Here’s Where to Start Planning Your Trip to Phuket, Thailand

Dense rainforests, pristine beaches, picturesque bays against a backdrop of limestone cliffs – the island of Phuket has remained a popular destination among foreign tourists for good reason. Phuket is one of the most beautiful destinations in Thailand. It has a unique personality with upscale villas, ancient culture, varied nature, an active nightlife and emerging dining scene.

Here’s where you need to start planning your visit to Phuket:

Unwind at a Luxury Beach Villa

If you want to avoid the herds of tourists crowding Phuket’s many resorts, consider villa rentals in Thailand. Phang Nga or Natai Beach are the best locations in Phuket for renting a villa with easy access to beaches, nightlife and dining. Feel like royalty staying at beachfront estates designed to look like elegant Thai temples, surrounded by mythical rock formations. Starting at just $1000/ night, many of the villas come with an infinity swimming pool, jetted tub, home theater, sauna and steam rooms, yoga pavilion, chef and butler. Pampering has no limits!

Feel the cool Andaman Sea breeze as you dine on freshly prepared seafood at your own private dining room or gazebo. A vacation rental in Thailand makes for an ideal honeymoon getaway. Some of the larger villas available in this area can accommodate up to 20 guests, making it ideal for weddings, corporate retreats and family reunions.

Watch a Cultural Performance 

There are a few venues in Phuket that offer a chance to see traditional dances and cultural performances, but Siam Niramit Phuket is the most authentic. Guest can walk through an entire village scene surrounded by a forest and river, which showcases traditional wooden homes, costumes and foods from different parts of Thailand.

You also have the option to purchase dinner buffet with the ticket package. While the restaurant has a lot of options, with Chinese, Thai and Western stations, the food is mediocre, served in a casual setting. There are also few handicraft stores selling souvenirs and clothes at reasonable prices.

The show itself is comparable to Cirque du Soleil or Broadway. Elaborate sets that change with every scene, high caliber dancers jeweled in rich costumes, and even elephants make their way to the stage! This will be an evening you will remember for a long time.

Stroll Down Old Phuket Town

Thalang Road is the main street in the European style old town with well-preserved colorful Sino-colonial buildings. Dotted with museums and coffee shops, plan to spend an entire day walking with a self-guided tour around the old town. Along the way, don’t miss the historic sites and mansions. Each one has a unique story behind it! Take a taxi to the summit of Kha Rang (Rang Hill) to get an overview of the city with Big Buddha, beaches and forests in the vista.

Make sure to come back in the night when some of the bars and clubs come alive. This is a good place to see the expat community living in Thailand.

Taste Specialty Local Foods

Due to the high number of visitors, Phuket is gaining a strong reputation in having very good selection of Thai and international restaurants. Casual cafes, street vendors, open air beachfront restaurants and wine bars are a few options to choose from. However, there are a few dishes you must taste while visiting Phuket.

These are roti – Thai crepes stuffed with bananas and topped with condensed milk, made to order and served hot; sweet fresh mango with sticky rice with coconut cream topping – a favorite Thai dessert; kanom jeen – rice noodles with spicy coconut crab curry; and different flavors of cashews (my favorite are Tom Yum), a product native of Phuket and available at one of the many cashew nut factories.

You can also sign up for a cooking class, or arrange one at your private rented villa.

Pray at a Buddhist Temple

There are 29 Buddhist temples on the island, so it is impossible to see them all unless you are planning to stay for a couple of weeks. If you must pick two places, go to Wat Chalong and the Big Buddha. Wat Chalong is one of the most important temples for Buddhist people because it is said to contain a splinter of Lord Buddha’s bone. As in most temples, there are richly adorned pagodas and Buddha statues throughout.

Phuket’s Big Buddha is located on top of the Nakkerd Hills and can be spotted from many places on the island. Made of white jade marble, the 45-meters tall Buddha statue sparkles in the sun, while a smaller brass Buddha statue stands next to it.

