Be_Happy & the House of Hope

fullsizeoutput_2e45I spent the next two days running a few errands and working on the computer. I am getting ready for my Osteothai-Internal Organs Workshop at Om Waters that starts Saturday and for my hosting of twelve Natural Health Practitioners of Canada (NHPC) members arriving February 3rd to learn Thai Massage at the Thai Massage School of Chiang Mai (TMC).

At Tip Top I met another interesting guest named Ron. Ron is the President of the US children’s charity called Kids Ark Foundation that helps to break the cycle of poverty for marginalized children in Northwest Thailand. He is a fascinating man with such interesting stories to tell. He and his partner are in the process of moving to Chiang Mai. It astounds me how many foreigners fall in love with this city and come to make it their permanent home.

In the afternoon as I cycled around the city I visited one of my favourite temples, Wat Chedi Luang.

This Wat has a ruined Lanna-style chedi (or stupa) built in 1441 and is situated within a sprawling area that is powerfully atmospheric, especially at night. The top of the chedi was destroyed either by a 16th-century earthquake or by cannon fire during the recapture of Chiang Mai from the Burmese in 1775, no one is quite sure which. Like many ancient monuments in Chiang Mai, Chedi Luang was in ruins when the city began its modern renaissance. A partnership between Unesco and the Japanese government in the 1990s stabilized the monument and prevented further damage.

Clay Studio and Faces is a cafe/restaurant set amongst a beautiful garden filled with intricately carved terracotta statues and pottery, some whole, some broken. Stepping from the small soi (street) into the garden you are transported into a fantasy world that beckons you to sit, read, or converse, but most importantly, to slow down.

To contrast this calm and soothing experience I next went to Warorot Market, Chiang Mai’s largest market, for a few items. You can buy almost anything here and is great for people watching too.

That night I met my sister Melanie, Julie and Ron at the North Gate Jazz Club and stood outside the open doors listening to more great music.

Each morning I try and do a meditation, study Thai language and/or do a run, or some type of exercise. I decided not to do the exercise Tuesday morning as I knew I was meeting Peter and Erica at Buak Haat Public Park inside the old city walls in the afternoon where foreigners meet to practice Thai Massage, Circus tricks and acroyoga. I haven’t done acroyoga since I was in Chiang Mai two years ago. Erica had me doing more than I thought possible in the time we had, as her base (the one on the ground to support the flyer in the air). Then Peter was the base and had me fly doing a mid air cartwheel! I really need to do this back in Saskatoon, it is way too much fun.

Wednesday Phillip expertly drove Noi, Jack, Kay and myself in Dang’s truck from the Old City around part of the Samoeng Loop doing our favourite kind of travel; from one place to eat to another. We began at Baan Dong View Doi, a restaurant with a spectacular view of the Doi Sutep mountain range and wonderful food. I ordered Tom Khao Gai (coconut chicken soup) that came in a pot with a square of solid fuel burning to keep it warm. It began to boil so I tried to  blow it out which entertained Noi so much she took a photograph through her laughter.

Next we drove to the Royal Rose Garden Cafe. Tables are set amongst terraced stretches of rose gardens up the side of the hill. We had Chinese cabbage cake, pumpkin cake and avocado ice cream! I can’t get enough of the witty conversation and delightful company of these people.

That night Ron and I went out for Japanese BBQ at Huromon where Peter, Eric, Shaun, Debbie and I had been the week before. It was every bit as tasty and so very busy. Other BBQ places surround this restaurant but none are as packed with this many happy customers.

Thursday was an amazing day at Jenny and Mark’s about 13km south of Chiang Mai. We had visited for a few hours to help out last week but this week I devoted the day to helping them make bricks that would build the walls and igloo like structures of their home. Peter came out to join the work party elevating our fun factor. We spent the morning scraping clean the wooden molds, then oiling them to be sure the new bricks didn’t stick to the inside of the mold. We ate a delicious meal at a local roadside restaurant before getting back to work.

The afternoon was devoted to making the bricks. These bricks are made of concrete and a foam (made from compressing water and dish soap). The two are mixed and poured into wooden molds to make either a brick (for the igloos) or the beams (for the walls of the main house). It was a fascinating process to watch. Once the forms were full we had to distribute the concrete foam evenly in the molds and level them. After a few days the bricks are removed from the molds and left to dry for several weeks. The final product is extremely light, strong and a super insulator. My last job was to oil a round wooden form Oliver (the brains behind how to build the igloos) had built to place in the hole, in the centre of the igloo, where he applied glue that would support the centre piece.

