin is in its original state: lime mortar and red clay bricks. Halfway up the four sides of the chedi are niches containing Buddha images.

Walk past the chedi until you reach a narrow covered bridge that leads across a pond where humongous lily pads float. The gaping maws of giant carp break the mirrored surface to slurp insects and the food pellets we purchased.

Address: 6 Salan Road, Soi 7

 

The prettiest part of Wat Ket Karam is the metallic mosaic on the back of the viharn

The prettiest part of Wat Ket Karam is the metallic mosaic on the back of the viharn

Wat Ket Karam

Situated on the east bank of the Mae Ping river outside of the Old City, the Wat Ket district was provided as an enclave for foreigners, many of whom were involved in the teak trade and were required by law to live there. The center was on Charoenrat Road, which was also one of the largest Chinese communities outside of China.

The 15th century compound of Wat Ket Karam is dedicated to those born in the Thai Year of the Dog. You’ll see an assortment of dog figurines throughout the grounds, bordering on kitsch.

Wally wants a pet naga

Wally wants a pet naga

The entrance of the viharn is guarded by a pair of colossal glass-inlaid naga-makaras (sea monsters disgorging snakelike dragons sprouting antler tines from their heads). Multiple roof tiers give the structure the illusion that there are five prayer halls in succession instead of just one.

The ubosot at Ket Karam wasn’t open when we visited, but the exterior is beautiful

The ubosot at Ket Karam wasn’t open when we visited, but the exterior is beautiful

At the side of the viharn is the former abbot’s residence, which was converted into a museum by Jack Bain, son of William Bain, the last managing director of the East Borneo Trading Company. Walls and shelves are filled with ancient farm tools, pottery, antique drums and period clothing, some of which belonged to Chiang Mai royalty. We visited several times, peeking into the dusty, cluttered space, but the museum was never open.

The entire complex of Wat Ket Karam is gorgeous and fun to explore

The entire complex of Wat Ket Karam is gorgeous and fun to explore

The compound contains an impressive large, squat, whitewashed chedi, Ket Kaew Chura Manee, erected in 1428 to house a relic of the Buddha’s hair (funny, we thought he had a shaved head). According to a plaque, the spire of the pagoda is purposely tilted “to avoid indecency in pointing it to the one in heaven.” The chedi is guarded by four chinthe, Shan leonine creatures related to the Thai singh.

Address: Chang Moi, Mueng Chiang Mai District

 

There’s not a lot to see at Wat Kuan Kama, aside from the line of horses on the wall enclosure

There’s not a lot to see at Wat Kuan Kama, aside from the line of horses on the wall enclosure

Wat Kuan Kama

Located on Sriphoom Road, a few blocks from the Chang Phuak Gate is Wat Kuan Kama. You can’t really miss this temple due to the golden horse statues that run the entire length of its outer walls — although our tuk-tuk driver dropped us off a couple blocks away.

The temple was commissioned by a royal soldier in 1492 and dedicated to memorialize his most beloved horse. A plaque inside reads, “This temple was the garden of the horse groom who was a close royal soldier of Jaomundamtuang. After his horse died, he was very sad and he decided to donate his garden for the temple and he gave the temple the name Khunkama.”

On the inside of the walled enclosure are golden statues symbolizing the 12 animals of the zodiac.

Address: 242/6 Manee Nopparat Road

 

Wat Rajamontean is nicknamed the Big Buddha Temple for obvious reasons

Wat Rajamontean is nicknamed the Big Buddha Temple for obvious reasons

Wat Rajamontean

This temple, next to Wat Kuan Kama, has some serious curb appeal. Elaborate tiered red and gold mini-chedi, or stupika, emerge from its exterior wall. Climb the steps to get a closer look at the giant seated Buddha overlooking the street below. Two fierce-looking bug-eyed dragons stand guard outside the viharn.

We had left our sandals at the viharn entrance and scampered quickly across the tiled surface, which gets quite hot in the midday sun. The viharn itself, with its gold details, is quite impressive.

