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By Karryn Miller

We leave the Chedi Club Tanah Gajah Ubud as the sun is still rising, before the heat of the day settles over Ubud, and while good spirits are lingering still in nearby temples. Holy beings, I gather, aren’t big on the heat or the sun.

As we drive, shuttered shopfronts give way to rice paddies and traditional villages. The streets are empty but already there’s a buzz of activity by each local temple.

Within 15 minutes we’re in Pejeng Village, to the east of Ubud. Gerhana, my driver and guide who has been at the Chedi Club for the last 16 years, tells me they chose this location for the Balinese Purification Ceremony for its relative peace and quiet. They chose well. There are no other visitors in sight.

I begin with a sarong. Long pants or a dress won’t do. It must be a sarong. My guide, our local contact Yogi, and his dad all gather around to help with the wrap, none of them entirely sure how a woman should wear it so they’re figuring it out on the spot. Once they’re agreed on how it’s done a white scarf (selendang) is then tied around my waist. My guide explains that this scarf will stop my spirit from escaping my body as I go into the temple.

Melukat, the purification ceremony I’m about to do, is part of Balinese life. This ritual is for the Balinese what confession is for the Catholics. For me it’s a chance to explore the spiritual side of the “Island of the Gods.” When I lived in India I meditated beneath the Bodhi Tree where Buddha achieved enlightenment. In Japan I got engaged inside the Great Buddha of Kamakura (Kamakura Daibutsu). I’ve always been fascinated with sacred sites and rituals regardless of the religion.   

Gerhana confides he’s only performed the rites of the melukat once in the last six months. Most people go monthly, especially when the moon is full and the omens are bright.

“Balinese people do this when stressed or under pressure. They may have had an accident or feel their soul is heading in the wrong direction,” explained Deasy Swanadarini, the general manager of the Chedi Club, the night before. “They do this to bring them back to balance.”

They do not do this, however, no matter the circumstances, when a woman is having a period. I know this as I’ve been asked several times by different people if it’s that time of the month. Since Bali’s iconic Mt. Agung erupted last fall, partly — say the locals — because some had upset the gods with actions that violate age-old customs, I sense that observing customs to the letter of the law is all the more important these days.

We make our way down a mossy stone staircase and I can hear the sound of the river. A group of local ladies are a few steps in front, detouring for a natural spring used not just for the ceremony but also for drinking water and bathing. Curious, I looked around one corner and accidentally surprised a lady bathing under a tap. In true Balinese fashion she laughed it off, as did her friends, and so did I.

Our priest, an elderly man with the long white beard of a sage and eyes bright with empathy and compassion, and his assistant make preparations for the first part of the ceremony. This takes place at taman sari, the lower grounds of a temple that’s been here since the 11th century. Moss overwhelms the stone sculptures, and the whole place reminds me of Tomb Raider, except for Angelina Jolie’s skimpy shorts.

The ceremony begins with the priest chanting Sanskrit mantras, the words so ancient my guide cannot translate. I assume he’s blessing the water and each flower that’s placed in it. We’re invited inside and my part in the process begins. I glance sideways and follow the assistant’s lead. We kneel and pray multiple times, with a slight variation at each step - no flowers in hand to both open and close the ceremony, once with a white frangipani for the god of the sun, another time with a small array of tropical flowers for the multiple gods - Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma. Each time we cleanse our hands and the flowers in the smoke of the incense before bringing our palms together. With prayers complete it’s time to get wet.

The water here purifies in multiple ways. First the priest flicks the water on my face, then I cup my hands and drink it three times, then there’s a round of wiping it through my hair. I’m wet but not soaked and so far the water hasn’t gone below my neck. The water from a young coconut, that represents a seed, is then used for the next round. Through its use we’re planting a seed for a good start. It’s the same with the rice that is used in the second part of the ceremony that takes place at the main temple, manik mas. Whole pieces of rice, never broken ones, are picked to plant a seed of prosperity.

The manik mas was built in homage to the golden tiger centuries ago. As in the lower grounds, moss has devoured these spires and statues, rendering the tigers more green than gold. Here, in the manik mas, a similar ceremony is repeated but instead of finishing with coconut water the priest presses rice on my forehead and temples and feeds me a few grains.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, my guide collects the offerings to take back to the resort. The money, which forms part of our gift to the spirits, remains at the temple but the fruits and food that are presented don’t stay. It’s understandable given the number of ceremonies performed.

We linger a while before making our way back up from the valley, chatting with the priest. I learn that despite his age he’s only been the priest here for three years. Priesthood is passed down through the family and he took over when his father passed away. I leave feeling a little lighter in spirit, cleansed, and with a feeling that I’ve peeled back another layer of Balinese culture.

