Good bye Chiang Mai, hello Saskatoon!

I came to Thailand to complete the Government Certified Training of 300 hours for Thai Massage teaching (GCT 300) at TMC School and to take two other workshops from David Lutt. Eight weeks seemed like a very long time to be away, but it sure flew by (at least on my end). We had our last vegan lunch at Kat Ruam Chok Market prepared by the culinary wizard Yupin. She made us special dishes for our last day. I will miss her great cooking. Thankfully, she gifted me her special Myanmar spice blend so I can do my best to recreate some of the flavour of her dishes at home.

Yesterday my six classmates and I, along with other TMC students who had completed their programs, took part in a big Graduation Ceremony. We gathered in a room, had speeches from Nai (who works in the TMC office ensuring that everything, and I mean everything runs smoothly), Jan and Noo (TMC owners), and a student representative from each class. All our teachers were present as well.

Jan and Noo had just returned from a trip to India and gifted their teachers with clothing that they all wore for the graduation. They all looked incredibly beautiful. Each graduating class gave our teachers flowers, so it was an incredibly colourful, and eventually tearful, celebration. We all felt the reality that come Monday morning we wouldn’t be seeing each other at class as we have for the past five weeks. We were scattering around the world hopeful that our paths will cross again.

Twenty two of us gathered at the poplar Riverside Restaurant for a dinner boat cruise up and down the Ping River that night, and then went out for drinks and dancing at the funky THC rooftop bar near the Tha Phae Gate. As Cathleen from Alaska said, “we had a juicy time!”

I managed to get some sleep and was ready to begin my last full day in Chiang Mai cycling the countryside with my guesthouse owner Noi, and two other Tip Top guests, Jack and Xavier. We began cycling south and west of the city by 8:30 am visiting great coffee shops (Mao, Praw & Plean, and The Old Cafe at Baan Kang Wat), had a great lunch at Praw & Plean, and wandered around Baan Kang Wat, or House by the Temple, an area comprised of small houses whose architectural style is uniquely thai-contempory serving as business spaces for artists, craftsman, gardeners and cafe/restuarant owners.

Next we visited the tunnels of Wat Umong, a 700 year old Buddhist Temple. According to local legend, the King regularly consulted a monk who lived at the Wat Umong Maha Thera Chan, a temple located within the old city walls of Chiang Mai. The monk used a tunnel to meditate in peace and quiet. As the city of Chiang Mai grew the monk found it more and more difficult to meditate. To accommodate the monk, the King ordered a number of tunnels dug out in a man made mound outside the city, in a forested area bordering Doi Suthep mountain. The tunnels were lined with brick walls, plastered, and painted with Buddhist murals. Shrines with images of the Buddha were added, giving the monk a new place to meditate in peace and quiet.

The Wat and its’ grounds are extensive and also contains a meditation centre which hosts meditation classes and Dhamma talks. It was the perfect day to a most magical Chiang Mai experience. THANKS NOI!

So it is farewell to my friends in Chiang Mai, until next time. In a few hours I will be on a plane to Seoul, Vancouver, then home to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (everyone I meet that asks me where I am from gets a kick out of trying to repeat that name back).

 

Lime Leaf Eco Lodge

What to do on the last full weekend in Chiang Mai, Thailand? Get outta town. As much as I LOVE Chiang Mai, I was aching to get out into the countryside for some therapeutic nature time and do what the Japanese call Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. So that is what five of my TMC classmates and I did. Kana (from Tokyo), Clara (from Skye), Irena (heading back to Romania soon), Oleksii (Ukrainian/Russian) and I got outta town. And what an adventure we had!

I saw a poster at Bird’s Nest Cafe for Lime Leaf Eco Lodge and so I googled them. It looked perfect. Their site emphasized their sustainable practices, with a focus on environmental and community based initiatives, organic farming, and a laid back atmosphere.  They offer low key, simple accommodation situated close to Chiang Mai. Lime Leaf is perched high above a valley, on the fringe of a temperate, virgin forest at 1100 meters above sea level in Khun Chae National Park. There is solar power (for limited lighting, charging cameras, phones etc.), a steam tent, a spring-fed plunge pool, billiard table (that’s right!), a swimmable waterfall close by, fresh mountain spring water, wood fire cooking, delicious home cooked food and a fantastic view overlooking 3 mountain ranges and a terraced hillside farmed by the Black Lahu (Mhuser) hill tribe. They arrange guided hikes, cooking classes, overnight camping and more.