These balls, known as luk nimit, are usually buried under an image of the Buddha

These balls, known as luk nimit, are usually buried under an image of the Buddha

To the side of the viharn were nine luk nimit, consecrated spherical stones. These are rarely seen as they are typically buried beneath sima, leaf-shaped boundary marker stones, placed at the four cardinal points, the center of each wall and beneath the principal Buddha image of an ubosot. When a new ubosot is to be constructed, temples often put up huge banners, offering the faithful the opportunity to gain merit by contributing money and precious objects, including Buddha images and amulets to bury with the luk nimit. These were covered with gold leaf offerings by those seeking to gain kharmic bonus points.

Address: Si Phum

 

The beautiful whitewashed chedi at Wat Saen Fang is surrounded by gold umbrellas and offeratory fires

The beautiful whitewashed chedi at Wat Saen Fang is surrounded by gold umbrellas and offeratory fires

Wat Saen Fang

Slip past a pair of tall red-painted cast iron gates and into the naga-lined passage off Tha Phae Road, and you’ll find yourself entering the peaceful 14th century compound of Wat Saen Fang.

Figurines of mythological guardian spirits known as kinaree, mythical half-bird, half human creatures, adorn the hipped roof of the ordination hall.

The original chedi was renovated during the Burmese occupation of Chiang Mai. Its whitewashed bell-shaped body is embellished with dazzling colored-glass mosaic and topped with a golden hti umbrella. As if this wasn’t stimulating enough, over 40 stupika sit atop the low wall surrounding the pedestal base.

The intricately carved and gilded panels of the viharn pediment are painted in brilliant red and gold. The structure was the former ho kham, the royal residence of Chao Kawilorot, the sixth prince of Chiang Mai. It was moved to the temple grounds in 1878 and converted into a viharn by his successor, Inthawichayanon.

During the ceremony of sai sin, people loop strings around each other’s heads

During the ceremony of sai sin, people loop strings around each other’s heads

A blessing ceremony known as sai sin was taking place as we explored the temple grounds. A sacred white cotton thread that has been blessed was being looped around the heads of the attendees. Because the thread connects the individuals, it’s believed to help reach enlightenment and form an unbroken line of protective power. –Duke

Address: 164 Thapae Road, Soi 3


Wat Chedi Luang: A Main Chiang Mai Attraction

The ruined stupa and monk chats are worth checking out.

It seems as if everyone traveling to Chiang Mai, Thailand puts Wat Chedi Luang on the to-do list

It seems as if everyone traveling to Chiang Mai, Thailand puts Wat Chedi Luang on the to-do list

Dating back more than 600 years old, Wat Chedi Luang is one of the most popular temples in Chiang Mai, Thailand. And while it’s worth a visit — especially to see the ruins of the namesake chedi — Duke and I find ourselves more drawn to some of the lesser-known temples, including Wat Lok Molee and Wat Buppharam.

Located at pretty much the center of the Old City, Wat Chedi Luang is about halfway down the major east-west thoroughfare Rachadamnoen Road.

Its name gets translated alternatively as the Royal Pagoda, or Great Stupa, Temple. Same same but different.

The chedi (or pagoda, or stupa) has been cleaned up but left uncompleted — in part cuz no one can agree on what it originally looked like

The chedi (or pagoda, or stupa) has been cleaned up but left uncompleted — in part cuz no one can agree on what it originally looked like

Toward the back of the complex, you’ll find the chedi itself. What you see today is but a shadow of its former grandeur. Construction on the structure began in the late 1300s, during the Lanna Kingdom, when its ruler, King Saen Muang Ma, wanted a place to house his father’s ashes. At the time, at about 280 feet high, it was by far the tallest structure in town. Legend has it that it was built “as high as a dove could fly.”

The chedi wasn’t finished until the mid-1400s, though, during the reign of King Tilokaraj.

There are two main theories why most of the chedi is destroyed: Some blame an earthquake in 1549, while others point the finger at King Taksin, who fired cannons on Chiang Mai to regain the city from the Burmese in the 1700s.

As part of Chiang Mai’s modern renaissance, the chedi has been stabilized during a project by UNESCO and the Japanese government (though I have no idea why Japan got involved). The restorers didn’t fully rebuild the chedi, because no one could agree what it used to look like. Some locals think the chedi should have been left as it was, overgrown with vegetation — a true ruin.