 

submitted by -- Gayle

A new report from the editors at Internationalliving.com/au delves into Cambodia's increasing golf boom.

When people dream of visiting Cambodia they are more likely influenced by the exotic draw of its ancient temples, royal palaces and saffron-robed monks or the laidback beaches and undeveloped islands on the southern coast than anything else.

But recently the tides are turning—golfing is the sweet spot in the country’s tourism strategy which is successfully attracting new visitors.

Not only is the weather great for a round of golf throughout the year but the idyllic backdrops make it a hole in one for avid golfers on Cambodia’s interesting and ambitiously designed courses.

“Golf gained energy in the late 1990’s due to an informal group of influential local players who wanted to see a Cambodian golf industry,” says IL International Executive Editor, Eoin Bassett. “They encouraged investors to develop courses and some expats to join but it was surprise just how popular it would become with tourists.”

Today, the country has a number of extraordinarily attractive courses—some even enlisted help from famous names in golf including Sir Nick Faldo, IMG and Nicklaus Design. It is still quite an elite sport, but younger Cambodians are getting into the swing of things. With the increased demand, there has even been a local golf magazine launched in English and Khmer as well as a separate Chinese language edition which covers the latest local news and charts the booming industry.

The country has natural charm and offers excellent value for money with a wide range of accommodation and vibrant nightlife. For those planning a trip who are unsure as to whether golf standards in Cambodia will be up to par, prepare for a surprise…

Courses in Siem Reap

There are now three international standard golf courses in Siem Reap with standout features which is why tourists book holidays long enough for them to enjoy a round or two on each course. Prices are slightly higher than in Phnom Penh but at this level it is considered very reasonable for the quality of experience.

The Sofitel Phokeethra Country Club was the first international standard golf course to open in Siem Reap in 2007. Designed to a championship standard with a layout that promises to test even the most strategic of players, it has also been chosen to host official Asian PGA Tour events like the Johnnie Walker Cambodian Open from 2007 to 2010.

The Angkor Golf Resort opened in January 2008 to significant acclaim thanks in no small part to its 18-hole course having been designed by the legendary Sir Nick Faldo. Describing the course he designed, Sir Nick Faldo explained that, “Our fairways are typically generous but our bunkering style is impressively bold. The greens have plenty of subtle undulations rewarding and encouraging a variety of approach shots.”

The third and most recent international standard course to open in 2009 is the Booyoung Country Club which was designed by respected Japanese architect Kentaro Sato. The course offers a choice of five tees on each hole to accommodate players of all abilities while the club’s immaculately pristine course and opulent clubhouse.

Courses in Phnom Penh

The Cambodia Golf & Country Club was the very first golf course to open in Cambodia in 1997 and boasts an air of tranquillity due to its location 45 minutes outside of the city centre.

The Royal Cambodia Phnom Penh Golf Club was the second golf course to open in 1999 at a location much closer to the city making it popular with locals and expats. It offers an amazing setting in mature wetlands surrounded by palm trees and has some water hazards that can prove testing for golfers of any level.

City Golf Cambodia opened in 2010 with an interesting offering of a two-tier driving range, chipping and putting green along with Cambodia’s first par three 9-hole course which is known for its uniqueness. Located north of Toul Kork, the course benefits from easy access and having floodlights at night.

Grand Phnom Penh Golf Club is a golf course designed by Nicklaus Design and was the first international standard course in Phnom Penh when it opened in 2011. Regretfully it is not open to the general public and is for private members only, although some specialist travel agents offer limited packages that include extra costs for hotel and transportation.

Garden City Golf Club was a turning point for the golfing scene in Phnom Penh when it opened in 2013. Featuring extensive mounds and water hazards it is a visually impressive course and if its championship length of 7,361 yards sounds intimidating you needn’t worry as an additional four tees were included in the design to account for people of all golfing abilities.

The Biggest Course in Cambodia

Halfway between Sihanoukville and Koh Kong, on the southern coast of Cambodia at Botum Sakor National Park, are the country’s newest courses which have been completed as part of the Dara Sakor Golf Club.

The first to open was the Ocean Course followed by the Hill View Course and when the third course is completed it will be the first club in the country to boast 54 holes. It is only possible to play with an advanced reservation with prices subject to confirmation. It is part of a massive resort believed to be the biggest in Southeast Asia covering a whooping 360 square kilometres of land and featuring a high-end resort.

 

submitted by -- Gayle

Travel expert Marie Sulda says: " It’s a well-known fact that seeing the monuments of Rome is as difficult with a teen (who would rather be with their friends or connected to WIFI) as it is with a Toddler (who may be throwing themselves in a fit of rage into the Trevi Fountain). So when is the best time to do that big trip with your kids?"

