Bali: The Island of Life

The sounds of Bali are what give the island its magic. If you listen, there is never a moment not graced by the song of a bird, the croaking of a frog, or the chirp of an insect. You are always surrounded by the sounds of life and by the lusciousness that is the trees and the flowers of Bali. You are enveloped by nature, soothed by the peaceful rustling of trees, and entranced by the calls of the locals for taxis, clothing and the like. In a yoga class in Ubud, my teacher was telling the class about the first class she had taken there. She said she remembered not the teacher or the postures or the studio, but the sounds of Bali. This has become what I remember most too.

img_1525

Our first destination in Bali was Ubud. Known for its relaxed vibes and yoga culture, it was an easy choice for me. We arrived in Denpasar, at the Southern tip of Bali, at the only airport on the island. We were picked up by a taxi from our hotel, and one of the staff members named Herry accompanied us on the hour long ride. His sweet smile, kindness and helpfulness have stuck with me, and as we drove into Ubud he pointed out places to eat, drink and explore. Our room was luxurious, with the biggest bathroom and bed we had seen on the trip, and a patio right beside the pool. We felt like queens in our own little Balinese paradise. Our hotel was down a quiet, bumpy back road that offered the most peace and quiet on the trip so far. Locals worked and lived along the road, and always greeted us with gentle smiles and kind words.

img_5891

On our first morning we walked up to the main road, where cars, scooters and pedestrians filled the busy street, lined with cafes and shops. There were a lot of tourists here, and they seemed to outnumber the locals who sold food, clothing and souvenirs on the street. Everyone there seemed to be a taxi driver, and you couldn’t walk more than a hundred meters without being yelled at for a ride. We walked so much in Ubud, exhausted at the end of the day from the hours of walking to cafes and shops around the town.

img_6090

I was lucky enough to get to fulfill my yogi dream of practicing at the famous Yoga Barn in Ubud. The studio is right in the heart of the city, but offers its own tranquil, quiet oasis surrounded by jungle. It houses 5 different studios, and includes a cafe, juice bar and shop. Walking to class in the mornings allowed me to experience the streets of Ubud in the peace and quiet, where I would walk down empty roads surrounded by rivers, jungle and monkeys hanging out on the road. The classes at Yoga Barn are in open air studios, so you get to practice in the jungle air and accompanied by jungle sounds. One of the studios was surrounded by glass, and with the doors open you could hear the life outside; you felt part of the natural world around you. Another studio was up a set of stairs, and completely outside except for the covering over the roof. Feeling the breeze and the hum of life around you adds a whole other dimension to your practice. Birds and insects and the rustling of trees take you further into the moment.

img_6207

One of the best parts of Ubud was the abundance of vegan cafes, and I aimed to try as many as I could in the time I had. From tempe scrambles to raw vegan cheesecakes to smoothies and milkshakes, I was in a constant food coma. Each place was so unique and beautiful- it was overwhelming how many different places there were to experience.

img_6196

Ubud is home to the famous Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, where hundreds of Balinese long-tailed monkeys live in an area spanning 10 hectares. The park is dense with trees, and has a ravine running through the grounds that turns into a rocky stream at the bottom.

img_1505

The monkeys are free to leave to park grounds, and there are often a bunch of them on the street outside the park looking for food. They walk along the paths, sleep in the trees, and hold and protect their babies much like humans. You can feed them and get them to jump up on your shoulders by offering them food. They are relatively harmless, but will do anything for food, including jumping on you and trying to open up your backpack, biting you when you run out of food, or stealing your baguette right out of your bag as you try to walk down the street (yes, these all happened to me). I thought the monkeys were really cool until I actually had a few encounters with them, and I’m not so convinced anymore.

 

img_1446

One morning I got up at 1:30am to hike up Mount Batur, a semi-active volcano in north-east Bali. I was picked up by a car filled with other people crazy enough to trek up a volcano in the middle of the night, and we drove for an hour or so in the dark. We were given breakfast at about 3 in the morning, where local women cooked crepes under a tent in the night air. After breakfast we drove to the base of the volcano, with lake Batur glistening beside us and the stars incredibly bright in the sky. We got put into groups and given flashlights. The hike started relatively flat, and we set out at a good pace. I was thinking this was going to be a nice relaxing hike and that it wouldn’t be too strenuous. As we continued, we could see groups of glittering lights ahead of us: the other groups making their way up the side of the mountain. Dots of lights danced up what looked like an impossibly steep mountainside, as if floating in the air, and the climb began to get steeper. After an hour or so we were into rocky terrain, where we had to push ourselves up the steep incline, all of us wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. About 2 hours after we had started, just as the sun was beginning to cast a pale magenta over the horizon, we arrived at the first platform on top of the volcano.

img_6020

There was a higher point, and I asked if we could go all the way up. Eventually our whole group started the ascent, and the loose sand and steep path made for a hard, slow climb. We got to the peak just as the sun was breaking through the horizon, orange and yellow light expanding in all directions, and for the first time we were able to see our surroundings. Dozens of other hikers sat sipping tea and coffee on the ridge, taking in the incredible sight. In front of us were mountains, with the lake underneath, and the sun rising steadily behind the mountain tops, the world becoming brighter. Behind us the mountain dove into a deep canyon, with another peak rising up beyond. The clouds below us swirled to look like water, and the sky changed continuously, oranges and pinks dancing like brush strokes, the sun finally breaking free from the clouds and emerging a golden orb. Sitting on top of the mountain surrounded by people but also alone, I felt a bit lonely, but also incredibly grateful and absolutely astonished at the world we live in.

img_6027

The way down seemed somehow even steeper than the way up, and the hundreds of us on the mountain made our way down slowly over the sliding rocks, a thread of humans serpentining our way down the cliffside. I met a girl from Sweden who had been studying in Australia for the last few months, and we had both come on the trek alone. Monkeys ran around on one of the flatter areas, and one jumped up on my shoulder, which I thought was pretty cute, until it decided to freak out and try to bite my finger off. We walked down into the canyon and saw the slits in the rock where steam poured out, proving the volcano was still somewhat active. By the time we made our way down the mountain my legs were toast, and felt like jelly underneath me. We drove back to the city, and I got back to my room and took a long nap.

img_6069

That evening I met up with the girl I had met on the hike, Josephine, and we got a late dinner at a cafe. I walked the long walk through the quiet streets back to our hotel, the air still hot and humid even at night, and I heard something behind me and then a scream. Turning around, I saw a scooter lying on its side on the road, and a  car stopped in the middle of an intersection. In typical Balinese fashion, everyone rushed to the scene to make sure everyone was okay, and within a minute everyone was on their way again, unharmed. I thought how it was probably just as well we hadn’t ended up renting scooters in Ubud.

img_6102

On our last full day in Ubud, we explored some temples, including Ubud Palace. The temples in Bali were much different than the ones in Thailand, and I found them so much more beautiful.  They are made mainly of stone, and filled with the most stunning statues of dragons, elephants and other sacred animals. Even the Starbucks looked out onto a temple, in front of which was a huge pond filled with lotus flowers, vibrant pink and deep green.

img_1527

We visited the Art Market, where there was apparently a famous Eat Pray Love scene filmed. The market was huge, with shops indoors and out, kind of like a huge complex. We bought rings, shorts, and I got to practice my bartering skills. I bought a hat from an older Balinese woman, and after agreeing on a price I told her how sweet she was. She kept kissing my cheeks and hugging me, and even gave me some of the bananas she was selling. I couldn’t help but feel sad for our culture, for the lack of love in our everyday encounters. People won’t even look each other in the eye, let alone show total, unashamed compassion for another person. We took advantage of the cheap Balinese massages, and went for a 2 hour massage and body scrub that only cost us $20. They are pretty amazing, and I went multiple times while we were in Bali. We left Ubud the next day, and had to say goodbye to both the beautiful city and our beautiful hotel room. We flew to Perth, and after 4 nights there we returned to Bali, this time to Tulamben.