This historic photo shows what the chedi looked like prior to its restoration

This historic photo shows what the chedi looked like prior to its restoration

Elephants (one original and four reproductions) line part of one of the upper tiers, and intimidating many-headed naga line the staircases like fierce hydras.

For nearly a century, the chedi housed what is considered the most sacred object in Thailand, the legendary Emerald Buddha. It’s now in Bangkok, revered in its own temple, Wat Phra Kaew. But the king sent a replica to its former home, and it now sits in the eastern niche of the chedi here in Chiang Mai. (I’ve seen the Emerald Buddha, and while it’s pretty impressive, I suppose, it really just looks like a 2-foot jade doll.)

This reclining Buddha fills a pavillion at the back of the chedi

This reclining Buddha fills a pavillion at the back of the chedi

Behind the chedi is an open-air pavilion with a reclining Buddha (the pose I like to call “Sleepy-time Buddha”).

If this tree ever falls, the city of Chiang Mai is said to be in big trouble

If this tree ever falls, the city of Chiang Mai is said to be in big trouble

The City Pillar and “Why Can’t Women Entry Inthakhin Pillar Vihara”

I’m not a fan of the restrictions against women that you find at some Buddhist temples, like the Silver Temple, also in Chiang Mai — especially since it’s tied to the fact that they’re somehow unclean because of their periods.

Giant dragon snakes called naga guard the entrance to many Thai temples

Giant dragon snakes called naga guard the entrance to many Thai temples

Near the temple entrance stands an ornately detailed shrine, where the City Pillar (Sao Inthakin or Lak Meuang, Spirit of the City of Chiang Mai) is locked away. A sign outside reads, in part:

Women are prohibited to enter because they menstrate. It is believe that it humiliates and ruins the sanctity of the city pillar. Besides, men who dress inappropriately are not allowed to walk in. It is believed that any disobeying of the rules will cause social instability.

Supposedly that means no shorts or tank tops for you gents.

Women can go into all the buidlings on the grounds of Wat Chedi Luang, except for the one that houses the City Pillar

Women can go into all the buidlings on the grounds of Wat Chedi Luang, except for the one that houses the City Pillar

The City Pillar is believed to have been erected by King Mengrai in 1296, when the city was founded. Local legend says it was brought down from Heaven by giants or spirits to protect the city. Unless it gets too close to a vagina, that is.

In addition, a giant dipterocarp tree towers above the building. This, too, is said to protect the city — and catastrophe will follow should it ever fall.

The immense viharn at Chedi Luang is lined with gorgeous gilded pillars

The immense viharn at Chedi Luang is lined with gorgeous gilded pillars

Stand and Deliver: the Phra Chao Attarot Viharn

The complex originally housed three temples but is now known collectively as Wat Chedi Luang. The main viharn is indeed impressive. The ceiling soars above you, the wood a highly lacquered deep burgundy, supported by tall straight columns covered with gorgeous gold floral work atop a black backdrop.

At the front of the temple are three gold figures, the tallest a standing Buddha in the center. This is known as Phra Chao Attarot (the 18-Cubit Buddha), and his hand gesture is the abhaya mudra, which dispels fear. When visiting, why not take some time to say a little prayer to overcome something you’re scared of?

Many travelers stop by Chedi Luang to chat with young monks to learn about their way of life

Many travelers stop by Chedi Luang to chat with young monks to learn about their way of life

When we visited, a group of young monks sat in prayer, gazing up at the Enlightened One.

Colorful banners depicting the animals of the Thai zodiac line one side of the viharn

Colorful banners depicting the animals of the Thai zodiac line one side of the viharn

Off to the left hung strings overloaded with colorful banners representing the Thai zodiac.

There are daily Monk Chats on the temple grounds between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., where you can ask questions about the Thai monastic lifestyle. Most of the monks are novices, and it’s a great way for them to practice their English while you get an opportunity to learn about their culture. Don’t be afraid! –Wally

Wat Chedi Luang
103 Road King Prajadhipok Phra Singh
Muang District
Chiang Mai, 50200
Thailand

The Sea Pines Shell Ring Mystery

Hidden in the Sea Pines Forest Preserve on Hilton Head is a 3,500-year-old Native American archaeological treasure.