Our adventure began Saturday morning with a 7:15 am breakfast at the Blue Diamond and a walk to Chang Puak Bus Station. Kana was meeting us separately at Chang Puak and almost missed us as she initially headed by taxi to the wrong bus station. With open arms, big smiles, hugs and much laughter (as we often do in Kana’s sweet presence) we greeted her at the bus station just in time. Here we caught a yellow taxi that took us to the Nam Lon hot springs. We’d arranged to have Winai, the husband of Noi and owners of Lime Leaf, pick us up to take us to the Eco Lodge.

Some of us rode in the truck cab and the rest of us gleefully rode in the back of the pick up to the point at which Winai stopped where the road ended and the path began that would take us to Lime Leaf. Winai told us to begin walking up the path as he unloaded some food and supplies into the basket on the front of his motorcycle that he would ride to Lime Leaf. We picked up our gear and began to walk unaware of the climb we had ahead of us. As Winai passed us on his motorcycle he exclaimed, “see you up there!” Even though we didn’t know him yet, we could have sworn that he had a mischievous smile on his face and that his laugh sounded a bit devious. We soon all agreed that our impression was true and he could have added the word “suckers!” to the end of his sentence and it would have been entirely appropriate. We were on a 1 km path that went straight up the hill to Lime Leaf. We were exhausted after only a few minutes and this was only the beginning to our trekking adventure.

At the top of the hill was a Lanna Muay Thai Boxing ring and training area guarded by a hoard of dogs. At Lime Leaf we settled in after a tour by Noi who showed us our accommodation. The woman had a large hut that could sleep four to five people complete with a balcony, kitchen area, and a fire platform. The huts were made of wood and bamboo, yet Noi encouraged us to build a (small) fire that night on top of the earth filled wooden box on the balcony. The women unpacked in their hut while Oleksii and I walked to our hut just down the hill. As we were unpacking I heard what I thought must have been seed pods falling from the trees onto our roof. I was wrong, it was the mischievous Irena shooting rocks from one of two sling shots that came supplied with a bowl full of rock ammunition.

Lime Leaf is built into the hillside with steep earthen steps and pathways connecting the main lodge to the huts, gardens, steam hut, and plunge pool. Their handyman/grounds keeper was a kind, comical man who was constantly playing music, singing along, and talking to himself as he worked. Irena could understand some of what he said, such as when he asked us in Thai if we thought he was a good DJ! That comment had us in stitches. He prepared the steam hut by building the fire and filling the steam pot with water and fresh herbs as we were playing billiards up the hillside near the lodge. Noi called it a mountain billiards table which we figured out meant it was totally uneven and in some cases so much so, that if you didn’t hit the ball hard enough you could watch it approach a pocket and then roll away from it in the opposite direction. How they ever got this behemoth of a billiards table up the hillside is beyond me. Between the “mountain” challenges of the table and our skill level as players it took us the better part of the early afternoon to play a few games. We had so much fun I am sure our laughter could be heard by the villagers across the valley.

Once the steam hut was ready, all five of us jumped in to the sweet smell of local Thai herbs in the small, steamy hut. We each took turns twirling Irena’s towel like a fan in front of the steam vent circulating the hot, steamy air to maximize the herbal benefits. We spent hours going in and out, plunging into the spring fed cool pool. Our handyman kept coming back from his gardening work to stoke the fire for us and asking, “my friends. OK?” I am sure he wondered how we could spend so much time in there and if we were cooking ourselves to death.

Until dinner we hung out on the lodge’s balcony overlooking the valley using binoculars to watch out over the landscape and chat with each other about our good fortune to be in the country breathing sweet fragrant air looking out over a sea of green.

Dinner was served around 7:45pm to the ten travellers staying at the lodge. Noi and her daughter (who has two young children) had prepared a feast of fantastic food. Chicken or vegetarian soup, rice, spiced pumpkin, a vegetarian fry, chicken vegetable curry, another vegetable dish and freshly picked, sweet, juicy papaya from their tree. It began to rain during dinner and continued all night. That didn’t stop us from having a fire though.

Clara’s skills at starting fires in damp Scottish conditions on the Isle of Skye came in handy on this cool, rainy evening. Within minutes she had a roaring, but appropriately small, fire going on the balcony.