Peter left for his date night with Erica and once I was done helping Oliver I left for the city and stopped on my way to buy a book called Thai for Beginners by Benjamin Poomsan Becker (comes with 2 CDs) as suggested by Peter to help me learn Thai. After I cleaned up at Tip Top I ate a delicious vegan meal at Good Souls which included a vegan version of Mango Passionfruit Cheesecake (thanks for that suggestion Ron!). I was so tired after all this work and cycling so I stopped at Sense on my way home for a one hour foot massage that set me up for a deep, deep, sleep.

Friday morning I spent working on this blog, and doing other computer work. Ron kindly asked if I wanted to join him at a site visit of House of Hope. House of Hope is a project at a school in the town of Ban Pa Muet is 12km north east of Chiang Mai. Les, a donor who sponsors this project that provides after school tutoring and meals to minority or disadvantaged children, was going to visit the school with Tom and Ron of Kids Ark Foundation and Rick from another agency. It was a great privilege for me to be a part of this visit. The school children were well cared for and seemed so happy, whether playing marbles on the play ground, or doing their after school assignments. The kids kept smiling and laughing as they looked at us. A few brave ones tried out their english on us by telling us their name saying “My name is…”. One enthusiastic girl shouted out her name with great excitement eliciting a great cacophony of laughter from the other children. A teacher approached to thank us all for supporting this project and hoped that it would continue for a long time. She had visited the homes of many of the 30 children (80% Burmese, 20% Thai, and 10% Hill Tribe) that benefit from this program. Most are extremely poor and live with their parents and many siblings in a one room structure. I couldn’t communicate in thai that I was here as a visitor and had nothing to do with this program. So I received their thanks and tried my best to let them know how much I honoured their work as teachers with these children.  I had an overwhelming feeling that at some point in the future I would find a way to support this great project.

Kids Arc is helping these children dream big for their future by providing them access to career options by doing such things as going to the airport to meet a pilot and sit in a cockpit, or visit doctors and nurses in the hospital. This House of Hope program provides support for these impoverished children who would otherwise never have this type of opportunity. At one point during our visit they were drawing and colouring pictures of underwater life. Ron let me know that most of these children have never seen an ocean. This idea boggled my mind. Tourists from all over the world come to Thailand to enjoy the beaches as well as the city life of Thailand and yet these children living near Chiang Mai have never seen the ocean. Kids Arc organizes a special outing once a year and takes 30 children 10 hours by bus to the ocean. They camp by the ocean and then return the next day. Many of the children imagined the ocean was like a large lake. Seeing the ocean for the first time is an overwhealming experience for many of them.

We sat at each of the table where the children worked each of us practicing our thai and english. I loved the sketches on the walls of body parts listed in english, phonetically in thai and then the thai name for that body part. This will be a help to me in my learning too!

Before we left we had photos taken with many of the children from the school. The photo was taken by a group of older boys each holding one of our cellphones. At one point they just kept pressing the smart phone camera buttons making it sound like a large group of paparazzi were taking photos. It was such a funny moment we all burst into laughter.

Back a Tip Top Noi and Phillip invited us for dinner at Kanjana, one of Noi’s favourite places in the Old City. We cycled through the old city to the restaurant and then out to the Night Bazaar area near the Ping river for an intensely good movie at the French Consulate called Corporate.

Tomorrow I leave for my workshop at Om Waters where we have limited solar energy electricity and no cellular or wifi services. Unplugged for the whole week. I can’t wait!

Chiang Mai – A Love Affair

 

From Koh Yao Noi we took the speed boat to Phuket, then to the airport for a great flight on Bangkok Airways to Chiang Mai. What to do when you are in Chiang Mai for one week? Here is what we did. Hold onto your toques, you’re in for a ride.

 

First off we stepped out of our cab to be greeted by the couple across the street who operate the laundry service. Once inside the doors of Tip Top Thai House we were greeted by the MOST wonderful Noi who set the stage for a most joyous week. Later we were also warmly greeted by her brother Dang. Set up in our deluxe rooms, overlooking the lush gardens we set out to explore our area of the old city. Shaun was determined to have a barber cut at The Cutler, where I had frequented my last visit in 2016. We made an appointment for the next day and continued our walking tour of temples and stalked up on snacks and essential items from Tops Market at Kadsuankaew Shopping Centre. That night we ate at Ole Mexican Gourmet owned by Yao, who also owns Birds Nest Cafe next to Tip Top. They serve Thai/Mexican fusion very near the Night Market off Thapae Road. Thapae East is a great jazz venue that sits just behind Ole and is one of my favourite places to go.