An archeological team excavates the Sea Pines Shell Ring to better understand what it was used for thousands of years ago

An archeological team excavates the Sea Pines Shell Ring to better understand what it was used for thousands of years ago

Whenever we visit my parents on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, we like to explore the forest preserve. As we wander the trails, we cross boardwalks over pitch-black bogs covered in neon green flora. We’ll see a line of horseback riders plodding along on an excursion from nearby Lawton Stables. Families throw lines in the water in the hopes of catching a fish for dinner.

And if we head between Lake Joe and Lake Thomas, we’ll come upon the Indian Shell Ring, as we did one day a couple of years ago. It’s usually a quiet spot under the cover of trees — but on this day, we stumbled upon the midst of an archeological dig.

Our best guess is that the ring was a place where people lived year-round and would occasionally hold large-scale gatherings in which they feasted on shellfish and other foods.
— Matthew Sanger, Binghamton University, New York

The man in charge of the excavation is Matthew Sanger, assistant anthropology professor and co-director of the public archaeology program at Binghamton University in New York. He came right over and told us all about the mysterious shell ring. He obviously has a passion for the project.

Matthew Sanger, a professor at Binghamton University in New York, leads the project

Matthew Sanger, a professor at Binghamton University in New York, leads the project

What first drew you to the Sea Pines Shell Ring?

I have worked at other shell rings located in Georgia and had heard about the one at Sea Pines. There are at least 50 known shell rings spread across the coast between South Carolina and through the Gulf Coast to Mississippi.

The Sea Pines Shell Ring is well known for being one of the most accessible (others are often on uninhabited islands or well off the beaten path) and being one of the best preserved (many others are under parking lots, have been disturbed or destroyed by rising sea levels, etc.).

A team of students gets hands-on experience unearthing artifacts at the Sea Pines Shell Ring

A team of students gets hands-on experience unearthing artifacts at the Sea Pines Shell Ring

Tell us a bit about how the project works.

I bring a crew of students to Hilton Head every summer as well as occasionally during our other breaks (Winter and Spring Breaks are the most common). The crew works with me over a month or so as we excavate the site in search of clues to how the ring formed, who lived there, etc.

 

Where will the artifacts end up?

We bring all of the artifacts back to Binghamton with us at the end of the summer. We then spend the rest of the year processing and analyzing the artifacts. We will hold onto the artifacts for the next few years, but plan on ultimately transferring them to a local institution in South Carolina.

 

What’s the timeline?

We are currently planning on continuing to do excavations at the Sea Pines Shell Ring for the next two to four years, depending on funding and what we find.

 

Hurricanes Matthew and Irma caused Hilton Head Island to be evacuated in recent years. How did the hurricanes affect the project?

We were very lucky that the ring survived both hurricanes unscathed. We had some downed trees, but really almost no damage at all.

Archeologists attempt to solve the mystery of the shell ring and the house that might have once been situated inside it

Archeologists attempt to solve the mystery of the shell ring and the house that might have once been situated inside it

What’s your best guess about what the ring was used for?

So far, our best guess is that the ring was a place where people lived year-round and would occasionally hold large-scale gatherings in which they feasted on shellfish and other foods.

The Sea Pines Shell Ring is one of the smallest shell rings, so it may have been a year-round home to a small group of families — perhaps only four to six households.

But on occasion, the ring might have hosted events that brought together dozens, perhaps more than 100 people.

 

What type of people lived in this area at the time of the shell ring?

Roughly 3,500 years ago, when the Sea Pines Shell Ring was forming, the South Carolina coast was inhabited by Native Americans. It is impossible to characterize these Native Americans as belonging to a particular modern tribe, but their progeny likely includes members of a wide number of tribal groups, including the Yemessee, Escamacu, Edisto, Coosa, Pee Dee and Sewee, to name a few.

 

What was the biggest surprise you found on the dig?

Last summer we came across what looks to be the remains of a house inside of the ring. The evidence is very ephemeral — which is not surprising, considering that the house has been gone for more than 3,000 years. But we came across some stains in the soil that look like where a few walls might have been located as well as an area that looks like it could have been a floor. We are returning to further excavate this area this coming summer to see if this is indeed an ancient home.


Note: For the past couple of years, the Sea Pines Shell Ring has been off limits due to hurricane cleanup in the forest preserve. –Wally


Heading to Hilton Head?

