Cycles of Life – Penang P2

After my ill fated but still highly recommended food tour, I fell into a total food coma, hoping to wake up hungry before my long awaited cycling tour the next day.

While I did wake up with plenty of time for a street food breakfast, my stomach was having none of it. I wasn’t hungry at all and the smells I experienced as I wandered around, trying fruitlessly to work up some sort of grumbling in my stomach just made me feel slightly nauseous. Super annoying on any day, but on the day of a cycling trip? Downright disruptive! Anyway, I wandered, empty handed and empty stomached back to my Airbnb to await my pick up by Matahari Cycles. They were on time, the van was super comfortable and I actually really enjoyed being one of the first pick ups as it meant I got to see some of the other areas of Penang- and see how the other half travel!! The hotel that we stopped at first was like something out of Getaway or Luxury Escapes and while I do love my flashpacker lifestyle, there were certainly some hints of envy tugging at my heart.

It also gave me a hint to the route I could take to my mum’s old house and I got extremely excited as we passed by the old swimming pools she used to train at. It seemed relatively easy to find and navigate to, so I knew I would find it the next day.

Eventually, we had picked everyone up and were soon winding our away around the hills of Penang, avoiding the cyclists for whom this must have been a regular pilgrimage. I became very glad that we were being driven for this section as it went on for quite a while. We soon arrived at a tiny village, in the middle of nowhere really, on the other side of Penang Island. We seemed to be in a different world entirely than that of Georgetown and its heritage listed street art. This was proper, rural living- a world away from the city life I was so used to. I love nature and so was thrilled by the opportunity to escape.

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It wasn’t a total escape, however… there was still a 7/11 and so, even though I wasn’t hungry I knew I needed to eat something or my body just wouldn’t do well on the ride. Dried chickpeas were my friend for the morning. We met up with our awesome guides and after receiving the run down on the bikes (amazing, Giant brand, mountain bikes with everything a girl could want except a padded seat) which had been set for our heights which we had sent through earlier. It was so smooth, organised and it filled me with confidence for the rest of the day.

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The ride itself was incredible, we rode through the back streets of villages, past schools (closed for the holiday), farms and canals; through palm plantations, mangroves and over rice paddies. The riding was mostly flat and therefore really easy, although riding through the rice fields was mildly terrifying and a few people did fall- they weren’t hurt and Matahari dealt with it fine- but still, if you’re not confident on a bike- take the longer way around (which they did tell us to do!).

The highlights of the day were the stops we made- first, an unplanned one at a local Mosque where they were marking a Holy Day which marks the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son and the mercy of God in providing a lamb instead. Vegans or vegos may want to stop reading now as the way they marked this particular day was by slaughtering livestock and dividing the meat into three portions- one as a sacrifice to Allah, one to give to the poor and one to feed themselves. We were lucky enough to see the portioning process and be invited to learn more about it, take photos etc. It was incredible to see and I felt really lucky to experience it.

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The next was a planned stop at a local goat farm where we got to try goat’s milk ice cream (which my stomach actually totally appreciated by this stage), pat adorable goats and also learn about some of the local farming methods and plants they cultivated in the area, such as rubber.

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Our next stop was tea and kaya toast (and curry puffs) at a local fishing village. Again, my stomach appreciated these tasty treats (though I don’t think I’ll be indulging in kaya much in the future- it was very sweet and I was grateful for the blandness of the toast itself to balance it out). We also saw how the fishermen sorted their “subcatch” from the nets. While a catch might be mainly large fish, the nets also pick up much smaller fish- destined for pet food or those fish ball things depending on quality-, prawns and other crustaceans and, I was pleased to see not too much, litter. So, these men and women would squat down and pick out the debris and subcatch from their nets, separating and sorting it as they went. It was a long process and by the time we were there at around 11, they were almost finished, starting the job in the wee hours of the morning.

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We cycled for another hour and a half or so before we came to our lunch spot- overlooking rice fields which stretched out to the horizon was a little bamboo hut- loaded with, glasses of nutmeg juice, bowls of laksa and plates of fresh fruit. It was a welcome sight and a beautiful one, at that. I could only eat a few mouthfuls of laksa- I think partly due to the fishy-ness of the dish of which I’m not a fan, and also because of my stomach issues that day. I think I was still full from my toast- ridiculously. The fruit and nutmeg juice was very welcome, however, and I felt ready to take on the final stage.