Island Hop Through the Weekend

Rent a speedboat to take you around some of the most beautiful islands and beaches around Phuket. Some of the more popular destinations for day trips include Phi Phi Islands, James Bond Island (featured in the movies “Man with the Golden Gun” and “Tomorrow Never Dies”) and . Swim, snorkel and dive as you enjoy the colorful coral reef and diverse marine life in the crystal-clear water of the Andaman Sea. Ao Phang Nga National Park is a good place to try your hands-on sea kayaking, sea caving, and canoeing.

Soak in the Views

No visit to Phuket is complete without getting a panorama view of the island or watching a picture-perfect sunset. To get a 360 view of the beaches and lush vegetation, go to Kata, Larm Singh or Panwa viewpoints. Couple of other unique places are Samet Nangshe offering stunning views of the Phang Nga Bay’s limestone islets and star studded night sky, as well as the Windmill viewpoint in south Phuket where you can see windmills that look like airplane propellers.

Another option is to sip a cocktail and catch a romantic sunset at one of the restaurants or bars.

Best Day Trips from Tokyo, Japan

Most first time travelers to Japan never leave the capital of Tokyo. While the big city offers many cool attractions, great nightlife and shopping, the real charm of Japan is in the countryside. Here are some places that are within couple of hours reach and make for great weekend getaways and day trips.

NIKKO

Nikko had been a center of Shinto and Buddhist mountain worship for many centuries. It is a charming small town near the hills designated a World Heritage Area. When you arrive, there are shops selling local ice creams and cheesecakes right by the train station. Walk about 20 minutes or take the local bus to the temples and shrines entrance.

Walk through oak and cedar forests to see the mythical Shinkyo Bridge. There are a few restaurants near the bridge that offer Japanese set menus.

See one of the largest wood tori gates in Japan and a complex of shrines at Nikko Toshogu Shrine, and the Buddhist temple next door. Toshogu is Japan’s most lavishly decorated shrine and the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. Plan to walk for couple of hours if you want to see everything.

Nikko National Park also offers scenic landscapes, mountainous landscapes, lakes, waterfalls, hot springs, wild monkeys and hiking trails. It is a spectacular place to see fall colors.

KAMAKURA
Located only an hour drive from Tokyo, Kamakura is home to the second largest bronze Buddha statue in Japan at Kotoku-in Temple.  The statue was cast in 1252 and originally located inside a large temple hall, destroyed and later rebuilt in open air. You can even go inside the statue for a small fee
There are also a dozen other temples in the area, but my favorite place was the Hokoku-ji Temple, a resting place for the samurai. Here, you can stroll through tall bamboo forests and have a cup of tea overlooking peaceful nature. Also, check out the dove shaped peace cookies popular in the area.
Kamakura is located by the sea and has resorts and apartments overlooking sand beaches, as well as boating, sailing, swimming and surfing sites.
HAKONE
Hakone is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, less than one hundred kilometers from Tokyo, approximately 1.5 hours by train.
This is a great place to see Mount Fuji, the sacred volcanic mountain of Japan. Take a boat ride in Lake Ashinoko to catch the best views.
Watch volcanic activity in action on the Hakone Ropeway through Owakudani Boiling Valley. The sulphur has strong odor and can burn your eyes when it’s windy so bring protective covering. There are also a number of open air museums in Hakone. Many people prefer to stay overnight at a ryokan in the area to enjoy the natural hot springs. 

Have You Tasted These Wines From Brazil?

When I received an invitation to taste the Wines of Brazil by the Brazilian Consulate in Atlanta, I was intrigued. Though I have traveled to Brazil three times, Brazilian wines have not really appeared in my radar as a food critic. Why was that? And what role does wine play in Brazilian cuisine? I wanted to find out.

Held at the famous Brazilian steakhouse chain, Fogo de Chao, the event was a gathering of many wine producers who had traveled from Brazil to talk about their products. There were half a dozen wine tasting stations, each represented by a producer pouring a few kinds of reds and whites.

Turns out that Brazil has a long history of producing wine, dating back to the middle of the 19th century. The real action started several decades later when Italian immigrants arrived and embarked on an ambitious plan. Their plan was ambitious out of necessity, since a wave of German immigration preceded the Italian immigration and the Germans predictably settled on the best available lands. In the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, this ended up meaning those lands closer to the coast.

