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Art, history, experiences of a lifetime

The Mystic Healers of Bali

in Culture/Destinations by

The otherworldly powers of Bali’s traditional healers are well documented and are part of daily life for locals and expats.

It is believed that spirits, both good and bad, abound on this Island of the Gods, and they can wreak havoc on one’s physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Everything from a broken bone to a broken heart can invoke a visit to one of more than 8,000 healers practising in Bali.

Traditional Balinese healing shot to fame with the Hollywood film, Eat Pray Love – which shone a light on the late Ubud Balian and priest, Pak Ketut Liyer. He became an instant rock star of the alternative medicine scene and his home a major tourist destination.

Healers reject being called a Balian as it’s too conceited for their spiritual calling, which is delivered through illness or an ancient family line. Balian healers specialise in specific areas such as heart problems, migraine headaches, sports injuries or the removal of spells.

The Four Types of Balian Healers

The first is a Ketakson, usually female, who will channel between the client and God, calling on the spirit of a dead person for guidance, and passing on the information.

The second is a Pica – a medium and not a formal student of traditional medicine, massage or magic. There are stories of physical objects – such as the Balinese dagger called a kris – appearing out of thin air during a session with a Pica.

The third is a Usada who receives divine knowledge during a severe illness that leads them to study the Lontars – ancient, sacred texts written on bamboo. They are a masters’ apprentice while studying anatomy, ethics, traditional herbs, massage, magic, meditation, yoga, and tantra among many subjects. Black and white magic are widely practised in Bali.

The fourth kind of Balian combines all of the above and during a session, the healer may appear mildly psychotic, hearing voices and having visions as the wisdom enters their body.

Etiquettes and Customs

Travellers can visit a Balian or even study for a few days with an expert. Etiquette must be observed, so dress modestly and be patient since locals with real illnesses will also be waiting. Bring an offering of money, but never pass cash directly to the healer.

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Inside Phuket’s Vegetarian Festival

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Festivals provide an interesting peek into the local culture, and Phuket’s Vegetarian Festival is no exception. Also known as Nine Emperor God Festival or Jia Chai, it falls in the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar. Thailand and exoticism go hand-in-hand, and this Taoist festival is celebrated with a unique zeal here. Each shrine is extensively cleaned, in anticipation of the festival and giant Go Teng poles are raised on the first day (to be lowered after the last) symbolically to allow the Jade Emperor and other Nine Emperors to come down from the heavens and walk the earth again. 

Rules of the Festival

The name may have you believing that it is a food festival showcasing vegetarian delights. Though the streets are lined on both sides with hawkers selling vegetarian fare, it is not the highlight of the festival. Instead, it marks a period where devotees are expected to follow ten strict rules, and observe abstainance from meat, alcohol, sex, and other stimulants. The locals believe that following these rules allows them to achieve a greater level of spirituality, and is a way of honouring the Gods.

Processions

However, the festival is not celebrated behind closed doors. Like many things Thai, this too is a boisterous public celebration, and one not for the faint-hearted. The Vegetarian Festival in Phuket involves processions wherein devotees perform self mutilation and all other kinds of torture on themselves to shift ill-luck and evil from other worshipers onto themselves. They believe that by doing so, they can bring good luck to the community.

Expect vibrant and chaotic processions, with firecrackers being thrown around, lion dances, and coal-walking. You may find people with their cheeks pierced with spears, knives and other paraphernalia.

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Between Bali and Lombok, The Famous Wallace Line

in Culture/Destinations/News by

Alfred Russel Wallace was a British naturalist who lived from 1823 to 1913. He is recognized for independently forming the theory of evolution through natural selection. In 1858, before Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, Wallace’s paper on the subject was published jointly along with some of Darwin’s writing. Throughout his lifetime of exploration and study, Wallace became the world’s foremost expert on the geographical distribution of animal species.

Wallace was fascinated by the biodiversity in Malaysia and Indonesia, where in 1859 he charted to an exact physical boundary the separation between fauna which is native to Asia and that which is found in Australia. ‘The Wallace Line’ runs between Bali and Lombok and between Borneo and Sulawesi.

It is estimated that as recently as 15,000 years ago, sea levels were more than 110 metres lower than they are today. Most of the islands that comprise present day Indonesia and Malaysia were one landmass, now referred to as Sundaland. Nearby Australia, and Tasmania also comprised a single landmass which is sometimes called SahuI.

That Borneo, Sumatra, Java and Bali were once connected is commonly accepted among Indonesians without the need for scientific evidence. Ask an Indonesian how Bali came to be its own island; you may hear a tale about how a giant magic dragon isolated a dishonest gambler.

