Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Moving Forward

koh-rong-cambodia-long-beach-paradise-sunset


Exactly six months ago, Sarah and I left the States and embarked on what is turning out to be the adventure of a lifetime. I'm sitting in a cafĂ© in Bangkok at the moment, killing time before my next one way flight, and this leg of the trip feels like a big milestone.

The entire journey has been one of personal discovery and growth, but the last few months have been especially transformational. It all began with saying 'yes' to traveling through Laos and Cambodia with a couple of Canadian boys - the destination: Koh Rong. Those boys are now like brothers to me, and I'll always be grateful to them for showing up and guiding me to my paradise. The last two months living and working on the island have hands down been some of the best times of my life so far.

cocos-koh-rong-island-cambodia-coco-bungalows


My teaching has developed a great deal, or maybe it's just my confidence that's improved. It's a humbling thing to have students give you some of the highest compliments a teacher can receive, especially when little Cambodian children and puppies crash your classes on the regular amidst the noise of the island, which is a nice blend of construction, dog fights, various music, and crashing waves. No studio, no equipment, countless distractions, and sometimes a language barrier have forced me to really learn how to teach. I've been able to experiment with sequencing, cueing, and modifying, seeing what works and doesn't work as I fine-tune my teaching style. It's been really unbelievable to me to have over 20 people show up at 8am on a small island in Cambodia for any reason, let alone your bare bones yoga class. But I think I learned more about teaching in the last two months here than the last two years of teaching anywhere. This opportunity came at the perfect time - when I was ready to step into who I am and what I'm meant to do on this earth rather than feeling like an impostor in my own life (but that's another post!).

koh-rong-island-cambodia-pier
our yoga studio

The combination of the right place, the right time, and being surrounded by the right people have allowed me to learn, evolve, and grow into a better version of myself. I've made so many amazing friends and been surrounded by so much love. I've had incredible conversations that have taken me back to look at experiences in my past with a different perspective. I continue to have beautiful experiences unfold in just the right way, every time. I have never been happier.

koh-rong-island-cambodia


I was worried that it was just the magic of paradise that's made me feel this way. But then again, I've been in many beautiful places in my life - so what was it about Koh Rong? It wasn't the so-fine-it-squeaks white sand, the coconut trees, or even that special deserted corner of 4 Kilometer Beach that made the difference.

As I follow my heart to the Netherlands, I'm not worried at all, because it's actually me that's different. The ways I see and interact with the world have shifted. The ways I connect with and experience the people around me have changed, and those ways of being are independent of geography. I haven't changed too much, but some important things that I've been working on have finally clicked into place. The more I experience, the more exciting the world becomes, and I can't wait to see what I find on the other side of this flight.




Thursday, January 9, 2014

This is a Slow Blog

It's been a painfully long time since I've written a proper post on here. Sure, there have been some quick Instagram pics or a Facebook update, but no actual written blog posts in what, three weeks? I'm totally fine with it.

The chilled-out pace of this blog has evolved naturally since its conception. I'm a procrastinator by nature (despite what my college GPA says) so I knew if I ever started a blog, there would be no way I would be one of those bloggers that posts on the daily and has to take a picture of literally everything, 24/7, because "hold on, I have to get a photo for the blog!" No judgment whatsoever to bloggers who like to capture every moment... more power to you. I just frankly don't have the energy for that.

There have been a few times when I've felt like a slacker for the long time in between posts. Then I discovered that 'slow blogging' is actually A Thing.

For me, it means living these adventures as fully as possible. It means soaking it all in and enjoying everything without constantly writing the post about each moment in my head as it happens. It means not sitting in front of a screen while I'm experiencing some of the most beautiful places on earth and sharing good times and good company with the amazing people I meet.