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Now, I had booked “The Twist”- an optional ending to the tour which was billed as a challenging climb. I’m fine with climbs as long as I have gears but I realised on the tour that this wasn’t a road climb, it was a mountain bike climb on very rough tracks which often got quite skinny and were always extremely bumpy. I’m certainly no wimp, but I’ve never mountain biked before and I was also very aware of the fact that what climbs up must also climb down. One of the guys in our group had done this ride in reverse and said the climb required you to carry your bike part of the way and there were sections that he had to focus entirely on controlling his bike so he didn’t fall.

And he was experienced.

Scared for my limbs, I spoke to our guide and he suggested that we turn it into a hike for me and the other girl who was now having second thoughts. Our reverse ride friend was fine to ride himself and we would meet him on the other side. I was overjoyed and excited. I love, love, love hiking and was totally pumped to be able to incorporate my two great loves on one trip.

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I’ve never been so thankful in all my life- the climb was steep, yes, but more than that, it was treacherous. AND the views were magnificent- something I wouldn’t have seen if I had been on my bike as I would have been staring at the track in front of me the entire time.

This section of the tour was cool too- we stopped in front of cacao tree (as in CHOCOLATE) and there was a ripe pod which our guide picked and beat open for us to taste. Cacao fruit is DELICIOUS- similar to mangosteen in texture and taste- and not at all like I was envisaging.

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The climb ended and we started heading down and it’s then that I really became grateful- this wouldn’t have been any fun for nervous little me. Plus, the other girl and I were chatting away about all sorts of things which again, would NOT have happened had we been on bikes. I feel like my vocab would have been limited to grunting, swallowed screams and muttered unmentionables as I toppled over on what I’m sure would have been regular occasions.

When we reached the bottom, we were both so glad that we hadn’t skipped “The Twist” entirely- the views of the beaches were stunning during the hike, but the beach itself was so chilled out. There was a hammock, a restaurant with drinks waiting for us and a plate of noodles too. I had a few mouthfuls but again, my stomach betrayed me and resisted the deliciousness despite the amount of energy I had exerted that day.

After relaxing at the beach for a while, Matahari drove us home again, dropping me at my door where I looked forward to scrubbing myself clean in my lovely shower before exploring Georgetown and its festival! The day was already so great that I was a little skeptical that it could get much better.

I can’t emphasise enough how excellently run and organised Matahari was and I HIGHLY recommend them to anyone who likes cycling. It’s such a great way to see Penang and you really do get off the tourist track. I can’t encourage you enough to give them go if you’re heading to Malaysia- it was an incredible day.

 

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Penang- Night One. A foodie tour for someone who doesn’t feel like food.

Visa runs are part of the life of a long term traveler- no one can escape them. I’m particularly fortunate that with my visa all I have to do is leave the country (even for like, 5 minutes) and walk back in and I have another 60 days to my name. But while leaving the country for 5 minutes is convenient, it’s a lot more fun to escape to a neighbouring country for a weekend away! Which is what I did when I went to Penang- and a lot more fun it was! You’ve already read about my love for the place and the memories it sort-of held for me (maybe. If you haven’t, pop back a post and there you’ll find my lyrical waxings on the magic of shared histories.), but in terms of the trip itself, I didn’t go into much detail. SO. That’s what this post (and the next) is for.

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I woke up stupidly early on Friday morning to be greeted by the same lovely uber driver who took me to the bus headquarters to buy my ticket to Mae Sai- once you find a good one, see if they have a card and if there’s anything important you need to, give them a call- who drove me to the airport. The flight there was a noneventful, apart from the fact that despite my quite small amount of breakfast I wasn’t hungry at all throughout the day apart from briefly in BKK where I couldn’t find anything resembling a health food apart from overpriced coconut water which I drank- potentially a bad idea. Once I got into Penang, I made my way to the bus terminal and hopped on a bus for 1.5 ringgit- pro tip, as soon as you get your cash out at the ATM in Malaysia, buy some water so you have some change for the bus- otherwise you’ll have to run back into the airport consequently missing the first bus. The bus ride across the island was interesting- everything seemed really quiet, probably due to the fact that I later learned that I arrived in the middle of an extra long, long weekend- this didn’t affect my travels at all- except that it was exceptionally quiet and exceptionally busy at times when I wasn’t expecting it.