Floating Village Siem Reap Scam

Avoid Chong Kneas on Tonlé Sap — it’s not a floating village. All you’ll see are crocodiles, monkeys, snakes and bats being treated cruelly, and you’ll overpay for your ticket and for rice to supposedly feed the local children.

All of the animals at Chong Kneas are treated cruelly, including this monkey on a chain

All of the animals at Chong Kneas are treated cruelly, including this monkey on a chain

One of the best parts of living in Asia is that so many great locations are a relatively short flight away (not literally halfway around the world, as the U.S. is). Our friend Brian and his husband, Jeff, recently moved to Suzhou, China and decided to take a trip to Cambodia. They flew into Bangkok, Thailand and took the bus to Siem Reap. Once there, they explored the Angkor Wat temple complex — as well as getting lured into a “floating village” scam.

Here Brian writes about their cautionary tale:

Children are brought in to help scam tourists

Children are brought in to help scam tourists

Chong Kneas “Floating Village” Rip-Off

There are ads all around for visits to floating villages. The one we went to we were directed to by our tuk-tuk driver, who was our first driver from the airport when we arrived, and we made arrangements for two more days after. Up until that point, he had been a good driver and had shown up when he said he would.

When I took a picture of the snake, a guy rushed over trying to get us to hold it.

When we said no, the guy taped the snake’s mouth shut with electrical tape.

We drove for about a half-hour outside Siem Reap and enjoyed the drive, seeing a different part of Cambodia. When we got to the little building near the canal, we were ushered to a ticket counter. The price for the tour was quite expensive at $30 each, but it looked kind of official and we thought that the money would go toward the local community. Plus, we were already there and kind of in the middle of nowhere.

Our tour guide was quite friendly and spoke English pretty well. He claimed to have only learned English from tourists and in the last two years. He also claimed to have grown up in the fishing village.

There’s no floating village — just a row of houseboats in the distance

There’s no floating village — just a row of houseboats in the distance

We traveled along a canal and did not get very close to any of the houseboats that were scattered along the way. Our guide told us about a floating school full of orphans from a big storm that killed about 100 local fishermen. He mentioned a tsunami also. It was kind of confusing. He showed us a video on his phone of children eating rice crowded on a boat.

Our first stop was in the middle of the lake — not really near anything, with not much to look at. Even with the zoom lens on my Nikon, I couldn’t find a decent picture to take. He said we were going to stop for 10 minutes so the boat driver could eat lunch.

The crocodile farm is one of the main attractions at Chong Kneas

The crocodile farm is one of the main attractions at Chong Kneas

Next we went to a little floating shop that also had the crocodile farm (which was just depressing), bats, a monkey and snakes. He tried to get us to buy some dried crocodile that looked like a rawhide dog chew toy for $10. To give a sense of pricing, I had a skirt steak the previous night for $9, and beef here is considered a luxury. We declined. It’s interesting because it’s only $10 and then you can say tried it, so you’re tempted to do it even though you know you’re being ripped off.

Snakes in cages and other atrocities are all you’ll see at Chong Kneas

Snakes in cages and other atrocities are all you’ll see at Chong Kneas

When I took a picture of the snake, a guy rushed over trying to get us to hold it. But Jeff was like, no way, so the guy started taping the snake’s mouth shut with electrical tape, which just seemed cruel, so we walked away.

A girl bobbing along in a plastic wash basin with a snake around her neck, begging for money for having her photo taken

A girl bobbing along in a plastic wash basin with a snake around her neck, begging for money for having her photo taken

As soon as we had arrived, a girl less than 10 years old had started rowing toward us in what looked like a plastic wash basin from a nearby houseboat. I thought it looked cute, so I took a picture. I then realized she also had a 3-foot python around her neck. As soon as I took the picture, she began asking for a dollar. I figured she’d earned it, so I pulled out my wallet — but our guide rushed over and said it wasn’t good to give money to her and that her parents make her do it and if we wanted to give money it should be to the school. All of which made the girl whine quite loudly until we left.

Bats in cages round out this scam, which costs $30 per ticket

Bats in cages round out this scam, which costs $30 per ticket

So then we were brought to another little store, and a guy spoke to Jeff as though from a script about the nutritional value of rice and that a 50-kilo bag for $50 will feed the school for a day. We declined and felt bad in the moment. Our guide, who had been so friendly was standoffish after that for the rest of the boat trip back. Except to ask for a tip and a tip for the driver as we docked.

