The Gorgeous Calanques of Cassis

Calanque Port-Miou, Calanque Port-Pin and Calanque d’En-Vau: The French Riviera limestone cliffs provide a picturesque day trip if you’re in Provence.

The Port of Cassis on the French Riviera, with its pretty backdrop of the limestone cliffs called calanques

The Port of Cassis on the French Riviera, with its pretty backdrop of the limestone cliffs called calanques

It may be difficult to imagine taking time away from the idyllic town of Aix-en-Provence, France. However, not far from its leafy boulevards and gurgling fountains, the laidback coastal fishing village of Cassis, located between Marseilles and Bandol, makes for an ideal day trip.

Wally’s mom, affectionately referred to as “The Shirl” had brought and read about the Calanques of Cassis, white limestone cliffs at the water’s edge, in Rick Steves’ Provence & The French Riviera travel guide. So I suppose, in a way, we have Mr. Steves to thank for our excursion.

Limestone from the calanques of Cassis was used to build the Suez Canal as well as the base of the Statue of Liberty.
calanques1

How to Get There

The four of us set off for Cassis and took the train from the Aix-en-Provence TGV railway station to Marseille. At the Gare de Marseille Saint-Charles, we purchased tickets to the Gare de Toulon train station, about 15.5 miles southeast of Marseille.

Once in Toulon, we boarded a bus that twisted and wound its way down a steep hillside until we arrived at the Port of Cassis.

Wally’s dad, Duke, Wally and the infamous Shirl on their boat excursion to see the calanques

Wally’s dad, Duke, Wally and the infamous Shirl on their boat excursion to see the calanques

The Calanques

Chartered boat tours are available for different durations. You can visit the first three in a 45-minute trip, or go as far as all nine in one and a half hours.

We opted for the 45 minute excursion, which included Port-Miou, Port-Pin and d’En-Vau.

The name of our boat was Le Calendal, a small vessel that holds a maximum of 12 people.

On our voyage, we met and struck up a conversation with a charming au pair from Düsseldorf, Germany named Alexandra.

Wally with his new acquaintance, a German au pair

Wally with his new acquaintance, a German au pair

As our boat departed the harbor, our captain, Didier Crespi, pointed out the 14th-century fortress, Château de Cassis, built atop a cliff that juts out into the Mediterranean. Converted into a luxury hotel, the grounds are not open to the public, but should you wish to see them, you can book a junior suite for $350, or opt for the Chloe Suite, with a private terrace overlooking the azure waters of the Cote D'Azur for $690.

We passed the remains of a ruined quarry building on Pointe Cacau near the Calanque of Port-Miou.

The struggle of nature: Water wears away at the cliffs while plant life somehow finds a way to take hold

The struggle of nature: Water wears away at the cliffs while plant life somehow finds a way to take hold

The craggy limestone formations are dotted with pine and juniper trees that have taken root and grow in minimal soil amongst the cracks and crevices.

The remains of a limestone quarry, a popular building material and primary export for the town

The remains of a limestone quarry, a popular building material and primary export for the town

Captain Crespi told us that white limestone was the primary export of Cassis and provided the natural building material used to construct quays in major ports cities from Alexandria to Algiers, as well as the channel walls of the Suez Canal, connecting the Mediterranean with the Red Sea. This same stone was even used to create the base for the Statue of Liberty.

You can kayak, hike to a hidden beach, risk your life rock-climbing — or you can just take it all in on a boat excursion

You can kayak, hike to a hidden beach, risk your life rock-climbing — or you can just take it all in on a boat excursion

Le Capitaine dropped anchor in the sheltered crystalline inlet of the Calanque d’En Vau. The sea was a brilliant blue and shimmered like liquid glass. A school of silver-skinned fish paused at the side of our boat as if they were accustomed to our captain’s comings and goings. He threw them some pieces of bread, which they excitedly nibbled at.

On our return to the harbor, we passed a restaurant perched atop the calanques that makes pastis, an anise-flavored spirit and aperitif.

From the water, we could see people relaxing on small private beaches (some of them nude), fishing and hiking. We even saw a rock climber scaling the face of a cliff while we moored.

The landscape was stunning and we all enjoyed our sunny afternoon on the water. –Duke

Ghosts, Werewolves and Necromancy

The monsters of Supernatural, Season 2, Episodes 16-18: the Poltergeist curse, how to turn into a werewolf and rituals for summoning spirits.

More than four in 10 Americans believe in ghosts. Do you?

More than four in 10 Americans believe in ghosts. Do you?

S2E16: “Roadkill”

Monster: Ghost

Where it’s from: All over the world

Description: A ghosts is the spiritual remains of a human who’s dead. They often appear much like the person they once were, though typically stripped of color and substance.

A perhaps surprisingly high number of people believe in ghosts: 42% of Americans, for instance, according to a 2013 Harris poll.

Apparently, there are eight different types of ghosts, as described by Roger Clarke in Ghosts: A Natural History: 500 Years of Searching for Proof.

You’re like a walking encyclopedia of weirdness.
— Dean Winchester, to his brother, Sam

This episode deals with the spirit of Jacob Greely, who haunts the road where he was killed on the anniversary of his death.

We learn that spirits are like wounded animals, lost, in pain. They remain because of their remains — or unfinished business, Sam says. Jacob is trapped in a loop, replaying the same tragedy over and over.

What it does: This one speaks through the radio, disappears in cloud of smoke and kills an innocent person in punishment.  

How to defeat it: Salt, again. “In most cultures, salt’s a symbol of purity, so it repels impure and unnatural things,” Sam says. “Same reason you throw it over your shoulder.”

So the boys are off to dig up another corpse and salt and burn it. They need a new hobby.

But there’s another option: Get the ghost to accept its fate and let go.

Fun fact: It’s an old country custom to plant a tree on a grave, Sam exclaims.

“You’re like a walking encyclopedia of weirdness,” Dean replies.

When a woman from Chesterville, Illinois spoke out against the conservative views of the Amish and Mennonite faith, she was accused of witchcraft and found dead. The townsfolk planted a tree over her grave to trap her spirit inside and prevent her from taking revenge, according to Mysterious Heartland.

Her ghost is said to haunt the area.

 

Lycanthropy, the fancy word for turning into a werewolf, happens during the full moon

Lycanthropy, the fancy word for turning into a werewolf, happens during the full moon

S2E17: “Heart”

Monster: Werewolf

Where it’s from: Many parts of the world, particularly Europe

Description: “I’m sorry, man, but what about a human by day, a freak animal killing machine by moonlight don’t you understand? I mean, werewolves are badass,” Dean says.

The ones on Supernatural tend to keep their human form (maybe for budgetary concerns) — just with more hair, longer nails and sharper teeth.

In some cultures, individuals born during a new moon or suffering from epilepsy were considered likely to be werewolves, according to an Imgur post.

That’s a good question. Have you been bitten by a werewolf lately? Eaten wolf brains? Made a deal with the Devil?

That’s a good question. Have you been bitten by a werewolf lately? Eaten wolf brains? Made a deal with the Devil?

There are various means to become a werewolf:

  • Getting bitten by a werewolf
  • Making a pact with the Devil
  • Suffering from a family curse
  • Drinking water from a wolf’s pawprint
  • Eating wolf brains
  • Wearing a wolfskin

What it does: On the week leading up to full moon, the werewolf mauls people to death, removing their heart. Then the werewolf wakes up as a human again, not remembering anything that happened the night before.

“Like a really hot Incredible Hulk?” Dean wants to know.

The connection between lycanthropy and the full moon goes back to the ancient Greeks, according to Werewolves.com:

They noticed the way that the weak gravitational pull of the moon affected the ocean tides and figured that since the human brain contains moisture that the moon could also screw up someone’s mind in the same way, which would cause savage feelings to come forth. The “civilized man” might be gradually transformed by the pull of the moon into a raging, irrational creature — a lunatic. Many of the well-known Greek scholars, such as Aristotle and Hippocrates, agreed with this theory. Then taking in account one of Greece’s moon goddesses, Selene, was often portrayed as a wild and unpredictable woman that would dance unrestrained in the woods, the Greeks felt that they had further proof the moon made people wild and crazed.

Turns out they were on to something. A study performed at the Calvary Mater Newcastle Hospital in Sydney, Australia stated that some of its emergency patients admitted with very violent and dangerous disturbances were similar to werewolf behavior. And a quarter of those happened during a full moon — double the number for the other phases of the moon, according to Leonie Calver, a clinical research nurse in toxicology.

