Saturday, March 16, 2013

Thailand: The Return

And we meet again, you and I. Thanks for continuing to stop by to see if I’ve posted anything new… and my apologies for having been absent for nearly the last month. I’ve been here, of course … in SE Asia; but just not HERE … on my blog. But just in case you were wondering, "boy, I wonder if Nan is still enjoying her travel," I will satisfy your curiosity by saying I'm having the time of my life!! 

I still marvel at this concept of time (passing). Somehow, without work and appointments and other things to “mark” my days, I sort of lose my grip on time. In one sense the days feel long and luxurious, with seldom any stress of having to be somewhere or do something at a certain time (except on travel days, of course). I get to feel into my own rhythm of things and my days unfold so much more organically. But then again, it also seems as though time is passing quickly. How is it possible that I’ve been traveling for over 4 months already? In some ways, it seems like I just left Boulder last week; by the same token, I can hardly remember what life was like before traveling. Time… what an interesting concept.

And here I sit, in my room, at my computer, with an open afternoon in front of me… in Bali, Indonesia. Today is Nyepi, Balinese New Years Day (some of you may have seen my video post on Facebook)… a day of silence and stillness. Everything is closed, everyone stays at home, and there is no talking – nor even noisy activity. The twenty four hour period is dedicated to introspection and reflection, and the day’s restrictions are designed to eliminate all barriers to achieving that aim. Mythologically, it is a time when evil spirits emerge from the sea to fly over the island, looking for signs of human activity that might provide a receptacle for their evil. With no lights, no noise and no activity to be seen, there is nothing to pique their interest and encourage them to linger. In this way Bali remains free of the forces of darkness for another year. I’m pretty sure it’s working.

I’m actually writing this on a Word document because the internet is turned off at my guesthouse today. This is a very good thing because it would be much too easy to spend (much of) the day surfing. I bought food yesterday so that I would have it for today and I have stayed close to “home,” floating between my room and my patio (you would not believe how big my room & patio are… pics forthcoming). Up to now I’ve meditated, done some yoga on my patio (slowly, gently), and been reading. I’ll write this for a while then resume my reading… and maybe take a nap. It’s unbelievably peaceful – but I do wish I could step out and walk around town and/or the rice fields to experience the full “impact” of the silence (I realize that might be a bit of an oxymoron). Alas, if I were to venture out, there are people “guarding” the streets, who would send me back to my guesthouse (and it’s possible that the owner here might get in some trouble). So I’ll stay here, enjoy my solo day…. and write. And, now that I’ve given you just a teensy glimpse of life in Bali, I’ll get to writing my intended post:  on my travels since Burma and before Bali (more on Bali very soon… I PROMISE!)

After leaving Burma, on 11 Feb, I headed (back) to Chiang Mai, Thailand. I had made those plans before going to Burma, knowing that I would need (and appreciate) a little time to rest and relax after traveling (nearly non-stop) for such a long time. I was able to spend time with my cousin, Mike, for the first few days I was there, then stay at Niki & Marc’s home for the last 10 days. And, indeed, it was so nice to have that down time. I had a chance to regroup, replenish( my supplies), repack, resume (my exercise), relax, and recharge. Lots of really good re’s. J I don’t think I took a single photograph while there --partly because I wasn’t that moved to and mostly because my camera was on the fritz. But while I was there my camera once again spontaneously repaired itself (after having broken down right at the end of my Burma trip), so it was all ready for my southern Thailand leg.

On 23 Feb, I flew from Chiang Mai to Surat Thani, Thailand – which is about 350 miles southeast of Bangkok. There, I met up with my dear friend, Sunny Klaber, who was leading a group retreat the following week and had invited me to join her/them. Sunny owns a company called Integral Travel (, through which she leads groups on trips all over the world (many in SE Asia), to learn about the cultures and learn Thai Yoga Massage. I was joining this group for one week of a 10-week course that started in northern Thailand, then went to southern Thailand, and is now in Bali. There was a core group of women who were doing the entire 10-week course; and still others who had chosen to do certain segments. This particular week was being held at an amazing place called Jungle Yoga, in Kao Sok National Park ( and it was/is a most magical place!

 on the boat as we were about to leave for Jungle Yoga
 approaching Jungle Yoga

Jungle Yoga is situated on a lake in the middle of Kao Sok National Park, within the Klong Long Wildlife Sanctuary. And when I say on a lake, I really mean ON the lake.  All the bungalows and other buildings (kitchen, diningroom, yoga shala, etc) are, quite literally, floating on the lake. In fact the only facilities on solid ground are the toilets.  

