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Shelly Bunge

Beverly Hills, California Travel Agent

Cultural Festivals

Festivals provide a wonderful window into the local culture of a country and give you the opportunity to see how people celebrate the things that are most important to them. It is a time when visitors are often most welcome and can even join in. For example, if you had a friend from Botswana who’d never been to the United States, wouldn’t it be great to have her visit you on the Fourth of July? These are some of my favorite festival experiences.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is one of the world's last frontiers, so it is an amazing destination for travelers who want to experience the best of both nature and culture. As you fly over the island, you can see that the interior is almost impenetrable, so it is no wonder few visitors ever go beyond the port towns. It is shockingly beautiful, with vast rivers, lush rain forests and pristine coral reefs. As the second largest island in the world, it has mountains reaching nearly 15,000 feet which create hundreds of isolated areas, promoting diversity among the people as well as in nature. With over 700 distinct languages spoken throughout the country, PNG has one of the most diverse populations in the world.

One of the most exciting cultural experiences in Papua New Guinea is a traditional Sing-Sing, an annual gathering of hundreds of different tribes and clans that come together dressed in elaborate tribal costumes to chant, dance, perform and compete. It goes on for days. This unique ceremonial ritual was first introduced in the 1960s by the government to bring traditional enemies together peacefully and on neutral ground. Seeing a Sing-Sing firsthand is like seeing color for the first time; you’ll feel as if you have lived your whole life prior to the Sing-Sing in black and white.

Another amazing cultural experience is the annual Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Although the Lantern Festival is celebrated everywhere throughout Thailand, it is most impressive in scale in Chiang Mai, where thousands of lanterns, or Khom Loi, are released simultaneously. This impressive display does mean that crowds are prevalent. However, Thai culture is so lovely that to raise one’s voice or to become visibly upset in public is considered the height of impoliteness, thus making this shared moment of humanity truly extraordinary. It usually occurs from Mid-October to Mid-November of every year.

On the night of the festival, our guide gently weaved us through the massive, but accommodating crowd to the staging area. She explained to us that the festival symbolizes new beginnings. When you light your lantern, you are supposed to make a wish. There is a religious component to the festival, as releasing a lantern and letting go of one’s burden is a form of receiving merit, an important concept in Buddhism. For us, it was a chance to let go of our sadness. My partner’s father, who was very dear to her, had passed away earlier in the year. His passing was particularly difficult for her so I planned this trip in the hopes it would lighten the heaviness she felt in her heart. As Buddhist monks in saffron robes suddenly stopped their chanting, the crowd was instructed to quietly light our paper lanterns. After doing so, we were instructed to observe a moment of silence, as we all gathered our thoughts. The soft flutter of the rice paper was the only sound to be heard. Finally, we were asked to simultaneously release our lanterns. Magically, hundreds of thousands of lanterns floated up to the sky. It was as if the crowd emitted a tremendous collective sigh, a moment of profound elation shared by all as the collective burdens of hundreds of thousands lifted from us. We wept, but our tears were happy and grateful ones.

There is a second festival that takes place in Chang Mai the next night called Loi Krathong. This is a similar festival, but instead of paper lanterns, people release floating baskets made from banana leaves, flowers, and candles in the river to express gratitude, thankfulness, and forgiveness. We also released our floating baskets, but we later watched this enchanting flotilla from our riverfront restaurant where our guide had arranged a romantic candlelight dinner for us. It was magical.

Whenever I arrange a trip, I look to see what festivals or annual events I can include. Often, by slightly shifting your dates or your itinerary, you can experience an iconic cultural event such as a Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico or one of the Tschechus in Bhutan, which includes religious mask dances as well as colorful folk dances and other entertainment. These events often are among the highlights of a trip.

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What a trip of a lifetime!

Reviewed By Holly - San Diego, CA | Traveled to Arctic Ocean ~ At Sea ~ At Sea
I have used Shelly Bunge for two amazing travel trips. One to the Arctic and one to Loreto, Mexico. I highly recommend her services. She is awesome! The recommendations, attention to detail and response time to all my questions is incredible. She is my go to person for booking my dream trips! Not only has she seen so many places in the world, she also has the best taste! I know she would never steer me wrong with travel plans.

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Amazing Custom-Designed Trips!

Reviewed By Sandy Williams - Los Angeles, CA | Traveled to Thailand ~ East and Southeast Asia
Shelly has planned two trips for us -- to Fiji and to Thailand. Shelly's attention to detail, thorough research, meticulous planning, patience and willingness to listen to what kinds of trips we wanted insured that our trips were custom designed for us. Both trips far exceeded our expectations. We wouldn't think of going on a travel adventure without Shelly's creative and careful guidance!
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Best Trip EVER!!!

Reviewed By DJ - Fountain Valley, CA | Traveled to Loreto ~ Baja California Sur ~ Mexico
I’d long-heard about the many wonderful trips Shelly planned over the years, but I’d never had occasion to engage her services until now, and she did NOT disappoint! I had a life-long bucket list of looking into the eye of a whale while “petting” it, and after a tough personal year in 2018, I decided to go for it in 2019. Enter Shelly who knocked it out of the park! From the perfectly quaint & charming 1 bedroom, full-kitchen Casita in – and tour of Loreto, to the ABSOLUTELY mind blowing excursions she planned with THE most knowledgeable guide (THE go-to guy when National Geographic comes to film) which resulted in my being able to finally check it off, and a few others as well! She even found and recommended the most amazing restaurants! Everything planned went off without a hitch – from the land & air transportation, to our tours, to our excursions – and her communication was superb. I’m forever grateful & appreciative – and look forward to all of my future trips – planned by Shelly!
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Shelly is the best

Reviewed By chris - los angeles, ca | Traveled to Mexico
I have relied on Shelley’s advice for years and have benefited from the astonishing range of travel experiences she has had her self and she has arranged for others. Shelly has arranged multiple trips for me, both domestic and international (the review form doesn’t let me list them all). She is truly exceptional on every dimension. She is incredibly thorough, detail oriented, knowledgeable about a wider range of destinations than I will ever travel to, and also a complete pleasure to work with. She has amazing taste. I will always work with Shelly.
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Thank you Shelly for a wonderful trip!

Reviewed By Bobbie - Scottsdale, AZ | Traveled to Arctic Ocean ~ At Sea ~ At Sea
Shelly was so very helpful in planning my trip to the Arctic. She has experience and knowledge of so many destinations so she could personalize my trip for me . . . the right ship and activities. She advised me on what to expect and even had great tips on what to wear. Her travel experience made my trip the best! I am now enjoying working with Shelly planning my next trip to Thailand.
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