This fellow won’t even remember this in the morning

This fellow won’t even remember this in the morning

How to defeat it: Tie them up — you can’t let them go on an all-you-can-eat buffet, as Dean says.

Lycanthropy might be cured if you can kill the werewolf who bit you. You can sever the bloodline. So posits Daddy Winchester’s theory.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t pan out. So a silver bullet to the heart it is.
 

Necromancy, which comes from the words for “dead divination,” is a fun, if dangerous, pastime

Necromancy, which comes from the words for “dead divination,” is a fun, if dangerous, pastime

S2E18: “Hollywood Babylon”

Monster: Spirits raised from the dead

Where it’s from: All over the world

Description: Certain movie productions are said to be cursed or haunted.

As if the movie Poltergeist wasn’t scary enough — it’s also said to be cursed, with some of its stars suffering untimely deaths

As if the movie Poltergeist wasn’t scary enough — it’s also said to be cursed, with some of its stars suffering untimely deaths

There are some freak deaths associated with the Poltergeist series, for example, including one of the stars being strangled by her ex and the little girl who played Carol Anne succumbing to a sudden illness.

And there’s a famous shot in Three Men and a Baby in which you can make out an image of a young boy…who supposedly is a ghost. (It did give me the chills when I first saw it.)

Three Men and a Baby…and the ghost of a boy?!

Three Men and a Baby…and the ghost of a boy?!

In this ep, studio executives fake the death of a crewman to drum up publicity.

But then a black and white ghost lures a jerky producer up the scaffolding, puts a noose around his neck and throws him down to his death. It seems connected to a starlet from the ’30s. She was used by a studio exec and hanged herself from the rafters.

Then a ghost from the ’60s of an electrician who died on set caused the same thing to happen to a producer — he was sucked into a giant fan that chopped him up like a blender.

What it does: Turns out a screenwriter named Walter is pissed at the people who ruined his movie. He’s using a necromantic summoning ritual to call forth vengeful spirits.

You can try summoning a spirit to do your bidding — but it’ll attack you if you don’t have the proper protection

You can try summoning a spirit to do your bidding — but it’ll attack you if you don’t have the proper protection

Rituals to Summon the Dead

Here’s how you too can raise the dead to do your bidding, according to Rituals of Magic. (Sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it?) Perhaps it’s best that the ritual is all rather vague:

First, draw a series of concentric circles of power on the ground, on which you’ve inscribed crosses and other symbols, together with the holy names of God. The circle should be blessed and consecrated — be sure to stand in the center so you’re protected from danger. Then, with your wand in hand, call for the dead to rise, using names of power.

Some sorcerers like to strengthen the connection between the living and the dead by using a portrait of the deceased or offering a piece of bread for the ghost to consume. In this invocation, you call the dead by name — and, if it succeeds, you’ll be rewarded with a screaming ghost full of rage at having been forced against its will to return to the realm of the living. Sometimes the dead materialize as furious beasts threatening to tear you to pieces.

Necromancy is a serious business. The dead don’t want to be disturbed.

 

Here’s another invocation that sounds promising, from Encyclopedia Satanica (gulp):

Perform this ritual at midnight at the grave or crypt of the dead person you’d like to summon.

Burn asafoetida incense and use a “dagger of art” and black candle of summoning.

Ia! Shub-Niggurath!
I invoke thee, spirits of the flame!
I invoke thee, spirits of the air!
I invoke thee, spirits of the earth!
Hysorga! Teamon karazan!
Spirits of the earth,
Give up thy secrets,
Release them from the cold grasp of thy bosom!
I invoke thee, spirits of the earth!
Hysorga! Teamon karazan!
By the unholy name, I thus invoke!
From the grasp
Of the roots that choke.
By the name of the She Goat of the Wood,
Who hast a thousand young!
Ia! Shub-Niggurath!
Ia! Tananan Kr’razorda!
Ia! Orkazonar
Zerlkktrayr
Ia! Shub-Niggurath!
Spirit of [dead person]
The name doth compel thee.
I now do call thee forth from the abyss.
Spirit of [dead person]
The name doth compel thee,
Come now to this place,
Into this circle I call thee.
Spirit of [dead person]
The name doth compel thee.
Come unto me, and show thy self.
For thou shalt answer fully and truthfully
And be compelled to do my bidding.
So it is!
Ia! Tananan Kr’razorda!
Ia! Tananan Kr’razorda!
Ia! Orkazonar
Zerlkktrayr
Ia! Shub-Niggurath!

How to defeat it: You can create a magic talisman to protect yourself. As mentioned, the dead don’t like being anyone’s slave. Be sure you always have the talisman that controls them. Silly Walter breaks his, setting the spirits free — and they can’t wait to pounce on him and pummel him to death. –Wally

The 5 Best Things to Do in Costa Rica

This ecotourism hotspot features amazing destinations, including Monteverde, Manuel Antonio National Park, Dominical and the Arenal Volcano. Here are the best and worst parts about visiting Costa Rica.

Allison and Zach in Manuel Antonio National Park, one of their favorite spots in Costa Rica

Allison and Zach in Manuel Antonio National Park, one of their favorite spots in Costa Rica

I defy you to find a cuter couple than Allison and Zach. They met while we all worked together, fell in love and recently tied the knot. Duke and I have a magical connection with them — we run into them in the oddest of places often enough that we feel our fates must be linked. I always think of them as a shining example of a karass, from the fake religion Bokononism in Kurt Vonnegut’s masterpiece Cat’s Cradle.

Zach’s dad moved to Costa Rica, so they’ve visited numerous times and were awesome enough to share some insider secrets about the country that has put ecotourism on the map. –Wally
 

The secluded Playa Manuel Antonio is the single most beautiful spot in Costa Rica to me. When people think of Costa Rica, I believe this is the image they have in their head.

What are your favorite places in Costa Rica and what do you like about them?

The Sky Walk in the Monteverde cloud forest looks like it’s only for the brave

The Sky Walk in the Monteverde cloud forest looks like it’s only for the brave

1. Monteverde

Costa Rica’s cloud forest is near a town that’s mostly locals and not as touristy as some other places. There’s a very laidback mountain town feel about it, and it’s generally much cooler than any other part of Costa Rica since it’s almost 5,000 feet above sea level.

There are some amazing ziplining and four wheeling in the area, as well as a beautiful butterfly sanctuary and some of the best coffee in the country. If you get hungry, check out the great wood-fire pizza place in downtown Santa Elena, the largest town in Monteverde.

Playa Manuel Antonio is only accessible via the national park but is worth the $3 or $4 entry fee

Playa Manuel Antonio is only accessible via the national park but is worth the $3 or $4 entry fee

2. Manuel Antonio

This is home to some of the best beaches in Costa Rica as well as the Manuel Antonio National Park (where monkeys will literally steal the food out of your hands, the jerks). While it is tourist-heavy, Manuel Antonio gives you that real “paradise in a bottle” type of feeling — it’s very self-contained, with great restaurants, five-star hotels and late-night bonfire parties on the beach. You could spend an entire week in Manuel Antonio and not go anywhere else in Costa Rica and still have an amazing vacation.

Allison getting breakfast at Cafe Milagro — probably the best café and bakery in Manuel Antonio, with great patio seating and some amazing coffee and pastries. They also do lunch, with a variety of sandwiches. You can buy some great varieties of Costa Rican coffee beans here

Allison getting breakfast at Cafe Milagro — probably the best café and bakery in Manuel Antonio, with great patio seating and some amazing coffee and pastries. They also do lunch, with a variety of sandwiches. You can buy some great varieties of Costa Rican coffee beans here

3. Dominical

This is just 30 minutes south of Manuel Antonio and off the beaten path (it was a dirt road up until 2012), with only a couple of bars and rarely that many tourists. There are one or two small “hotels,” but most people come to Dominical for the waves. An estuary runs into the ocean, where you’ll find some of the best (and intense) breaks in this part of Costa Rica.

Dominical Beach is one of Costa Rica’s best-kept secrets and a surfer’s paradise

Dominical Beach is one of Costa Rica’s best-kept secrets and a surfer’s paradise

The estuary itself is worth exploring, as you can walk most of it until it turns into a larger river.

Dominical is peaceful, laidback, local, and an all-around great place to unwind for a day or even two or three.
 

4. Drake Bay/Oso Peninsula

While Dominical might seem off the beaten path, the Oso Peninsula and Drake Bay is wayyy off the beaten path. To get to Drake Bay from Manuel Antonio, you embark on several long dirt roads (drive time is about three hours) that eventually lead to a river port filled with old wooden riverboats. From there you will need to take one or two different boats through the river and into the bay (with a choppy and somewhat harrowing ocean crossing) to Drake Bay. There used to be no roads that led to Drake Bay and it was only accessible by riverboat, but I believe that has changed recently.

