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.

 

 

City TV and teaching on the Mayan Riviera

I was recently in Edmonton filming an “Ask the Experts” segment for the Natural Health Practitioners of Canada (NHPC) which just aired on Edmonton’s City TV. This was the third of five segments which featured the benefits of Reiki, Reflexology, Shiatsu, and Thai Massage plus the role of the NHPC in supporting public health.

This past week I was teaching two workshops as part of the Natural Health Practitioners of Canada (NHPC) Destination Conference at the Blue Bay Grand Esmeralda Resort near Playa del Carmen, Mexico. The workshops featured Thai foot massage using the thai wooden stick on reflexology points of the foot, and the integration of Eastern and Western techniques, including Dynamic Thai Massage, within Thai Yoga Massage treatments.

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Once my teaching was over, my partner and a friend took in the spectacularly fun, and first resident Cirque du Soleil performance in Latin America, Joya. It plays in a complex built specifically for this show. The “Big Top Tent” is an organically constructed round building with a thatched roof and is connected by walkways over water to the restaurant and bar that served delicious food and drinks.

https://www.cirquedusoleil.com/joya

The next day we ventured to the Mayan ruins of Tullum perched on the edge of the cliffs overlooking a beautiful beach where we took a dip in the vibrantly coloured ocean. From there we went to the Manati Cenote, a partially under ground body of fresh water. We snorkelled through the cenote looking at the multicoloured fish and even saw a small crocodile!

Our last full day in Mexico we spent at the spa where we received massage, made our way through the hydrotherapy labyrinth, and spend the entire rest of the day lounging, reading, and napping before going to dinner at the exquisite French restaurant at the Blue Bay Resort.

I could get used to teaching opportunities like this!

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.