Lombok was not connected to Bali, neither by ancient lands nor legend. Although the distance between Bali and Lombok is only 35 kilometres, the Lombok Strait is so deep that it has been filled by water for millions of years.

Lombok is east of Wallace’s Line, in the region known as Wallacea, consisting of islands which were not connected to either ice age continent. This area shows a history of inhabiting animals which were capable of island-hopping. Present day islands including Lombok and the Lesser Sunda Islands have much of the same Australasian fauna as SahuI, but not the same animals as Sundaland and mainland Asia.

Wallace identified the 250m depth of the Lombok Strait as the single most compelling explanation for the differences between Asian and Australian animals. It caused various species to remain isolated from each other on opposite sides of the Lombok Strait through centuries of migrations and evolution.

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Escape the Crowds, Head to Sanur

in Culture/Destinations/Recreation by

Escape the crowds and head to Sanur for your next Balinese vacation. A beautiful seaside town in southeast Bali, Sanur is peaceful and laidback, unlike the congested parts of the island. It is favoured by the sophisticated crowd, especially families seeking a peaceful sojourn. Expect a slower pace of life here, with traditional fishing boats dotting the gorgeous coastline and restaurants with tables on the sand.

Home to long-term expats who moved here in the 1930s, the area retains a bohemian vibe lent to it by its artistic residents. Pick from the choicest of elite havens located here, a task tougher than it seems. Villa Batujimbar, for example, is the very same nine-bedroom ravishing beachfront villa where Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall tied the knot, and Princess Diana retreated from public glare.

On the other hand, Villa Cemara was designed by acclaimed Balinese architect Popo Danes, and is distinctive with its cluster of alang-alang thatched pavilions and absolute beachfront location. While the villas on the west coast scramble for a pinch of beachfront land, sprawling Villa Puri Nirwana is all about palatial living and intimate beach weddings, with ample accommodation for up to 20 guests.

If Sanur’s restained peacefulness wasn’t enough, here are other compelling reasons why you should choose Sanur when vacationing in Bali:

Golden sands

Sanur Beach is a long stretch of golden coastline, perfect for leisurely sunrise walks and getting that enviable tan. The seemingly never-ending, breezy beach promenade lures joggers, while the relatively gentle ocean swell offers the opportunity for a swim in the sea. The soft sands of Sanur Beach are pale gold, shimmering and pure. We love Cemara Beach and Sindhu Beach for their relaxed atmosphere and wide sand beds, and Mertasari Beach remains popular with locals for Sunday picnics.

Gourmet paradise

There’s nothing like being pampered with delicious fare in the comfort of your villa. While staying at an elite haven, all your gourmet needs are taken care of by the villa chef and the villa staff. However, for a change of scene, you can always head out for a sundowner at Maya Tree Bar or Artotel Beach Club, an exciting art-inspired playground for adults.

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How To Be Culturally Correct in Thailand

in Culture/Destinations/Tips by

Known as ‘The Land of Smiles’, Thailand is a treasure trove of cultural delights, inhabited by gracious and warm people. While Thais are known for being open, tolerant and hospitable, they may not always understand the nuances and eccentricities of other cultures. With this in mind, courtesy and respect in all your interactions with local people goes a long way.

Here are a few tips to help bridge cultural gaps and enhance your stay in Thailand:

THE DOs

Do try to wai.

This much-used Thai greeting involves a slight bow, with hands pressed together at upper chest level in a prayer-like way. Younger people will wai their elders first, and the greeting is then reciprocated. The Wai is also used to say ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you’, and generally to show respect.

Do accompany your wai with a hello: “Sawasdee kha” (if you are a woman) and “Sawasdee khrap” (if you are a man).
Do get travel insurance.

Accidents happen and can be even more daunting when you are away from home. Gravity’s pull on a falling coconut harms more world travelers every year than sharks do!


Do visit some temples.

Thailand is full of beautiful temples (wats) and visiting them provides a fascinating window into many aspects of daily life. Visitors are welcomed, but proper dress is expected. Good temple etiquette requires that your legs, shoulders and upper arms are covered and shoes are removed. Temples regularly visited by tourists will usually have sarongs available for those who turn up inadequately dressed, but when visiting lesser-known temples, it’s useful to bring your own.

Do be adventurous with Thai cuisine.

Thai food is usually lightly cooked and fragrant, with an emphasis on fresh herbs and spices. Sweet, sour and spicy flavours are combined to create dishes that not only taste sublime, but are beautiful to look at too. The food can get quite fiery, so let them know if you can not handle too much chilli.

Do eat with a spoon.

Most Thai dishes are served in bite-size pieces and eaten with a spoon and fork, but the fork is just used to push food onto the spoon.

Do haggle when you are market shopping.

Haggling is expected and taken as a bit of fun.

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