The boat will literally just drop you off on a remote beach and you walk to your hotel, which is more of a locally owned bed and breakfast.

There is amazing snorkeling and scuba diving in the area, and locals will take you to a few islands off the coast, where you can hike, snorkel or just lay on the beach.

Arenal Volcano to the right and Laguna de Arenal to the left. The Arenal cloud forest and town of Fortuna are a great destination for one or two days. The Tabacon hot springs are a must, and you can hike to the base of the volcano

Arenal Volcano to the right and Laguna de Arenal to the left. The Arenal cloud forest and town of Fortuna are a great destination for one or two days. The Tabacon hot springs are a must, and you can hike to the base of the volcano

A Costa Rican red-eyed tree frog. There are thousands of types of frogs in Costa Rica, many that exist only there. Allison took this picture near Arenal Volcano

A Costa Rican red-eyed tree frog. There are thousands of types of frogs in Costa Rica, many that exist only there. Allison took this picture near Arenal Volcano

5. Arenal Volcano/Fortuna

To start, you can hike to the base of an active volcano, which is absolutely stunning. The trail and hike aren’t too bad, either — about an hour to the base of the volcano through a lush jungle filled with monkeys.

But the town of Fortuna is equally great. The Tabacon Resort is by far the most unique Costa Rican experience I’ve ever had and has some of the most amazing hot springs we’ve ever been to. Hundreds of natural pools flow into each other, and you can walk around the jungle-like grounds, going from one pool to the next. It is an absolute must when visiting Costa Rica.

The sunsets in Costa Rica are some of the most amazing you’ll ever experience. Here’s Allison on the beach at Tamarindo during one of those breathtaking Costa Rican sunsets

The sunsets in Costa Rica are some of the most amazing you’ll ever experience. Here’s Allison on the beach at Tamarindo during one of those breathtaking Costa Rican sunsets

What’s the most beautiful spot in Costa Rica?
That is a hard question — there are so many! While Manuel Antonio is one of the more popular destinations, the secluded Playa Manuel Antonio on the eastern side of the national park is the single most beautiful spot in Costa Rica to me. The water is almost turquoise, a much different color than the waters anywhere else in Manuel Antonio, and while there might be tourists, it is an absolutely picture-perfect spot. When people think of Costa Rica, I believe this is the image they have in their head.

What type of outdoor activities do you like to do when you visit?
First and foremost: surfing!  Amazing surfing can be found in Costa Rica, and you don’t have to be a professional to do it. A town called Tamarindo on the northern Nicoya Peninsula is in my opinion the best place for wannabe surfers to get their bearings. The water is shallow, neck high at most, and the waves are small and consistent.

Tamarindo Beach, where anyone looking to surf for their first time should head to — it has the most consistent, entry-level waves you can find. This photo is also very typical looking for most beaches in Costa Rica

Tamarindo Beach, where anyone looking to surf for their first time should head to — it has the most consistent, entry-level waves you can find. This photo is also very typical looking for most beaches in Costa Rica

Once in Costa Rica, the best way to get around is by Sansa Airlines, which is owned and operated out of San Jose, Costa Rica. This will save hours on driving and is rather affordable. For example, you can fly direct from San Jose to Manuel Antonio for $70, and it’s a 20-minute flight, as opposed to making the three-hour drive

Once in Costa Rica, the best way to get around is by Sansa Airlines, which is owned and operated out of San Jose, Costa Rica. This will save hours on driving and is rather affordable. For example, you can fly direct from San Jose to Manuel Antonio for $70, and it’s a 20-minute flight, as opposed to making the three-hour drive

Other than surfing, the list goes on: snorkeling, scuba diving, ziplining, four wheeling, hiking, moonlit nature walks…it’s endless!

What’s the food like?

Very good! Local staples include gallo pinto and arroz con pollo. Gallo pinto is a traditional dish made of rice and black beans, usually with cilantro as well. Gallo pinto topped with a fried egg is a go-to for me.

A typical Costa Rican breakfast: gallo pinto with scrambled eggs, fresh tortillas and a couple slices of queso turrialba, a local cheese made in Monteverde that’s rindless, unaged and has a high water content. The potatoes are not typical but were included because they were at a hotel

A typical Costa Rican breakfast: gallo pinto with scrambled eggs, fresh tortillas and a couple slices of queso turrialba, a local cheese made in Monteverde that’s rindless, unaged and has a high water content. The potatoes are not typical but were included because they were at a hotel

Arroz con pollo, exactly how it is served in all Costa Rican restaurants, with french fries and a side salad

Arroz con pollo, exactly how it is served in all Costa Rican restaurants, with french fries and a side salad

Arroz con pollo (simply rice with chicken) is probably the most famous of Costa Rican dishes. It’s fried rice with veggies — almost always red pepper, onions and tomatoes — and cilantro, mixed with shredded chicken.

Lizano, however, is what makes any dish truly “Costa Rican.” It’s essentially the Costa Rican version of ketchup and is used on everything from fries to rice to steak. It’s hard to describe but it’s almost a sweet, black peppery cumin BBQ sauce. It’s a Costa Rican staple (created and started in Costa Rica in 1920, though the Lizano Company was recently acquired by Unilever) and pairs well with tamales and arroz con pollo.

Any interesting customs you’ve noticed?
Kindness. In any of the smaller, non-touristy towns, the people are wildly nice and caring. I’ve been invited to people’s houses for dinner only minutes after meeting them.

My father has this story from when he travelled to Costa Rica in 1996 for work and his car broke down on a deserted road. Eventually another car came by, and the family invited him to their home, where he stayed for two days while they fixed his car. They treated him like family, feeding him and giving him a bed. He says that was why he eventually decided to move to Costa Rica: the people.

There are usually a few restaurants or bars on every beach. This is a typical layout of such a place, where the chairs and tables are literally right on the sand

There are usually a few restaurants or bars on every beach. This is a typical layout of such a place, where the chairs and tables are literally right on the sand

Costa Ricans have an earnest desire to share what they have and enjoy the company of others, which unfortunately is not the go-to mindset here in the States.

There is also an amazing Christmas tradition where families cook hundreds of Christmas tamales. Tamales are a Christmas staple in Costa Rica, and the best part is that each family makes so many of them that you can eat them for weeks if not months afterwards.

What’s something you’re not the biggest fan of there?

The Costa Rican capuchin monkey is ubiquitous and can be quite menacing at times, hissing, throwing things at you and trying to steal any food you might have

The Costa Rican capuchin monkey is ubiquitous and can be quite menacing at times, hissing, throwing things at you and trying to steal any food you might have

The monkeys that steal your food on the beaches of Manuel Antonio. For real — they are intense!

Aside from that, due to the rising influx of tourists, there are a lot of shady guys out there trying to make a buck and rip off tourists. You have to be careful of whom you go to for things. The shady guys basically look like surfer bros and smoke a lot of weed, so if you don’t do business with the late teen/early 20s guys who whistle at girls when they pass, you should be okay.

Anything else you’d like to mention about Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is a great place and has come to define the term “ecotourism.”

It’s a place that I hold dear to my heart, and I once worked for Habitat for Humanity there for six months building houses for single mothers. When there, I stayed with a local family in their guest bedroom, and from day one was treated as if I had been a part of their family for years. It really is the people that make a country great, and Costa Rica is a shining example of that.

Saturday Night Market, Chiang Mai

Forget the Night Bazaar and hit this market by the Silver Temple when you’re in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The Saturday Walking Street Night Market has some good handicraft stalls — but we loved this mini food court most of all

The Saturday Walking Street Night Market has some good handicraft stalls — but we loved this mini food court most of all

Wualai Market, also known as the Saturday Walking Street, is a lively outdoor market with hundreds of street vendors that runs from 5-11 p.m. every Saturday evening in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Since we were visiting Wat Sri Suphan, known as the Silver Temple, on a Saturday and the market was conveniently located nearby, we both agreed that it was the perfect opportunity to check it out.

An artist selling her charming linocut postcards

An artist selling her charming linocut postcards

You can purchase everything from a variety of traditional handicrafts, clothes, tote bags, handmade hill tribe products to local herbal remedies. A short walk from the Old City’s South (Chiang Mai) Gate, the market takes place on Wualai Street, home to silver craftsmen. The enclave was resettled in the late 18th century by Burmese Shan state refugees, and its name refers to Ban Ngua Lai, a Shan village on the Salween River.