That night as I began to fade into sleep at the sound of the rain, I had a profound sense of being perched on the side of the hill. The energy of the landscape here was such a contrast to the feel of flat, wide open spaces of the Prairie landscape I live in. I could feel the ground sloping away under me despite the fact that our hut was built level, supported on stilts. I slept soundly and awoke early morning to bird sounds and a misty view over the awakening valley.

Clara made coffee in the morning at the women’s hut despite not finding all the coffee tools necessary, making do with what she found. Later, our caretaker came by to show us where everything else was, but by then Clara and Irena had McGyvered a strong brew of coffee.

After a full breakfast at the main lodge we began our trek through the hills with our thoughtful, friendly, and extremely adept Lahu guide Jhamho. Jhamho means “monkey” and after only a short time with him, we agreed his name was appropriate. He could climb and navigate any trail, or path, clearing brush, cutting each of us walking sticks (two for Kana), and spying a stray sugar cane left in the fields, he cut it up for us to chew on along the way. Spitting out the cane pulp became a  great source of amusement. He carved flutes and whistles out of bamboo and some of us spent the rest of the trek trying our best to make some sort of coherent sound come from them. Jhamho on the other hand just put them to his lips and played away. Irena and I began to call him Thai Tarzan, king of the jungle. She was determined she’d found her husband in such a talented man until she found out he was married and had a child.

Kana only brought one pair of shoes and they would have been perfect for strutting the runway in a Tokyo Fashion Show, but were not so great for trekking through the jungle. Jhampho cut steps into the soil on steep declines just in front of Kana so she could traverse down and Oleksii carried her on his back over streams that the rest of us walked through or hopped on rocks and logs to get over. We began to call her Princess Kana. With a little help from her friends Kana went valiantly on and completed the whole 6 and a half hour trek in her high heeled black wedge shoes.

We passed through a Lahu village and had tea at a woman’s home where some of us bought a few items made in the village. We passed traditional wood and bamboo Lahu homes walking around roaming pigs, chickens, roosters and dogs until we became engulfed in jungle again. We walked by land covered in terraced rows of vegetables, while other areas were shaded by black material under which grew rows and rows of ferns. The ferns produce a flower that no one could describe to us but was a big money maker. We joked it might be Opium, once the main crop in this area, but now replaced by flowers, vegetables, and strawberries. We stopped mid day at a cool running stream where we swam and came up with creative yoga poses to do on the rocks in the middle of the stream. While we were having our fun, Jhampo and another guide were building a fire, and making vessels and utensils to cook our lunch of sticky rice, vegetable noodles, mackerel, roasted child paste, and fresh ripe papaya. We sat on a mat of banana leaves cut from the jungle and marvelled at the skills and generosity of our guides. They had been carrying all the provisions for our lunch in a back pack. Water for tea was boiled inside a long piece of bamboo stuck in the fire. We drank the tea from bamboo cups with the bottom end sharpened so we could stick it into the uneven ground while eating. Once we were done Jhamho used a machete to carve each of us a larger bamboo mug and even the bottom of our tea vessels to take home with us.

Exhausted and nearing the end of daylight we once again walked up the steep hillside to Lime Leaf only to pack and walk back down. Noi was taking us and two German travellers back to Chiang Mai in the pickup. Four of us rode in the back of the truck all the way to Chiang Mai which only took an hour and a half.

Two days at Lime Leaf felt like a week, which is the amount of time we wished we could have stayed here. Away from the hustle of the city, the five of us could feel our minds and bodies unwind. The setting was so stunningly beautiful and the people so kind, our weekend of laughter and play was pure joy for us all.

Lime Leaf is now partnering with Arun Thai which makes hand-made massage, spa and body care products – 100% natural, fair trade, sustainable and not tested on animals. They take first-class Thai ingredients and centuries-old herbal traditions and interpret them in a contemporary way for retail, export and wholesale world-wide. When at Lime Leaf I saw bags of black and white tumeric which is part of an organic farming pilot project. The owners of Lime Leaf are also friends with Yao of Bird’s Nest Cafe who supports organic food production, cycling, and pretty much anything environmental and community based in Chiang Mai. I am beginning to get a sense of the vital, creative, and active network of people and businesses supporting each other for positive environmental, artistic, and community based living in and around Chiang Mai. I’ll be back.

http://www.limeleaf-thailand.com/pages/trekking_main.html

 

Teaching Success and Tok Sen Sensation!