img_1563

Tulamben beach is on the north-east coast of Bali, and is known for its diving. After completing my Open Water Certification in Thailand, all I wanted to do was keep diving. I was told the diving in Bali is even better, and that there is a shipwreck off Tulamben beach from World War II called the USAT Liberty. Torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1942, it begins only 15 meters off shore, stretching the length of 150 meters. I had my mind set on diving it before we went home, and so we decided to spend our last few days in Bali in Tulamben at a dive resort. Arriving back to the Bali airport felt like coming home. The familiar humidity and the loud, busy streets comforted me; it was so nice to be back. We drove about 3 hours through the bustling streets filled with cars and people and the relentless honking of horns. Finally arriving at our resort, we were grateful for beds and an air conditioner. The resort overlooks the ocean, with a beach of smooth, black stones formed from volcanic rock. The water looks dark because of the dark rocks below, despite it being so clear. I signed up for an early morning dive the next morning, and went for another massage in the evening.

img_6680

In the morning I woke up at 6 and walked down to the water to the dive shop. I got my wetsuit on, checked my gear, and then walked down with 4 other divers and our 2 guides to the truck where we sat with our gear in the back. Local women with coiled towels on their heads carried two air tanks at a time on their heads, to and from the truck, and up and down the beach. I was nervous to dive for the first time without an instructor, and to be doing it alone, but also so excited to finally see the famous wreck. We did a shore dive, so we walked into the water from the beach, over the large rocks, and swam out into water.  The ocean floor sloped downward, and dropped off sharply at a ridge. The water was a brilliant blue, and fish of all colours surrounded me. The wreck started only a short distance off the shore, and huge pieces of the ship were scattered down the ocean floor. The grey of the ship was contrasted by the vibrant plants, fish and other life that had made the surface of the wreck their home. Beams and other pieces of the wreckage covered the ocean floor. We went through one of the windows, into what would have been the interior of the ship, but was now mostly open with chunks of wreckage falling in different directions. I got to hold on to the steering wheel, covered in green algae and crumbling on the edges. The history was incredibly powerful, and it was almost impossible to imagine this boat sailing the ocean 70 some years ago. I took in the colours and the underwater word around me, knowing I wouldn’t see it again for some time.

liberty-wreck-2-fatima-mar
(I don’t have any photos so I stole this one from the internet- sorry!)

Our last few days in Bali were hard for me, knowing that I had to leave this beautiful paradise soon. It was gloomy and storming, lightning awakening the night sky in bursts of light over the ocean. We went for one last ocean swim, into the warm waves that envelop you like a big blanket on a cold night. I used the goggles we had found on one of our dives in Thailand, and looked down at the plants and fish that lived below. The water was a dark turquoise, foggy in the distance where the visibility ended, and blue, purple, striped and rainbow fish swam just below me. Diving through the water, swimming with the fish and taking in the unbelievable underwater world, I had no doubt that I’ll dive for the rest of my life.

img_6751

When we finally had to say goodbye to Bali, we got in our cab for the 3 hour journey back to the airport. Along the way we drove through villages where people sold food on the street, and kids ran home from school in uniforms. Rice fields stretched out into the distance, fields of vibrant green, mountains on the horizon. We flew to Bangkok where we stayed for 2 nights in preparation for our long trip home. I became more and more ready to come home- it started to feel real that I would get to hug my family and sleep in my own bed again.

img_6775

Now back home and slowing settling into my old routines (and a 16 hour difference in time zones) I’m struggling to sum up 6 weeks of incredible adventure and learning experiences. I don’t think you really can. I don’t think you can ever explain in totality the awesomeness of travelling the world to somebody else- you just have to do it yourself. So get out there and see the world! Just book the ticket and show up- experiences you could never imagine are waiting. New ways to see the world and most importantly to see people. We all need a reminder of just how connected we all are in this world of disconnect. How could you possibly grow to your full potential and never see how other people live? I believe understanding is key to any sort of substantial change, and by living in another culture, surrounded by different people, customs and languages, you are forced to open up your eyes and burst the comfortable bubble we so often live in. I know I’m not the same person I was when I stepped on the plane to Bangkok 7 weeks ago, and that’s pretty damn awesome.

img_6051

Thank you SO much for taking the time to read my posts. If you followed along with my entire journey, I feel so grateful (and kind of surprised) that you would want to listen to my ramblings- but I really appreciate it. Love and light to all of you.

Advertisements

Perth: The City That Never Sleeps

Flying above Australia, you first see the endless, reddish, rocky landscape of the desert below. You can almost feel the dust and the heat that must live in that kind of environment. Then, as if you blinked and missed something, the water of the Indian Ocean comes into view, and the sprawling city of Perth sits between the deep blue water and the desert. The roofs of the houses are almost all a red-brown colour, just like the desert, spreading out for miles. Already things feel different from the Asian countries we had visited so far. The buildings are taller, there is more glass, less crumbling concrete and tin roofs. The trees look more like the trees at home, though there are still palm trees which seem so out of place to me. The city delivers this stark contrast with its immaculate cleanliness, cars staying in their own lanes, and the relative quiet that seems almost eery after one month in Asia.

img_6273

On our way out of the airport, we met two other backpackers who were looking for a hostel. We all took a bus into the city centre, from which we tried to make our way to the place we had booked. One of them was actually a youtuber that makes travel videos, one of which I had watched before coming on our trip! Driving on the bus through the suburbs and industrial areas I couldn’t help but feel out of place- I missed the calm chaos of the streets I had walked only a day before. Once in the city, we found ourselves turned around in the metropolis of the two-storey downtown. High-end shops and restaurants and businesswomen and men dressed in perfect clothing surrounded us as the four of us sweaty backpackers trudged through the foreign work day routine. Multiple people asked us if we needed directions, and in their friendly Australian way they directed us toward our hostel. One man pointed us the right way, then called after us a minute later. “Follow me”he said, “I have a treat for you”. Of course we were a little unsure, but the four of us followed him into a huge glass building, where he scanned a key card and we waited for an elevator. We got on, and he told us we were in for a surprise. We got off the elevator into an entire floor that was completely empty and lined with windows. We were on the 50th floor of the tallest building in Perth. Below us lay the entire city, stretching out in all directions- the ocean one way, royal blue, and the city sprawl the other. Ferries came to and from the main land, and people walked like ants on the streets below. The man who had brought us up there ended up being the maintenance guy for the building, and he gave us a bird’s eye overview of the city and tips on what to do during our time in Perth.

img_1567

Once we had found our hostel, we walked to King’s Park- a huge park in the middle of the city taking up 20 hectors. We met up with a friend from work who is currently travelling Australia, and two of her friends. We began buy walking through the botanical gardens- the flowers of Australia lining the gravel path as we meandered through the forest. The path followed the curve of the ocean, and as we walked we were given different views of the sea and the city. We walked for hours- through gravel, sand, grass and cement sidewalks. The park was stunningly well kept, and we hardly saw anyone else on our journey through the greenery. Finally we looped back to where we had started, and we got a bus back into the city centre to buy groceries from Cole’s. Realizing all we could afford in the city would be to make our own food, we took full advantage of the hostel kitchen and the free breakfast while we were there. I have never eaten so many peanut butter sandwiches on white bread in my life.