The Italians had to march inland over the gentle slopes of red soils that reach to the Atlantic Ocean, onto the high plateaus and through the hills to found towns with names like Garibaldi and Nova Bassano. They settled into valleys named after homes left behind, like the Vale Trentino.

Brazil’s biggest representatives in the international market are sparkling wines of high quality and exceptional acidity and freshness. Produced through the Traditional or Charmat methods, they both tend to use mainly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

A typical meal of the Serra Gaúcha region still begins with Agnolotti en Brodo and generally includes polenta and some sort of roasted chicken or pig dish. Older people continue to speak Italian in the region. This vestigial Italian continues to be  widespread, particularly once you get out of the city and into the valleys that surround Bento Gonçalves, and it shapes the wines as much as it shapes the language.

So, what do Brazilian wines taste like? Most people would say they are young, easy drinking, table wines. Brazilian Muscats are most internationally recognizable. Light bodied and flavorful, these can be enjoyed outdoors while the men grill meat for hours and the rest of the families prepare plates of salads, fried yucca, rice and beans.

Among the red varieties, Merlot has been recognized by some experts as the one with the highest potential to represent Brazil in the international market.

The vineyard also talked about the emergence of wine tourism in Brazil. Many travelers head to neighboring Chile and Argentina for wine tasting tours and to stay at haciendas with local wineries. Brazil also offers beautiful landscapes, local cuisine and great tasting wines across the country. Here are some places to check out:

Vale dos Vinhedos

Named by the Wine Enthusiast magazine as one of the 10 best wine tourism destinations in the world, the Vale dos Vinhedos is filled with beautiful landscapes, great wine, plenty of great restaurants and places to simply relax. With around 200 thousand tourists each year, it has become a famous destination in Brazil.

Garibaldi

A city that specializes in the production of sparkling wines and features a sparkling wine tour route. Around 90 thousand yearly visitors come and check the local attractions.

Pinto Bandeira

Besides the impressive landscapes, with native woods, waterfalls, and of course vineyards, the highlight of this Pinto Bandeira is their sparkling wines. Small and intimate, this is a region where the local wineries continue to offer charming gastronomic and lodging options.

Altos Montes

Another young region where the landscape is dotted with cutting-edge wineries, celebrating modern architecture beautifully integrated with the vineyards. An advanced culinary school in the region has helped the cities of Flores da Cunha and Nova Pádua to become the twin gourmet centers of the state of Rio Grande do Sul.

Região das Hortênsias

Centered between the cities of Gramado and Canela, this is a region made famous by their well-preserved colonial architecture. While the region has preserved the look of the past, the local hotels and restaurants are very much up to date with a year-round promotional schedule that has been attracting tourist for years.

This Summer, Forget Tiny Houses, Stay in a Luxury Treehouse

Looking for a fun way to spend this Father’s Day weekend? Check out the newest trend in glamping – modern, high tech and sustainable treehouses. The Dove Men+Care Elements 360-square-foot treehouse equipped with a luxurious private bath, climate control, high speed Wi-Fi and a stocked refrigerator is like a “spa in the sky.”

Located at the base of Lookout Mountain near downtown Chattanooga, TN, the Elements Treehouse stands out for its state-of-the-art bathroom constructed of natural elements inspired by Dove’s Elements product range and sweeping forest views.

The treehouse is the second house for rent at a treehouse resort – Treetop Hideaways in Flintstone, GA. Founded by local entrepreneurs Andrew Alms and Enoch Elwell, Treetop Hideaways came about as an idea to allow childhood memories to flourish and for families to experience sustainable living close to the city.

The Dove Men+Care Elements Treehouse is designed by architect Pete Nelson, a world-renowned treehouse architect, host of Treehouse Masters and owner of Nelson Treehouse and Supply company. It features modern architectural designs surrounded by nature, utilizing the most efficient and sustainable systems.

A wooden staircase leads you to the entryway marked by a living sage wall and Japanese Shou Sugi Ban-style charcoal wood. Welcomed by the aroma of sage, enter a cozy sitting area with furniture made of reclaimed wood, kick off your shoes and browse through the pages of ‘Cabin Porn.’

In the morning, sip on local MayFly coffee while lounging on the private deck. Feel the cool morning mist, listen to the sounds of birds chirping and the flowing stream on property.