So don't worry. I've got pictures, I've got stories, I've had some of the most incredible moments of my life out here, and I'll share them all in due time. For now, check out some recent photos below from New Year's in Pai, a trip to the mountains to donate clothing to school children, a flower farm in Samoans, and a stunningly beautiful 2-day slow boat journey down the Mekong River from Thailand to Lang Prabang, Loas.

paper-lantern-thailand

paper-lanterns-thailand

paper-lantern-thailand

hot-springs-pai-thailand

pai-thailand-view

big-buddha-pai-thailand-wat-phra-tat-mae-yen


rural-thailand-north-village-travel

northern-thailand-rural-village

north-thailand-village-kitchen

north-thailand-rural-village-people

rural-north-thailand-samoeng

samoeng-rural-north-thailand-village

samoeng-thailand-village-truck-roof

samoeng-north-thailand-farm

samoeng-thailand-north-flower-farm



laos-mekong-river-slow-boat

laos-mekong-river-thailand-slow-boat

slow-boat-chiang-khong-to-luang-prabang-thailand-laos

mekong-river-laos-village

loas-natives-locals-mekong-river-village

mekong-river-laos-slow-boat

pak-ou-caves-laos-mekong-river

mekong-river-laos-slow-boat

mekong-river-laos-slow-boat



Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My New Favorite Restaurant in Ubud

Maybe 'restaurant' is a strong word. 'Roadside eatery' is still generous, but it's a more accurate description. This place doesn't even have a name, but serves up some of the best pork satay I've ever had, alongside strange-in-a-delicious-way slices of boiled rice. Simple, flavorful, cheap, and delicious. It's not vegetarian-friendly (which excludes about 90% of Ubud tourists/Expats) and doesn't have much variety on the menu, but I'm not picky.

ubud-bali-street-food-satay-restaurant

I've never seen another foreigner eating here, and they wouldn't win any gold stars for hygiene, but its so fresh that they literally take it off the grill and serve it, which kills the germs, right? I've eaten here at least four times this week and (knock on wood) haven't gotten any Bali Belly to speak of. There's usually a steady stream of locals from what I've seen, which is always a good sign.

After my first visit I started asking for 'no pedas,' which means 'no hot sauce' or, 'for the love of Annapoorna, spare me the eternal pain of your fire-sauce from hell'. If you're one of those freaks people that dares a restaurant to make your dish as spicy as humanly possible... fly here, eat it, and try not to weep. I dare you.

ubud-bali-satay-street-food

The only negative about this gem of a find is that it doesn't seem to have regular operating hours. They're usually there in the mid-afternoon through early evening, but I can never be sure. Some days they're not open at all. When I round the corner from my guesthouse every afternoon, if I see the telltale smoke coming from the tiny charcoal grill, a little part of me feels like I struck the streetmeat lottery.

For 10,000 rupiah (~ $0.85) you get rice, 6 fresh sticks of satay, and (if you have a death wish) homemade hot sauce. They'll wrap it for you in paper to take away, or serve it up on a plate for you to eat there. This place is so exclusive, there are only three seats (and two of them are plastic kiddy-stools).

ubud-bali-indonesia-street-food-satay

If you're feeling adventurous, you can find it on Jalan Sugriwa near the Namaste store, maybe 20 meters east of the intersection with Jalan Hanoman, on the south side of the street. If they're closed, you'll just see a blue tarp covering a lump on the ground - better luck next time. But if you catch them while they're doing their thing - don't miss out!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Mt. Batur: Sunrise Trek in Bali

mt-batur-sunrise-trek-bali

One of the highlights of the trip thus far was a day that began with a 2:00am wake up call. What on Earth could be worth dragging yourself out of bed at such an ungodly hour, you ask? I'll let the photographs answer that question:

mt-batur-sunrise-trek-bali

mount-batur-sunrise-trek-bali
 
mt-batur-sunrise-trek-volcano-hike-bali

That, my friends, is the hard-earned view - watching the sunrise from atop Mt. Batur, an active volcano on the northeastern side of Bali.

We booked this trek with a company called Pineh Trekking (you'll see their signs all around the tourist hubs of Bali). For 400,000 IDR each, or about $35 USD, our trek was all inclusive.

We were picked up at our hotel in Saner at 2:00am. On the way to the mountain, we made a stop at an organic coffee farm for a light breakfast of banana pancakes and a sampler flight of the coffees and teas grown at the farm.