IMG_6417.jpg

On our first full day we went to visit Penguin Island- a small island just off the coast of Perth that thousands of “little penguins”- the world’s smallest breed of penguin- call home. We took a train- much like the metro- out of the city, with the ocean and skyline behind us. We transferred to a bus that took us to Penguin Road- a quiet street lined with summer homes. We walked to the ticket centre and got 2 ferry tickets for the 5 minute ride to Penguin Island. We paid more to go see the rescue penguin feeding, as the penguins spend most of their days out at sea looking for food, and its not likely that you’ll see them in the wild. The water was a crystal clear turquoise, the sun reflecting the different layers of the water- light, medium and dark blue. On the island we went in to a small building with a pool in the centre, where a dozen tiny, adorable penguins slept, waddled and swam around. During the feeding they dove through the water, incredibly quick to get to their fish.

img_1643

Afterward we walked around the island, realizing that is was much more a bird island than it was penguin. The boardwalk was covered in bird crap, and we were surrounded on all sides and above by birds of all kinds, mainly seagulls. You could say birds aren’t my favourite animal. The island was covered in dense grass and bushes, where the penguins supposedly make lay their eggs into borrows. We found a stretch of beach with the biggest waves, and made our way into the water. It was as cold as it was clear, and the temperature was quite a shock from the previous warm Thailand ocean. I swam out into the waves and did some snorkelling, a reef below with different coloured plants and fish swirling around. The cool water felt magical as I floated and swam through it, letting it cool me off and remind me just how lucky I was to be there. We continued walking around the island and saw pelicans, their beaks bellowing on the bottom, float majestically through the air above. We took the crowded ferry back to the main land, and made our way back to our hostel.

img_1684

That evening, after it got dark, we took a bus to King’s Park. We got off to late, and ended up walking back along the highway bordering the the park to get to the entrance. Once inside, we walked along the main road. On our left the city centre stood, towering above the ocean that stretched out from the buildings. The city sparkled with the stars against the black backdrop, casting golden light onto the dark water below. The walk home led us past hundreds of people out on a Friday night; dressed up for events, stumbling down the road, enjoying the beautiful weather the evening offered. I missed the city then, and the luxuries of home. Though I wouldn’t give up any pat of this trip, I had forgotten how much I love city life.

img_1708

On our second day we had a beach day. We took another train out to Leighton beach, where we had to walk down the highway in the blistering heat trying to find the beach. Once we got to the water we ran straight in- icy and refreshing, we floated in its ebbing support until we had cooled off. The beach was full of people of all ages, and the bright blue water gleamed in the sunshine. The waves were pretty big, and kids rode them to the shore on boogey boards. We attempted this without boards or much luck, and after getting pummelled into the sand on the ocean floor by a big one, we called it a day. We got back on the train, heading back the way we came, and I got off at Cottesloe, where I walked down a long residential street to the end where Cottesloe beach stood. It was even more packed here, and I was getting exhausted from the heat of the day. The water was intensely refreshing once again, and so cold I even began shivering in the 35C heat outside. Young people swam and played in the waves, and after a little while longer in the searing sun, we were happy to take our sunburnt bodies back to the city.

img_6519

That evening, we headed out into the setting sun, casting golden shadows over the city. The buildings took on the colour of the sunset, and I smiled in the beauty of this faraway city. Bars and restaurants lined the streets, lighting it up and pumping out music, and the seemingly out of place Christmas lights glittered above the streets. We went for dinner, which was so expensive we tried not to think about it, and I desperately missed the prices of Southeast Asia.

img_6599

On our third day, we decided to explore the city at our own pace, starting in the area our hostel was in called Northbridge. It was a Sunday and the streets were quiet, most shops closed for they or opening later. The buildings offered some shade on another impossibly hot, cloudless day. A jazz band played outside a cafe, and we walked until we came to a courtyard that led up to a bridge over the highway below. Something was happening everywhere- a rooftop party one way, a carnival on the street below. The city centre has multiple roads for pedestrians only, wide walkways lined with high-end, two-story shops. The mix of buildings struck me the most. European-looking brick churches sit next to dark glass skyscrapers, while old fashioned taxi cars drive by.

img_6551

In the evening we walked down to Elizabeth Quay, on the water, where people were gathering for a concert that night and to watch the sun set over the water. A bridge arced across the water, and we walked across, taking in the skyline glistening in golden anticipation of the setting sun. Once over the bridge, I found a vegetarian restaurant that served East Indian food buffet style by donation. Finally a price that matched our budget. A huge line formed outside, and we were greeted by a kind man who handed up huge metal plates for food. I ate more rice and dahl than I should have, and we ate out on the balcony watching the sun fade beyond the water. It was dark when we left, and the bridge was now lit up- different colours continuously fading into one another. We walked back across, this time the skyline sparkling with city lights, the sky dark but still sprinkled with stars.

img_6625

On our last day, I woke up early and walked into the city for groceries for the day of travel ahead of us. It was Monday morning and I was enveloped by the work rush. Coffee stands with lines of people, the train station bustling with people coming into the city, people walking with purpose with their headphones in. I inhaled the hustle and bustle, knowing that it would be a very different kind of busy back in Bali. The city made home seem all that much closer, and I couldn’t help feeling excited to go back. I’ve been through so many waves on this trip- one day missing home, the next never wanting to leave. There is a feeling that is unique to travel- completely ungrounded from the life you left behind, but still and centred in a completely different way, a deeper way. Closer to truth.

img_1587

Walking through the crowds of people on their way to work, I realized how insane life can make us be. How we can get up in the morning and do the same thing every single day, and follow the exact same paths as everyone else, just because this is what we are told to do, told to be. To me, travelling to Australia isn’t like travelling to Asia, or another place with such a different culture and style of life. What Australia taught me wasn’t patience or kindness or the capacity of love, but exactly this- you can’t learn anything within your comfort one. So often we say we don’t like something or don’t feel completely comfortable somewhere, and therefore we shouldn’t be doing that thing or be in that place. In reality, there is nowhere else we should be. When things are easy nothing changes. We don’t evolve, we don’t become. I can’t wait to return to Australia, and hopefully get to see much more of it. But nothing can compare to the lessons and the beauty of a place that stretches you and tests you. I am far more grateful for the days I felt helpless and alone and had to dig within myself to keep going, than for the days when things felt easy. Those are the rewards we reap for continuing even when we aren’t sure what we are moving toward. For just getting up and continuing to live against the grain because something in our hearts is whispering for us to go there, to keep moving, to trust in the fact that whatever is happening will be something we can get through. I’m not going to say I believe that everything happens for a reason- as tempting as that belief may be- but I do believe that we are given situations that we can choose to handle with grace and trust, and take lessons from them, not negativity or self pity. All we can do is show up and be open to grow.

img_1676

Koh Phangan: The Island That Set My Soul on Fire

As I sit in the Denpasar airport in Bali, I struggle with how to begin this post. There hasn’t been a place on this trip that has affected me like the island of Koh Phangan. Thinking of this enchanting place, the words magical and miraculous come to mind. It felt like a place where dreams come true- as cheesy as that sounds. I look back on pictures, and I long to be on the sandy beaches, wading through the crystal clear turquoise water, and letting the wind blow freedom through my hair as I zip around the winding roads on a motorbike.