Interior designed by Will Taylor, founder of Bright Bazaar is done in nature-inspired style, with sage bedding, charcoal-etched wall art, and sandalwood accents. Green, white and grey Earth tones create a rustic yet contemporary ambiance. Connect to Alexa to play your favorite music as you nap in the Tuft & Needle queen mattress downstairs or climb to the loft where you can see the tree canopy through the skylights from the comfort of two beds.

The focal point of the treehouse is the spa inspired Elements bathroom with charcoal wood paneling, clay sink, heated flooring, temperature controlled 5-head shower, linen robes, Dove Men+Care Elements toiletries, and a glass enclosed tree in the bathroom with skylight and see-through flooring. Here you can feel like you are showering in the forest, yet have your preferred water heat set on the digital keypad.

Grab a cold beer from the refrigerator and get some steaks or hot dogs started on the outdoor grill. The outdoor fireplace is perfect for roasting marshmallows under the stars and reminiscing about good old campfires.

Chattanooga is quickly becoming a top travel destination voted ‘Best Town in America’ by the readers of Outside magazine. Surrounded by acers of forest, Treetop Hideways is located within minutes of world-class climbing, mountain biking, trail running, caving, and more. Nearby attractions include Ruby Falls, Rock City Gardens, Tennessee Aquarium, Cloudland Canyon State Park and North Chickamauga Gorge.

The Dove Men+Care Elements Treehouse is the perfect family friendly retreat to spend summer holidays in nature and comfort.

Dining at The W

Hotel restaurants typically don’t have a good perception when it comes to offering superior quality food or unique cuisines. But the W Atlanta – Midtown is an exception.

Inspired by its Georgia location, TRACE restaurant incorporates southern cuisine in the menu, using seasonal locally sourced ingredients.

The Midtown Atlanta hotel can be described as urban chic at best. Glamorously dressed people can be found getting out of their uber expensive cars into the illuminated car port. The lobby feels like a trendy lounge with live DJ, as patrons cheer their martini glasses.

TRACE is located up a flight of stairs, on the second floor of the hotel. Walking past the bar feels like you have entered a massive den/ library/ man cave. The bar is beautiful, but the stack of cookbooks by local authors displayed on the shelves catches my attention. Krista Reese, Kevin Gillespie, to name a few…

The interior of TRACE is contemporary, yet comfy. Tall glass windows line one of the walls of the room, while the exposed ceiling creates a feeling of a warehouse. Then there are colored pots and pans covering an entire wall, dark wood floors, and giant blue gray screens hanging from the ceiling. I feel like I’m in a 21st century barn!

Cocktails are the main attraction at TRACE. In addition to regional brews and global wines, hand crafts cocktails with unique names are rotated off the menu often. My favorite was Anger Management (perfect after a tough week right?) with mango vodka, agave, pineapple and orange juice. The powdered habanero around the rim of the glass is sure to give you a burn with each sip. Gotta Wear Shades (I told you the names are creative) was also quite refreshing for a bourbon drink. It had fresh blackberry/ blueberry juice, peach bitters and Ridgemont Reserve 1792.

The menu is sectioned into shared plates, salads, entrees and sides. Southern favorites such as fried gulf oysters, deviled eggs, and thrice cooked wings are nostalgic starters. The oysters are fresh are corn flour battered, served with spicy rep pepper jelly aioli. The mushroom and goat cheese toast is hearty and delicious. Grilled salmon is seared crisp on the outside and tender in the center. It feels more of a personal entree than an app plate though. Everything comes with generous portions of healthy greens sourced from GA farms.

The crab and avocado salad was my favorite. Again, a good portion of greens is topped with fresh steamed jumbo lump crab meat is perfect for seafood lovers, and the grilled avocado adds a surprise element to each bite. Gulf catch  of the day, grouper in this case, was chewy, though well seasoned with with black pepper, and sat on some very spicy cooked kale. Another twist I enjoyed was the pimiento mac and cheese. Though the pimento made the dish a bit runny, the toasted bread crumbs added a crisp nice texture.