The week of teaching Level 1 Thai Massage to a group of Nursing Assistant students began well in the morning but took an unexpected turn over lunch. On the busy street next to the school a student was hit by a car as they crossed to eat lunch at the market. The group of students was very distraught and worried for their friend and all went to the hospital to be with her. Fortunately diagnostic tests showed she had no broken bones with only a cut on her head, a headache and a swollen eye. She was kept at the hospital overnight for observation and released Tuesday afternoon. We are all very relieved.

Then on Wednesday another student fainted in class and was taken to hospital and kept for observation overnight due to a pre-existing health condition. TMC staff handled both situations incredibly well. Their professionalism in dealing with the teachers in training and students under this kind of pressure, as well as their compassion for the students, is commendable.

Despite these incidents, it has been a great learning experience teaching Thai Massage to this group of young thai students. Most of our students have never given or received a Thai Massage. When asked if they liked being taught Thai Massage from foreigners they shared with us that they thought learning from foreigners gave them a chance to practice english (we have  A LOT of fun with this), they describe us as friendly, and they think we are less strict than Thai teachers. That got a laugh from our TMC supervisors.

Friday afternoon the students completed a full body practice on each other and took part in their graduation ceremony at the end of the day. The two students that had not been with us for the week were well enough to attend the celebration with us and their classmates. One of the students brought a stunning flower arrangement as an offering for the Buddhist alter that he had created himself. Some students were in tears by the end of the ceremony and thanked us, sharing that they were sad it was over and that we had to part ways. They gave each teacher flowers and a thank-you card printed with their selfie pictures. We gave each of the students a handmade thai elephant zipper pouch with a massage balm inside purchased from Wat Panwhaen.

This week I also had to say goodbye to my great friend Peter who is the one that introduced me to David Lutt’s work and is the reason I returned to Chiang Mai to take the Dynamic and Osteo Thai workshops in January. We had a great celebration complete with Peter’s magic tricks at the rooftop restaurant, CNX bar, and ended the night with a street party on Nimmanhaemin Road.

This week I also went to Wat Mahawan for a Tok Sen treatment within the temple grounds. Tok Sen is a centuries old Northern Thai practice developed by Buddhist Monks. Rhythmic tapping over the body and acu-points (sen lines) using a Tamarind wood mallet (khone) and wedge (limb) creates a vibration that penetrates deeply through the body’s fascia and muscles to the bones. Tok Sen is used to release tension, reduce pain, induce relaxation, increase circulation, and facilitate healing. The tapping can be combined with other Thai Massage techniques such as kneading, pressing, stretching, twisting and rocking.

The temple’s massage space is an open area with a collection of chairs used for foot massage and raised platforms for thai massage and Tok Sen treatments. When I arrived several people were in various stages of receiving foot massage, thai massage, and Tok Sen treatments. It was a wonderfully chilled atmosphere. The tapping sound of several Tok Sen treatments happening at once created a soothing, rhythmic dance of sound for everyone in the space. At one point during my treatment, my practitioner and another moved in and out of synchronizing their tapping which gave me such pleasure, I am sure it doubled the positive effect it had on me. I left feeling so very relaxed, yet I was literally tingling all over!

The second treatment of Tok Sen that I received this week was from Joe Khumlee at Wat Panwhaen. As I walked through the temple grounds to the massage area, I stopped to watch a man creating thai dragons to adorn the temple out of metal ducting and tin snips. Some of the pictures included in this blog are of him and scenes within the walls of Wat Panwhaen.  Joe teaches Thai Massage and Tok Sen out of this Wat and trains his staff for both Wat Massage Centres here. Joe’s Thai Massage and Tok Sen treatment was one of the best massages I have ever experienced. Joe blended Tok Sen, rhythmic motions, rocking, and pressure work for an otherworldly massage experience.

I learned Tok Sen two years ago from Thai Medicine Doctor Phor Mor Tannin Fainéant when I was studying at TMC in Chiang Mai. Since then, I have incorporated the technique somewhat into both my table and thai massages. However, after these treatments I have a deeper appreciation for how I want to expand my use of this unique healing modality with clients once I am back in Saskatoon.

I have already begun planning my next continuing education trip to Thailand and it will include a Tok Sen workshop from Joe Khumlee.