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Anyway, I arrived at the station around 3 and walked the 5 minutes from the shopping centre to my AirBnb where I was met by my lovely mouse of a hostess. Her name was Annabel and she was so, so quiet! Her beautiful heritage house reflected this- very minimalist and seemed almost empty but the minimalism was highly stylised- she was an artist and a pianist, the grand piano acting as an interactive monument in and of itself. I was lucky enough to hear her play when I came home on Friday night. My room was basic but with high ceilings and lourved windows I would soon see on many of the buildings around this awesome town. I dropped my bags and Annabell whispered to me about the George Town Festival which was taking place that weekend- pointing out a few shows which were free or which she thought I might be interested it. She also gave me a few maps showing all the amazing street art and historical spots around GeorgeTown. Gratefully, I deposited these in my bag and headed out into the heat to begin my food tour.

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Having not had lunch, I was expecting to be extremely hungry but I just wasn’t feeling super great (I’m convinced that coconut water was off). Nevertheless, I trotted off to find my guide, Lily and go on my (private) tour! I toured with Delish Asia and they were seriously excellent. Lily not only showed me food, but she also talked to me about the history of Penang and the reasons behind the amazing mix of cultures and cuisines which Malaysia in general, but especially Penang can lay claim to. We tried Char Kuey Teow from the best cart in the city who had a huge line up in front of him, Squid with Morning Glory and a dark soy with sesame seeds, a noodle soup (not laksa…), roasted duck, nutmeg juice, cendol… and that was only in our first stop. I had a bite of everything and already I could feel myself becoming full. This was NOT ok.

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So, we walked for a while, checking out some of the oldest bars and markets in the city, relaxing at a converted shop house and taking happy snaps of the amazing street art. She showed me where the locals drink (aka- where I would NOT be, unless I had a group of friends with me, it was the seediest back alley I’ve seen… and that was literally it, no real inside- just milk crates in front of an open window.) and showed me one of the oldest book shops in the city where I managed to contain myself and not buy anything- thank God for only having carry on luggage! She showed me Harmony Street, where there’s a mosque, a Hindu temple, a Chinese temple, a church and a Buddhist temple all on the one street.

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After a little while, the initial food baby passed by and so we stopped in Little India- what I was most looking forward to. We explored a market, had some masala tea, some ginger tea, dosa (or tosai as it’s known in Penang), some roti chanai and a famed murtabak which my mother had told me so much about. I literally had one bite of the murtabak and just could not do anymore, sadly, but if I had been at full health, than this evening of my holiday would have been the greatest.

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After we finished off, Lily took me to a little coffee shop where she was meeting some friends who had been out (like the rest of Penang- it was SO crazy!) and we chatted a bit about her life as a timeout editor/researcher and now as a tour guide and a writer. I picked up some hot tips about the festival for Saturday night but declined their invitation to join them. I needed to be away from crowds.

 

In an attempt to walk off my food baby and the nausea which was unrelated to the relatively small amount of food I had eaten, I meandered my way through the crowds, down to the harbour, onto a clan jetty and just sat there- listening to the water and the distant sounds of revellers.

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It probably wasn’t my best idea in terms of personal safety- if I had been cornered it was the ocean (where I would have sunk… or that’s about it- but it was so peaceful and serene and I was so out of it that I didn’t even think about the consequences. Soon, I stumbled home, into the shower, onto my very comfy mattress and fell asleep- ready for another early morning tomorrow…

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Pai- or ‘A disappointing lack of puns.’

So, I did something that is utterly unlike me last week. I booked a weekend away on a TOTAL whim. I know this is TOTALLY normal for many people and especially backpackers who seem to decide to go to a different country depending on which way the wind is blowing, but for Little Miss Organised, it’s not a common occurrence.

I had some friends who were going to Pai for the Pai Jazz and Blues Festival which was on over the weekend and it was an open invitation… so I decided that I would join in! I booked accommodation at the same hostel they had booked at, without really checking the reviews too much or looking at alternatives. I booked a mini bus up and then basked in what I had just done.

How spontaneous. How very unlike me. How very exciting.
I mean, it’s not like I hired a motorbike to take on the 762 bends on the way to Pai, but EVEN SO, this is big for me.

Anyway, Saturday morning rolls around and it is WET. The day before it had been pouring all day, roads were flooded and the moat was the highest I’d ever seen it. On my way to the church BBQ, I became even more grateful for my amazing little pushbike as I was able to dodge puddles, weave between traffic jams and was one of the first to arrive (though it’s possible this is more to do with the fact that I value punctuality deeply… not something I share with many people living in Thailand. ‘Thai Time’ is definitely a thing and something I’m sloooowly getting used to.