For dessert, I tried the chocolate mousse cake, a rather rich flourless version with dark creamy mousse. The raspberry and chocolate sauces were a bit runny for my taste, but good enough to lick the plate clean!

You Have to Eat and Drink This in Croatia

During the 10 days I spent in Croatia, I ate about 10,000 calories worth of wine, pastries, pasta and seafood per day! I know you are thinking, Where does the food go? I actually walked about 10 miles a day as well, so everything evened out!

While its hard to include all the delicious things you can find to eat and drink in Croatia, here are my top ones that made it to the list. Trust me, you will not be doing justice to yourself if you leave the country without tasting all of them!

Baby asparagus salad with boiled eggs at O’Zalata Restaurant located inside the walled city in Split. During spring, wild asparagus are found along hillsides and people pick them up while hiking. These are much thinner than what you find in US supermarkets and have a lovely crunchy texture.

Mushroom soup made with 20 different kinds of mushrooms at Gabreku 1929 Restaurant in Samobor. The restaurant, named best in this part of Croatia, collects mushrooms from all seasons, preserves them and uses it in this soup that is famous in northern Croatia. It is serve with mushroom trumpet powder and pumpkin powder. Even the bread is made fresh with local grains and corn.

When I saw people lining up to get a piece of this pie at Split waterfront, I had to taste it. Soparnik is a Swiss chard stuffed savory pie and is the most famous speciality of the Dalmatian region. It originated from pizza as a poor man food. You can find many street vendors selling their own recipe of soparnik.

The island of Hvar is famous for Peka, usually veal or lamb and potatoes cooked under an iron bell full of charcoal. My hosts, Borivoj and Zeljka Bojanic, who run Konoba Maslina Restaurant in the village of Vrisnik made me a tender grilled octopus peka. I’m sure they got the fresh catch earlier that morning. Even if you are not an octopus fan, this would make you one!

My guide, Tomi from Viator Travel took me to Pelješac peninsula near Dubrovnik where we went on a small boat into the sea with a oyster/ mussel farmer. He picked up oysters straight out of the water, shanked it open, drizzled lemon juice and hand it over to us. Could it get any fresher than this?

Zagreb has a lot of good restaurants but the best place I ate was Vinodol Restaurant. The ambiance was beautiful, but the Fuji pasta with fresh black Istrian truffles, and a glass of Istrian wine, to die for!

Why would you travel to a place to eat fruit? Because it the sweetest organic farm fresh strawberries you can find for really cheap! At Dolac Farmers Market in Zagreb, I bought a pint of giant organic sweet strawberries for $1.50 and devoured them sitting in the park.

The locals make all kinds of homemade brandies (called rakia or raki) using fruits, nuts and honey, often from their own gardens. These are then used for home consumption (before and after dinner) or sold in farmer’s markets. One of the best ones I had was at a simple kiosk located in the Craft Square in Varaždin. The lady who produced the honey brandy even raised her own bees.

I had an excellent dinner at family-owned upmarket Palatin restaurant in Varaždin. But the icing on the cake (literally speaking) was the Palatin Cake for dessert. The owner told me it was a 100-year old recipe that made this 6 layers of rich chocolate and chestnuts not too sweet yet memorable.

No visit to Samobor is complete without Kremšnite, a local pastry made with cream custard. It is served warm in this region (cold in Zagreb) and eaten for breakfast and dessert. In fact, many people come to Samobor on the weekends just to grab a piece.

I also visited many wineries in Hvar and Dubrovnik that are worth noting. Croatia produces excellent quality red and white wines, my favorite being malvazija (malvasia) from Istria, plavac mali from Dalmatia, and Dingač from Pelješac peninsula.

Food markets and souvenir shops across southern Croatia sell packets of candied dry fruits such as figs, orange, almonds, etc. These are called Arancini – orange peel with sugar, mixed with sugared almonds for healthy snacks and often served with rakia.

Museum of Broken Relationships

The museum of broken relationships in Zagreb is by far the most unique museum I have ever been to. Unlike other museums, it doesn’t carry any antiques, jewels or historic remanences. On the other hand, it displays items donated by patrons from all over the world that hold symbolic value to them personally.