It’s managed by a couple, Dickie and Beth, from the U.S., who have lived in Thailand now for many years (28?).  Not long after meeting, about 33 years ago, they decided to take a year off to explore the world… and never returned to the states to live. They first lived in Greece for a while, then discovered Thailand and have lived there ever since. They spend much of the year at Jungle Yoga and the rest of the time at their beach home in Railey Beach (near Krabi, on the Andaman Coast). Both big nature buffs, they love being at Jungle Yoga. Dickie can tell you almost anything you want to know about the surroundings and wildlife and both of them love spending time exploring and observing. The rest of the staff are equally amazing, providing the most loving and professional service you can imagine.
 Dickie (above) with one of the participants, Jen
 Love this guy! His name is "O"... have no idea how it's spelled, but that's what you call him
 And Pet (above), our incredible chef and helper

The lake is absolutely pristine: clear water and the perfect temperature. I swam multiple times a day. And the wildlife was incredible. You cannot imagine how loud the sounds of the jungle are until you’ve spent a night – or 7 – there! So many different species of … well, everything: birds, frogs, insects, snakes, monkeys, apes (the sound of the gibbon is so unique and gorgeous!). Our first day there, we had gathered in the yoga shala for an orientation and while Sunny was talking, I kept hearing a recurring sound behind me that I thought was the quick “static-y” sound of a 2-way radio. I remember thinking, “why doesn’t someone turn that off for now… it’s a bit intrusive.” I found out later that it was the sound of a very common jungle frog. In fact, even after I knew what it was, upon first hearing it each day, I’d think it was the sound of static.

There were 12 of us in all, and it was a dreamy week. Each of us had our own bungalow – with hammock on our “porch.”

 ... and there's mine, with the red hammock

The days began with yoga and meditation from 6:30-8:30 followed by breakfast (usually involving rice “soup,” some sort of dish with eggs, fruit, and unlimited coffee & tea). From 10:00a-1:00 we’d have class (on Thai Yoga Massage technique) , followed by lunch (usually some sort of soup and fruit). 
We’d have a break until 4:30 – during which I did any combination of swimming, kayaking, reading, resting, hiking, chatting, washing clothes, etc – then class again from 4:30-7:00.

Kayaking:  Yup, that's me
Wildlife viewing: A stork that just wandered onto the dock in front of the bungalows
 Lounging/reading: Mmm-hmm, my legs

... and more lounging (and reading)

Dinner was served at 7:00 and it was always so very yummy. There was generally some kind of curry (green, red, panang, Masaman), another delicious veggie dish, and often a fish or egg dish as well (I cannot BELIEVE I never took any pics of the food. It was so incredible, Dang!). After dinner we’d hang around a bit and chat and/or optionally meet for a musical meditation (in the yoga shala) then we’d all go to bed early. I often turned off my light before the generator forced me to (which was at 10:00p).  Like I said… dreamy.

On Friday (our 3rd to last day there), we spent most of the day (until 4:30) in silence. We arose at our usual time, but instead of yoga, Dickie led us on a silent hike through the local jungle. Well, okay, there was no talking, but it was anything but silent, given the myriad jungle sounds. Eventually he led us to a dock where we climbed aboard a bamboo raft, on which we got a bit of a tour (both visual and audio) around a large part of the lake. We stopped first at a very cool cave, then cruised around the lake, stopping from time to time to watch and listen to the wildlife. We got back to Jungle Yoga in time for lunch then stayed silent until the afternoon class. There was something really special about being together in silence.

 The group of us just before we left for the hike (note: Beth is lying down in front)

 Looking out (down) toward the water from inside the cave.

 Beautiful Sunny

That evening we got ourselves just a little gussied up and met first in the yoga shala. Sunny had asked us to write something -- preferably a poem, of sorts -- about water (or to the "water goddess") and we were invited to read them aloud. They all were so beautiful -- Sunny's bringing tear to my eyes. Here's mine:

You have no eyes
and yet, through your radiance
you witness the world

You have no ears
and yet, through your stillness
you hear all the sounds of nature

You have no mouth
and yet, through your silence
you speak volumes

You have no hands
and yet, with your fluidity
you embrace all who come to you

You have no feet
and yet, because of your powerful flow
you travel the entire earth

You have no heart
and yet, from your softness & depth
you deliver love and compassion

You ask for nothing
and yet, you give everything

Water Goddess, I bow to you  

Afterward we headed to the dining building to make our own “kratongs” to float on the river (refer to my first Thailand post to read about the "Loi Kratong" festival that happened in November). Kratongs are made with “hearts” of the banana tree, along with lots of flowers, incense and candles. The idea is to write down your wish(es), put them inside the kratong and then send them out on the river (or lake, in our case). This is the kratong I made.

After dinner, once it got dark, we lit the candles and incense in our kratongs and set them off in the lake and watched them float away with our wishes enclosed....

Saturday (our last full day) was Dickie's birthday, so we had a celebratory dinner then played games afterward and laughed and laughed and laughed. 