But I digress, the point is, it’s wet and it’s humid. I am doubly pleased I’m on a minivan and not the cheaper but slower and less reliable local bus. I get picked up and taken on a journey which many would call stomach churning but which I didn’t find overly sickening. The views were beautiful, our driver wasn’t a speed demon… even if he did sometimes use his phone on the super tight bends- another reason I was eternally grateful I wasn’t OUTSIDE the minivan on a motorbike.

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Anyway, after the trip, I arrived in Pai and quickly found my way to my hostel, but was stopped by my friends who had traveled up the day before who were just about to head a local hot spring! The timing was perfect! We all hopped into a local songtaew and journeyed back up where I had just come from and found ourselves in this luxurious resort. Now, there are hot springs in nature in Pai but apparently they were closed because of the weather and the amount of water flowing into them. This was the next best thing. It was SO lovely and relaxing. The rain was very light at this stage and the contrast between the cool rain and the heat of the spa was perfect. It was set in lovely surroundings and it was nice to feel wet because I was actually submerged in water.

We spent a few hours at the spa before heading back into town for some lunch. Pai is packed with good food options and I knew it wouldn’t be hard to find something delicious. After dropping my bag off at my hostel (not without trepidation, I’ll admit), my friend Jennifer and I ventured off to find a cafe I’d read about on another blog- but unfortunately it was closed (we checked before leaving, thankfully, as it was about 20 mins away). So instead, we headed to the super cute Art in Chai- who wasn’t serving food anymore BUT a little restaurant next door was! I had a vegetarian “stir curry” which was delicious if not particularly specific and we shared a bowl of beautiful fresh fruit.

Afterwards, we decided to pop next door and get some chai while we read/worked in this beautifully decorated space. The chai was excellent. They ground it themselves upon ordering in their mortar and pestle, and the SMELL was absolutely phenomenal.

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The taste was even better. It made the perfect accompaniment to my book. I’m currently reading The 7 Types of Ambiguity by Elliot Perlman and it is EXCELLENT. Especially now that I’m really INTO it. It certainly doesn’t start slow but the first perspective is written in second person which I ALWAYS find off putting. It’s my least favourite writing style and I find it unsettling- which worked well for this book. The content is unsettling too and I love that the writing matches that. It’s v. good and I highly recommend it.

After Art in Chai closed up, Jen and I decided to wander the streets of Pai to do some shopping. It had stopped raining (briefly) and the walking street was setting up to peddle their wares. There were A LOT of elephant pants and “Love in Pai” tee shirts- but to my Australian and English teacher eyes, a distinct lack of puns!!! If a country town in Australia was called Pai you can BET there would be pie shaped magnets, claims that Pai was “easy as pie” to get to, pie themed t shirts, a pie/Pai recipe book… it would be endless.

But Pai, Thailand?! NOTHING PIE RELATED IN THE MERCH AT ALL.

I was simultaneously proud and disappointed.

After chilling in town for a while, it started to POUR and we decided to head down to one of the jazz venues. The band was excellent and the venue was packed, the rain inhibiting the use of the decent sized deck and forcing diners and jazz lovers to co mingle in uncomfortable proximity. There was a break between two acts so we went back out into walking street- bought an umbrella and grabbed some street food… I chose the highly traditional falafel pita (I knowwww, but it looked SO good. So much fresh veg and damn good looking hummus. It was MASSIVE and she just kept shoving stuff in there. I’m very glad I got it.

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After dinner, we went back to the venue and chilled out with some more jazz, enjoying the mix of the sounds of rain outside and smooth blues inside. The jazz felt as natural as it would at home and it was cool to be surrounded by people of different ethnic backgrounds, all partaking in the universal language- music.

After this we headed back to the hostel to relax before bed. Not a lot of relaxing happened. The hostel was rustic and I’m not going to complain about it because it’s definitely for some people but I did not dig the super-ultra-hippy chillness of it. I’m not a hippy. I don’t like animals sleeping near me. I REALLY don’t like smoking of any kind. Let’s just say it wasn’t for me. I eventually got to sleep around 3am and slept well after that, until I woke with the sunrise and the roosters (I liked that bit) at 6ish. I spent some time in the Word and catching up on the latest sermon from home before making my way out of my cubby house thing and waiting for some of the others to get up so we could grab some brekky.