Museum of Broken Relationships
Museum of Broken Relationships

The idea of this museum was coined by two Zagreb-based artists, Olinka Vištica, a film producer, and Dražen Grubišić, a sculptor, after realizing a heartbreak. What started as a personal collection of items leftover from a broken relationship, became a 1000-item traveling museum that received audiences across Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Macedonia, the Philippines, Serbia, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Items on display include everyday quirky items such as a stiletto shoe, CD’s, laundry basket, toy cars, letter, etc. Each of the items is accompanied by a personal account of the relationship, country of origin and how long the relationship lasted. I found the the notes to be particularly interesting, and rather funny, as people recounted short stories of randomly falling in love, and of inevitable heartbreaks.

Museum of Broken Relationships
Museum of Broken Relationships

One can spend an hour or two seeing the small museum, though the museum also sells books with pictures and stories of some of the items on display. You can also find break ups on the interactive world map and read stories on the blog. Reading stories of broken relationships are perhaps the opposite of reading romantic novels, but surprisingly they don’t get you down or depressed. I feel that reading about real-life relationships that didn’t always end well makes us realize that we live in a realistic world where everything is not always perfect. It makes you feel that you are not the only one who has suffered through a heartbreak. And it makes you smile to read about how people fall in love and cherish the smallest of gifts for years to come.

Museum of Broken Relationships
Museum of Broken Relationships

While the museum is very popular among visitors, it nearly doubles its attendance around the Valentine’s holiday. If you would like to unburden your relationship, send in your item to the Museum of Broken Relationships.

The Museum of Broken Relationships has permanent exhibits in Zagreb, Croatia and Los Angeles, California.

Always Travel With These 10 Things

Over the years I have gotten down packing to a science. Who am I kidding? I hate packing and find it to be the most dredging part about traveling. Having to decide what matching outfits, shoes, and jewelry to carry for 2 weeks that would be perfect for the weather, activities, and local culture consumes me.

However, there are a few items I have discovered that make travel easier and I never leave home without them.

1. THE BEST TRAVEL JEANS IN THE WORLD BY AVIATOR $98

This is my favorite pair of jeans ever, not just for travel. It is made of stretchable and breathable cotton, has hidden pockets to hide change, and loops for headphones. Best part is it looks really flattering!

2. POWERSHOT G9 X MARK II CAMERA BY CANON $529

I only recently discovered this camera and ditched my mirrorless Sony and Panasonic for it. The Powershot is so compact, it fits in my purse, so I don’t have to carry a seepage camera bag with all its attachments. And the 20.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor camera takes really good pictures, even in the dark.

Instead of carrying my Apple laptop charger, I now keep DART-C is, the World’s Smallest Laptop Charger® in my carryon. It is four times smaller and lighter than chargers found on the market today.

Because I am often on very long flights, I keep all my chargers and essentially in my hand luggage. The Techaway Roll with its zipped compartments makes it easy to organize cords. It’s like your cosmetic bag for technology.

I am an over packer and frequent shopper, which can lead to overweight luggage problems. This compact scale can weigh your bags, as well as serve as a battery bank. Its dual functionality eliminates the need to carry two gadgets.

Because I am often traveling by myself I think about what safety precautions can be taken. I recently found this 1-oz ultra-compact siren that emits a 120-decibel alarm that can be heard up to 300 feet away. It is safer than carrying pepper sprays.

Aromaflage is probably the only product that repels mosquitoes that cause Zika, Dengue, Chikungunya and Yellow Fever, and smells good too! I always keep a small bottle (the size of a perfume sample) in my clutch that serves dual purpose of insect repellant and fresh scent.

When changing hotel rooms frequently, it can be tough to get a good night’s sleep. In addition to my personal Tempurpedic pillow, I have now started carrying this ultra-portable humidifier.

You never know when you need a lint roller, and this one is smaller than the size of a smart phone and has a protective cover so the sheets won’t dry out. Always have one in my suitcase.

10. ZIPTUCK™ REUSABLE TRAVEL BAGS BY FULL CIRCLE $5.99

If you are a smart traveler, you will store your liquid cosmetics, medicines and snacks in air tight plastic bags. Made of reusable FDA-Grade EVA material, air tight and dishwasher safe, these are the most sturdy, practical and environment friendly storage bags I have ever found.