Sunday morning was open, so that each of us could spend some last precious time at Jungle Yoga doing whatever we wanted. The boat was leaving at noon. I swam, sat in my hammock, relaxed, walked, chatted.... then packed. Then we took some group photos and climbed on the boat to head back to the mainland. It was a magical week.

 gathered together just before leaving (sniff sniff...)
 on the boat, of course
 with Lauren (L) and Nikki (R - co-leader)
 Scenes from the boat (above & below)

Our great boat "driver"

While at Jungle Yoga I met 2 other of the women, Ejrin & Jen, 
who were planning to head to the islands after our retreat, so we decided to go together.. I already had booked a bungalow at one of the small beach" resorts" on an island caled Koh Phangan, so we decided they'd join me. We arrived back at the mainland at 1:00p, then took a minivan to Surat Thani, arriving around 2:00. We needed to get to a hospital, as Erin needed to have her ear examined (she had had an earache for the last 3 days we were at JY). While she was with the doc, Jen & I went to a cafe with wifi, so that we could investigate the options for getting a boat out to Koh Phangan. By the time Erin joined us it was about 4:35, and we had JUST found out that the last boat to KP was leaving at 6:00p and it was 1.5 hours to the dock!!! Yikes!! We charged out of the cafe, ran to the taxi "stand" and asked one of the guys if he could get us to the dock for the 6pm boat. He said he wasn't sure, but would try. We jumped in the car and headed out by 4:45 and they guy went for it. We were all sitting in the car just envisioning ourselves on the boat -- exercising the power of positive thinking. Our driver was very fast, but also very safe -- and it was an amazing blessing that there was very little traffic. We -- quite literally -- RAN onto that ferry at 5:59!! Whew!!

We arrived at KP at about 9:00p, got a local taxi/truck and arrived at our place -- Charm Beach Resort -- around 9:15. Turns out that the room/bungalow that I'd reserved had 2 beds in it (one double and one single) so it was perfect! Okay, actually, it wasn't a perfect bungalow -- in fact, the "resort" was a bit run down and not so great. BUT the price was good and it would work for that night. So we were happy.

 yea, I know... looks fake. It's not.

The next morning we decided to rent two motorbikes for the day, so that we could comb the island and really get a lay of the land. And once we had them, the first place we went was to a nearby cafe we had heard about -- 100 Islands Cafe -- for breakfast. And oh, what a find! We had the most delicious cappuccinos and fruit/yogurt/muesli breakfasts....yum! In fact, that became my "breakfast place" for the rest of the week (except for one day when they were closed) -- to the point of saying, "the usual, please" when I'd arrive. Love that!

Then we headed around the island to see what it was all about, stopping periodically at a few different places to explore, shop, take pics etc.

The island is not that big -- only about 65 square miles and the main (paved) road doesn't go all the way around the island. It goes all along the south side then forms a small loop, going all the way up the west side, then about 1/3 of the way along the north side, heads back down south. There's one other paved road that heads from the south side up to the northeast corner where, apparently, all the very fancy, posh resorts reside. If you're interested in seeing what it looks like, google "Koh Phangan map" and you'll find many of them.

We rode until about 3:30, when we headed back to the bungalow to shower, change clothes and head out again. Before arriving at Koh Phangan, I had found out that a very dear friend, Chiara, of MY dear friend, Maria, was staying on KP. I had gotten in touch with Chiara (who was there with her husband) and we'd planned to meet near where they were staying, at 4:30. So the 3 of us headed up there to meet up with them and visit for a while (and, as it turns out, have something to eat for an early dinner). 

Oh, we became fast friends and had a wonderful time all getting to know each other for only a couple hours. Chiara and her husband, Mino, were leaving the very next day to head back to Bali, where they spend a lot of time each winter (they live in northern Italy the rest of the year). So, not only was it so great to be able to meet up on Koh Phangan, but now that I'm in Bali, I'm getting to spend MORE time with them. So great.

On our way back to our bungalow that evening, I took a little "spill" with my motorbike and skinned my knee pretty good and got some "road burns" on my hands as well. But, fortunately, it wasn't too bad -- not NEARLY as bad as it could have been. But it did scare me a bit. Didn't rent another motorbike that week (yes, I was wearing a helmet).

Sadly, Jen had to leave the next morning -- she'd only planned to come to KP for a day+, so she took off and Erin & I stay much of the rest of the week. We decided that day, however, to look around for another place to stay and after walking just a little ways down the beach, found a wonderful place -- called Sabai Bay -- that was so much nicer in every way, and only a tiny bit more expensive.

 mine & Erin's cute, little bungalow

For the next several days it was mostly overcast and on & off rainy, but that was really. Erin & I managed to get into (the closest) town, Thong Sala, do some browsing, visit the night market, and just generally relax on the island. 

She left on Friday morning -- headed to Bali (via Bangkok) and I left on Saturday afternoon, also heading for Bali (through Phuket, Thailand then Singapore). My travel took about 24 hours (including 7 hrs in the Singapore airport), but all went smoothly and I arrived safe & sound. 
 Assembling in prep to board the ferry

And that concludes southern Thailand. Thanks for hanging with me all the way to the end of this post. :)  See you VERY soon for the Bali installment.

Be weill, my friends!

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