 Whilst this may still present it’s challenges, here are a few reasons why you may consider taking your children before they hit their teens;

  • You still pay child airfares at 75% of the normal fare, so you will save more.

  • Under 11 years old is classed as a child for hotels, often hotels will class children over 13 at adult rates.

  • Their eyes are open to the world, they are ready to take in new experiences

  • They will sit at a restaurant and eat a meal without you having to run out and apologise profusely as they spilt 15 drinks and pulled the table cloth off the table.

  • They will remember the trip for the rest of their lives (because if you’re going to spring for such a trip, you definitely want them remembering it)

So which trips are the best trips to tackle?

THE USA TRIP

Travelling to the USA is one of the most popular trips for this age bracket. Both Qantas and Virgin will fly from Australia via Los Angeles to New York, giving you two stops on your ticket. Staying in New York from 5 nights to 7 nights is a good amount of time with children. You can visit Times Square, Central Park, the New York Zoo, Coney Island and maybe even sneak in a Basketball or Baseball match.

Next stop is Los Angeles, which is home to Universal Studios, Hollywood, The Pier in Santa Monica and of course to Anaheim. Most people choose to spend 3-7 nights exploring Disneyland and California Adventure Park. From your base in Los Angeles, you may then decide to add on a trip to San Francisco, San Diego or Las Vegas (with a side trip to the Grand Canyon).

The kids will love the approachable food, the familiar sights from Movies and Youtube!

THE EUROPE TRIP

Going on a big Europe trip is great with 8-11 year olds as there are so many options. If you’re planning to drive around Europe for more than 21 days, leasing a car is an economical way to see the sights. You will have a brand new car to use, you don’t have to pay one way drop off fees in each country to you travel to and you can easily stop for picnics, toilet breaks or simply if you see something interesting.

Rail is another great way to travel through Europe, the children are old enough to drag along their luggage and get it on and off the trains and they may appreciate the freedom to sit and chat with you, play games or have a snack whilst you travel together watching the sights go by.

If water is more your thing, you will reap the benefits of unpacking once whilst cruising the Mediterranean, Scandinavia or the rivers of Europe. This is a great way to easily budget for your holiday where all transport and meals are included in the price of most cruises, so you will just have to worry about sightseeing and souvenirs.

THE ASIA TRIP

As the egotistical teenage years loom, it is invaluable for them to experience countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Sri Lanka or India to give them some perspective on how other people on the planet live.

This is probably the cheapest holiday of the three with brilliant value for money when paying for hotels and transport. As the children are older they may be brave enough to try new foods, making this an amazing opportunity to book in a family cooking class, cook with a local family or even organise a home stay (this can be booked by one of our Travel Designers).

This holiday can be a mix of sightseeing, eating and relaxing at a resort for some time out together. The standard of hotel and resort in Asia for the price is much better than what you would experience in Australia, Europe or the USA.

THE SKI TRIP

Whether you’re looking to hit the slopes in Canada, the USA, Europe or Japan, the Ski trip is fun for the active family. Ski lessons will ensure the kids are kept busy for part of the day and you will be able to enjoy the slopes and finally have a moment to talk to your partner! You might even getaway with escaping to the pub for a sneaky beer.

The kids will love the excitement of the snow, the various activities from skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing and ice skating. Everyone will eat well and sleep well! For extra value for money, Club Med have some all-inclusive Ski resorts throughout the world, that make budgeting easy and include meals, lift passes, evening entertainment, non-ski activities, premium open bars and kids clubs!  

You can then add on a few weeks either side whether it be exploring Tokyo, Vancouver, New York or Switzerland and France.

THE AUSTRALIA TRIP

Whilst you can still take your children for a few extra weeks out of school, the driving holiday around Australia is great on so many levels. Take your own car, pack your own things and then choose from an array of accommodation options from tents through to hotels and resorts. You can take things at your own pace as you head up or down the East Coast, across to Western Australia, down to Tasmania or up to the Northern Territory.

This holiday is about really getting to know your kids, each other and Australia. There will be lots to do and at the age the kids are, they will enjoy the excitement of staying a few nights in each location and moving along to the next.

There are plenty more destinations you can travel to and that really depends on what you have been able to do with your children in the past and how experienced you and they are as travellers. Families who have travelled a lot might try South America, Central America, Africa or Egypt! Or maybe you haven’t travelled and you’re just brave.

There are plenty of family friendly organised tours and cruises, that can assist in taking some of the stress out of travelling and this will allow you to sit back and enjoy your time with the kids whilst the details are being taken care of for you as you travel.

You will never regret taking out a big chunk of your leave or using long service leave to holiday for an extended period of time with your family. Of course you can do these trips with toddlers or with teens, but if you’re looking for advice on when to plan, we recommend this as a great time.

 

submitted by -- Gayle