 

Tuesday morning a taxi arrived in the morning to take us to TMC, the Thai Massage School of Chiang Mai, where I had studied Thai Massage in 2014 and 2016. While Noo gave Shaun and Debbie a personal tour of TMC, Jan and I talked about logistics surrounding the study tour the I would be leading there in February. It is always a joy to be in the presence of Jan and Noo and seeing them again at TMC and sharing this experience with Shaun and Debbie was special.

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For lunch we went to the market across the street from TMC for a BIG reunion hug from Yupin, who I had lunch from almost every day while here in 2016. Yupin came to Thailand from Burma and one of the dishes in this fabulous lunch was a Burmese specialty. We bought some fruits and snacks from the market before hailing a songthaew (a truck with seats on either side of the covered truck bed for passengers).

 

Shaun and I had our barber cuts and back at Tip Top met three people at the door of the guesthouse. After chatting for only a minute we discovered that we each had a close friend in common. Jane has known Jen Budney (our dear friend in Saskatoon) for over 20 years. Shaun and I are godfathers to Jen and Richard’s son Julian! Jane was here with her husband Foster and son Tony. We posted a picture on facebook to see what would happen and just before we shared a meal at By Hand Pizza in the Old City, Jen answered back, completely flummoxed! “How can this be? she asked, is there only one guesthouse in all of Chiang Mai?” We were all stunned at the chances we would stay at the same guesthouse.

 

The next day Shaun and I went on a cycling tour of the countryside south of Chiang Mai organized by Noi with Phillip, Jane, Foster, and Tony. We first stopped for coffee at No. 39 an exquisite coffee shop, stopped at Phillip’s beautiful home for tea and snacks, had lunch at a Praw & Plean Green House, and wandered around Baan Kan Wat, an artist’s village, and had another fabulous coffee. Once returning to Chiang Mai we freshened up and all went for a fantastic Burmese meal in the Nimmenhieman area. We just couldn’t go home without stopping for coconut cheesecake at Charin Homemade Pies.

 

On Thursday we hired Warrachat, a charming young taxi driver who drove us from the airport to Tip Top, for the day. We began with a visit to my friends Jenny Rae and Mark. They are building their home and yoga sala on land surrounded by rice paddy close to the Grand Canyon at Hong Dong Quarry south of Chiang Mai. We donned our work clothes and helped prepare for the making of the bricks used to construct the walls of the main house and create the domes which will be the entrance to the house and the bedrooms. We could only stay for two hours so I planned to come back next week when I can spend the day helping. From there we swam at a crazy water park newly opened at the Grand Canyon. I had been here in 2016 when it was a relatively quiet swimming hole and now it is an inflatable water park with water jets, kayaks, wake boarding, and a zip line. Our next destination was the Orchid Farm where we ate a scrumptious buffet meal, and captured images of some stunningly beautiful orchids and butterflies. Our last visit of the day was to the Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens. We had a fabulous day with Warrachat! After freshening up we met up with my friends Peter, Erica and her son Ravi (from the UK) at Horumon, a Japanese BBQ restaurant north of the old city suggested by Peter. The last time I saw Peter, Erica and Ravi was here in 2016. It was an evening of great excitement, food, more food, and just a few beer. We were definitely in a happy place.

 

Our most enjoyable morning routine became set with a coffee at Akha Ama Coffee on Rachadamnoen Road, then breakfast at Bird’s Nest. Another great coffee shop is Ristr8o in Nemmin. Friday we hired a songthaew to take us to the Wat at Doi Sutep and Bhubing Palace. Suthep is one of northern Thailand’s most sacred temples and a beautiful example of northern Thai architecture. You acquire good merit by climbing the 306-step staircase flanked by naga (serpents) to reach the Wat.

The monastery at Doi Sutep was established in 1383 by King Keu Naone. The story of Sutep is that a piece of bone from the Buddha’s shoulder was mounted onto a sacred white elephant by a Lanna monk. The elephant wandered the jungle and upon it’s death, the site became the foundation for the monastery.

The terrace at the top of the steps is dotted with breadfruit trees, small shrines, rock gardens and monuments, including a statue of the white elephant that carried the Buddha relic to its current resting place.

Steps lead up to the inner terrace, where a walkway circumnavigates the gleaming golden chedi enshrining the relic. Pilgrims queue to leave lotus blossoms and other offerings at the shrines surrounding the chedi. Monks recite prayers while tying a knotted string around your wrist for good blessings.