The Saturday Walking Street Market feels more authentic and less tourist driven than the better-known Sunday Walking Street Market.

Perhaps because it’s the smaller, secluded sibling of the better-known Sunday Walking Street on Ratchadamnoen Road, the Wualai Market feels more authentic and less tourist driven. The market spans the entire length of Wualai Road, a few of the narrow lanes in between, and is closed to motorized traffic.

Get to the market early if you want to escape the crowds

Get to the market early if you want to escape the crowds

Prices are incredibly reasonable, so you’ll be sure to find some bargains here. Many Chiang Mai University art students use this marketplace to display their wares. Wally and I discovered a young woman selling charming linocut postcard-sized art and purchased a few of them as souvenirs.

Wash down dinner with a couple of local beers

Wash down dinner with a couple of local beers

Just follow the flashing lights and pumping music to find your way to the booze cart at the back of the food court

Just follow the flashing lights and pumping music to find your way to the booze cart at the back of the food court

Giant shrimp peeked out of our delicious, piping hot tom yum soup

Giant shrimp peeked out of our delicious, piping hot tom yum soup

If you get hungry while shopping, you’re in luck. Scattered along the Saturday Walking Street are food stalls to satisfy your appetite and quench your thirst. Look for the small courtyard with makeshift tables amongst a cluster of market food stalls with vendors selling a wide selection of Thai street food fare. Wally and I feasted upon a delicious bowl of spicy and sour tom yum soup, washed down with bottles of Leo beer purchased from a bar-like cart at the back.

In the mood for a snack? This vendor sells a variety of crispy insects to fulfill any craving! (No, we did not partake)

In the mood for a snack? This vendor sells a variety of crispy insects to fulfill any craving! (No, we did not partake)

If your tired feet need some help, there are plenty of makeshift street-side massage shops to choose from.

Street art along one of the main drags of the Saturday Night Market

Street art along one of the main drags of the Saturday Night Market

Periodically, you’ll encounter street musicians performing for donations. While the market is smaller than the Sunday Market, it becomes more crowded as the sun sets, so it’s worth turning up early. By 8:30 p.m., when we left, the streets were bustling with pedestrians, and progress through the crowds was slow.

There’s a line of tuk-tuks to take you elsewhere — just make sure to agree on the fare before you get in. They were all quoting the same price, one that was much too high for the journey back to our hotel, so Wally and I walked a block or so away and found someone who wasn’t charging an exorbitant sum. –Duke

Perfume Pagoda, Vietnam: The Journey Is the Destination

On this Hanoi day trip, the magic stalactites and stalagmites are cool, but the boat ride along the river is what’s most memorable.

The slow cruise along the river is the best part of the day trip to the Perfume Pagoda

The slow cruise along the river is the best part of the day trip to the Perfume Pagoda

We had almost a week to spend in Hanoi, and while we loved staying in the bustling Old Quarter, with its streets named for the vendors that lined the road (marble gravestones, toys, silk flowers, tin pans and the like), we saw the sights in a couple of days. So we went down to the lobby of our hotel to look at the binder containing day trips.

Colorful metal boats line the Yen River, waiting to transport visitors to the Perfume Pagoda

Colorful metal boats line the Yen River, waiting to transport visitors to the Perfume Pagoda

An overnight excursion on a Chinese junk boat in the otherworldly Ha Long Bay had already been booked. We were looking for an adventure we could go to and return the same day.

The silhouettes of the mountain look like a watercolor painting of various shades of blue, rising above the lush green along the banks of the Yen.

It didn’t take long to decide upon the Perfume Pagoda.

The Perfume Pagoda is a scenic day trip to take from Hanoi, Vietnam

The Perfume Pagoda is a scenic day trip to take from Hanoi, Vietnam

Located about 37 miles southwest of Hanoi are a collection of Buddhist shrines that are built into the caves at the foot of Huong Tich Mountain, which gets translated somewhat awkwardly as the Mountain of the Fragrant Traces. Perhaps that’s where the “perfume” in this pagoda comes from.

Vanessa, Duke, Wally and Inéz enjoyed their boat ride to the Vietnamese pilgrimage site

Vanessa, Duke, Wally and Inéz enjoyed their boat ride to the Vietnamese pilgrimage site

Getting to the Perfume Pagoda is all part of the fun. We hopped into a van that picked us up at our hotel, then drove a couple of hours to a town called My Duc.

“Duc means ‘good’ in Vietnamese,” our tour guide told us, pronouncing the word like “duke.”

“His name is Duke!” I exclaimed, pointing next to me. “And it makes sense, ’cause he’s good. And he’s My Duke.”

We walked down to the Yen River. Small turtles slowly paddled their stumpy legs in a bucket by the water’s edge. A local told us that we could “buy” a turtle, make a wish and then set it free into the river. (“I’m sure they scoop them right back up to sell again,” said the cynical side of me.)

You can pay to release one of these red-eared slider turtles into the Yen River — and have a wish come true

You can pay to release one of these red-eared slider turtles into the Yen River — and have a wish come true

The truly amazing part of the journey are the women from the village who row you to the site. We climbed aboard a narrow metal boat that looked a bit like a larger-than-usual canoe that’s been folded out to be wider. They’re painted an array of colors: bright yellow, dark red, light blue. We sat facing a woman in a large-brimmed conical hat with a handkerchief tied over her nose and mouth. She rowed, steadily and strongly, for about 45 minutes. We were in awe.

The scenery’s not too shabby, either: The silhouettes of the mountain look like a watercolor painting of various shades of blue, rising above the lush green along the banks of the Yen. Here and there you’ll spot a rice field, a lotus, a lilypad, a shrine perched atop a craggy green karst limestone outcropping. The serenity of the landscape and the rhythmic rowing almost puts you in a hypnotic trance.

There were five of us in our boat: our rowing powerhouse, me, Duke, our traveling companion Vanessa, and a sweet girl named Inéz from Peru.

One of the gates into the temple area of the Perfume Pagoda

One of the gates into the temple area of the Perfume Pagoda

Once we arrived, we walked past stone structures with Chinese lettering. We especially liked one set of steps that were entirely covered with plantlife.

One of the most striking scenes at the Perfume Pagoda are these foliage-covered steps

One of the most striking scenes at the Perfume Pagoda are these foliage-covered steps

Wally and Inéz sit on the steps at the entrance — a great spot for a pic

Wally and Inéz sit on the steps at the entrance — a great spot for a pic

Legend has it that Buddha himself washed in the river here, and today, Vietnamese devotees follow suit, bathing in the water to wash away their bad karma — similar to how Christians get bapitzed.

Duke and Wally in front of a gate at the temple complex, a large portion of which was referred to as “the Kitchen” by our guide. We wondered if that meant it was a ceremonial or banquet space

Duke and Wally in front of a gate at the temple complex, a large portion of which was referred to as “the Kitchen” by our guide. We wondered if that meant it was a ceremonial or banquet space

We aimlessly wandered the temple complex, spotting a Buddhist monk at one point

We aimlessly wandered the temple complex, spotting a Buddhist monk at one point

We were told we could hike to the top of the hill to see the Perfume Pagoda or we could take the cable car. Not wanting to seem like weaklings, we decided to walk up.

We thought we’d walk up to the Perfume Pagoda — but after a bit of a hike in the intense heat, we quickly decided the cable car was the way to go

We thought we’d walk up to the Perfume Pagoda — but after a bit of a hike in the intense heat, we quickly decided the cable car was the way to go

After about five minutes of trudging up a series of steps in the sweltering heat, we all turned to each other and said, “Cable car?” We hurried back down and climbed into a gondola, cruising through the sky, admiring the view. It was a wise decision and one we recommend.

Vanessa and Wally were glad they decided to take the cable car up to the top

Vanessa and Wally were glad they decided to take the cable car up to the top

…and Duke and Inéz were in complete agreement

…and Duke and Inéz were in complete agreement

Inside the Dragon’s Mouth

At the top, you’ll see the grotto entrance, which is said to be shaped like a dragon’s mouth. I’m not sure why it’s referred to as a pagoda at all.

This toy bugle that Wally blew might have been an offering to give birth to a boy at the magic stalactites and stalagmites inside the Perfume Pagoda cave

This toy bugle that Wally blew might have been an offering to give birth to a boy at the magic stalactites and stalagmites inside the Perfume Pagoda cave

As we neared the entrance, a man approached me and told me that I couldn’t enter the cave because I was wearing shorts. All we could think was that my shorts came a bit above the knee. Vanessa had to borrow a shawl from a Dutch woman in our group to cover her indecent shoulders. 