Breakfast was also incredible… and we may have revisited Art in Chai for a sneaky morning beverage. After we were nourished, we decided to go on a walk up to the White Buddha, passing rice fields and incredible greenery on the way. It was a gorgeous walk and included lots of steps which I appreciated, even though it was meant to be a rest day.DSC02377

We spent a little while up at the White Buddha and chatted to some cute Thai kids who would run up a few steps, then pretend to die with exhaustion, rinse and repeat and I was reminded of the kids who do the same on the 1000 steps. These ones were cuter though because the steps there are WIDE and I wasn’t there for a workout, haha. Also, Thai kids in general are super cute.

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We ventured back down the hill to the cafe (Earth Tone) we had planned to eat at yesterday and I ate delicious fresh veggies dipped in a vegetarian Nam Prik Oong- one of my newly discovered faves here in Northern Thailand. One of my friends had their buddha bowl which looked DIVINE and another one had some of the loveliest fresh spring rolls I’ve ever seen. They were beautiful!! Jennifer and I stayed there while our other friends decided to go somewhere for a different sort of trip and I got through more of my book.

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I was leaving that afternoon and didn’t want to stress out about my bus so I decided around 3 to head back into town, “check out” of the hostel (basically just say I was leaving and ask for my bag) and wander around doing some more shopping. Jennifer joined me and with our powers combined we stumbled upon a local market which I found refreshing after being surrounded by tourists for the whole weekend. Pai is beautiful, yes, but it is catering for western sensibilities more than it is a nice place to get away… for me at least. And this is probably because I was constantly in town etc. When we left town and got into nature, I loved it. While in town, I definitely didn’t hate it but it didn’t quite live up to my, absolutely acknowledged high, expectations.

The bus trip back was even easier than the way up, not stopping at all and after not that long at all, we arrived back in CM, I grabbed a ST and arrived back at home, needing a shower and some water, but feeling otherwise pretty chilled out after an awesome weekend with awesome people.

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I’m very blessed to live in this place and do these things on a total whim. I look forward to bringing this slightly more relaxed Amy home with me… but I will be booking my own accommodation on that journey!

Love you all lots. xx

 

 

Chiang Dao, or “The Day I Spent Emulating The Proclaimers”

I am on a budget- though, if you looked at the amount of money I spend on fruit, you probably wouldn’t get that impression- but I still want to do and see all the amazing things Chiang Mai and its surrounds has to offer, so when I had an extra day in my weekend due to the start of Buddhist Lent, I knew I wanted to make the most of it. After looking at some excellent blogs (like this one and this one) I knew I had found my cheap day out- and cheap it was! Not including food I spent under 500b. With food, it climbed to around 800b. A super budget day out. Now, as the title suggests, I spent A LOT of my day walking, which is partly why it was so cheap, but I actually loved this aspect of my day and while it was tiring and certainly a long day, I got to see parts of Chiang Dao that you never could on a bike- motor or otherwise.

I started my day early and caught the 40b 6am bus from Chang Phuak Station to Chiang Dao. The bus is really comfortable, not air con but with lots of fans on the ceiling which circulate the air so that it’s not stuffy in the slightest. That said, it was 6am and the bus was relatively empty- I had a seat to myself and many passengers were curled up across the 3 (lol) seater benches having a nap. I preferred to stare out the window and take in the changing landscape from city to highway to mountain jungle. It’s a beautiful road and if you can get a window seat, do.

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Once I got to Chiang Dao, I went and found a cute little spot for a traditional Thai brekky. I even got to practice some of my Thai, although I was also immensely grateful when the woman responded to my inquiries in perfect English. She said I was doing well though and everyone smiled when I commented that my food was “aroy makht” (very delicious!).

Full from my delicious larb and mango salad- not som tam but something slightly different- I decided to start my journey to the caves. My new favourite app ever, maps.me took me on a route which can only be described as “off the tourist track”. I was walking along roads which were passing behind local house, local farms, people just living their every day life. It was a fascinating walk and honestly, it was so interesting to see how these wonderful people lived and the lands they survived off. There were fully laden mango and jackfruit trees, bananas and longans drooping over me and SO much corn, EVERYWHERE.

The walk took roughly an hour, I would say and before long I found myself at the caves. I actually tried to do a “nature trail” but it was so unmarked that I couldn’t even tell where to go, 5 minutes in and my shins were already plastered in clay from climbing up muddy ascents. I quietly admitted defeat, turned around and to save some face, asked the bemused looking Thai man at the entrance of the caves, where the bathroom was. I quickly realised this probably meant it looked like I had just climbed through the jungle in search of a toilet, but I said it perfectly (for a farang) and he responded in kind.