The entire time, we never got close to anything resembling a village. There were a number of houseboats along the canal, but we didn’t get near them.

We looked them up after the fact and, according to reviews on TripAdvisor, it could have been worse. But thanks to my husband’s experience and intuition, we made it out better than many. As we went past the school, there were maybe 15 kids on it. They were just running around playing. Most likely it was no more than daycare for local kids.

Afterwards, we were meant to go to the national museum, but the events of the boat ride left a bad taste in our mouth, so we had our driver take us back to our hotel. He didn’t try to arrange another day of driving. He must have known we had a bad experience. –Brian


You don’t want to miss the true floating village: Read about Kompong Kleang and see the amazing photos here.

Jardin Majorelle: A Moroccan Garden Oasis in Marrakech

What exactly is Majorelle Blue? What does Yves Saint Laurent have to do with the Majorelle Garden? And what’s this about a new Musée Yves Saint Laurent?

Escape the chaos of the medina for a calming visit to le Jardin Majorelle 

Escape the chaos of the medina for a calming visit to le Jardin Majorelle 

Marrakech, Morocco is famous for many things: thick, fortified ramparts of beaten red clay, the towering minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque and the vast open square Djemaa el-Fna with its network of narrow, winding market-filled alleys known as souks. Oh, and “Berber whiskey”: hot, sweet mint tea served in small glasses.

Duke and Vanessa in the Majorelle Gardens

Duke and Vanessa in the Majorelle Gardens

On our last full day in Marrakech, Wally, Vanessa and I walked from the medina to the Nouvelle Ville — French for New City. Our plan was to visit the Jardin Majorelle and to purchase a new memory card for our digital camera. We hoped to retrieve the images from our corrupted memory card, which had stopped working when we arrived in the Sahara, further proof that jinns exist.

We found a camera store, and Wally conversed with the shopkeeper in French, who took the card and inserted it into a reader. He looked up at us, shook his head and said, "C’est grillé.”

“I think that means it’s toast,” Wally said, sadly.

Towering palms seen through an archway

Towering palms seen through an archway

We went on with our day, happy to at least have a new memory card to start taking more pictures. As the three of us made our way around the walled enclosure surrounding the Jardin Majorelle, we became a bit concerned it wouldn’t be open. Our guide from our desert trek, Barack, had told us that the most important prayers of the week are those at noon on Friday, and because of this, Muslim cities essentially close from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. We were in luck, though — the garden was open.

We entered the garden through a weathered wooden door, and although there were many people visiting that morning, I was struck by its serenity. The pebbled garden path led through a dense cluster of bamboo. Sadly, countless visitors have left their mark by carving their initials into the shafts of bamboo.

Visitors past have left their mark in the bamboo section of the garden

Visitors past have left their mark in the bamboo section of the garden

Wally loves the exquisite Moroccan detailing at the nearby villa 

Wally loves the exquisite Moroccan detailing at the nearby villa 

The villa houses a gift shop and Berber museum

The villa houses a gift shop and Berber museum

True Blue: The History of the Majorelle Garden

The garden’s creator was Jacques Majorelle, a French Orientalist painter, the son of furniture designer and manufacturer Louis Majorelle. On the advice of his physician, Majorelle the junior travelled to Morocco for the sake of his health, and was immediately captivated by the vibrant colors and quality of light.

He settled in Marrakech in 1917, and in 1923 purchased four acres of land bordering a palm grove outside the city’s ancient walled medina. Eventually, Majorelle purchased an adjacent plot, expanding the property to 10 acres.

In 1931, he commissioned architect Paul Sinoir to design a Cubist villa to serve as his studio. Majorelle painted the fountains, planters and atelier a specific shade of cobalt blue, now appropriately named bleu Majorelle.

This striking cobalt is known as Majorelle blue

This striking cobalt is known as Majorelle blue

Around his new dwelling, Majorelle, a passionate amateur botanist, cultivated the gardens, which he opened to the public in 1947 to help offset their costly maintenance. After Majorelle’s death in 1962, the gardens remained open but gradually fell into a state of disrepair, lacking the care necessary to maintain them.