koh-phangan-12

The journey to the island was a long one- 33 consecutive hours and every form of transport imaginable. We went from Pai (in northern Thailand) all the way to the southern island of Koh Phangan in one shot. The trip consisted of a 3 hour bus ride from Pai to Chiang Mai in the morning, where we took a taxi to the train station, and boarded an overnight sleeper train to Bangkok. The train was 16 hours long, and ended up being one of my favourite forms of transportation thus far. The landscape of Thailand scrolled by, and the sun set over the mountainous jungle as we rattled through. The seats got folded into beds, and one bunk came down from above. In the evening they put up tables between the seats, and we got served a huge dinner. The beds were surprisingly comfier than our beds in previous hotels and hostels, and you had your own little curtain to pull closed when you were ready for bed. In typical Thailand style we arrived almost 2 hours late, at 7am the day after we had left Pai. The train station in Bangkok was buzzing with people, and dozens of tracks met up here, with trains of every colour parked at the station.
kohphangan2

We found a cab from the station and drove to the airport through the hectic Bangkok traffic. A man on a scooter got sandwiched between our cab and another car, and the guy chased after us screaming at our driver. This must be a pretty normal occurrence as our driver calmly looked forward and completely ignored the enraged man beside him. Once on our plane to Bangkok, I watched as the seemingly endless city stretched out and away below us. The urban jungle transitioned into forests of palm trees covering every inch of the landscape below, and we landed outside Surat Thani in the southern mainland of Thailand. After a long bus ride to Donsak Pier, we were finally welcomed by the bright turquoise water of the Pacific Ocean. Seeing the same ocean that surrounds my home in a completely different setting was a little bit surreal. The ferry took us across the sea and we finally stepped onto the island. The pier was in the main town, and our taxi wove through the bustling market. The roads were bumpy and hilly, lined with trees, and we travelled along the ocean, the blue water coming into view with every break in the tree line. We finally arrived at our resort, an adorable place called Seaflower Bungalows on the ocean on the west side of the island. The first thing we did was throw on our swim suits and run into the ocean. The water was unbelievably warm, and in the ocean’s waves I felt at home.
kohphangan3

Our first day on the island was one of complete relaxation. We lounged around in hammocks and on the beach all day reading, ordering food and drinks. I realized how lucky I was to be able to live like this, if only for a little while. Its so easy to forget and to stop living in gratitude when you get to wake up in beautiful new places everyday. In the evening we went by the dive shop that we did our PADI Open Water Certification through, and picked up our manuals. We ended up having to read and do quizzes all night, but finally got sleep, our minds buzzing with depth and pressure relationships.
kohphangan4

In the morning we walked back to the dive shop for day one of our course. Our instructor Thomas was an enthusiastic young guy from Paris with a thick French accent. In the morning we did classroom work, and after lunch we got fitted for wetsuits, fins, goggles, snorkels, BCDs and regulators- all of which made no sense to me at first. We drove up to a pool at another resort, and spent several hours going over different skills. I had only scuba dived one other time in Mexico, and getting back in the water was both exciting and nerve wracking. Trying to maintain a constant buoyancy is harder than it seems, and we had fun floating and swimming around the pool.

DCIM859GOPRO

On day two of our scuba diving we finally got to dive for real in the ocean. We had two dives planned at 12 meters each, and I was filled to the brim with nerves and excitement. We got picked up early in the morning, and piled into the open taxis with the other divers, our gear in bags in a trailer behind us. The ride through the island was lined with palm trees, huts and shops. The mountains of the island came into view, and we eventually made it to the pier where multiple diving boats waited to go out to the dive site. We boarded our blue boat on the glistening water, and left for Sail Rock, a popular dive site around a huge rock in the middle of the ocean, teeming with life all around. An hour ride later, we pulled up next to the boulder where several other diving boats were docked as well. We went down to the lower deck where all of the gear was, and set up our tanks, regulators and BCDs. Finally we were ready to dive, and I took a giant stride off the back of the boat into the warm ocean water. I put my mask under, and immediately I was struck with the image of hundreds of fish below me; an entirely new world right below the surface all along. I took my last breath above water and descended into the underwater paradise that awaited us. I couldn’t believe my eyes or stop smiling and laughing out of pure disbelief. The rock was covered with coral, clams, pink and purple marine plants that swayed gracefully with the current. Schools of hundreds of fish and huge barracuda swam around us, as if we were one of them. At one point Thomas pointed up to the surface, and right above us, its tentacles stretching meters long, was a ginormous pink jelly fish flowing fluidly through the water. I never wanted to come back up. Our 48 minute long dive felt like 5, and once we reached the surface we all rejoiced about how insanely awesome what we just did was. I couldn’t believe how in love I already was with diving- I wanted to go back under right away. After lunch and a rest, we did our second dive where we saw more of the small marine life; plants and sea snails stuck onto the sides of the rock. The colours were unbelievable- there was an overwhelming scene to take in every way you turned.
kohphangan5

Day three of diving included more classroom material and our final exam, which we passed with flying colours. Thomas had decided that instead of the pool we would do a shore dive off the beach and practice some skills in the ocean, then explore the nearby reef with out remaining air. We were so excited, and after lunch we got suited up and walked to the beach with all of our gear on. We had been warned that there were baby jellyfish in the water, but we went to check it out anyway. It turned out to be infested with them- we were constantly surrounded by hundreds of brown baby jellyfish. They stung every bare section of my skin, and although a couple of bites isn’t too bad, I got dozens of them. With no success in finding a better spot, we swam back to shore where I looked at my legs. Red streaks marked the places where their tentacles had zapped my skin, and my legs broke out in hives. One bite on my arm swelled up into a huge welt, and I tried not to give off how much pain I was in. At the shop I doused the bites in vinegar (a preffered option to having someone pee on you). We had to take all of our stuff of and go do our training in the pool again. It was definitely an experience I will never forget. That night was the full moon, and it blared a red tinged white in the dark sky, lighting up the night. Sitting on the beach soaking up its powerful light, I was so filled with potential and gratitude.
kohphangan6

When our last day of diving came around, I found myself unusually sad. The experience had been so eye opening and exciting that I didn’t want it to come to an end. We were back on the boat for two more dives, this time to 18 meters. Unfortunately the visibility wasn’t good at all that day, and we mostly stuck to the rock and surrounding reef. By our second dive the visibility had gotten so bad that I could barely even see Thomas in front of me. Looking out into the open water I could see only dark blue, foggy nothingness, so I focused my gaze on the rock and on Thomas in front of me. The current was incredibly strong as well, and swimming against it took it all out of us. When we were finished our dive and got back on the boat, we were congratulated on being officially certified divers! Back at the shop we filled out some paperwork over beers and got our pictures taken for our certification cards- we were sunburnt and tired and the pictures weren’t our best. We thanked everyone repeatedly for the incredible experience, then drove back to our resort.
kohphangan7

That night was the famous Full Moon Party, so the first thing we did was nap in preparation. We took a taxi out to the south end of the island where the party is held, along with almost 20 other young people from our resort. We were dropped off on a street filled with shops, food and drink stands, and of course body painters. We got our arms painted with flowers, lizards and stars and headed down to the beach. The music reaches you before anything else- thumping and deafening, it shakes the whole beach. The entire beach is lined with neon bars, and different music is played at different spots along the water. We each got a bucket, a deathly mix of liquor, mix and red bull, and joined the thousands of people dancing and hanging out on the sand. Fire dancers spun burning flames around their bodies, the waves moved up and down the shore, and the moon hung white, bright, and beautiful in the sky. After a few hours and one lost friend, we were exhausted and ready to head home. We found a taxi, and joined a guy so drunk that his lanky limbs flailed around as he zigzagged down the road, finally collapsing on the bench in the back of the cab. We had to wait around for the cab to fill up, and we finally left for our resort with a bunch of other partiers. We were all very grateful for our beds, and we slept until late morning.

DCIM100GOPRO
This is as close to a picture as I got, but once again I took a ton of videos which will be in our travel video!