 

Once back in the city we had a coffee and visited the Secret Cafe and Gallery for a unique art exhibit. Each of the three artists involved created a piece based on the same theme. One theme was that of a rooster; with a quilted piece, painting, and sculpture each exploring the theme within it’s own medium. For dinner we reserved a dinner cruise on the Ping River through Riverside Restaurant. I love the view of a city from it’s river and Chiang Mai is no exception. The river’s edge is often light up with lights and lanterns from the many restaurants lining the banks. There were even people fishing in the coolness of the night. We had great food and a 75 minute cruise up and down the Ping, but that wasn’t yet the end of our day. Melanie and I met Jenny Rae at Thapae East for a Jazz/Blues concert where I got to introduce Yao, the owner of Ole Mexican and Birds Nest, to my sister. We stayed for a “secret concert” by the Isra Liberal Orchestra who played incredible original music that astounded me. This was their rehearsal concert for a Jazz Festival they were to play the next day.

 

Early Saturday morning the van from the Elephant Nature Park picked us up for the 90 minute ride north of Chiang Mai to spend the day with the Elephants. The plight of elephants in Thailand is a disturbing and sad one. There are only a few true Elephant Sanctuaries that protect and respect elephants allowing them to live in as natural an environment as possible. Elephants fortunate enough to live here have come from illegal logging and the tourist camps that allow riding and picture painting by elephants. In order for an elephant to be ridden or perform tricks a cruel and torturous process of breaking an elephant’s spirit takes place in order to instil fear as a way to control them. Organizations such as this Sanctuary are only able to rescue previously tortured elephants and their campaign is to stop the cruelty to elephants all together. However, tourists still visit Elephant Camps in great numbers and brings in huge amounts of money allowing for hundreds of camps to continue unethical treatment of elephants while only a handful of true Sanctuaries exist. Until tourists stop going to Elephant Camps that torture these magnificent animals there is no incentive for the Thai government to step in to ensure the elephants’ safety. Spread the word and when in Thailand be sure you are not supporting a camp that is cruel to Elephants. Many camps such as the one we almost visited in Koh Sok National Park, have caught on to the desire of tourists to visit Sanctuaries and advertise their ethical treatment of elephants. They say that you won’t ride elephants, but still provide the opportunity for others to ride if they choose. Don’t be fooled. Spending the day at a true Sanctuary and hearing about the plight of the Asian elephant gives you the realization at how cruel humans can be and yet how utterly loving and devoted some are to providing love, respect and a place for elephants to roam in community as they are meant to do. Each elephant is named and has their story on the walls of the sanctuary. Being near the elephants and hearing their stories is an inspiration. It was a moving experience for us all.

 

Back in Chiang Mai we ate at CNX Rooftop Chillout for dinner, and walked to Sense Spa for our two hour massages. This was the first massage we had since arriving in Chiang Mai. Three of us had foot massage for an hour and then an oil massage for an hour, while I had an hour each of thai and oil massage. Sense is a wonderful spa with a relaxed atmosphere and super friendly owner and staff. On our walk home we bought an assortment of steamed buns from my favourite shop in Chiang Mai conveniently located a short distance from Tip Top. It was an incredibly full day and we all collapsed into a deep sleep that night.

 

Sunday was the last day for Shaun and Debbie before heading home. We wandered Charoenrat Road which has wonderful shops, galleries, riverside cafes and restaurants. According to Noi of Tip Top this street has good quality items, at reasonable prices, and of great taste. Some of the highlights were Torboon, Sop Moei Arts, Graffiti, Suvannabbhumi Art Gallery, Kome Tong Classic for Men, Woo Cafe, and The Gallery. This is one of my favourite streets in Chiang Mai for high quality gifts and items to bring back home as a special way to remember a trip to Thailand. We returned to Tip Top for a rest and gave Noi a beautiful bouquet for flowers as a thank you for all she had done for us. In the evening we took a stroll through the Sunday Walking Market in the Old City which is full of art, clothing, souvenirs, crafts and more. Every Sunday the centre of the Old City is thriving with crowds walking through the stalls and eating at the many food vendors that set up in the temple grounds. We decided to stop and eat at Villa Dang Champa, one of my favourite people watching sites along the market. It is a multi story white washed hotel and restaurant serving great food, cocktails, and has excellent live music.

Then it was back to Tip Top so Shaun and Debbie could be ready to catch the taxi to the airport. One final flurry of airdrop photo exchanging and they were set to go. After three weeks together it will be odd to not share each day with them both.