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Anyway, after I recovered my pride, I ascended into the temple, paid my 40 baht entrance and was struck, as always, by the intricacy and beauty of the carvings, statues and icons which are features of every Buddhist Wat I’ve seen so far. Upon entry into the cave, I paid another 100b for a guide and then 100b as a compulsory tip? which I didn’t mind giving because those lamps are HEAVY and extremely HOT. It’s like, less than $3, who am I to begrudge a volunteer- my lovely lady was also disabled from birth- less than what I would unthinkingly spend on a chai back home? It’s easy to get pissy about being “ripped off” or “paying too much” because you’re a foreigner but honestly, it’s important to keep things in perspective.

The caves themselves were beautiful and eery. I loved being shown all the different cave formations, the guide explaining what they sort of looked like as we went through. There were bats on the cave roof but they didn’t bother me at all and it didn’t smell too bad.

The highlight was actually the unguided section where I was able to sit and reflect on my time in Thailand so far in absolute silence. It was so quiet that my ears were ringing, I could hear every move I made and it was just so… focused.

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After the caves, I made my way (on foot) along the road to the beautiful Wat Tham Pha Plong, taking in the stunning rainforest which surrounded me. The temple itself is set into the limestone caves with a few lookout points and peaks being built into the mountain. Once you get to the temple, it’s an easy climb of about 510 steps (and halfway there’s a rest stop if you need with an encouraging message of “you’ve climbed the hardest  2__ steps, only 3__ [easier!] steps to go!” Super cute!) which is lined in trees and proverbs from the Dharmma. Once again, it strikes me how similar some of these proverbs are to those in the Bible but how they’re all missing that overarching idea of grace- in Buddhism, one is always striving to be better and reach that ultimate place of “oneness”, whereas in my faith, we strive to be better because we’ve already been accepted- it’s a sense of gratefulness and desire to live the way God wants us to which drives our bettering… One thing I’ve always been grateful for, in regards to travel, is how much we can learn about our own selves and our own beliefs when they are placed next to those we do not subscribe to or which are foreign to us.

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Regardless, the temple itself was a stunning piece of architecture and offered beautiful views across the Chiang Dao Valley that I count myself blessed to see. The day was cloudy and drizzling all day but it didn’t dampen the views, my spirits or the beauty of the countryside. If anything, it just made everything seem even more lush!

After this, I’d definitely worked up an appetite and after walking past the beautiful Nest 2 on the way up and reading about how good the food was from every travel blog about Chiang Dao ever, I knew I had to stop there. The blogs did not lie. The service was impeccable; the setting, gorgeous; the food, delicious. I got a coconut (gotta get them electrolytes in) and a stirfried tofu dish which was so flavoursome! It was packed with galangal, lemongrass, mushrooms, greens, kaffir lime leaves, holy basil, and of course, a lot of chilli. It was absolutely divine and made according to my request of “farang spicy”. The hardest thing was choosing what to have! Yes, it’s more expensive than most of the places I eat in CM, but the serving size and the quality of ingredients certainly made up for it.

Feeling full as a coconut (not the one I had just quenched my thirst with), I made my way back into town, the same way I came- or so I thought. My app, which I still love, took me on a slightly different route which led me… DSC02358.JPG

literally into the middle of corn fields. I felt like I was in Fellowship of the Ring as I trekked my way through these fields, not knowing if I was even allowed to be in them. I was also getting worried at this point because all the photos I was taking and the use of my navigation system had worn my phone down to 1%. And I was in the middle of a field. It was a little terrifying. So, I took a lot of glances at my screen, trying to figure out how long it would take to get to where I needed to turn right and left in order to get to the bus station (which, btw, the bus didn’t drop me at in the morning, he just let me off in the centre of town). Halfway, roughly, to the station, the inevitable occurred and my phone died. I was here

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It was a little terrifying but I figured, as long as I followed the path- I’d be ok. And eventually, probably a lot longer than maps.me originally estimated, I got to the “suburbs” of Chiang Dao. Tired, nervous and seriously wanting to get to the bus station I happened upon a man sitting in his open front house, selling knick knacks and drinks. “Bus station?” I queried- not even bothering to try in Thai. “Yes, behind, behind.”

It was literally right behind me. The was just one barbed wire fence between me and the station. It was like the time Mum asked the policemen where Flinders St Station was while standing on the corner of Elizabeth and Collins (disclaimer: this was in our first year of being in Melbourne. Not recently.).

The man looked very amused as I celebrated, “Thank God! How do I…?”