The next day was for recovery, and we all lounged around the resort reading and taking in the ocean. A sadness had crept in that I couldn’t identify- so many amazing things coming to a close, perhaps. Sadness is an interesting thing; the more you fight it, the heavier it gets. I’ve found that accepting your state as it is is the only way to become truly free. Realizing you are not your emotions is extremely powerful, and allows you to move on, even with those feelings accompanying you. That evening I swam way out into the ocean while the sun was setting. I find my centre in the sea. The way the water supports you and reminds you that it will always move with the tide, and that the sun will always rise and fall with brilliant strokes of orange and pink and gold. I felt gratitude slip back in.
kohphangan9

Our last day was all you could hope for on a beautiful tropical island. We rented motorbikes, which none of us had ever driven before, and drove to the dive shop where they let us rent snorkelling gear for free. We drove to the remote Haad Kohm beach, up and down hilly dirt roads filled with huge potholes and deep ridges. Finally at the beach, we parked our bikes and walked down the steep hill to the water.
kohphangan10

The beach was in a bay, and the sun shone on the water, creating a glistening turquoise. We went out into the water with goggles, snorkels and fins, and swam a fair way out into the sea. Below us were fish of different shapes and colours, clams, corals, rocks and huge sea slugs. We swam around for quite a while, then hung out on the beautiful beach. It was the most picturesque scene, with the bright blue water, sunny sky and jungle around. On our way back from the beach we took a different route, and this time we drove down perfectly paved roads lined with palm trees. This is paradise. In that moment I knew I would have to come live on the island in the future. We went for lunch at a vegetarian restaurant in a treehouse-like setting, then dropped of our snorkelling equipment. That evening we went for a sunset swim, and again I let the ocean teach me both the fleeting and steadiness of life. I said goodbye to the ocean and went up to bed.
kohphangan11

For the first time on this trip I felt a strong resistance to going home. The island reminded me about the limitless of this life, and of the infinite possiblities we have during our time on Earth. I felt stifled by my regular life, by the seemingly boring routines and day to day obligations. I realized with an almost painful clarity how much more adventure I crave. How I ache to meet people with wild dreams and a fearlessness for life. I uncovered so many truths about myself during our time on Koh Phangan. Dreams and desires that I hadn’t yet become aware of. Possibilities and infinite potential- opening my eyes up to the miraculous. We need not be held back by the norms or by judgements. It is up to us and only us to take control of our own lives. Nobody is going to hand you the life you have only dreamed of- it is yours to go out and create. The potential is there, we are here to manifest it into reality. Some flame was ignited inside of me during my time on Koh Phangan, and I don’t think it is ever going to die.

kohphangan1

Chiang Mai (Part 2) & Life in Pai

I think Chiang Mai will always be ‘home’ for me in Thailand. There is something about the politely crazy drivers, the way the Old City retains the magic of its history, and of course the beautiful, smiling locals that treat you like family. The most amazing part of our time in Chiang Mai, and one of my favourite parts of the trip so far, was going to  Buo Tang waterfall, or the “sticky waterfall”. A bumpy hour and a half drive north of the old city, Buo Tang waterfall is a 150 meter tall waterfall with limestone deposits that actually make the rocks sticky! As we made our way out of the heavy, hot city air, the air flowing through our taxi (which is basically a bench in the back of a closed off pick-up truck) became cooler and fresher. Rice fields and mountains came into view, and the only buildings in sight were wooden huts with straw or tin metal roofs. Finally in the jungle, the air got even cooler and damper, and the pot-holed road we were on sent us flying around in the back of our taxi. Surrounded by dense, tropical forest, we could hear the sound of the falls in the distance. Once we finally made it to the park the falls are part of, we got out and walked toward the top of the falls. Below us, the falls rushed downward over the rolling rocks between the trees, with mountains soaring up all around. We walked down some old, wooden stairs to get to the bottom of the falls, and started our way up. The deposits allow you to literally climb up and down the rushing waterfall with your hands and feet, and not fall down. It was incredibly steep at some points, but you barely notice as you climb with the support of the sticky rocks. My first step onto the rocks was like being a kid again- I could not stop laughing and smiling and I started running up, down and around the rocks like a happy idiot. Getting down to the very bottom, I let the falls cascade over me, cleansing so much of the worries that had accompanied me on the trip thus far. As we made our way up, I felt more and more trust in the rocks under my feet, and quickly ascended the steepest parts of the falls. We found a spot where the water was flowing well, and sat on the rocks, allowing the cool water to rush around us. The sun shone through the lush, green world around us. There is something so magically peaceful about the quiet, jungle world. Everything is well at the waterfall.

IMG_5187.JPG
I wasn’t able to get any good pictures on the falls (due to the water), but I did get some great go pro videos that will make their way into the travel movie we are making. Stay tuned!

The next day, we did our first (and last) guided tour. We decided to do a full day trip including hot springs, the famous White Temple, the Golden Triangle, a market, and the Baanam Museum. The tour went northeast of Chiang Mai, and turned around all the way at the point where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet. We left Chiang Mai early in the morning , and drove for about an hour to make it to the hot springs. This ended up being a couple of holes full of bubbling water in the middle of a parking lot with a 711. After that, we drove another hour to Wat Rong Khun, or the White Temple. This ended up being the coolest part of the tour, and made the whole thing worth it in the end. The White Temple was built by an artist from Chiang Rai, and is made entirely of white material and reflective glass. The result is spectacular- like a white castle in a fairytale. The amount of tourists- many disrespectful of the no photography and conservative clothing rules- was somewhat disappointing. Nevertheless, the temple was breathtaking. You first walk over a bridge, with “hell” below you, into “heaven”. Creepy clay hands reach up all around you, and devil’s horns line the entryway.

img_5297

Entering the temple, you first see a monk sitting cross legged in front of you (which I believe was a wax sculpture) with two Buddha statues above. The walls are one giant, unbelievably intricate painting depicting this generation. Life-like paintings of spider man, batman, and every other character you can imagine from our time have a place on the walls. On the wall opposite the Buddha are the eyes of the devil, one encompassing Osama Bin Laden, the other George Washington.

img_1114

After the white temple we drove another hour to the Golden Triangle, where the Ruak River and Mekong River converge and join the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. We took a boat across to Laos, where we visited a questionable black market where they sold whiskey made with scorpions, lizards, snakes, turtles and tiger penises (yes really). Shop owners yelled at you to look at their knock-off hand bags, and children begged for money on the street. It was somewhat of a disturbing experience, and we were happy to be on our boat back to Thailand, where we got on our bus again and drove to the Baandam Museum, or the Black House.

img_1206

An artist- apparently an animal-loving Buddhist who died 2 years ago- bought a huge area of land in Chiang Rai and on it built many different buildings. Most of the building material was black, and the structures were made of different woods, including teak. There were some interesting art pieces and animal bones, furs and skins everywhere which really gave me the creeps. I appreciated the eccentricity of the architecture, but I had a hard time understanding the need for animal carcasses in every nook and cranny- I guess us artists really are just crazy.

img_5251

Our last stop of the tour was a hill tribe up in the mountains, which we were unaware was part of the tour. They had long-necked women as an option which we opted out of. The disturbing aspects of the tourism industry became very apparent that day, and to show up in a tour bus full of foreigners to exploit somebody’s culture wasn’t really my thing. The drive back to Chaing Mai was a long 3 hours, but the stars shone brightly outside my window and I felt grateful for the experience. The next day was our last full day in Chaing Mai, and we finally got around to doing some temple walking. We picked a few of the more prominent temples to visit, and set out in the morning after a big breakfast at our favourite cafe called Blue Diamond.