And a blog about Chiang Mai wouldn’t be complete without mention of food. And as I have quite the sweet tooth, the food I will talk about time is sweet. Passionfruit season is nearly done and I have done my share to ensure not a single passionfruit goes bad or uneaten. I have it with my muesli every morning, in shakes, juice blends, and in my homemade kombucha. The season for mangosteen is arriving and I hope they make it to the market before my return to Canada next week.

One of my favourite treats is coconut ice cream. But the street vendors here take ice cream to a whole new level serving it with sweet sticky rice on the bottom. My newest find is a vendor tucked in the back of the International Food Park. Here they take a halved fresh coconut, scoop out the fresh meat in strips and set the coconut ice cream in the hollowed out coco shell. Then they drape the fresh coconut strips over the ice cream and top it with either fresh, juicy, ripe strawberries, roasted peanuts, or sweet corn kernels. I suppose you could do all three toppings! There is always a reason to go back for more…

 

All study and no play makes Paul a dull boy. Good thing I am not that Paul.

The last two weeks has flown by without me blogging a single post. The training at TMC ramped up since my last post. Our class taught our first group of students a two day foot massage course. Happy to say we all made it through the experience, students and teaching students alike, with more knowledge and skills than when we started.

TMC arranged transportation to the Anatomy Department at the University of Chiang Mai where we spent an afternoon in the cadaver lab brushing up on our anatomy. We also had a written and practical test on Level One that we will be teaching all week beginning this coming Monday to another group of students in their Nursing Assistant program. It is an enormous amount of detail and process to memorize and perform in order to make our teaching clear, and effective for a five day full body Thai Massage course. I have been joining my other classmates on evenings and weekends to practice our treatments and teaching techniques.

This Saturday I also took a one day course on how to teach Thai chair massage.

Since my last post I have also managed to squeeze in some social and exploration time, discovering some more Chiang Mai gems.

Nicole and I spent a wonderful Sunday practicing our Dynamic Thai techniques and then lounging at the gorgeous Clay Studio Cafe, a haven off a small soi (lane road) in the Old City with tables scattered about a lush jungle garden enclosed by high brick walls adorned with clay statues and friezes. Great coffee and delicious food. My dish was a perfectly breaded white fish with green curry and blue rice (boiled in blue pea flower water). We also learned how to carve vegetables into decorative flowers by a delightful Thai woman who has been doing this for over 30 years. From there we spent the afternoon relaxing by and in the Lotus Hotel pool to beat the heat as we move into the hot season (36 celsius during the day).

In my continued search for good coffee shops I discovered Arte Cafe where a Chinese Dragon came for a visit on Chinese New Year. Then there is Ponganes Coffee Roasters, and Overstand for breakfast and coffee. iBerry is an experience unto itself. It has food stalls, a clothing store and ice cream/coffee shop that shouldn’t be missed when in Chiang Mai. The courtyard has great lounging space with a large tree in the centre which is light up at night. Odd sculptures and paintings adorn the walls and grounds. For great thin crust handmade pizza with a large number of vegetarian and vegan offerings as well, By Hand Aristan Pizza Lounge in the Old City is great place to people watch on the corner of a small soi.

Tuesday night was open mike at the North Gate Jazz Club, always a hot spot any night in Chiang Mai. It was my last night to say goodbye to Nicole before she left for home in Germany.

My guesthouse owner Noi took Andreas (another student from TMC who stayed at Tip Top) and me to Huen Phen, a popular local Northern Thai Food restaurant in the Old City. Our menu included spicy banana flower soup, curried pork ( Burmese style), Lanna spicy minced pork (Laab Moo), spiced green chilli dip and steamed vegetables, spicy young jackfruit salad, fried chicken, fried Lanna sausage and sticky rice that we ate with our hands. Thanks to Noi I have been introduced to more authentic Northern Thai food. Another great Northern Thai restaurant just outside the Old City is Huen Muan Jai. Tucked in off the main street it is always packed and also super delicious.

Near the Night Market is the charming Ploen Ruedee International Food Park. It is a collection of great food stalls surrounding a stage for nightly live music and a courtyard filled with tables and chairs, high tables with bar stools, and hay bails surrounding wooden spools as coffee tables.

Peter and I had a super fun evening in the Nimmen area west of the old city eating seafood off the table with our hands at “Catch”. Then we had chocolaty truffles and tamarind sorbet at iBerry and took photos with the crazy sculptures there. To round off the evening we went to Warm Up, a Thai hotspot for live music and dance music. Then it was a late night snack from Tacos Bell, a great food “truck” that parks outside Zoe and Yellow dance club.