When we reached the mountain, our driver handed us over to our guide, who told us that he has done this trek 6 days a week for the last 8 years. After experiencing it myself, I don't blame him! Our guide provided us with flashlights as well. These were definitely necessary, since 90% of the hike up was in total darkness save for what moonlight filtered through the scattered clouds.

I'd say that the first half of the trek was fairly tame - wide path, a little gravelly but not steep by any means. Eventually, though, the terrain became more challenging. It turned into rather steep, narrower path with large rocks to surmount, and required a moderate amount of physical fitness, balance, and agility. The whole trek up took a little over an hour, so it wasn't too strenuous, but there were plenty of parts that really do require you to be somewhat fit.

During the ascent, we were treated to the most spectacular view of the stars, and this alone would have made the trek worth it! You really do have to focus on the path while you're hiking, but make sure you take a couple of breaks along the way to enjoy the stars. Also, make sure you use caution and your flashlight if you need to venture off the path for a bathroom break - our Aussie friend came literally one step away from walking off a cliff towards certain death before lighting his footsteps. Don't do that.

mt-batur-sunrise-trek-pineh-trekking-bali

The first rays of light spilled over the horizon when we were about 10 minutes from the top.

mount-batur-sunrise-trek-bali

We reached our viewpoint with perfect timing to watch the sky slowly come to life in vibrant pinks, purples, reds, and oranges, revealing a beautiful lake in the valley below.

mt-batur-sunrise-hindu-offering-volcano-trek

At this point, our guide left us to enjoy the view, and came back 20 minutes later with banana sandwiches and hard-cooked eggs that he cooked in the volcanic steam rising from the earth. We enjoyed our breakfast as the sun slipped fully into view.

mt-batur-sunrise-hike-bali-lululemon-hiking

Once the sun came up, the monkeys came out to beg (and steal) their own breakfast. Trekkers offered bites of banana sandwiches to the hungry monkeys, who were obviously used to being well-fed on the daily.

mount-batur-sunrise-trek-monkeys-bali

You can try handing them bites at a time, but more likely than not, a cheeky one will come right up and steal your entire stash in one grab. There were lots of babies with their mamas and adorable monkey business going on.

mt-batur-monkeys-sunrise-trek-bali-volcano

After watching them for a while, we trekked back down to the base.

 

Going down was a little trickier than going up - gravity plus gravel provided quite a slippery descent. Despite having to catch ourselves with our hands a few times, we all made it back down uninjured.

On the drive back, we stopped at the coffee plantation again for more sampling and delicious banana fritters. We also tried the Indonesian delicacy called 'luwak coffee,' the processing of which is partially completed inside the digestive system of a cat/rodent-like creature. It didn't taste like anything special other than a crappy cup of coffee, so I feel like its high price tag is for the novelty rather than the flavor. After reading about the modern production methods and the not-so-humane conditions of the animals, I'll skip it from now on.

After our morning snack break, we were dropped back off at our hotel around 10:00am feeling like we'd had a wildly productive day so far!

mount-batur-sunrise-volcano-trek-hike-bali

I highly recommend this sunrise trek as a must-do when in Bali! Below are a few tips if you're considering the trek:

- Shop around before booking. There are many tour companies advertising this trek, and there are differences in what their offer includes. We paid 400,000 rupiah for our experience and felt it was worth it for what we received. Make sure you know exactly what is included.

- Don't try to go it alone. For safety reasons, no one is allowed to hike up in the dark without a proper licensed local guide, and the maximum ratio is four trekkers to one guide.

- Ask if flashlights or headlamps are included when booking. You do not want to climb in the dark - it would be too dangerous - so if they're not provided, bring your own.

- Bring long sleeves. It gets chilly at the top!

- Bring some toilet paper and hand sanitizer. There are toilets at the base, but trust me, you'll be glad you came prepared when you see their condition.

To see a full album of our photos from the trek, as well as more updates and pictures from the trip, like us on Facebook!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Getting Around Chiang Mai

There are several different options for transportation around Chiang Mai. Which one you choose will depend on several factors: your budget, how fast you want to get where you’re going, and how brave you’re feeling.