I found our tour guide and told him I didn’t come all this way not to go into the cave, so he spoke with the disciplinarian and waved me on. 

So you don’t undergo a similar unpleasant experience, know that this is a site that has somewhat strict rules about dress code. Make sure your knees and shoulders are covered.

A candlelit shrine in the cave at Perfume Pagoda

A candlelit shrine in the cave at Perfume Pagoda

The cave temple isn’t the most impressive (it pales in comparison to the Ajanta Caves or Ellora Caves in India, for example). It’s thought to date from the 1400s.

It’s one of the most visited sites for the Vietnamese, though. Pilgrims come here to pray to and rub the stalactites and stalagmites, and each has its own power. One of the more famous ones is said to ensure a woman will give birth to a daughter, and there are some for general prosperity and a bountiful harvest as well. Heck, there’s even one that’s shaped like a breast. It offers health if you catch some of the “heavenly milk” that drips from it. This nature worship speaks to the fact that before this was a Buddhist shrine, it was a sacred animist space.

Exploring the cave won’t take much time, so be sure to meander through the stone temple at your leisure

Exploring the cave won’t take much time, so be sure to meander through the stone temple at your leisure

Statues sit inside the shrine, including green stones depictions of the Buddha and Quan Am, a multi-armed bodhisattva of compassion who’s popular around these parts. Bodhisattvas could reach enlightenment if they wanted to, but they delay it so they can remain on Earth to teach.

Because we had gravity on our side, we decided to forgo the cable car and climb down the mountain on foot. There’s a winding path past stonework, bamboo scaffolding and, strangely, a monkey on a chain.

On the walk down, we passed a monkey on a chain. Duke claims he loves monkeys — but was terrified to get too close to this one. So it was Wally who posed (keeping a safe distance)

On the walk down, we passed a monkey on a chain. Duke claims he loves monkeys — but was terrified to get too close to this one. So it was Wally who posed (keeping a safe distance)

Then it’s back in the boat, with a local Wonder Woman powerfully rowing on the return trip as well. With this day trip, the journey truly is the destination. –Wally

Pilgrims come here to pray to and rub the stalactites and stalagmites, and each has its own power. One ensures a woman will give birth to a daughter. Heck, there’s even one shaped like a breast.

Wat Sri Suphan, the Stunning (but Sexist) Silver Temple

Looking for things to do in Chiang Mai? Admire the impressive metalwork — though women aren’t welcome inside.

The pressed silver artistry of Wat Sri Suphan made it one of our favorite temples to explore in Chiang Mai

It’s no surprise that Wally and I are a couple of magpies, drawn to the embellished and vibrant artistry of Thai temples. The province has a mind-boggling amount of temples and you’ll never hear either of us admit that we’re suffering from temple fatigue. Each structure has its own fantastical narrative, with artistic details dependent upon the date of its construction and in the case of Wat Sri Suphan, its reinvention.

A cool water motif surrounds the temple. Duke tries to reach enlightenment like the Buddha — without a naga umbrella

Located amongst the narrow winding lanes of Thanon Wualai, south of Chiang Mai’s Old City, is the unconventional and impressive Wat Sri Suphan, also known as the Silver Temple. According to an inscription on the temple grounds, it was originally erected in 1501 by King Mueang Kaeo, the 11th ruler of the Mengrai dynasty. The ubosot shrine was consecrated in 1509 and contains holy relics of the Buddha.

Women are not allowed inside due to the belief that they would deteriorate the holy relics — “or otherwise the lady herself,” as a sign out front reads.

The neighborhood was resettled during the 16th century by Shan refugees renowned for their silverwork who migrated from Kentung, a small village in Eastern Myanmar.

A Buddha with bat-like ears, evidence of the influence of Laotian art, seated outside the ubosot entrance

In December 1941, the resident monks were forced to evacuate when the temple compound was commandeered by Japanese soldiers, who used it as a military base throughout World War II.

A shrine to the elephant-headed deity Ganesh with his mouse buddies Kroncha offering him his favorite treat, modak, a dumpling filled with freshly grated coconut and palm sugar

As Wally and I approached the ubosot, we saw a shrine to the elephant-headed Hindu deity Ganesh seated beneath a silver parasol. Referred to as Phra Pikanet by the Thai and known as the remover of obstacles, it’s fairly common for Thai Buddhists to make an offering to the deity when seeking fortune and success. A pair of Kroncha (the mouse that Ganesh rides around on), one silver and one gold, stand at his feet offering him his favorite sweet, modak, a steamed dumpling filled with freshly grated coconut and palm sugar.

The Silver Temple is truly a work of art — it’s a shame women aren’t allowed in

Wat Sri Suphan, like many temples under royal patronage, has been consecrated and renovated numerous times. But perhaps what makes it truly unique is the magnificent silver-colored bot constructed in 2004 under the direction of the abbot Phra Kru Phithatsuthikhun. The former base and original eight boundary markers, or bai sema, which designate the sacred perimeter of the ordination hall, were retained, along with the meticulous skill and handiwork of local silversmiths. The result is the shimmering ordination hall sheathed in intricately detailed three-dimensional repoussé work made using zinc alloy and aluminum panels with pure silver being reserved for the interior sanctuary.

A rare instance of gold on the Silver Temple’s façade draws attention to the Buddha in a teaching moment

The Wonder Walls of Sri Suphan

The main ordination hall is an elegant work of art, with panels and doors covered with intricately textured designs. The exterior includes the national emblem of Thailand, Phra Khrut Pha (Garuda as the vehicle of Narai or Vishnu), four lotuses indicating the four noble truths, Sankhapala, the Naga king, ASEAN countries, famous world cities, the king’s stories from the Jataka life of Buddha and the 12 Thai zodiac signs.

The temple is a dichotomy of pressed silver and turquouise tile

The Naga Prince: a depiction of the tales of the Buddha’s rebirth

The intricacy of the repoussé silverwork on the temple is truly stunning

Because this is an active ordination hall, women are not allowed to enter due to the Lanna belief that their prescence may deteriorate the holy relics buried within — “or otherwise the lady herself,” as a sign out front reads.

The Buddha image in the ubosot, the main ordination hall with an angry naga fan

The murals within the ubosot display the influence of Hindu, Mahayana and Theravada Buddhist elements. The primary Buddha image, Phra Jed Tue, is believed to be at least 500 years old. Behind the shrine is a chedi spire built in traditional Lanna style.

The viharn, or prayer hall, at Sri Suphan

Sri Suphan Viharn

The viharn prayer hall was built around 200 years ago during the reign of Chao Kawiroros Suriyawong, the sixth prince of Chiang Mai.

A glimpse inside the viharn. Good news: Women are allowed in here

Its main entrance is guarded by naga and dwarapala, fearsome snakes and giants, while its side entrance is guarded by singh lions and newt-like creatures called moms.

Inside, the walls illustrate stories of the Buddha.

A monk demonstrates the richly expressive repoussé technique

Panels in progress can be seen in the workshop off to one side

The temple also has a sala pavilion with an onsite workshop, where this complex centuries-old heritage art is practiced by local craftsmen who apprentice under an experienced master silversmith to preserve this valuable tradition. You can watch villagers and monks working together on the beautiful designs that cover the ubosot. Embossed sheet metal is punched and hammered from the inside to produce a relief decoration. It’s first coated in oil and then worked facedown on a bed of resin. It was cool seeing these artisans in action.

The viharn prayer hall also sports some amazing artwork, like this beastie

If you’re in town on a Saturday evening, pair a visit to the temple with the nearby Saturday Walking Street Market, as we did. –Duke


Adorning the entrance to the ubosot are a pair of kinnari, half-human, half-bird beings who protect devotees

Wat Sri Suphan
100 Wua Lai Road
Tambon Hai Ya
Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai
Chang Wat
Chiang Mai 50100 Thailand


21 Eiffel Tower Facts

The true designer (hint: It wasn’t Gustave Eiffel!), Nazi occupation, the sculpture in the Champ de Mars and other trivia about la Tour Eiffel you never knew.

The Eiffel Tower is a symbol of Paris — but it has a fascinating history most people aren’t familiar with

A large part of the romance of Paris for me is that much of its historic skyline remains intact. It stretches out before you, its streets filled with light gray and cream-colored buildings, all of which are no more than five or six stories tall (with the exception of Montparnasse Tower, largely considered an eyesore by many Parisians).