The designer Yves Saint Laurent saved the garden from disrepair

The designer Yves Saint Laurent saved the garden from disrepair

Yves Saint Laurent to the Rescue

Couturier Yves Saint Laurent acquired a second guesthouse, Dar Es Saada, in Marrakech in 1973 with his then-boyfriend Pierre Bergé. Arabic for the House of Happiness in Serenity, it was located near one of their favorite places, the Jardin Majorelle. When they learned seven years later that the gardens were slated for demolition to make way for a pool and bungalows. Saint Laurent and Bergé decided to purchase the 12-acre garden and villa. The couple enlisted American landscape architect Madison Cox to meticulously restore the gardens. According to Cox, Saint Laurent had the vision to have the flowerpots scattered throughout the garden painted in lemon yellow, sky blue and the famous bleu Majorelle. Saint Laurent and Bergé kept the garden open for visitors to enjoy, just as Majorelle did. 

(Bergé and Cox married in a private civil ceremony shortly before Bergé’s death in 2017. Cox is  also the director of the Fondation Jardin Majorelle, an organization that operates under the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent.)

YSL’s genderbending aesthetic included le smoking, a feminized take on the tux

YSL’s genderbending aesthetic included le smoking, a feminized take on the tux

Musée Yves Saint Laurent

Saint Laurent often designed his collections while in Marrakech, inspired by the city’s colors and shapes. So it’s fitting, pun intended, that a museum dedicated to the influential designer’s life and legacy was built next to the Jardin Majorelle.

Although it wasn’t open when we visited, the Musée Yves Saint Laurent, abbreviated as mYSLm, was spearheaded by Bergé and conceived by Studio KO architects Karl Fournier and Olivier Marty. The museum contains an extensive collection of couture garments, sketches, fashion photos and assorted objects showcasing YSL’s signature genderbending style from 1962 until his retirement in 2002.

The bamboo copse at Majorelle

The bamboo copse at Majorelle

Secret Garden

We passed through a pergola covered with bougainvillea and paused to look into a reflecting pool containing water lilies and a pair of turtles resting at its edge.

The garden is mostly green with periodic bursts of pink and red

The garden is mostly green with periodic bursts of pink and red

Drought-tolerant cacti make up the majority of plants at the Majorelle Garden

Drought-tolerant cacti make up the majority of plants at the Majorelle Garden

Following the garden path, we came upon a modest memorial dedicated to Saint Laurent. When he passed away in 2008, his ashes were scattered amongst the garden he and Bergé so lovingly restored.

This decaying column serves as Saint Laurent’s memorial 

This decaying column serves as Saint Laurent’s memorial 

Wally and Vanessa enjoy the serenity of this oasis

Wally and Vanessa enjoy the serenity of this oasis

Artists paint the plantlife

Artists paint the plantlife

A peek over an artist’s shoulder

A peek over an artist’s shoulder

The magnificence of this garden reminded me of the exotic Generalife gardens located beside the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. The arid landscape, originally almost devoid of vegetation, like the gardens of the Alhambra, were utterly transformed by Majorelle over a span of 40 years. From what I could identify, the garden includes agave, bamboo, cacti, cypress, datura, succulents and bougainvillea.

In the Cubist villa, there’s a gift shop and a museum dedicated to artifacts from the pre-Arab inhabitants of North Africa, the Berbers. Just don’t try to sneak in, or you might get kicked out, like Wally did.

Birds chirping, bamboo rustling in the breeze, and the sound of trickling fountains truly turn the garden into a welcome oasis from the hustle and bustle of the medina. –Duke

We recommend adding le Jardin Majorelle to your Marrakech itinerary

We recommend adding le Jardin Majorelle to your Marrakech itinerary

Jardin Majorelle
Rue Yves Saint Laurent

Admission: 30 dirham, or around $3.25


Spinach-filled phylo puffs at the neighboring Kaowa Café

Spinach-filled phylo puffs at the neighboring Kaowa Café

Nearby

Thirsty and hungry after visiting the gardens, we dined on the terrace of Kaowa Café, a snack and juice bar situated across the way. We ate delicious puffs filled with cheese and tried some of their signature juices.