Do you have a favorite travel product you always carry? Do share with me by leaving a comment below…

Find and Fly – Brazilian Street Dogs Immigrate To Loving Homes Oversees

Vivian Denise Mauro is an American lady I met at the Casa Dom Inacio De Loyola in Brazil. On a sunny warm morning, we stood outside the Casa’s cafeteria and chatted like old friends, though we had just met.

Vivian told me that she first came to see John of God with a group of women from New York City in 2004. She wanted to know if God is real. At the casa, she received a special message “Vivian I love you.” It was God speaking to her directly.

After that, Vivian felt ecstatic, she was laughing and crying at the same time, and singing the Beetles Song “Love is all there is.” As the light of God shone in her life, she started living in the present, gained more energy and eventually started guiding other people to visit Abadiania.

Vivian would often find street dogs in Abadiania. This area in rural Brazil is stricken with poverty, and caring for domestic pets, let alone stray animals, is not the top priority. But Vivian connected with the dogs. She sensed them having the same feeling of abandonment that she suffered from as a child, well into her adulthood. She ended up adopting 2 Shepherd mix dogs from the street – one of them, who she named Lucky, had a tumor.

Lucky underwent many treatments, mainly chemotherapy, but finally got cured. Vivian raised USD 12,000 for his treatments and to fly him to New York with her. Lucky lived happily with Vivian for 3 years.

Then on, every time Vivian would come to Abadiania, she would try to rescue more dogs. “Ango and Sammy were the next two” she told me she has rescued 78 dogs now. Not only does Vivian drive around the villages following her intuition, capturing injured and diseased animals (in a taxi, because she doesn’t have a car), she takes them to veterinarians for rehabilitation, castration, wound care, and nurses pregnant ones. She generally does not pick up healthy dogs.

Vivian also has 10 dogs at home and feeds another 22 every day at the kennel she opened near her home. The location doesn’t have a water source, so she hauls 16 liters of water on her bike for 12 kilometer and delivers it to the dogs every single day.

Vivian has started a Stray Dog Resettlement Program where she sends rescued dogs abroad to whoever wants to adopt them. This Adopt and Fly procedure takes only 2 days and costs $500-600. She has also sent a cat to Germany. When I asked her how the animals from Abadiania have adapted to their new homes, she told me that these are special animals because they have good energy. Therefore, they behave well and lovingly adopt their families.

“In Brazil, there is not much awareness of neutering and spaying, or treating animals like family members as they do in the US,” says Vivian. There are no commercials or dog shows here that emphasize that animals have feelings. Her goal is to conduct workshops at elementary schools to educate kids about humane treatment of animals. In the meantime she has unofficially started an Association to Protect Animals of Abadiania and crowdsourcing to fund immunization against tick disease and new kennels. Click here to donate on her Go Fund Me page.

All You Need to Know About John of God in Brazil

I first heard about John of God about 10 years ago while watching the Oprah Winfrey Show. Oprah magazine editor, Susan Casey had recently travelers to Brazil and found personal healing after the passing of her father. Oprah herself traveled to the tiny village of Abadiania to interview this Miracle Man who had cured over 8 million people of life threatening illnesses, birth defects, as well as emotional and spiritual blockages.

As a journalist and spiritual person, I was eager to find out more about what was happening at the Casa Dom Inacio De Loyola.

WHO IS JOHN OF GOD?

John of God or Medium John is an ordinary Brazilian man, now in his late 70’s. He grew up very poor in rural Brazil and found out at an early age, that powerful spirits could enter his body and use it as a medium to heal people. Initially, he performed healings while he was working in the army as a tailor. Later, he opened a center where people could come for free and receiving the blessings from several spirits and other mediums.

Even though Medium John is a Christian, and believes in God, he doesn’t focus on religion. Everyone, regardless belief or religion, is welcome to the Casa. His work can be explained through a popular theory in Brazil called Spiritism, which is focusing on mediumship, where one can channel high energy beings and master spirits to guide humans and give healings through the metaphysical. Spiritism is very common belief in Brazil, as well as in India and among Native American cultures.