On Saturday Night a group of us met at the Chiang Mai Balloon Park for a festival called  Space Artsdict. The attendance was low but the concept was interesting. There were artists doing graffiti art on boards, other artists displaying and selling clothing, furniture, lighting, and drawings. There were three stages playing live and recorded music and some great food. A friend Gabe has been going all out brewing creative kombucha flavours and brought me a sample of his latest batch to taste. Out of this world Gabe!

On the way home Peter and I passed the mega mall Central Festival that was packed with screaming, happy, energetic Thais rocking to the sounds of the Uber popular music star Modern Dog. We were caught up in the joy and excitement of the concert and had, yes, more food, while meeting those around us.

Today I cycled to Hauy Tung Tao Lake to meet Jenny for a coffee, hike to a waterfall and swim in the lake. Then her husband Mark joined us for lunch lakeside. We had a great fried Tilapia with herbs and hot sauce along with Green Papaya salad. Then I spent the afternoon preparing for the week of teaching that begins Monday morning. Peter and I had great wood fired pizza at Street Pizza, a walk through the Sunday night walking market and it’s the end of another fabulous week in Chiang Mai.

 

 

Teacher Training at TMC

Seven of us have completed our first week of teacher training at the Thai Massage School of Chiang Mai (TMC). It has been great to reconnect with my teachers from two years ago and meet a whole new group of students.

This week the focus was on learning the Thai foot massage program that we will teach to a group of young Nursing Assistant students this coming week. It is great to have the opportunity to put our new skills in foot massage and teaching to practice in a real teaching situation within our program at TMC, even if learning one week, then teaching it the next is a little nerve racking.

As a fun classroom exercise to practice lesson planning, class preparation, and teaching, each of us had to come up with a topic to teach to our classmates within 10 minutes. Thailand is a beautiful country where food is everywhere and its’ presentation can include decoratively carved fruits and vegetables. I thought I would use the theme of beauty and food within my teaching topic.  I am including a picture here of me demonstrating to my classmates how to fold a napkin into a pinwheel design. I bought napkins for each of us, printed out step by step instructions on how to do the fold, practiced my introduction, demonstration and guided folding to prepare for the class. Of course my teaching ended with us having a snack of coconut pancakes and gooseberries that I had bought at the market.

This weekend was packed with great things to do including the Chiang Mai Flower Festival, the Chiang Mai Month of Photography Festival, coffee shop visits, and a Farm Dinner organized by the restaurant Rustic and Blue.

The pictures here from the Flower Festival include displays around and inside of the public park in Old Chiang Mai, events on the Tha Phae stage, and from the parade that started at 8 am on Saturday. There were stunning floral displays, orchid competitions, and each float was decorated with individual flowers and flower bouquets. I can’t imagine how long it must have taken to prepare the floats. During the parade there were marching bands, dancers, fire breathers, and processions in traditional costumes.

It amazes me how the internet and smart phones have changed travel and can instantly influence what I plan to do with my day. A half a world away in Saskatoon, a friend and neighbour, Jacquie emailed me on Saturday while I was watching the parade with a list of the top ten coffee shops in Chiang Mai that she found on the internet. Since I hadn’t been to all of the ones on the list so far I decided I needed to check out a few once the parade ended. My favourite was a tiny shop called Graph Cafe that has incredible coffee, is owned by a designer and photography enthusiast, and was were I found out about the Photography Festival. So from there I cycled around the city to the different photography exhibit venues as part of the month long photography festival.

Then last night I met my wonderful new friends Nicole, Jenny, and Mark for a Farm Dinner hosted by the restaurant Rustic and Blue. Spending the evening with these three was a real treat, and so comfortable, it was like we had known each other for years.

We rode a red truck taxi north and east of Chiang Mai for a Farm to Table dinner that will definitely be a highlight of my trip. I am including the poster and menu in my photos. It was a five course meal with wine, and local craft beer from “My Beer Friend” and live music. We met people from all over the world who are travelling in Thailand, living and working here, or studying or doing research here. The company and conversations were fantastic, as was the five course meal prepared by a French Canadian Chef from Montreal, now the head chef at Rustic and Blue.

He came out to visit everyone (60 people or so) between the courses to talk about the food, our love for food, food as love, more about food, and life. We spent the generous time between courses chair hopping, meeting different people, and lounging on mats and pillows on a bamboo dock bedecked with lights over the water. The evening began at 5:30pm and the taxi took us home at 11:30pm. It was another great adventure in Chiang Mai.

