Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Last Days of Koh Tao

June 28, 2011, 23:12
Location: Koh Tao Thailand
Why: So long Koh Tao. You have a special place in my heart.


Tonight is my last night in Koh Tao before I pack up and wander some more.

My experience here, while short lived has been one filled with great moments, experiences and mostly, fantastic people I've met along the way.

My scuba diving experience is something I cannot really describe in words. I had been humming and hawwing about it since I got to the island. Finally, enough people convinced me to conquer my fear of deep water and just do it. Do one thing a day that scares you right?

On June 26th, I embarked on my first ever scuba dive called Discover Scuba Diving at Seashell Diving. You wanna know what sold me to this place? The swing set hanging off their giant tree branch.

A swing set!!


Yep, that was my deciding factor - the swings. Of course Jo, my British instructor was such a lovely lady, I couldn't say no. So after a briefing on the basics of scuba diving, my dive mates of three others: Mark from Wales, Amanda from New Mexico and Andrea from Norway packed our tummies full of lunch goodness before boating out to Mango Bay (Mango Bay! What a delicious name) to get comfortable in our diving gear. Beet (Swedish?) was also our other instructor who was super cute and encouraged me to go deeper into the water.

Once we understood how to breathe, use hand signals and use the gear, we headed out for our first dive at Mango Bay (Mango Bay! How yummy). We slowly descended to aproximately 8.9meters where the marine life was so amazing, I cannot even begin to explain the feeling. The closest way I can describe the experience of being under water is, this is going to sound crazy, but it's like being in a wet dream, literally.

It's almost like being born again. And everything just makes sense. The colours, all the different marine life, and just the tranquility of breathing under water is second to none. We all loved it so much that we did a 2nd dive and went down to 12meters. We literally swam into schools of fish which scattered all around us. Clown fish, angel fish, and a manta ray were just some of the marine life our instructors pointed out to us. The coral is so vibrant yet so delicate. Thousands of years of growth can be ruined if a diver is not careful and accidentally touches it so it was imperative that we dived mindfully.

On our way back to Sairee Beach, we were blessed with a rare siting of a pod of whales who swam leisurely alongside our boat. There must have been 12-20 of them just hanging out, breaking the surface in groups and in pairs. It was like a little show they put on just for us. Wonderful, just wonderful.

I am bonded to my dive mates for life who encouraged me to conquer my fears and just dive.

Here they are: L-R: Amanda, Mark, Me, Andrea

I have mentioned before the yoga classes have been one of the best parts of being on this island, also affectionately know as Turtle Island. The instructor, Kester has an amazing vibe. Practicing with him is sublime. He also reminds me of Coldplay's Chris Martin from the profile...

Here I am with Kester at my last class earlier tonight:

Here is the front of the yoga center:

And here is where you rinse your feet before entering the center:


One of the interesting things about traveling is where one lays their head each night. After my lovely digs at Asia Diver's Resort and especially after my 6000B motorbike mishap, I've been living dorm style.

Here is Koh Tao Backpacker's Hostel in all her messy glory:
 

 Oh and here is my dirtbag living quarters in all her hanging glory: 


My bunkmates, 5 from England and 2 from America are a jovial bunch with funny stories and quirks that can only be tolerated by other traveling dorm mates.

Tonight, I also met a wonderful man name Matthew from Australia. A furniture designer by trade, he sold most of his possesions and closed his business to volunteer at an NGO in Cambodia for a year. He also recently meditated in Koh Pha Ngan and provided some great insight for my next adventure. Having dinner with him was inspiring.

Next up is a long journey from Koh Tao to the northern capital of Chiang Mai for a meditation hideaway at the International Buddhist Center in Doi Suthep. I imagine I will be offline for a little while. Please wander back sometime in July.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Island Life, Koh Tao Style

June 25th, 2011; 17:15
Location: Koh Tao Thailand
Why: I am in love with Island Life.

Escaping the heat by sitting in my hostel and realized I haven't written a post in about 10 days...

Island life has taken me to a place where my only worries are which amazing place should I eat at, when is my next yoga class and how long do I want to stay at the beach today?