“Tiny gate- just there”

It was not a gate. It was a gap between the barbed wire fence and the wall next door. But it looked like a well worn gap and no one official looking was around so I thanked him- in Thai- and squeezed my way through the gap.

And then the bus arrived. Literally 3 seconds after I did. I have no idea how many busses run from CD to CM in the afternoon but I was so grateful that I was on this one that I almost cried. I paid my 40 baht and hopped on a vastly different bus to the first one I experienced. This one, I was sharing a seat which would have sat 2 people comfortably, with 2 other people. Luckily, these Thai people were stereotypically tiny so we all fit… albeit very tightly.

I suddenly became extremely aware of how muddy I was and how ridiculous I must have looked but to be honest, I was too tired to even care.

That night, I was in bed by 8pm and 100% asleep by 9:30 at the absolute latest.

It was a stunning day and I loved every second of my adventures… especially how cheap it was! It just confirmed to me that you don’t need to spend big bucks to have a good time in Thailand. You just need to be willing to stretch those legs and see the world at a slower pace.

Have a blessed day!

Missing you all lots!

Amy x

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The Gap Between My Legs is Closing – A Poem.

the Gap between my legs is closing

                                                                      and with it- the gap between my eyes and my size. I know-

most-

…some

of the time

that I Look:

                STRONG

                HEALTHY

                WELL

                HAPPY

I Am:

                STRONG

                HEALTHY

                WELL

                HAPPY

 

but

sometimes

my eyes still glaze and the haze of “flashback fog” takes me back to no rack-
ed plates on barbells
and jutting collar-
ed shirts that don’t swell
and space between thighs
and try as I might

the head doesn’t always win over the ghosts of ill fitting sizes of obsession

 

BUT

it’s worth it when it does because my cheeks are flush
and my hair is –annoying!— but lush
and I can sit without pain and I can
lift without shame
and I can run without needing to
and I can rest without feeling…                                                                                                                                                                                                                               too
lazy.

And I can take my own advice
to “look after yourself”
instead of shelving it on the “not for me” shelf”

… most… some… Sundays.

And I move ‘cause it feels good
and I eat not just because I should
and I eat well not just because I said I would
I want to, I want to, I want to and it’s just
the best.
And I don’t fear anything…

most… some… meal times.

                                                                                       and the gap between my legs is closing
and with it, the gap between what I say and what I write and what I think when I look in the mirror

is,

slowly, most times, sometimes…

closing too.

//

This is a hard one to press publish on. For all sorts of reasons. It speaks of my no.1 biggest sin- my need to control my life instead of giving everything over to God. It speaks of my no.2 biggest sin- finding my identity in things other. But it also speaks of a struggle for so many women and girls and boys and men. It speaks of this need to be thinner or leaner or whatever and that anything that gets you there is worth it and that lean = the best when actually, lean doesn’t necessarily equal healthy or even that fit. It also speaks a little to comparison and the way we distort ourselves when we look through a warped mirror like that of social media, or even the people around us. This isn’t an issue for everyone but I know that I can very easily fall into the comparison trap and it plays into my natural competitiveness. But I need to reject that and focus on what’s important in my life:

My God
My health
My purpose

And all of these things point to the same ultimate conclusion: stop looking at yourself. I was going to say “stop looking at yourself through a distorted lens” but I think it’s more poignant (for me) to simply stop being so concerned with the perception of ME and instead be focusing on what God’s doing through me, what I’m doing to help others, what my gifts and talents are and instead of focusing on something so fleeting as my physical appearance, instead be focusing on things of a more lasting and even eternal nature. I am still always going to care about my health and my fitness which will be reflected in my body, but it shouldn’t be my number one priority. My priorities should be my relationship with God, my relationship with others and my relationship with the world around me. And in each of these priorities my love of fitness and love of healthy food plays a part.

Let me explain, if I truly value my relationship with God, I truly value every gift he has given me- including my body- and I believe He wants me to be physically fit and strong to do what he has designed me to do. I know I couldn’t have lost the weight I did, the way I did, with the ease I did, without Him. I not only lost weight but other things in my life which had a hold on me were shed too. I also think He took me down in order to demonstrate the hold control had over my life, even when I didn’t realise it. He continues to work on me in this area and I know fitness is somewhere in this plan. 