 

Earlier in the day Peter had called to see what we were up to and offered the perfect antidote to moping in my room at Tip Top after Shaun and Debbie left. I met Peter at Maya Mall later Sunday night where they have a rooftop garden and several live music clubs and bars overlooking Doi Sutep and the Nimmen area of Chiang Mai. At one point in our walk around the rooftop, the music of over six live bands converged at one point into a cacophony of sound. Lights, crowds and the views made for a high energy atmosphere. A set of lit stairs provided seating for many looking out over this social scene or back over the city and mountain range. Peter and I sat at the oyster bar area, the highest point on the roof of the Maya, and completely enjoyed ourselves in conversation and eating (of course) oysters and treating ourselves to a Whiskey Sour.

And so ended week one in Chiang Mai.

Rice Paddy Perfection

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View of the bay from the beach just before starting my foot massage.

Week Two, Day One – Mission Relax on Kho Yao Noi

Koh Yao Noi boasts a diverse and photogenic landscape with mangrove forests lining its west coast, a lush, pastoral interior and sandy east-coast beaches with stunning views of the exotic islands of Phang Nga Bay. Unlike some crowded, highly developed, party centered Thai islands, Yao Noi remains green and tranquil. This is Thai island life at it’s best. A predominantly muslim island in this Buddhist country, we heard call to prayer every evening from several of the island’s mosques.

 

In order to get to Yao Noi we said goodbye to the staff at Royal Cliff Resort in Khao Sok National Park and took a taxi for the three hour journey to Phuket’s Bang Rong Pier. From there we took a speed boat to Koh Yao Noi’s Manoh Pier. The ocean was calm as we weaved among the islands. The vegetation on the islands is so lush it grows right to the shore line except where there are stretches of sandy beaches.

From Manoh Pier we got into a truck taxi that took us to Mike’s Place, our Airbnb. Kuzoku, a friend of Mike’s and owner of Tabeak Viewpoint Guesthouse down the road, showed us around the house and made sure we were settled.

The house had a huge second story balcony off the master bedroom overlooking the stunning Phang Nga Bay. Jagged sandstone islands covered in thick foliage dotted the ocean view from the balcony creating a stunning canvas for the dance of colour at sunrise. Many mornings I would be up early watching the progression of colours across the sky and clouds as the hornbills settled into the trees around the house before flying off overhead.

During our time on the island we were seriously committed to our research, scouting out great places to eat, and the best place for our daily massage. Each of the four of us chose different styles of massage (feet, full body coconut oil or aroma massage, thai massage, herbal ball or tok sen, a type of massage where they use a wooden peg on your body and hit it with a mallet to deliver a vibratory “hit”. See my post from 2016 for more detail on tok sen.) Then we shared our experiences describing our favourite parts of the massage, the kindness and joy of our practitioners, and how fortunate we are to be here together.

After one particularly long, hot walk we swam in the ocean and then had THE best massages yet on our trip at Arita Massage. Arita Massage became a daily “must have” experience for us all as we agreed it was the best massage yet since arriving in Thailand. My Thai Herbal Ball treatment by Bpad was the best I have received and I loved my tok sen with Pu. This is the first time that the rhythmic feel and sound of the wooden peg and mallet over my whole body actually put me to sleep. It is hard to believe that one can fall asleep while being hit repeatedly with wooden tools. Pu used pegs I have never seen before; some with extra wide bases (for the IT bands) and another that looked like a sling shot allowing her to deliver the vibratory hit to both sides of my spine at the same time.

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Paul post tok sen with Pu at Arita Massage.

As I continue to practice speaking Thai, I make frequent tone errors and mix up my numbers or words. If I really want to be able to speak Thai, I have decided to be okay with being the fool, fearlessly (well not completely fearlessly) carrying on. A woman we met later in our trip in Chiang Mai from San Diego shared her experience of learning Thai. She has stopped trying to say the word “banana” in thai as a slightly wrong use of tone can turn the harmless word into an extremely rude descriptor. After offending a roti vendor on the street she is “banana” shy. Tony from California found that a slightly different tone inflection can turn the flattering complement of calling someone beautiful into calling them bad luck.

After trying out my Thai on the staff at Green’s cafe on the beach our first day, whenever I saw them they would ask me questions in Thai to test my capacity. I am using an online program called “Learn Thai from a White Guy” that was developed by a Canadian who has a great system for learning Thai. This has been super helpful in getting me enthused about learning Thai.