Motorbike:
chiang-mai-thailand-motorbike

Definitely the cheapest option, and also the most dangerous. Renting a motorbike will allow you the freedom to go wherever, whenever, without shelling out extra cash each time you want to move.
It’s also a great way to explore a new city. You might get lost, which would mean taking longer to get to your destination, but getting lost is also the best way to get to know a place. A motorbike is also the way to go for aimless exploring without a particular destination in mind – just hit the open road and see what you find (but make sure you’ve got enough petrol).
If you have enough guts choose this method of getting around, drive carefully and please, for the love of intact skulls, wear a helmet. You'll see many locals without helmets - heck, you'll even see families of 5 packed onto one motorbike (including an infant in the mother's arms), all without a helmet. As tempted as you may be to chance it, your hair will always look better on a head that's in one piece. Also, road rash can really ruin a vacation. Be safe.

You can expect to pay about 150 baht/day (not including petrol), and you can negotiate discounts for a full week or month.
 

Songthaew

songthaew-red-truck-chiang-mai-thailand


Also known as 'red trucks,' these are basically modified pickup trucks that operate as on-demand public buses. The truck bed is covered with a roof and there is a long bench down each side for passengers to sit on. When you flag down a songthaew, there may be other passengers inside. The driver will take you where you want to go, but they might pick up/drop off other passengers along the way. This is the best option for large groups, because you can pretty much pack yourselves in as tightly as you want, and a couple of brave souls can even hold onto the handrail and ride on the bumper (look a little closer at the picture!).

Fares are paid per person - typically you'll pay 20 baht each, but for farther destinations or if your route gets caught up in the one-ways of the city walls, the driver may ask for more. One last thing: Especially when sharing with other passengers, the driver may not stop at your exact destination. Pay attention and ring the buzzer on the ceiling to alert him to stop.

 
Tuk-tuk
tuk-tuk-thailand-chiang-mai


These motorbike/wheeled passenger cart combos are a little pricier than a songthaew, but behave more like a proper cab - splitting the fare means you can get a better deal when you’re with friends. Unlike a songthaew, your tuk-tuk won’t stop for other passengers – you’ll have it all to yourselves - so you’ll probably get there faster. And you'll definitely get there faster when you convince two tuk-tuk drivers, each transporting half of your group, to drag race through the streets and promise a big tip to the winner. Actually, I don't recommend doing that... if I could do it again, I wouldn't. It was scary.

With good negotiating skills, a ride in Chiang Mai will cost you between 60-150 baht, depending on where and how far you’re going. As always, agree on a price first, and pay when you get there.

 
Taxi
Actual taxis aren’t very common in Chiang Mai. You’ll rarely, if ever, be able to flag one down on the street, but with songthaews and tuk-tuks aplenty, you won’t really need to unless you’re going to/from the airport at odd hours. We learned the hard way that there are no songthaews or tuk-tuks around early in the morning. Walking to the airport at 5:00am is not fun – so call and arrange a taxi the day before if you have an early morning flight. From the airport, there are a couple of taxi counters with preset prices for what area of the city you’re going to. They’ll write you a slip with the fare and the cab number and send you outside to the curb to be picked up.
 
Final Tips:
 
1. Always agree on a price before getting in any taxi, songthaew, or tuk-tuk, and only pay when you’ve reached your destination.
 
2. The old city walls in Chiang Mai are beautiful and historic, but they do cause a mess of one-ways and roundabout routes if you’re trying to go from outside to inside or vice-versa. Keep this in mind when determining ETA’s and negotiating fares.

 
3. It’s a good idea to have a map with you for communicating. If the driver doesn’t know the exact place you want to go, just point and he can probably get you close enough.
 
4. If you decide to hoof it, be careful crossing the street. Pedestrians do NOT have the right of way in Chiang Mai. It's pretty difficult to cross the street on foot without feeling like you're about to die. You basically have to wait for a small gap, step into traffic, and hope for the best. Drivers may or may not stop, but they will swerve around you until the last possible moment. There aren't many proper crosswalks (and even then, its a crapshoot), but there are overhead pedestrian bridges on some of the major roads outside the walls, so make sure to use them when available.