I arrived at Chumphon pier on an early June 18th morning waiting for the catamaran that would finally take me to Koh Tao. After a long overnight bus ride from Bangkok to Chumphon and a treacherous catamaran ride (1st time vomitting in a plastic bag included), I arrived at beautiful Koh Tao, the smallest of the three main islands on the Gulf of Thailand.

This is what 5:30am looks like at Chumphon pier:

I was very pleased at the site of my new digs for the next week.

After sharing rooms with other travelers in BKK, it was nice to have my own abode that was actually nice:




At 600Baht/night, it is a little pricey for my very modest travel budget but a girl's gotta treat herself once in a while. Pool, tv and free wifi included. Restaurant and diving available. I am a happy gal.

My lovely friend Austin said to me "go do something fun and write about it!"

And so I have. First off, I am so blissed out these days. Found a wonderful yoga center called Shambahla Yoga just off the main strip and have been doing yoga twice a day at 2hrs/class - pure bliss....I am on a natural high. I won't even get into how affordable it is. Let's just say, it is far from $21/class like I'm used to in Canada.

Doing one thing a day that scares me? Motorbiking. Yep, this Asian gal who doesn't like driving motorized vehicles got on her very first motorbike to zip around the island. It is more a neccessity rather than a luxury as the roads are not great and there is no bicycle hire.

At 150B/day, I got me a nice lil bike for some exploring:


Oh but an Asian driver I am! One day, after too much sun on the beach at Chalok Baan, I sauntered over to my bike in a dreamy haze and proceeded to pull out of my parking spot. Of course, I hit the power way too soon and a little too hard resulting in me knocking over two other motorbikes, smashing my front headlights, cracking the front shell and denting the other motorbike's front basket - front basket!!

Well, luckily I wasn't hurt but after some help and a bruised ego, I was out 6000Baht. That was my budget for the week.....needless to say, this is why I am now sitting inside an 8 person dorm for the next week.

Oh yah, I love Koh Tao so much I've decided to stay a lil while longer.

Here are some pics of my life at the moment. It's tough:







Austin, I didn't find Mango with Sticky Rice that night. Instead, I stumbled upon a crepe stall where the man makes crepes in the most dramatic way I've ever seen. I need to go back and video tape it.

Tomorrow, I will be doing yet another thing that scares me. Scuba diving!!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Ayutthaya: Worlds Away From Bangkok in Only 90mins

June 16th 2011, 12:56
Location: Ayutthaya Thailand
Why: So gnarly

The owner at Baan Suan Guesthouse told me there is supposed to be a lunar eclipse right now but it is cloudy in Ayutthaya tonight, despite the rain it had earlier in the evening....**sigh**

So my Vietnam Visa cleared - yay! Except I realized I had referenced the 2012 calendar when picking my visa dates so instead of Aug 3rd, I am slated for Aug 9th for 30 days...***another sigh***
Hmmmm, this makes things interesting. Should I plan another week in Thailand? Laos? Or Cambodia? Food for thought for the next few weeks.

Well geez, after a noisy 90min train ride while a creepy guy kept staring at me, I arrived in the ancient city of Ayutthaya, a world away from BKK (that's Bangkok's International Airport code - I love airport codes btw). A five minute ferry ride at 4baht got me over the river that encircles the city's main area. After several no's to the tuk tuk drivers, I was determined to find my new home for the next two days. In about 30 sweaty minutes I found the low key signage of Baan Suan Guesthouse.

Low key but pleasant with a terrace overlooking a quaint little garden. Finally, some peace and quiet. No sooner had I settled into my humble abode and changed out of that sweaty Silverescent Chip's Not Dead Yet Racerback, did I happily picked out a bicycle for hire. At B60 ($2), I can ride to my heart's content for the entire day. And ride I did.

First up, Wat Mahathat - home of the famous Buddha face nestled into the gnarly Bodhi tree:



After riding into many Wats and repeatedly on the "wrong" side of the roads, I made my way back to my guesthouse with a clumsy smile across my face; satisfied having been on two wheels with a front basket.

Sticky and happy, it occurred to me that Thailand has made me lighter....both packs have each lost about 2 pounds (I got rid of some stuff) and I've lost about 3 pounds (while guzzling water all day). My Prana pants are hanging off my waist and I refuse to wear my belt in this heat. I think it needs proper laundering to get it tighter again.....you know, I haven't been as much of a dirtbag as I thought - been washing the same worn racerback, sport bra and undie for 8 days straight. Makes me wonder why I even have the other clothes in my pack....oh right, I've got another 11 months to go.