img_5320

All three of the temples we visited were similar, and it became clear why the acronym AFT is so popular among tourists (another f-ing temple). One of these temples was Wat Chedi Luang. The modern temple was huge, with red carpet flooring and rising golden pillars that stretched up to the high ceiling along both sides. Glass chandeliers glittered from above, and a beautiful, gigantic Buddha sat before us at the centre, with a smaller one on each side. Behind the temple was the most amazing part- a stone pyramid structure that was built in the 14th century. The bricks had crumbled off the corners, and the golden buddha at the top glittered in the sunlight. We got to chat with a local monk- a personal dream of mine- and ask him about his culture while we learned about ours. The last temple we visited was the oldest in Chaing Mai, built in 1297. This one too had a modern temple as well as a stone structure behind. It was stunning, with golden trim along the top and elephant carvings along the base. The ancient history was astounding, and I felt very lucky to be able to experience it.

img_1303The next day we finally said goodbye to Chaing Mai, and headed up in a bus to a little mountain town in northern Thailand called Pai. The roads up to the town are narrow, steep and winding. The sharp turns are notorious for causing car sickness, but luckily nobody on our bus got sick. The ride was stunning, with lush mountains cropping out of every break in the dense jungle trees. As we drove into Pai we noticed how the roads held more people than motorists, and all of the cute little street food vendors and cafes lining the street. We got dinner (I’m going to miss two dollar pad thai) and then explored the night market. It was very much like a mini Chiang Mai, but with more hippies and much quieter. Every person we met- shop and cafe owners, servers and other travellers- were extremely welcoming and helpful. On our first day we had already found our favourite spot- a cafe called Art in Chai that really did have the best chai I’ve ever had. That night I got the biggest, most delicious falafel I have ever had, and we explored the energetic night market again. The streets transform from quiet during the day to bustling, sparkling markets at night.

img_5391

Unfortunately, the next day we were all plagued with some sort of sickness. I got too much sun and was in bed with heat exhaustion for a few hours. My poor dad woke up to a panicked phone call from me at 4am his time in which I asked him if I should go to the hospital. Thank god for calm and supportive parents. I eventually started feeling better, but as soon as that happened both of my travel buddies were hit with food poisoning. Needless to say it was a brutal night, in which none of us got much sleep, and we ended up missing our waterfall and canyon tour. The next day while both of them were still sick in bed, I did a bit of solo sight seeing. I went for a big breakfast and then headed to a garden cafe to read. I decided to hike up to Wat Mae Yen, a temple up in the mountains of Pai with a white buddha.

img_5468

The walk up was beautiful, crossing streams and up winding roads surrounded by jungle and mountains. The town behind me, I reached the entrance to the temple. There was a huge white stone staircase leading up to the white buddha, which rewarded me with a beautiful view of Pai and the surrounding area. The mountains in the distance and rolling hills below were magical. The mountain air and sunshine cleansed my soul and ignited new hope for what was coming. I hope to return to Pai one day and see more of what the beautiful landscape has to offer.

img_5513

I can’t believe how fast this trip is going, and I’m trying my best to soak in every second of this wonderful adventure. I really have fallen in love with Thailand, and I know I will be returning soon. My next post will be all about the unimaginably beautiful island of Koh Phangan (which I have already left- I’m very behind, I know!) that I have decided will be my home soon. As always, I am so grateful to all of you who take the time to read these posts, and I hope you feel like a piece of you is here with me (because it is).

Chiang Mai: The City Unchanged By Time (Part 1)

Change of pace. Change of scenery. Change of heart.

Chiang Mai gave all that and more to me. In fact, the 10 days we spent in Chiang Mai were so full of adventure and emotional shifts that I have divided the time into two posts. Peeking over from the isle seat on our bumpy flight north from Bangkok, I caught my first glimpse of the lush, rolling mountains below. Flooded with the feeling of excitement and the familiarity of the mountains back home in Kelowna, I could feel this place had something special to offer. Walking into the airport and seeing only a few luggage belts, instead of the chaos that awaits you in the Bangkok airport, I breathed in the first calm I had felt in days. We stepped out into the heat wave that seems to sweep through with increasing vigor everyday. After our taxi driver figured out where we needed to be taken, through bouts of yelling, laughter and hand signals with his fellow drivers, he led us to our cab through the hoards of cars and people on the airport parking lot. The short drive into the city took us down brick roads, past soaring gold temples, and past hundreds of locals zigzagging their way through traffic on scooters. After about 15 minutes, we came to a crumbling wall made of redding brick that formed a gate through which we entered into Chiang Mai’s Old City. Inside is the oldest part of Chiang Mai (although Chiang Mai means “new city”, it was actually founded in 1296) , bursting with culture, street food, markets and the most ancient temples. We turned down one of the alleys that make up most of the roads in the old city- cobblestone, quiet and winding- and arrived at our guesthouse. Directly beside our terraced, white home stood a temple of horses. Golden horse statues gleamed from every post along the temple’s white concrete fence, and palm trees popped up from various points along the fence. The huge, gold trimmed, bird-winged roofs of the temple soared into the blue sky. After putting our stuff inside and exploring the adorable 3 story meditation house with a rooftop yoga area, we ventured deeper into the old city to meet up with a friend from home.
img_4883

The most wonderful part of the city is the way it has retained its culture and personality through time. There are few modern buildings or restaurants; street carts rule the roads, and the buildings show their history through their chipping paint and crumbling brick. Few shops have doors, but rather sliding metal garage-like doors that they pull open in the mornings, and close up at night. The fences surrounding houses and temples are concrete and chipping, and even the clothing of the locals has resisted the western style that has made its way into so many countries. There is a sense of pride in the unwillingness to conform- a confidence of the city that assures you it is exactly how it is supposed to be- and you whole heartedly love it just the way it is.

img_4870

Our first day consisted of finding a huge plate of vegan food for one dollar, and wandering around the relatively quiet streets. The old city is one perfect square in the heart of Chiang Mai, with the remaining parts of the old walls surrounding it, and a canal running down all sides. Inside the walls are countless hostels, guest houses, restaurants, temples, night markets and bars. Our first night, we walked to the night market near the center of the old city. While we waited for the market to begin, we grabbed beers at a pub close by. By the time we left, the sun had set and the scene outside had completely transformed. The lit up street shops stretched on for blocks and blocks in all directions. It seemed that every turn opened up to a new market with different clothing, bags and jewelry of all colours. Thai massage shops that offered hour long massages for $8 seemed to be in every second building. Every kind of food you could imagine seemed almost within sight at all times. Thai food stands offered pad thai for a dollar, while fancier places will still get you a huge meal for four or five. I was constantly impressed and excited by the endless vegan places in the area. Not a day has gone by that we don’t drink at least a smoothie or two. Chang beers- the local brew- go for a few bucks at a restaurant, but you can get them for less than two at any 711. You can also walk around the street, beer in hand, which wasn’t so bad either. one of the highlights of the whole trip so far has been the Thai massages. For $8 you can get a one hour Thai massage- and yes, they really do bend you into pretzel shapes and step on you. We went two nights in a row they were so good.