Though I have not had any personal experience with spirits per se, I do believe in guardian angels and the energy of the universe.

GETTING THERE

Less than two hours’ driver from Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, through rolling hills, cattle farms and country resorts, leads to Abadiania. There is a small rural town on one side of the highway where John of God resides, and a more touristy area on the other side. The “Casa area” as it’s nicknamed has one main street with a few pousadas (guesthouses), handful of restaurants, shops selling all kinds of crystals and white clothing, and a couple of massage parlors.

When I arrived in Abadiania, my guides Cecilia and Debbie were waiting for me outside Pousada Irmão Sol Irmã Lua. This was perhaps the largest and most posh pousada in town, with a garden, yoga room and lounging areas. The rooms were basic, with two small beds, a fan, and a bathroom that rarely had hot water. There was no television, air conditioner, or phone, only WiFi that functioned when it wasn’t overcast. As in the case of most businesses in Abadiania, the owners of Pousada Irmão Sol Irmã Lua had come to see John of God many decades ago, received personal healing and decided to stay and help continue his mission.

It is highly recommended that first timers and non-Portuguese speakers hire a local guide to visit the Casa, as there are rules that one must follow, and sometimes things happen too fast so important information can be missed. Also, it is very difficult to make hotel bookings on your own, as many of the pousad don’t have websites.

PREPARING FOR THE VISIT

Cecilia Zigher and Debbie Akamine had opposite personalities but worked as a team. Debbie had quit her job in top international tax firm in Sao Paulo and found love and harmony in Abadiania. She was animated, energetic and informative.

Cecilia, a native of Sweden, had traveled around the world searching for self-love and happiness, which she found when she met John of God. Cecilia was composed, thoughtful and open to sharing her own philosophies. The girls gave me a brief orientation for visiting the Casa, over a buffet dinner of Brazilian and western delicacies.

The instructions were:

  • Wear only white clothing (including underwear) so that the spirits can see your aura.
  • Write down 3 asks you want to present to John of God. These could be about your health, work, relationships, finances, or anything else that you need help with in your life.
  • Carry a small purse with some money and tissues (in case you cry). Don’t wear the purse cross body.
  • It is not allowed to take pictures of John of God.
  • Never cross your arms and legs when in the Casa grounds, as it blocks the energies from reaching you.
  • When meeting John of God, speak fast (if in Portuguese), make direct eye contact with him and hold his hand.
  • When sitting in the current room (meditation room), sit with eyes closed, arms and legs uncrossed and stay until they ask you to leave (it may be 2-3 hours).
  • Eat a big breakfast and meet at the Casa entrance at 7:30am.

Later I read Heather Cumming’s book John of God and highly recommend reading it prior to coming to the Casa. It gives you a much deeper understanding of what is exactly happening here, and how to prepare yourself to be receptive to the energies.

ARRIVING AT THE CASA

John of God sees visitors only on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 8am until every person is seen.

On Wednesday morning, I walked over to the Casa, only a 10-minute walk from my hotel. There were already hundreds of people arriving by the bus loads, being dropped off in taxis, and walking over to the entrance. Everyone was wearing white and appeared calm and hopeful. I later found out that approximately 2,000 people had come to the Casa that day.

The Casa grounds were modest white ranch style building with blue accents. There was a semi-open hall where people waited, announcements and prayers were recited, and John of God would first appear. Inside were a series of basic rooms for spiritual surgeries, meditation and an infirmary. There was a beautiful garden with lots of flowers, avocado trees and benches for meditating outdoor that overlooked a beautiful valley. Besides the garden were crystal baths – individual rooms booked for 20 minute sessions that involved crystal light healing. There was also a cafeteria selling fresh juices and homemade Brazilian snacks, a soup kitchen, and a pharmacy where one could buy blessed water and passion flower herbs (if prescribed).

John of God picked this location to be the center of his spiritual practice because of its high energy. It is said that there are crystals underneath the land the valley sits on.

People often leave prayer notes at the 3 triangles at the Casa that supposedly transmitted energy. These notes are collected and taken to John of God for further blessing.

It was 8am and time to meet John of God. “Are you nervous, like you are about to see Santa Claus?” Debbie exclaimed.

To be continued…