Still gotta load pics of BKK onto FB...but it is just too much for this tired brain right now. And since the lunar eclipse is a right off (damn you clouds!) I am done for tonight.

The crickets are chatty after the refreshing rain. What will day 2 bring me?

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Last Overnight in Bangkok

June 14th 2011, 20:51
Location: Bangkok Thailand
Why: Gastronomic.

It is my last overnight stay in Bangkok and I'm anxious to move on to the next exciting adventure.

Despite the noise and pollution and getting some of the mandatory touristy stuff out of the way, the last couple of days have been enjoyable. Yesterday, I met a lovely girl from Sweden name Anne. Upon making my way to Golden Mountain, I stopped Anne on the street to ask a question and before I knew it, I'd forgotten all about Golden Mountain and we were chatting on about meditation. Turns out she was not staying too far from my location so we decided to walk back together and talk some more. She gave me info on the Buddhist Meditation Center in Chiang Mai to which I will be heading in a few weeks' time. I love connecting with like-minded people this way - by chance.

We had dinner together whilst waiting for her bus to take her to Koh Tao (which I will be heading to in 3 days). After email exchanges and hugs, I snapped a cute picture of us.

She is a dead ringer for Heather Barton, especially her profile:

I hope we meet up again some day. There was a really nice energy happening between us. This is all the more reason now to visit Sweden.

Being here in the rainy season has it's advantages - the obvious cooling effect. Hence making the last two days a bit less sticky. Still, the mozzies love my blood type **scratches legs ferociously**

With the touristy stuff out of the way, I have been exploring beyond the Khao San Road area and have wandered into all kinds of side streets with weird smells and families just living life. I have seen many different faces of Thais, all so interesting. All with a story to tell, even the countless tuk tuk drivers.

Yesterday, while out wandering, I came across a little shop selling snow cups: Green Tea Shaved Ice with Mango and Longan fruit - deeelicious:


Yesterday, I watched as my cook prepared my fiery pad thai with veggie spring roll:


Tonight, I had a yummy Tom Yum Noodle Soup: Sweet, spicy, tangy and savoury all in one spoon!

Next up is a 90min bus ride about 80km north of Bangkok to a city called Ayutthaya, Thailand's ancient capital before it relocated to Bangkok. Check out time is noon and I still have to plan my Koh Tao trip.....oh and I can't forget to pick up my Vietnam Visa....

Friday, 10 June 2011

Bangkok: An Assault on the Senses

June 11, 2011; 11:40
Location: Bangkok Thailand
Why: What are Mangosteens?
            
I got into Bangkok tired and aching after more than 24hrs of time travel which included three separate flights with 3hr layovers between each flight and two time zones. After an hour of customs and luggage collection, I was dismayed to learn the public transit that was supposed to take me close to my hostel discontinued on June 1st. I was a week late. Now what?­


No sooner had I started pacing back and forth at the taxi terminal when a Thai woman approached me and offered airport taxi service with her company. After some negotiating, what I thought was a good deal to get dropped off at my location later turned out to be a serious rip off. I had paid 800Baht (B) for the “Airport Taxi” service when I could have haggled with a regular metered taxi for half that price. No matter now, considering my mental state, I was just glad to get through the humidity in a comfy, air conditioned taxi. And in a few weeks, it won’t even faze me anyway.

Well, what can I tell you about Bangkok so far? It is an assault on the senses; in all sense of the word. Worlds collide here in a steady stream of chaotic order. My heart races at the pace motorists whiz by on the often crowded sidewalks and crooked side streets. This is a city of visual overload, every corner a new surprise awaits the eyes - good and bad. It is also Election Season and there are 40, count 'em 40 candidates! That’s a lot of billboards.

With my limited knowledge of Bangkok, I may have done myself a disservice by staying near the tourist ghetto of Thanon Khao San. Fortunately, I am staying a couple of streets off that at the lovely Nap Park Hostel on Thanon Tani and the Orchid Hostel on Thanon Rambuttri. There is a certain comfort in being close to other Western travelers but mostly, I feel somewhat let down. Perhaps by my insecurity of traveling solo in a frenetic city. But definitely by the characteristics of these types of travelers. They are the same as they are at home – they stick together, are loud, brash, and all they want to do is drink cheap beer all the time. Am I generalizing?