img_5157
I think you could walk for hours- and we did- and never get bored in Chiang Mai. The city pace and energy is the perfect mix. There is always something happening and places to go, but there is this constant undercurrent of calm and kindness. One night as we were walking we noticed thousands and thousands of candles lit all along the canal, leading into a community square where young people sat on stage playing different woodwind instruments, and people lit candles in different forms on the ground. We still don’t know what it was for, but it was beautiful and amazing nonetheless. The air is also fresher and less congested, a huge relief from the heaviness of Bangkok. The streets are almost always full of cars, tuk tuks and motorists, and cross walks are few, but we soon learned that if you simply start walking across the impossibly busy streets everyone will somehow stop- and happily. I have never known a kinder people, and feel honoured to meet and interact with the local people here everyday. And the food! Every meal here is a feast for a few dollars. Talking with my dad over facetime, he constantly remarks how he is living in the wrong country. I found myself feeling extremely comfortable and relaxed here within a couple of days. There are few things better than wandering around the sunny streets of a beautiful, cultural city in the mountains.
img_4909
Perhaps the highlight of the trip so far was The Elephant Nature Park- an elephant sanctuary north of Chiang Mai in the jungle, where elephants rescued from the circus, logging and riding industries come to recover and live free. The first sight of these gentle giants ignites that childhood giddiness in you like a spark. It’s hard to believe you’re so close to the creatures you have dreamed of meeting for years. We started by feeding them watermelon, pumpkin and cucumber, and they wrapped their huge trunks around the fruit in our hands with precision and gentleness. There are around 70 elephants at the park, and they range from a 6 week old baby that was only waist height, to a 5 tonne grandma elephant born in the 40’s (she stuck around for all the scraps). We walked out into the 200 acre park with our guide Jan, passing elephants walking along the same paths we were, and got to pet and take pictures with a couple of the well adjusted ones. Their skin was rough and kind of hairy, and they constantly used their trunks to check your hands for food. They lost interest pretty quick if you didn’t have any to offer them, so the guides continuously handed us food to feed them. Elephants spend about 18 hours a day eating 10% of their body weight in food (600-800 pounds a day)!

img_1018

We watched a baby elephant and his mom playfully pushing each other into the river, and a herd splash around and take a bath together. Elephants are much like humans in that they form their own social groups, and it can be very difficult for a new elephant to be accepted into a family. Bathing the two oldest elephants was definitely the best part. Dozens of us, buckets in hand, followed the beautiful beasts into the river along the sanctuary and threw buckets of water onto their backs (they are too old to bathe themselves). Laughing and splashing around, I got soaked along with the elephants.

img_1060

Learning about the crushingly sad past of the elephants in Asia was as eye opening as it was sickening. To put it briefly, in order to train an elephant to respond to commands from its trainer, it must undergo a process that results in ‘breaking the spirit’ of the animal. This involves capturing a baby elephant from the wild, and killing its mother and any other guardian of the baby. The poached elephant is then attached to a contraption (usually out in the jungle) that holds the animal from all angles. For a week the elephant is starved, dehydrated, beaten, stabbed, burned and made to walk in circles until they forget their family and see their trainer as their master. And no, riding elephants is never okay. The weight of the saddle and the people on its back combine to about half of its body weight, and it has to walk around under that weight for 8 plus hours a day. The elephants will be dehydrated and beaten in order to work up to standard, and their spine shape makes this level of weight extremely painful and unsafe. Plain and simple, elephants are wild animals and don’t do tricks or follow human command naturally- it must be forced and tortured into them. So all I can ask is that if anyone decides to visit elephants anywhere in the world, please be an informed tourist and don’t exploit these innocent animals. They are not ours for enjoyment (just like the poor drugged up tigers at “Tiger Kingdom”), and the industry only survives if there are people like you and me willing to support it. Sorry for the rant, but please do stay informed!

img_1015

As the days in Chiang Mai went on, I became more and more at home. I found the tightness in my chest and the twisting in my stomach that had become constant companions begin to fade away. I was able to smile easier, laugh fuller, act with more truth. This confidence that I have had to dig and dig for has finally broken through the hard earth. I’m realizing the human potential for change is immense- far greater than I could have ever dreamed. I wish I could go tell myself a week ago that everything passes. The good and the bad. All of the bullshit that crowds your mind, that convinces your courage it isn’t strong enough, and shoves your confidence to unreachable depths: it passes. This is just the way it is. Life is waves. Fighting the waves gets us nowhere- fast- and frankly it’s just really, really tiring. You’re allowed to just float, just feel. You’re allowed to let go.

img_5174
The October Moon: “Travel Moon”. The time when the leaves are falling off of the trees, and the seasons are shifting. For me this is a time of letting go of that which no longer serves you, and the opportunity for new beginnings. “Kiah” also means season’s beginnings, so I found this very fitting for my first tattoo.

 

Bangkok: The City of Senses

The first breath you take after getting out of your taxi on Khao San Road in Bangkok is nothing short of overwhelming. The air is thick and damp, and carries on it so many smells that you can’t tell them apart. Street food sizzles in every direction, and exhaust from a thousand cars, mopeds and tuk tuks fill the air. As you begin to swim through the humidity, your eyes now take in the chaotic scene: even at midnight the street is bright with string lights, street carts, and the endless colours of the night markets. Our cab has pulled over because the street is too busy to turn onto the road our hotel is on. We wait for streams of motorists to zoom by- none of which are in a designated lane or even on the right side of the road- and we dare to run across what is supposedly a cross walk. As soon as we make it onto our street, we are greeted with red and white string lights canopying down from the trees overhead, and from the restaurants and bars lining the road. There is a surprising calm only one street off the main road. If I hadn’t been in such culture shock, I would have really appreciated the winding cobblestone road with vendors down its sides, and the evening breeze that provided some relief from the heavy air.

bangkok-blogpost-1

I was immediately taken aback by how difficult it was to be so far from home. My thoughts dwelled on my family and the familiar, and I felt like I had been transplanted without the necessary nutrients to survive. It’s an odd juxtaposition to be in a place that you had dreamed about for years, saved up the money to get there, and are now sad, jet lagged and afraid. Luckily I had a friend to lean on who shared the same feelings as me- misery does love company. We passed by dozens of travellers who appeared so confidant and relaxed in this foreign place. I wondered if I would ever look or feel like them. Our first night- as with every night since- was the toughest part. I find myself waking up at all hours of the night with my mind racing a million miles a minute, thinking of worst case scenarios and of how long I have yet to go. It all seems so impossible and hard and confusing- but I know I have to go on and that things must get better.

bangkok-blogpost-2

Our first day reminded me just why I crave these adventures- crazy, chaotic, beautiful places that remind you just how big this world really is. The streets are all packed full of as many food and clothing vendors as can possibly fit, and with just as many trees and plants. The urban jungle draws you in and taunts you with its smells and its sights- it mocks any notion of excitement you may have of a place back home. Constant shouts and bribes from taxi and tuk tuk drivers, from clothing vendors with their “special prices”, envelop you. Two minutes into our day we found ourselves talking to a lovely Thai woman who offered directions and wanted to know all about our trip. We walked to Khao San Road- the main backpacker’s street in Bangkok filled with street food, bars, clothing and Thai massages- where we got smoothies that cost us $2 (which ended up being expensive). We explored some more and found a beautiful park along the river. In the middle of the park was a huge white building adorned with black crosses and with canons on the side. We enjoyed the view of the city from a bench by the water, and watched boats rock dangerously on the choppy water. Locals and foreigners sat on the grass and on the benches, reading books and looking at the water.

img_4728

On our second day we set off to see some temples, but as soon as we started walking we noticed something was up. Thousands of people all dressed in black lined the streets and gathered outside various buildings. As we were looking at a map to get to the Grand Palace, a local man struck up a conversation. We ended up talking to him for a while, and he told us that there was a huge ceremony at the Grand Palace that day for the 15 day anniversary of their King’s death. He recommended the floating market tour to us, and having known a friend that got scammed, I was a little apprehensive. Without waiting for a confirmation of any kind from us, he waved down a tuk tuk and agreed on a cheap fare for us to get to the boat dock. Having nothing better to do, we agreed and hopped on our first tuk tuk (a three wheeled open vehicle that operates like a taxi but for a cheaper price). We embarked on the craziest drive of our lives. The little tuk tuk zoomed and swerved through the thousands of cars, mopeds and pedestrians that were on the street. With nothing more than a gentle wave of the hand, motorists swerved within inches of each other and across yellow lines into oncoming traffic. We laughed and laughed as we drove- calmness in the chaos, breeze cooling our skin and inviting in the unknown.