Guy de Maupassant so abhorred the Eiffel Tower, he said he ate lunch every day in the restaurant at its base — ’cause it was the only place in Paris where he didn’t have to look at it.

Wally got tired of walking, so he made Duke give him a piggyback ride

One structure draws your eyes in the heart of the city: la Tour Eiffel, as the French call it. It has become the ultimate representation of the City of Light. The Eiffel Tower is at once sturdy, being made of steel, yet delicate in its design.

Everyone, whether they’ve had the pleasure of visiting Paris or not, is familiar with the city’s most iconic structure. But how much do you really know about the Eiffel Tower?

 

Wally jumps for joy at la Tour Eiffel

1. It reigned as the tallest manmade structure in the world — for a while, at least.

Completed in 1889, the Eiffel Tower, held that title for 41 years, standing 984 feet tall, until the Chrysler Building (1,046 feet) in New York City beat it out in 1930.

 

2. It’s a long climb to the top.

You can trek up all 1,665 steps to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but there is an elevator.

 

3. It literally grows in the sunlight.

Unlike George on Seinfeld’s penis in cold water, the Eiffel Tower doesn’t shrink when temps drop — but because of thermal expansion, it stretches 6 inches taller on warm days.

 

The Eiffel Tower was built for a World’s Fair and has become one of the most-visited monuments on the planet

4. The tourism hotspot is super popular.

Seven or so million people a year visit the Eiffel Tower — it’s the most-visited, for-pay monument in the world.

 

5. The Eiffel Tower is a marvel of modern architecture.

Construction took two years, two months and five days — 180 years fewer than Notre Dame!

 

6. Paris almost missed out on housing the icon.

The project was first pitched to Barcelona, Spain, but the plan was rejected. The city was worried it’d be considered an unwieldy eyesore. It seems a bit odd for a place that took a risk with Antoni Gaudí and his colorful and strange aesthetic, including the beautiful and bizarre La Sagrada Familia church.

 

7. Turns out the man whose name it bears didn’t really design it.

It’s actually the work of one of Gustave Eiffel's employees: an engineer named Maurice Koechlin. Poor Maurice gets no respect.

 

The stages of the Eiffel Tower’s construction

8. Construction was intense.

It took 300 workers, over 18,000 pieces of wrought iron and 2.5 million rivets to create the impressive structure.

 

The Eiffel Tower served as a dramatic entrance to the 1889 Exposition Universelle

9. The Eiffel Tower was the star of the show at the 1889 World’s Fair.

The tower was built to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution for the Exposition Universelle. Paris wanted a dramatic entrance to the fairgrounds, reviewing more than 100 submissions before picking Eiffel and Company’s design.

 

Gustave Eiffel’s career had its ups and downs — and he didn’t even come up with the design for his namesake tower

10. Eiffel had a major misstep earlier in his career.

The French tried to build that canal in Panama, but it was a disastrous failure, and Eiffel’s reputation suffered.

 

11. A choice job on an American landmark redeemed Eiffel.

The architect had designed the skeletal support structure of the Statue of Liberty, which helped him score the World’s Fair commission.

 

12. The Eiffel Tower wasn’t supposed to stick around.

It was originally only intended to remain for 20 years before being dismantled. But its use as a giant antenna saved it — in part thanks to the fact that it jammed German wireless radio communications, hindering the Nazi advance at the First Battle of the Marne. The Allies were victorious, and the tower got to remain standing.

 

Wally and his mommy sure are glad the Eiffel Tower stuck around 

13. The now legendary icon didn’t go over very well at first.

Three hundred Parisian luminaries protested the tower when it was built. They ran the following manifesto in the Le Temps newspaper on Valentine’s Day in 1887: “We, writers, painters, sculptors, architects, passionate lovers of the beauty, until now intact, of Paris, hereby protest with all our might, with all our indignation, in the name of French taste gone unrecognized, in the name of French art and history under threat, against the construction, in the very heart of our capital, of the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower.” The world has come around since then.

 

14. A famous writer sure was snooty about it.

Guy de Maupassant, author of the short story “The Necklace,” so abhorred the Eiffel Tower, he said he ate lunch every day in Le Jules Verne restaurant at its base — ’cause it was the only place in Paris where he didn’t have to look at it.

 

15. It housed the coolest hangout spot in the city.

Eiffel kept a small apartment on the third floor, 1,000 feet up, where he liked to entertain friends. It contained a grand piano and cutting-edge lab equipment, which surely impressed Thomas Edison when he visited. It’s now open to the public, complete with life-size mannequins of Eiffel and his guests.

 

14. A famous conman “sold” the Eiffel Tower — not once but twice.

In the 1920s, Victor Lustig, a con artist extraordinaire, convinced two different investors that the tower was going to be sold for scrap metal — scoring $70,000 off of one of his victims.

 

15. The Eiffel Tower was once “the world’s largest billboard.”

From 1925 to 1936, the tower was commercialized, serving as a giant advertisement for a car company.  A quarter of a million colored bulbs on three sides of the steeple illuminated to spell out Citroën in 100-foot-tall letters. It was so bright — visible for nearly 20 miles —  that Charles Lindbergh said he used it as a beacon when he landed in Paris on his 1927 solo transatlantic flight.

 

Hitler and the Nazis played a part in the history of the Eiffel Tower

16. The Eiffel Tower once sported a swastika.

When Germany occupied Paris during World War II, the tower was closed to the public. The French cut the elevator cables so Adolf Hitler and his minions would have to climb the stairs if they wanted to go up it. Nazi soldiers trudged up all those stairs and tried putting a huge swastika flag at the top, but it quickly blew away. They ended up using a smaller one.

 

17. Hitler tried to destroy the Eiffel Tower.

As the Allied forces approached Paris in 1944, Hitler ordered Dietrich van Choltitz, the military governor of the city, to demolish the Eiffel Tower. Thankfully, van Choltitz thought Hitler had gone mad and refused.

 

18. It takes a lot of paint to coat it — and it hasn’t always been the same color.

They repaint the tower every seven years or so with 66 tons of paint. That’s as much as 10 elephants weigh. The Eiffel Tower’s shade has shifted from time to time, including colors described as red-brown, yellow-ochre and chestnut brown. The reason it’s repainted is so the metal doesn’t oxidize and turn green, like the Eiffel Tower’s sister, Lady Liberty.

 

19. A French president once had a terrible and destructive idea about the tower.

In 1960 Charles de Gaulle thought it’d be cool to temporarily dismantle the tower and send it off to Montreal, Canada for Expo 67. The plan was rejected, thank Dieu.

 

20. The tower shares a nickname with Margaret Thatcher.

Both were called the Iron Lady (La Dame de Fer, in French).

 

Uh oh! We didn’t get France’s permission to run this photo of the Eiffel Tower at night

21. You supposedly can’t publish photos of the lit tower without permission from France.

The Eiffel Tower’s likeness is in the public domain, but in 1989, a French court ruled that lighting displays on the tower are an “original visual creation” protected by copyright. Just be aware that when you post those Instagram and Facebook photos, you’re breaking the law, you rebel.

 

The art installation by Clara Halter and Jean-Michel Wilmotte is worth exploring while you’re at the Eiffel Tower

War and Peace: Le Mur Pour la Paix in the Champ de Mars

Bonus: There’s a kickass art installation nearby.

Behind the Eiffel Tower is a large green space called the Champ de Mars (Mars Field). At the end of it, in Place Joffre, is the Mur Pour la Paix (the Peace Wall) — a fittingly stark contrast to a field named for the Roman god of war. This installation by the artist Clara Halter and the architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte is worth visiting. It wasn’t crowded at all when we were there — it seems as if everyone tends to stay in the immediate Eiffel Tower area and not explore the environs. They’re missing out.

Wally and Duke at la Mur Pour la Paix, the Peace Wall, with the Eiffel Tower visible through it

On the glass wall, the word “peace” is written in 32 different languages. It’s supposedly inspired by the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, Israel. We couldn’t tell if the shattered glass was part of the exhibit or not.

Wally tries to blend into the art exhibit at the end of the Champ de Mars

The cool art at the Mur de la Paix sure made Duke happy

There’s also a series of columns off to the side that’s fun to wander through.

The art piece provides very cool perspectives of the tower and makes for some great photo opps. Like I.M. Pei’s pyramid in front of the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower itself, not every Parisian is sold on the sculpture. They’ll come around, though; they always do. –Wally

Sources: Factslides, History, Reader’s Digest,

What’s the Best Chiang Mai Street Food?