Bangkok is a big , dirty and polluted city. My lungs are blackened from riding in the tuk tuks, darting across the multi-laned streets through never ending traffic and walking by the countless vehicles idling the shit out of their gasoline. I have enjoyed the myriad of street vendors offering up all kinds of delicious aromas that tickle my taste buds and attack my nose. Some smells have left me with a slight gag reflex while others have invited me into bowls of warm goodness. Where else can you get a plate of fresh shrimp phad thai and veggie spring roll for only B60, a mere $2 – yes, this is true. Or how about a piping hot bowl of noodle soup made to order for B40? That vente sized sweetened ice coffee for B20 had me drinking it for hours while browsing the insanely cheap fares for sale at Pratunam’s market. Ever have a mangosteen? Delicious!

Here are some pics:


  

On my 1st full day of June 9th, I met up with my cousin Jenny who is also on holidays with relatives that I was to meet for the first time ever. A posse of aunts, uncles, cousins and their children greeted me when I arrived at the Bangkok Centre Hotel via taxi – B150 for a 5km trip. Do the math, it’s cheap – and that’s the “tourist” price. In fact, I’ve been able to get around by taxi steadily at this rate. I’m sure I can haggle down to B130 but when extreme heat is on your back and the dogs are barkin’, I usually just want to get into a car with AC and forget the traffic frenzy. 

For example:
Back to family…I met an Aunt who looks so similar to my Grandmother, it reminds me that I, myself, am my mother’s daughter. I am still blown away by how much my Uncle resembles my father. The way their hair kind of flips up at the back, the thoughtful walk with their hands clasp behind their back. But mostly their face and facial expressions, it is uncanny to the tee. Probably the one difference I see in them is while my dad is more outgoing and vocal, my Uncle is more reserved with a quiet demeanour. It is so lovely to meet new family members. I look forward to more when I visit Vietnam in the coming months and discovering my roots.

Speaking of which, today, I tracked down the Vietnam Embassy to get my Visa for such mentioned trip. I was B100 short of the B1800 needed to process the form. Fortunately, a cute Californian named Jeff bailed me out after I just got done detailing him the difference between the express and regular process price. Needless to say, I was a little embarrassed but he was totally cool about it. These are the little moments I love about travel. Now I wait for 5 days until my Visa is ready. While I wait, I will check out the obligatory sites. But after four days in Bangkok, I am ready to leave.

I almost forgot to mention one of the best things so far in Bangkok was meeting my bunkmate, Judith, a 25yr old from the Netherlands. We hit it off right away and exchanged stories of how we got to where we are. I showed her the Thailand episode on Departures which she enjoyed which makes me ecstatic. And like that episode, she is making her way to Ayutthaya. I will likely follow suit once the Visa clears.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Stumbling Into a Djembe Session

June 3rd, 2011; time unknown
Location: Galway Ireland
Why: Because we all need to stumble onto djembes.

My second post was going to be a "catch up" to what I've been up to here in Galway but I gotta get today's experience down first.

I am still smiling from ear to ear. After a leisurely day sprawled out on the grass at Eyre Square eating, reading and people watching, it was close to 5:30pm when the sun hit Vancouver's equilavent of 2pm in the sky. I decided it was finally cool enough to go for a 10k run.

As I made my way back to my amazing living quarters (aka Jen and Hale's kickass flat), I decided to walk along the Canal instead of the street. My heart skipped a beat when I stumbled upon some people setting up some djembes, stools and candles. After inquiring and being invited to join, I decided the 10k can wait another day.

What happened in the next 2hrs will likely be an experience I will soon not forget. The instructor lead us into rhythms and songs from Ghana. Each progression of beats got more complex, adding texture and fullness that I remember from drumming back in Vancouver. The sounds permeated into our bodies and a wonderful sense of connectedness was felt by everyone, including passersby who stopped to take photos.

Experiences like these remind me to march to the beat of my own drum.


Big K, if you're reading this post, I know you know the feeling these djembes have on the soul. Russell would be proud.