img_0905

Our driver eventually turned into a back lane and up to a boat dock where we paid for an hour long boat tour along the canals. Walking down to the water, we watched other tourist try to navigate their way into the long wooden boats that swayed aggressively in the waves. With a few tries we made it onto our boat and our driver pulled away into the open water. We soon turned into a canal, where the water was calmer and many other boats passed by. Along the banks were houses made of wood with no doors and clothes hanging outside. Families sat on their balconies and waved as we drove by. Lush, green plants and trees filled in every free spot along the banks, gracing us with their shade every once in a while. We leaned nervously to one side every time time the boat turned, spurring on even more laughter. We slowed to a stop and a man in a boat with souvenirs pulled up beside us and tried to sell his figurines and other collectables. This ended up being the extent of the “floating market”.

img_4797

We stopped at a temple where a golden Buddha that must have been at least 30 meters tall towered above us. It was deemed the “lucky Buddha”, which we have come to learn doesn’t exist, but was cool anyway. We got off the boat and explored the temples for a while- blue and red sparkling roofs glittered in the sunlight. One of the temples housed a large lying down Buddha, and locals kneeled to pay their respects and light incense. After the temple, we drove some more and took in the sights. We were dropped at a different boat dock where there was a market (not floating- very much on the ground) which was not nearly as interesting as the ones on Khao San. Not knowing if this was the end or if we would we picked up again, we decided to take a tuk tuk to a vegan restaurant off Khao San Road. We negotiated a price and headed off. Upon arriving we saw locals eating at picnic tables, and stray cats roaming the street. The restaurant was called Ethos and it had low tables with pillows to sit on, and the most exciting menu for a vegan. I got my first Pad Thai of the trip and a mango smoothie- we were in food heaven.

img_0942

That evening I wandered around Khao San Road alone, and enjoyed every minute of it. I have felt safe in every location we have been to, and at any time of day. The people are all extremely respectful and kind, and especially travelling as a woman I was extremely grateful for this kind of experience. The evening somehow seemed even more vibrant than the day- the lights and colours of the shops, bars and restaurants lighting up the night, and the smell of street food overtaking your nose. It was spitting rain, which was a welcome sensation in the warm, damp air. Walking through the busy streets I breathed in the smell of adventure and the feeling of freedom. The constant calls of taxi drivers and vendors had already become background noise, and I walked on in total calmness. I bought myself some standard baggy elephant pants and a top- all together costing me about $10 which is, again, pretty expensive for Thailand. I was in awe of this beautiful, chaotic city, and I finally felt like the confidant travellers I had seen my first night.

img_0939

While Bangkok gets some strong reviews- both for and against the never sleeping city- I have to admit my love for the sensationally vibrant city. This city allowed me to grieve, to process, and to overcome. I have to be grateful for that.

Ooey Gooey Vegan Cinnamon Buns

I don’t think I have ever successfully made any kind of cinnamon buns, so when I found this recipe for vegan sourdough cinnamon buns I was less than confidant in my abilities. Something about sourdough starter culture seems to make everything better (if you know me or follow my instagram you know I’m obsessed with my homemade sourdough bread). These rolls are no exception- they’re fluffy, light, slightly sweet and bursting with ooey gooey cinnamon-sugar goodness in every bite. They also seem to be somewhat fail proof as I did not follow the directions properly (typical) and they still turned out.

 

IMG_2249

 

If you don’t have a sourdough starter you can buy one or see if anyone you know has one they can share with you (our friends gave us some of theirs- the culture’s name is Suzanne and she’s over 13 years old!!!) This recipe needs to rise overnight so you do need to plan ahead if you need them ready at a certain time. I was in no rush with these and they took me closer to 2 days to finish as I didn’t have time to roll and cut them when it was time. So if you need to let yours rise longer you should be all good. Do not be fooled by the word “sourdough”- your cinnamon buns won’t taste sour- only freaking awesome.

 

IMG_2252
Yep I ate that top corner one before I could even take this picture.

 

VEGAN SOURDOUGH CINNAMON BUNS

(Full recipe at the bottom)

 

IMG_2190
Sourdough starter- it’s alive!

 

IMG_2192
1. Mix together all of the dough ingredients except the flour. Slowly add flour until you achieve a dough that is soft but not sticky.

 

IMG_2205
2. Roll dough in buttered bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled.

 

 

IMG_2207
3. Sprinkle your rolling surface with flour and cinnamon.

 

IMG_2209
4. Roll out dough into a 1/4 inch- 1/2 inch rectangle. Spread melted butter on and sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar over the dough evenly.

 

 

IMG_2212
5/6. Roll up the dough and cut into 2 inch rounds. Place in a baking dish (no mine are not pretty but they tasted amazing okay?) and refrigerate overnight.

 

IMG_2244
7/8. Place the baking dish on top of the stove while you preheat the oven to 400C. Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown.

 

IMG_2248
9/10.  Make the icing; and once cool ice the cinnamon buns.

 

Ingredients:

Dough:

  • 1 1/2 cup sourdough starter
  • 2/3 cup almond milk
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbs melted vegan butter (I use Earth Balance)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Filling:

  • 2 tbs melted vegan butter
  • 2-3 tbs cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Icing:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar (you’ll have to play around with the ratios)
  • 1 tbs melted vegan butter
  • 2 tbs almond milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

 

Method:

  1. In a large bowl, mix together all of the “dough” ingredients except the four. Slowly add in the flour until the dough is soft but no longer sticky (I needed about 2 1/2 cups).
  2. Rub some vegan butter in a bowl and roll the dough around to coat it. Cover and let rise until doubled- about 3 hours. (I put mine in my oven with the light on- don’t turn the oven on!)
  3. Punch down the dough (you don’t have to wail on it- you can just press it down). Sprinkle your cutting board or counter with lots of flour and even cinnamon and roll out the dough to a 1/4 inch- 1/2 inch thick rectangle (obviously it won’t be a perfect rectangle unless you’re a rolling master in which case please show me your ways).
  4. Brush the melted butter from the “filling” ingredients onto the dough (all the way to the edges) and then evenly sprinkle the mixed cinnamon-sugar all over the surface.
  5. Roll the dough either the long way or the wide way (I am not helpful in this area) and pinch the seam together at the end so it doesn’t unroll (I didn’t find this necessary as the dough was pretty cohesive). The ends of the dough will probably be pretty messy but its okay- it’ll all taste great (just hide those ones and eat them as a sacrifice).
  6. Cut the dough into about 2 inch rounds and place them touching into a well greased baking dish. Refrigerate overnight (this is where I waited almost a full 24 hours- they were fine).
  7. When you are ready to bake them, place them on top of the stove while you preheat your oven to 400C to warm them up (I put them back in my oven with the light on for a while before I preheated the oven as well).
  8. Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown and firm when you tap them.
  9. Make the icing by combing all the ingredients in a bowl and mixing with a hand mixer. You may need to add more icing sugar or more almond milk to get the consistency you want.
  10. Allow to cool for a bit (I lasted about 5 minutes) then throw on some icing and devour! Make sure you try them fresh out of the oven- next level experience.

 

IMG_2262

 

I really hope you try and love this recipe! Don’t forget to follow me on instagram @lightlovelifeblog and check back here for future posts! Thanks for reading.

Love & Light,

Kiah