By all means watch a dance performance in Bali. Sure, the shows are sometimes commercial and packaged for tourists. Still and all, the dancers manage to turn in inspired performances. And it's all because the Balinese consider dancing as a vital part of their culture, a spiritual exercise and of course, a means of expressing themselves.
Reading the guidebooks, the traveler is amazed by how much dance is so entrenched in the Balinese way of life. From an early age, girls are trained in the traditional dance arts and grow up to specialize in one or two specific dances. During temple festivals, baris and legong dancers are an essential part of the celebrations. Dancers are respected members of their villages and even become international ambassadors.
A good place to view a performance is at Ubud Palace where performances are held three times a week. On clear nights, these performances are held in the open air amidst the expressive stone and wood sculptures of the palace itself. When it rains, the covered stage next door is a serviceable replacement.
As one witnesses the hypnotic hand gestures, rapid eye shifts, dramatic poses and sinuous movements of the Balinese dancers, it easy to forget the time. All that matters is the music, the dancer and the dance.
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Small streets of Kyoto.
One of the primary reasons why Kyoto retains its character so well is due to the many wooden streets and alleyways that have hardly changed through the centuries. Ninnenzaka and Sannenzaka stand out as prime examples of such places.
Lazily winding their way uphill from the Yasaka Jinja Shrine near downtown Kyoto to the famouse Kiyomizu Dera Temple, these two streets are lined with innumerable teashops, souvenir stores, restaurants, old houses, small temples and the ubiquitous gingko trees.
One of the must see places includes the Basho-do teahouse which, apart from serving great macha (strong green tea) and mochi (traditional sweets), also houses a pond populated with dozens of champion carp. The carp here are unusually large and well-fed, their scales bursting with color, a testament to the obvious care that has been lavished on them. The owner himself is an arresting sight: a dignified old man with a flowing white beard, cheerfully feeding his prized fish.
Another good place to visit is a store selling classic ukiyo-e or woodblock prints. The store is well-organized with prints arranged by age, style, and content. Most noteworthy are centuries-old portraits of kabuki actors that rival those found in the National Museum in Tokyo. These images display the Japanese flair for design through the minimal use of line and color.
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Hiring a Car in Siem Reap
There are benefits to hiring a car around Angkor even if one is accustomed to backpacker-style travel. While it may seem like fun to ride around the backs of motorcycles, the novelty quickly wears off as the traveler is exposed to dust and potholes that seem to mimic the surface of the moon.
Practically speaking, you would need to hire your motorcycle driver for the day anyway since the chances of another driver happening by especially around some of the smaller temples is remote. Then there's the issue of Angkor being so spread out that the most efficient way of seeing the most sights is to drive around in style.
Besides, one of the highlights of Angkor, Banteay Srei is best reached by car since it is more than an hour's drive away through the bumpiest roads in the world. If like us, you get lucky, then you just might get a driver who'll show you those out of the way places and take you to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat.
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Tripods at Shwedagon
One of the drawbacks of visiting a photogenic sight like Shwedagon Pagoda in Burma is that it makes the temple custodians wary of anyone with a tripod. Who can blame them? It's tough to see people making money from coffee table books on your backyard attraction without a single cent flowing back.
The solution? Charge everyone with a bulky looking camera an extra USD5.00 and another USD5.00 for a tripod. It's actually not much if you think about it as long as the proceeds go to the upkeep and restoration of Shwedagon and its surrounding temples and pavilions.
To be sure, the full experience of Shwedagon, with its gleaming spires, devotees, remarkable Buddha images, glass inlaid pavilions, carvings and giant bodhi trees is guaranteed to make you forget any thoughts of overpaying. And lest you forget, the pictures will remind you. Whether you find them in a coffee table book or a cellophane photo album that your neighborhood developer gives away.
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