Head to Chiang Mai University on Suthep Road for a culinary adventure.

The street food found on Suthep Road by Chiang Mai University is no frills — but tasty

We were in search of what we had heard was the best street food in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

After the sun set, Wally and I flagged down a tuk-tuk and headed east of the out of the Old City to the back gate of Chiang Mai University on Suthep Road. At night the street transforms into a massive cluster of open-air kitchens, lined with food stalls as far as the eye can see. When we arrived around 8 p.m., it was buzzing with students, some arriving by moped, others on foot.

Street food is very affordable, so you can try a sampling at various stalls, and it’s not the end of the world if you buy something you don’t like.


Local dishes galore along Suthep Road

Don’t Be Afraid of Street Food

We have found street food to be the perfect embodiment of authentic local culture. The flavors are more pronounced — a far cry from bland Westernized pad Thai and spring rolls.

Wally and Duke enjoyed their delicious — and dirt cheap — meal on Suthep Road

If you’ve never visited one of these types of markets, know that it’s perfectly normal to be overwhelmed. There’s an incredible variety to choose from: grilled skewers, larb, noodles and curries, all made to order. Each stand offers more food than one person could hope to enjoy. What’s great is that they’re all very affordable, so you can try a sampling at various stalls, and it’s not the end of the world if you buy something you don’t like.

So many people are afraid of street food, but it has often been our favorite meals while traveling

Wally and I walked past a few stands, stopping to watch the cooks prepare their specialties. We bought some grilled chicken skewers to munch on before settling on our main course.

At one end of the street, we found a vendor we liked. Many of the tables were packed (which we took to be a good sign), but we didn’t have a problem finding a seat. We sat on plastic chairs and ordered from the menu. Most have English menus with descriptions of the food, so you can either point to or say what you want to eat quite easily, without worrying about a language barrier.

Pad prik gaeng with long beans and rice from a stall along the street in Chiang Mai, Thailand

None of the stalls served booze, so while we waited for our food, Wally made a quick run to a 7-Eleven across the street to pick up a couple of beers. (He says it was worth risking his life in the insane traffic.) We drank them as we each feasted on spicy pad prik gaeng with long beans served with rice, all for the equivalent of a couple of bucks — a delicious one-plate meal. Anthony Bourdain would be proud. –Duke

Wat Rong Khun, Chiang Rai’s White Temple

One artist’s vision of purity — with plenty of pop icons thrown in as well. Where else can you see Hello Kitty, superheroes, Disney villains and Harry Potter engaged in an epic battle?

The White Temple is the most popular attraction in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Though he was born in Thailand, Chalermchai Kositpipat is not a typical Thai artist — as you can see from his masterpiece, the White Temple. Trained as a painter at Silpakorn University in Bangkok, he began working on his ambitious, non-traditional self-funded masterpiece, Wat Rong Khun, in 1997.

Duke at Wat Rong Khun. He tried not to be too upset that you can’t take any pictures inside the temple —you’ll just have to see that kooky pop culture-infused mural for yourself!

We hired a driver, the highly recommended Tommy (you can reach him at t.tommy2556@gmail.com) for 4,000 baht. Our day trip to Chiang Rai included the Blue Temple, the Black House Museum and a crazy Alice in Wonderland excursion through one of our favorite temples in Northern Thailand.

Wally made a new friend at the White Temple, where the pristine glory of the buildings pair strangely with pop culture references

Delicate details embellish the exuberant structure of the White Temple like lavishly piped icing on a wedding cake. The overall effect is spectacular.

If you’re staying in Chiang Mai, the White Temple is located further afield — about two and a half hours to the north.

Wat Rong Khun isn’t an actual temple — it’s more of an elaborate art installation

The White Temple isn’t complete, though Kositpipat says that when it’s finished, it will consist of nine separate buildings. The artist assumes that construction will continue well beyond his death.

The temple sustained earthquake damage on May 5, 2014, and at the time, Kositpipat declared that it would be closed indefinitely. It's perhaps not surprising that he was merely grandstanding, as his vision is considered controversial — it’s a vast departure from traditional Thai Buddhist temple art.

The White Temple is the singular vision of the once-controversial artist, Kostipipat

Over time, Kositpipat’s work has become more accepted, with the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej among his clients. The unusual artist has been quoted as saying, “Only death can stop my dream but cannot stop my project,” which he believes will give him immortal life.

If you have hopes of getting a clear shot of the main hall and reflection pond, you may want to consider spending the night in Chiang Rai. We left Chiang Mai around 8:30 a.m. on a weekday, arriving at the same time as a fleet of tourist buses. Keep in mind that the White Temple closes every day between noon and 2 p.m. for lunch. Luckily, there’s a food court right on the premises. We had a decent lunch at a restaurant in the back corner.

The temple complex was crowded around midday

Monument to Impermanence

The main building is resplendent in white, plucked from a fairy tale but rooted in Buddhist mythology. It represents the purity of dharma, the Buddhist way of life. Delicate details embellish the exuberant structure like lavishly piped icing on a wedding cake. The color comes alive with the contrast of blue-gray shadows and small pieces of inlaid mirror that reflect sunlight. The overall effect is spectacular.

As we headed to the temple entrance, Wally and I passed a sinister sea of arms before crossing the bridge of the Cycle of Rebirth. It’s a disturbing glimpse of what awaits those who allow material desires to rule their lives.

You’re not going to want to fall into this moat!

You’re not going to want to fall into this moat!

The complex allows the viewer to become a voyeur. Much of the temple is dedicated to depicting samsara, the transformative Buddhist cycle of birth and death, due to delusion and fixation on the self.

As Depeche Mode sang, “The grabbing hands grab all they can.”

Hidden within the main hall, Kositpipat has dreamed up elaborate and unconventional murals, a bit of a trip down the rabbit hole, upending traditional Buddhist iconography and drawing upon elements from Western popular culture. Flames and the face of a giant demon whose mouth makes the doorway are paired with Hello Kitty, Elvis, Harry Potter, a few Pokémon, including Pikachu, Spider-Man, Iron Man, a Transformer, Neo from The Matrix, Superman, the killer puppet from Saw, Captain Jack Sparrow from The Pirates of the Caribbean and a crotch-grabbing Michael Jackson.

Reflected within the demon’s eyes are the twin towers of the former World Trade Center with the likeness of George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden. When asked about this mural, Kositpipat said, “I want everyone to know that our world is being destroyed by those who craved to build weapons that kill, thereby ruining the environment because nothing is ever enough.”

Photography is permitted throughout the grounds but not within the walls of the White Temple. Images of the mural can be purchased inside the gift shop.

The bathrooms at Wat Rong Khun are housed in this glorious golden building

Cool sculptures are found throughout the complex, like this one in front of the restrooms

The restrooms are located in an ornate pavilion known as the Golden Temple. Kostipipat chose this color scheme with the implied message to call attention to our materialistic tendencies and worldly desires.

Sign for the bathrooms at the White Temple

We purchased a heart-shaped silver bodhi leaf for 30฿ at one of the temple kiosks and hung it on one of the ornamental wish trees. I sure hope they don't routinely remove these like the locks on the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris, France.

Away from the main attraction, you’ll find quieter spots, like this natural grove

Behind the main part of the complex are some new buildings — and some still being built

Behind the compound and across a parking lot we discovered a large onsite workshop, where we took a peek behind the scenes and watched the artisans at work. It was a fascinating glimpse into the work that goes into fabricating Kositpipat's magical forms before they get assembled onto a building.

You can explore Kostipipat’s studio warehouse if you’d like

Adjacent to the temple is a gallery with a number of the artist’s painted masterpieces. You can purchase high-quality reproductions, books, T-shirts and postcards in the well-curated gift shop.

Look for heads of famous characters, like Wolverine and Maleficent. Such touches show the artist’s merging of whimsy and the macabre

Kostipipat’s world introduces elements of irony and self reflection with the promise of the unusual, but the vision is entirely his, and it’s beautiful. –Duke

In the mural inside the temple, Hello Kitty, Elvis and Harry Potter battle the killer puppet from “Saw,” Captain Jack Sparrow and Michael Jackson.

Wat Rong Khun
Pa O Don Chai Road
Phan, Chiang Rai


The Monsters of “Supernatural,” Season 2, Episodes 13-15

Are angels real? Meet Archangel Michael, Archangel Raphael and Beelzebub as well as tricksters like Loki, Anansi, Hermes and Reynard the Fox.