 

The Samoeng Loop

Doing Thai Massage takes strength and stamina, and I revel in physical challenges to keep me in shape. Cycling is one of my great passions and I was able to indulge that passion in spades this weekend.

My big plan was to ride the 100 km Samoeng Loop road that circles around the Doi Sutep mountain range on Saturday. There is a 1400 metre elevation change with some serious switchbacks and steep ascents and descents, but I was feeling up to it. Not, however, with my single speed “Create” bicycle.

The road bike I was to pick up Friday night from NK bike rental just outside the southeast corner of the old city walls didn’t get back to the shop in time. So the owner rented me a great Trek road bike and even threw in his own cycling shoes which happened to be a perfect fit. This is very unusual, as finding a bike big enough for me wasn’t easy, and to find a bike shop owner with the same size feet was uncanny.

After I picked up the bike, I met Nicole and Kelly at “Cooking Love” restaurant Friday for THE best mango chicken curry with rice and a whole fish. Then Nicole and I went gallery hopping as part of Galleries’ Night, an event organized by the Chiang Mai Art Conversation (CAC). Studios, galleries, event spaces such at Thaphae East, art cafes, and others, hosted art and photography exhibits, open studios, documentary films, live music, and provided free food and beverages (including beer!) Friday and Saturday night. It was an amazing event that took me all over the city, over the two nights.

By 7:30 am Saturday morning I donned my Bike Dr. cycling gear and set off for the Samoeng loop. Within the first 90 minutes I had two flat tires! Fortunately, I had a pump and repair kit with me so all I lost was time.

It was a beautiful and challenging ride through the mountains with many places to stop. On the trip I took breaks at a great cafe, several look out spots, a small town for lunch, and at a strawberry farm. There were spectacular views that I stopped to look at whenever it was safe, or when I needed to give my butt a rest.

Total cycling time was about five hours, and the total trip time with all the flats and breaks was about seven and a half hours. When I got back into the city I had my favourite banana black sesame smoothy at Pun Pun, then headed home for a shower before going to the Lanna Health Spa for a massage. It was a perfect end to the cycle trip.

Then I spent the night cycling around the Galleries’ Night events, including a documentary screening on a roof top where jumbo jets from the CNX airport took off directly over our heads. I also came upon a rock concert I was able to watch from outside the fence for a bit (sold out crowd of 10,000 people!), and of course I ate and ate and ate.

One more day and I begin my five week course at TMC (Thai Massage School of Chiang Mai).

 

The Cutler Experience

While cycling around town I stumbled upon the perfect place to tame my increasingly wild hair. The Cutler Ensemble – A Vintage Barber for Men.

This is definitely the place for hipsters, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, professionals, gentleman, and men of style in Chiang Mai. I felt like I was transported to another dimension really. And yes, I am describing a barbershop.

I enjoyed a cut and straight razor shave and met an articulate, young, bearded Norwegian entrepreneur in for a haircut and beard trim in the seat next to me. It was a wonderful experience, with a precision cut that employed two electric clippers and four different scissors. During my shave I had a face, head, and shoulder massage with hot and cold towels and all manor of great smelling soap, oil and cream, applied to my face.

I am SO excited because my stay in Chiang Mai is long enough that I can have another cut before I set off for home. An appointment at The Cutler is now at the top of my list for things to do when in Chiang Mai.

The Cutler Barber https://www.facebook.com/THECUTLERBARBER

To punctuate this great experience I took the advice of the owner and had lunch at Cerebrum and Friends Cafe across the street from The Cutler. Friendly service with great coffee and fresh, elegant salads and sandwiches in a super funky atmosphere made my day.

 

Tiggers have springs in their tails…

The wonderful thing about Tiggers, is Tiggers are wonderful things. Their tops are made out of rubber, their bottoms are made out of springs. They’re bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, FUN!

On Sunday my friend Peter from the UK (we met two years ago here and he is the reason I am studying Thai Massage with David Lutt) invited me to join him and a few others for a three and a half hour movement training class led by an American named Chance at Huai Kaeo Arboretuma, a park close to Chiang Mai University.