For me food is always a central part of travelling. The anticipation of food experiences, the planning of meals and the savouring of the variety of fresh and cooked delicacies is endlessly enjoyable in Thailand.

We met wonderful people and ate great food at Chaba Cafe, Kantery Cafe, Pyramid Restaurant, Baan Chang and VL, but our favourite restaurant hands down was the Rice Paddy Restaurant. Our first experience of this exquisite food and the charming German owner was during one of the evening rainstorms.  On Wednesday evening we watched as a storm approached from across Phang Nga Bay from the comfort of our open air second story balcony. The rain came down just before dinner time with no sign of letting up. There is a truck taxi driver, Mr Withun Klasmut, who had driven us into town and back the day before. I phoned Withun to ask for a pickup to take us to dinner. I couldn’t figure out how to tell him in my limited Thai our exact location (at Mike’s Place. the Airbnb) up the hill from Klang Jark Beach, so I ask for a pick up from Tabeak Viewpoint at 7pm. Everyone seems to know where Tabeak is located. Withun found us at Mike’s Place in the dark and pouring rain at exactly 7 pm as he drove up the road just past Tabeak. On our way to Rice Paddy Restaurant, I was curious as to why he stopped half way at a little collection of shops along the road. He pointed to the ATM giving us the opportunity to get some cash if we needed it knowing we were going out for dinner. Super thoughtful.

We arrived in the dark and the pouring rain at 7pm for the last available table. The German owner was charming, so very friendly and obviously loved food, Thailand and thrived on greeting his guests. We started with cocktails that can only be described as Thailand in a glass. My Siam Sunray had vodka, coconut, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf and juice, ginger, chilli, and palm sugar. Shaun’s Orchard had gin, lychee juice. lemongrass, sugarcane and lychee fruit. Debbie’s Hayride had brandy, Triple Sec, and lime juice. The dinner began with an amuse bouche of half cherry tomatoes with peanuts and a sweet and sour sauce. The entire meal, and experience was exquisite: Pineapple fried rice with cashews, curry and raisons served in a half pineapple, Gaeng Madsaman, a rich, red muslim curry with chicken, potatoes and peanuts, and my personal favourite the Baramundi (a popular fish used in Thai cooking) in tamarind sauce and crispy onions. For dessert we had the generously portioned Rice Paddy Mango Cup with mango and coconut ice cream, fresh mango, sticky rice and coconut cream with a type of cotton candy like garnish on top. Truly our best meal and dining experience yet.

We returned to Rice Paddy for our last meal on the island during sunset. The view was spectacular as we looked out over the south tip of the island. Again we had a most spectacular meal. Some of Rice Paddy’s dishes are resurrected original versions of Thai specialities now often westernized in many Thai restaurants. They have taken the time to talk with local elders to learn how certain dishes were traditionally prepared in order to offer local, fresh food made with passion and time honoured methods. From the Rice Paddy website: “Cooking is like love, it should be entered into with complete abandon or not at all.” –Harriet Van Horne 1956

One day we went into town on the west side of the island to get some essentials (gin, tonic, fruit, and soda water and limes) and also found a great store run by Joy where we purchased island cloths such as batik sarongs, and Thai pants.

We booked a Thai Cooking Class with Mina in her home kitchen near the town. We met a mother and daughter from Poland that we immediately hit it off with and had way too much fun chopping fruits, vegetables and meat, and making our own coconut milk and cream from fresh coconuts using the traditional coconut grater that one sits on like a rocking horse! We ended the day eating our creations around a big table hearing all about Mina’s wild life growing up on the island. Her story was such a shock to us all as her confidence, joy, and the expertise she demonstrated during the class not once gave us an indication of her fraught upbringing. We left Mina’s with two new Polish friends having had a great food experience, and a book full of wonderful recipes to make at home.

Each morning I tried to do some type of exercise such as a Freedom Functional Fitness style workout, or a run. One of my favourite mornings ended up being a run along the ocean past some high end resorts to a small secluded beach where I went for a swim and then ran back to Mike’s.

On one of our walks down the beach we discovered a Mangrove swamp with a boardwalk running through it and a Phang Nga Bay hill-top lookout. On our way back to our place we stopped at Chaba Cafe where Melanie bought two great books, and we looked through their wine selection, art gallery, and bought some kombucha.