Angels, like Raphael, aren’t typically depicted in artwork as badass and intimidating like the Bible describes them

S2E13: “Houses of the Holy”

Monster: Avenging angel

Where it’s from: Israel and other parts of the Middle East

Description: There’s no such thing as angels, Dean argues. But Sam points out that there’s more folklore about angels than anything else they hunt.

“You know what?” Dean responds. “There’s a ton of lore on unicorns, too. In fact, I hear that they ride on silver moonbeams and they shoot rainbows outta their ass!”

“You mean there’s no such things as unicorns?” Sam jokes. These two should take their comedy act on the road.

“There’s some legends you file under bullcrap,” Dean says.

Despite this contention, 72 percent of Americans said they believe in angels, in a 2016 Gallup poll. I don’t know why that high number surprises me: After all, most Americans think a woman who never had sex gave birth to a man who came back from the dead.

The angels known as seraphim actually have six wings

We have a conception of angels as humanlike creatures with large feathered wings sprouting out of their backs. But there are different orders of angels described in the Old Testament, with seraphim, “the Burning Ones,” at the top of the hierarchy. They’re often depicted as red-skinned and wielding flaming swords. Seraphim have six wings: two for flight, two to cover their faces (for even though they fly above the throne of Heaven, they can’t handle looking upon God’s face) and two to cover their feet (so they don’t step on holy ground — though some scholars think this might actually translate to “genitals”), according to whyangels?com.

This illuminated manuscript depicts a six-winged seraphim above the crucifixion of Christ

In another Bible verse, Daniel 10:5-6, the prophet describes an angel in this manner:

I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.

This doesn’t look like the cute little cherubs we’re used to!

And we know cherubim, or cherubs, as Cupid-esque chubby toddlers with wings. Turns out they’re actually powerful guardians that also carry flaming swords.

Angels are neither male nor female, though they always appear with men’s bodies and never women’s, according to What Christians Want to Know.

Dean’s not buying Sam’s claim that they’re hunting an angel. “You didn't see any fluffy white wing feathers?” the smartass asks.

Many angels, Raphael included, are God’s means of justice and punishment

What it does: When someone’s visited by the angel in Supernatural, the surroundings shake, and the person is filled with religious ecstasy. They’re then driven to kill because it’s “God’s will.”

That’s actually somewhat in keeping with biblical lore: Angels are God’s agents for “bringing punishment and displaying His holy wrath,” according to What Christians Want to Know.

Take that, Satan! The Archangel Michael defeats the Devil

How to defeat it: In the church, Sam points to a painting of Saint Michael, the slayer of demons. He’s almost always depicted in artwork as stepping on a cringing Devil.

In this episode, Father Gregory died a violent death, and the other priest didn’t get a chance to administer last rites.

Father Gregory’s grave is covered in wormwood, which we learn is a sign of a spirit not at rest. Wormwood is a bitter herb that’s a key ingredient in absinthe, which has been banned because it supposedly causes hallucinations. In witchcraft, it’s used to increase psychic powers and perform exorcisms.

If you want to communicate with spirits, a séance is the way to go

Sam performs a séance ritual based on early Christian rites that involves white candles and a large black candle. It’s in Latin, of course.

In the end, Dean just might be right: This isn’t an angel at all. It turns out to be a vengeful spirit that thinks it’s an angel.

Father Reynolds finally performs last rites and puts the spirit to rest. “I call upon the Archangel Raphael, Master of the Air, to make open the way,” the priest chants. “Let the fire of the Holy Spirit now descend, that this being might be awakened to the world beyond.”

Raphael’s name translates to “God Heals,” from the story in the apocryphal Book of Enoch (the apocrypha are the stories that for some reason didn’t jibe with those who chose what would go into the official Bible.) In Enoch, Raphael heals the Earth after it was defiled by the fallen angels, according to Catholic Online.

So maybe there really aren’t such things as angels. It’s still OK for me to believe in unicorns, though, right?

 

I’ve warned you that demons are usually horrifyingly disgusting

S2E14: “Born Under a Bad Sign”

Monster: Sam?! (Possessed by a demon)

Where it’s from: All over the world

Description: Demons are powerful perversions of nature. We’ve covered them before here and here.

Beelzebub, Lord of the Flies, spreads disease and rules Hell

One of the most famous demons in the Judeo-Christian tradition is Beelzebub. He’s usually depicted as a monstrous giant fly, which goes along with his title, Lord of the Flies. Because flies are nasty creatures that hang out on shit and corpses, it shouldn’t come as a shock that Beelzebub spreads disease.

He’s also associated with tempting people with the deadly sin of pride.

In the Gospel of Nicodemus, another apocryphal text, Jesus gave Beelzebub dominion over Hell because the demon freed Adam and other unbaptized saints, allowing them to go up to Heaven. Satan was not pleased.

What it does: Demons like to possess people, manipulating them like puppets. And while the Yellow-Eyed Demon doesn’t seem like much fun, some demons are better to be possessed by than others.

Even ol’ Beelzebub has been known to possess people now and them. Back in 1611, in Aix-en-Provence, France, a Father Louis Gaufridi was accused of making a pact with the Devil, in which a group of Ursuline nuns were possessed by Beelzebub.

The priest was burned at the stake. His executioners used bushes instead of logs because they burn slower and hotter. During the execution, onlookers said they saw flies rising from Father Gaufridi’s body.

How to defeat it: Holy water will burn that mofo. If you can slip it into a beer, all the better!

Watch out for a binding link scar. (The one Sam’s got looks a whole lot like a Q.) To break it, destroy the connection. You could try branding over it with a hot poker — just know it’s gonna hurt!

What’s the secret to fighting off a demonic possession? The answer is surprisingly simple: “If I told them to swing a black cat by its tail over their head at midnight, they would do that,” said Father Vincent Lampert, the designated exorcist for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Indiana. “People think they have to do something extraordinary, but it is actually the very ordinary things that build up graces and offer protection. If a Catholic is praying, going to Mass and receiving the sacraments, then the Devil is already on the run,” he told the National Catholic Register.

Loki, the tricker god of Norse mythology as played by Tom Hiddleston, is one of the best villains in the Marvel universe

S2E15: “Tall Tales”

Monster: Trickster

Where it’s from: All over the world

Hermes, the Greek god of travel and thieves, is also a trickster

Description: Religions and folktales all around the globe include a trickster deity. The Norse had Loki, while the Greeks worshiped Hermes. In West Africa, there was the spider Anansi. European folklore includes tales of the mischievous Reynard the Fox. And Native Americans tell stories of the Raven and Coyote.

The African trickster Anansi is the star of a well-known children’s book

“Almost all non-literate mythology has a trickster-hero of some kind,” the famous mythologist Joseph Campbell said in An Open Life. “And there’s a very special property in the trickster: He always breaks in, just as the unconscious does, to trip up the rational situation. He’s both a fool and someone who’s beyond the system. And the trickster represents all those possibilities of life that your mind hasn’t decided it wants to deal with. The mind structures a lifestyle, and the fool or trickster represents another whole range of possibilities. He doesn’t respect the values that you’ve set up for yourself, and smashes them.”

Sounds like they’re essentially rebels, eager to disrupt the social order. No wonder I’ve always had a soft spot for Hermes.

Reynard the Fox is surely up to no good, preaching to these birds

What it does: In this episode, urban legends are coming true. A girl’s ghost seduces a lecherous professor, then sends him out the window and down four stories to his death. A sexed-up ET abducts a hazing-crazed frat boy, who’s anally probed again and again. (“Some alien made you his bitch,” Dean says. But it got worse, the boy adds: It made him slow dance to “Lady in Red.”) A shiny watch down a drain lures a researcher who tests on animals to end up mauled to death by a crocodile in the sewers.

Thing is, it only happens to dicks who you could argue deserve punishment. The trickster is getting his ideas from Weekly World News. These deities thrive on chaos and mischief. And it played the boys like fiddles, fellow hunter Bobby tells them.

Loki, like many tricksters, is able to shapeshift

Tricksters are shapeshifters, sometimes taking human form. They can conjure anything out of thin air.

In a climactic final battle, lingerie-wearing vixens on a round bed with red silk sheets toss Dean around while Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” plays. Meanwhile, Sam and Bobby get attacked by chainsaw-wielding psychopaths like something out of a horror flick.

There goes Reynard the Fox, showing off again

How to defeat it: Try tricking the trickster. Sam and Dean fake a fight and then end up staking the trickster. The reality it has constructed fades away.

But this is only temporary. After all, tricksters, being gods, are immortal. –Wally