Chance led us through a full body warm up, specific exercises to challenge our ability to move in different directional planes (such as sideways, twisting, and diagonally), strength training using body weight, a focus on supportive breathing, and ways of movement that brought up fear – like jumping sideways, or head on, over concrete barriers. I am happy to report that no bodies were bloodied during the workout.

And yes, I paid for this.

After Chance had us explore the role of fear on our movement, and witnessing me spring over the concrete barrier, he exclaimed the words that I used as the title of this posting. There was much laughter and smiling through this workout!

Some aspects of the training were very similar to things I do at Freedom Functional Fitness http://www.freedom in Saskatoon. The idea is that if you can challenge your body and mind in a safe, supportive, and playful environment you increase your vitality while strengthening and preparing yourself to adapt and meet the challenges you will face in your life. Done in community it increases our feeling of connection with others, enhancing our mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.

I had the great pleasure to do partner work with a wonderful woman named Erica twice during our workout. Unfortunately, she strained her neck doing a very challenging core exercise, reminding me that it’s not always good to push too hard. However, Erica continued valiantly on and we had too much fun literally rolling over each other as a way to release tension held in our bodies and breath at the end of the workout.

After the workout the group shared great conversation over a wonderful brunch at “Rustic and Blue” where I also reserved my spot for a Farm Dinner on the banks of the Ping River with live music and a 5 course meal on February 6th. But more on that later.

All things on this adventure seem to feed into the theme, explored within David Lutt’s Dynamic and Osteothai workshops, of our capacity to move, play, and adapt as a determinant of our health.

So, move, play and be merry everyone. It appears to be good for you.

 

Extracurricular Activities

So for the last week, what does a Massage Therapist learning great new techniques and approaches to treating clients do outside school hours, besides practice?

Well, here is a list: Cycling the streets of Chiang Mai admiring the graffiti art, a Movement Training Session at Huai Kaeo Arboretuma (a park close to Chiang Mai University), acroyoga and slack lining in the Old City Park, a hike in Ob Khan National Park, listening to live music at the North Gate Jazz Club, drinks with friends at Rise, and CNX – roof top bars, late-late night Khao Soi (yellow coconut curry soup with crispy noodles and chicken) on the street before bed, early morning yoga (not necessarily after a late night) with Kam Thye Chow (former owner of Lotus Palm Thai Massage School in Montreal and supreme good guy!), evening at Ole Gourmet Mexican with live music at the venue Thaphae East, riding a moped with David to Doi Sutep, the Bhubing Palace gardens and for a swim in Hang Dong Quarry, and more Muay Thai Training at the Chiang Mai Muay Thai Gym.

And here are some pictures to prove it…

The Dancing Web of Adaptation – are your Spidey senses tingling?

It is hard to believe that the second David Lutt course, Osteothai is over. While the Dynamic Thai workshop was full of new approaches and techniques to the practice of Thai Massage, Osteothai was as much a focus on a conceptual framework for living and working well.

Osteopathy is a western wholistic manual therapy approach to healing. Many of its’ techniques are subtle and deeply relaxing, providing a safe environment for change in the body. Its’ approaches are backed by increasing research on the influence of the body’s fascial system, its’ effect on our immune system, and on our ability to adapt to our ever changing environment. It melds wonderfully with the practice of Thai Massage.

As a Massage and Thai Practitioner, my work is to assist in strengthening the body’s ability to adapt. It is natural for a healthy body to be constantly adapting to its’ environment. It is through movement that our bones, blood, fascia, muscles, joints, and organs acquires and strengthens this adaptability. Reduce your movement, or capacity to move, and you reduce the adaptability of all aspects of your physical, mental and spiritual being to maintain your health.

I now understand why David Lutt is in demand to teach his workshops all over the world (currently he teaches in France, Greece, Thailand, and Japan). David teaches not only about techniques, research, and knowledge, but about how the most important thing one can do to be a great practitioner is to work on oneself. In class we explored presence, attention, and intention within our work. We explored the role of our fascial web (thanks Spiderman!), and how embryology reveals the profound truth of how we are beings in motion constantly in relationship, consistently interdependent.

I was reminded of the power of Thai Massage’s compassionate, non-judgemental treatment approach. We work on people, not people’s conditions.

A restriction, or lack of mobility, is what stifles our body’s auto regulation, or our ability to adapt.  The greater our adaptability, the healthier we are. Life is movement.

So have fun out there and move about.

These two courses together are yet another springboard for an inspired practice I plan to return to Saskatoon with. I can’t wait to share it.