One day we hired a longboat captain to take us around the islands in the bay for the day. it was a glorious day of sunshine as we visited island beaches and bays. We stopped to snorkel fascinated by the colourful assortment of fish and coral. We spotted an immense jelly fish surrounded by small colourful fish swimming around it and within it’s gracefully undulating head. One of my favourite fish were the clown fish frolicking in the softly swaying coral – my “Finding Nemo” experience. One of the small islands had monkeys sunning themselves on rocks by the ocean. Our guide had chunks of banana that he tossed from our boat to the monkeys. One baby monkey kept doing cannon ball jumps into the water to retrieve the banana even if it meant diving down into the ocean. One teenager kept stuffing piece after piece into its’ mouth using its’ thumb to fill every space as his cheeks puffed out in all directions. Once he couldn’t push anymore into his mouth he swam back to the rocks to try and eat it all up.

On our last full day on Yao Noi my sister Melanie and I rented scooters to explore the island while Shaun and Debbie chilled out back at Mike’s. We had a map of the island, and suggestions of places to visit setting off with confidence. We had an eventful day and lived up to our “Buffel” reputation of taking the road less travelled, in search of our next great adventure. We rode through rubber tree plantations, on the edge of mangrove swamps, through rice fields, and on an ocean side road that ended in a chill Italian owned cafe at the north tip of the island.

In our search for a secluded beach we took the wrong road and had to turn back once the road became impassable. Our retreat came after climbing steep, rocky, rutted roads that looked like they had been washed out by rainstorms from a prior season and turned into a single track path through the jungle. Melanie and I only thought to stop and take a picture of our madness on these crazy roads once we were safely on a level, yet pitted, wet road after I peeled my fingers off the scooter handle bars. All ended well with a swim in the ocean and a return of the scooter without any damage to it or our ourselves.

None of us wanted to leave the island, yet we were excited to be heading for Chiang Mai the next day. I know and love Chiang Mai after having spent a month or more at a time there over the last few years. I am so looking forward to sharing this creative, vibrant Thai city with Shaun, Melanie and Debbie and then to begin the part of this journey that centres on my work as a Massage Therapist and Thai Massage Practitioner.

Smiley Thailand

Over the next 6-7 weeks I will be writing a post a week to share my experiences of travel, food, education, and adventure in one of the most wonderful countries in the world, Thailand.

I first studied Thai Massage in Thailand in 1991. This year’s trip is my third in the last six years for Thai Massage continuing education courses. For the first time since 1991 I am also  vacationing; this time with family (my husband Shaun and sister Melanie) and our dear friend Debbie, as well as hosting a study tour of Canadian Natural Health Practitioners (from the NHPC) who are coming to Thailand to learn Thai Massage for the first time.

The four of us will travel from the city of Bangkok (over 6.5 million people), to Khao Sok National Park, to the south west island of Ko Yao Noi (a small nature lovers island with a tight-knit Muslim community in this predominantly Buddhist country), and finally to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand.

Shaun, myself, and Debbie left January 1st at 10 am flying through Vancouver, and Beijing, to Bangkok arriving at 12:30 am January 3rd. Khao San Road, where our hotel was located, was partying at top volume until the police shut it down at 4 am. We moved to a quieter room at the back of the hotel the next day. We visited the spectacular Wat Arun (the Dawn Temple made of glazed porcelain tiles and seashells), took a longboat ride through the canals, ate our first delicious thai lunch at “the Gate” across the street from Wat Pho (temple of the Reclining Golden Buddha) before heading home for a cocktail and a swim in the Dang Derm Hotel rooftop pool. The rooftop view was stunning, overlooking the Royal Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Arun and all of central Bangkok.

That night partiers arriving to their room across the hall from us at 4 am turned on the dance music top volume and continued their party until I went down to reception to request an intervention. Needless to say sleep was a bit elusive our first few days in Bangkok.

The lack of sleep didn’t stop us from exploring the spectacular Jim Thompson House, and the Emerald Buddha at the Royal Palace the next day. Jim Thomson’s story is fascinating but too long to include in full here. In brief, he was an American engineer and entrepreneur who fell in love with Thailand, moved to Bangkok, had 6 Traditional Thai homes joined together unconventionally, and filled them with art, Thai silks, antiques, and all things of Asian beauty. He was central in reviving Thai silk production using his contacts to market Thai silk to fashion houses in New York and made them highly popular after they were used in the Broadway Production of “The King and I.” For his contribution to the development of the Thai Silk industry, Jim Thompson was awarded the Order of the White Elephant, a decoration bestowed upon foreigners for having rendered exceptional service to Thailand. Thompson’s success story in Thailand has become one of the most popular postwar legends of Asia. After living in his beautiful home for only 7 years he mysteriously disappeared into the jungle of Cameron Highlands in Malaysia in 1967 never to be seen again. His home is now a stunning and well organized museum, shop, restaurant and cafe.

We ate another delicious lunch at Sala Rattanakosin overlooking the Chao Phraya River towards Wat Arun. At the Royal Palace we hired a local guide named Punch, a young Thai man who had studied Linguistics in Atlanta, Georgia. His humour, knowledge, and willingness to answer our questions, as well as a number of other tourists’ along the way, charmed us all.

We met my sister, who had flown in from Beijing via Vancouver that afternoon, on our rooftop for another swim, cocktails and then a great dinner at Madame Masur on Soi Rambutri.

The next morning all four of us left for Surat Thani on Thai Smile Airways, and caught a taxi to the Royal Cliff Resort and Spa on the edge of Khao Sok National Park. Our charming Thai style cabins faced the newly constructed pool surrounded by the exotic limestone cliffs. The Royal Cliff team of Mr A, Miss Mew, Miss May, and Mr. Boy considered every detail, remembering our names, providing us with towels and water for the hot springs, toiletries for our overnight stay on Chatow Lake Reservoir, and arranging our transportation to our next destination, the island of Ko Yao Noi. That afternoon we visited the Monkey Temple, and soaked in the scorchingly hot hot springs.

We were to have bathed the Elephants in the river as well, but once we arrived at what we thought was an Elephant Sanctuary, we found that they supported the riding of Elephants. We left explaining we wouldn’t support the unethical treatment of Elephants (in order for anyone to ride an Elephant it has been tortured). Fortunately, there is a growing number of elephant refuge centres in Thailand that are employing sustainable methods to keep elephants healthy and happy while providing rewarding elephant interactions for tourists. We will be visiting one such Sanctuary called the Elephant Nature Park north of Chiang Mai.

Our second day in Khao Sok, we travelled to the Cheow Lan Reservoir, an artificial lake created by the Rajjaprabha (Light of the Kingdom) Hydroelectric Dam in 1982. It took an entire year to flood the 165 square km area and only the original inhabitants of the land are allowed to own and operate floating cabins on the Lake such as the “Smiley Raft House” where we stayed on the lake overnight.

One of the joys of travelling is meeting people from all over the world and connecting instantly and intensely, knowing your time together is short. One of the challenges of travel is being with people that are obnoxious and demanding and being thankful your time together is short. In the close confines of our boat ride to Smiley, we experienced both. Pascael and Alex from Paris were one of the great joys of this excursion.

Once we arrived at Smiley, we swam in the warm water and went kayaking. My sister Melanie and I joined a vigorously challenging jungle trek which included 45 minutes through a wet cave. There were bats, and areas where we were wading in water shoulder height through narrow rock channels! This was definitely an Indian Jones experience. You aren’t allowed to hike through the caves during rain showers as flash floods fill the cave with water. Needless to say the thunder we heard from inside the cave sped us all up as we neared the end of the trek. On our longboat ride back to Smiley Raft House, our group was pelted with rain and winds as we road into the storm that was quickly making its way across the lake. Each of us had a deep long sleep that night the only sounds those of the jungle (far from the big city sounds).

Early the next morning we went on a lake safari to see monkeys feeding in the trees and various birds such as the Hornbill. After breakfast we stopped for another cave hike on our way back to the dock at Rajjaprabha Dam.

Back at the Royal Cliff the next day, we each had a Thai Massage, ate more of their excellent food and soaked up the views as this was our last night before heading to Phuket were we would catch a boat to our Airbnb on the island of Ko Yao Noi.

My sister caught the flu and had a rough last night at Royal Cliff, but was a trooper and soldiered on laying down across the back seat of the minivan that took us to Phuket. By the time we loaded into the boat at Phuket Pier, Melanie was reviving, her energy picking up, bolstered by our collective excitement at arriving on the island we would stay on for an entire week. We met a woman who was volunteering at Island Yoga as their receptionist so now we had a yoga destination to visit on the island. We arrived at our Airbnb late afternoon, were greeted by Kuzuyo who showed us around, and took a walk to the beach where we ate local fish and a Chicken Tikka pizza. While waiting for our food each of us booked in for our massage of choice (Aroma-oil, Coconut Oil, Thai Massage and Indian Head Massage) at JJ Queen Thai Massage next door to the restaurant.

We managed to walk back up the hill to our Airbnb and spent the early evening lounging on our huge open air deck overlooking Phang Nga Bay. It is hard to believe all this has happened in only a week.