Secondly, my relationships with others have developed and grown and my fitness has played a part in that. I’ve been told countless times that I inspire people and that I spur people on. I like to think I’m encouraging and a good friend. I hope I am and that my love of fitness can help others come to a similar place. I also think my “journey” has enabled me to better understand people who are coming from a similar place at both ends of the scale. While I was never a full blown victim of an ED, my thinking around food, exercise and my body was not healthy and I think I can relate to people better for it.

Thirdly, my relationship with the world around me. There is so much to be done. So much to get passionate about and to change. Today is National Sorry Day. We continue to reject refugees and asylum seekers. Racism and sexism is rife. People live in fear. I want to be a part of this change and community engagement is part of that. Food is part of that. Fitness can be a part of that. I believe my purpose is to use my passions- writing, food, fitness, education, social justice, faith… to affect some of this social change- even if on a small scale. I want to make my students think about their words. I want them to think about their vote. I want them to think about their voice. I want my students to make ethical choices. I don’t want them to buy into the economy of fear. I don’t want my students to hate themselves. I don’t want them to make others hate themselves. I don’t want my students to compare themselves to others. I don’t want my students to live unhealthy lives. If I can be a role model- I can change lives… I hope. 

So… even though posting this was scary, I hope it did something for someone. 

Embracing Winter… Beetroot, Carrot and Ginger Soup

I don’t like the cold. I never have and when I lost weight, I started feeling it a hell of a lot more than I used to.

There was a point (when I was unhealthily obsessed with exercise and eating clean) when I was 8% body fat. This is not a good place for someone who is not training to be a fitness model or a marathon runner to be. I had no fat on me to keep me warm, my hair was super thin, my nails were brittle, my skin was drier than normal (I have naturally dry skin) and I looked gaunt around my face… and I still didn’t have a perfectly flat tummy. SO unfair.

Now, I exercise and eat healthily because I love it and the way it makes me feel. I love vegetables and fruit. I love nuts and avocado. I love seedy, wholegrain bread. I love honey and dried fruit. I genuinely prefer whole, natural foods that taste like their ingredients to overly fatty, deep fried, sugar laden foods. I know what foods fuel my body and I’m learning to listen to my hunger cues- although, this is hard especially after a period of eating to gain weight and eating (healthy foods!) when I wasn’t hungry. IT creates habits which are hard to break. But I know it’s worth it.

While my size 6 clothes and even some of my size 8 clothes don’t fit anymore, my face is full, my hair is thick and my muscles are strong. I’m extremely fit. I train hard. I’m no longer afraid of certain foods and I’m secure enough in myself to be both able to say NO if I don’t want to eat something that I wouldn’t usually (like Domino’s Pizza or KFC, both things which I’ve had to justify choosing not to eat because a] ew and b] it’s bad for me)  and able to enjoy things which I wouldn’t usually eat but want to at that time (like icecream from Il Melograno) without fearing the perceived judgment of those around me.

Winter is one of those seasons where food fears and body shaming arises. People talk about how they’re putting on layers of clothing and along with it, layers of fat. People start glorifying hot chocolates by the fire and then guiltily slapping themselves on the wrist. Ads start appearing on TV claiming that losing weight will help you “Be You” during these cold months. People start spitting vitriol about “crap excuses” like the cold and wet weather keeping people away from training.

It can be hard if you’re only starting out, if you’re coming back to training or even for those of us who train consistently and regularly.

And it isn’t ok. Winter is a hard time for fitness sometimes. It can be cold and wet. It can lead us to want to just cuddle up in front of the fire. And that’s fine! It’s about balance.

Instead of going for an outside run, do a Fitness Blender workout at home or go to the gym and use a treadmill if you’re really into running. Invest in some good quality winter gear if you really want to run outside.

Get an accountability partner who will be expecting you at the gym so you feel like you can’t let them down. If you feel really unsafe driving on wet roads etc, you could even get them to pick you up or you could suggest doing an at home work out while on skype or something similar.

You could also try winter sports to keep you fit during this time of chilly winds and icy rain. Try something like RockUp Netball, for instance!

And if you’re worried about hearty comfort foods, just remember that we’re now in SOUP season. Soup is delicious, can be super (heh) healthy and is easy to make. It can simmer all day in a slow cooker or you can whip one up in  20 mins. It’s warming, soul enriching and just all round, awesome.

I made a seriously incredible batch of soup today to take around to a friend’s place for lunch. It’s only got a handful of ingredients and it was a total case of set and forget.

Roasted Beetroot, Carrot and Ginger Soup

2 large beetroots
6 small-medium carrots
1 medium onion
A chunk of ginger
6 cloves of garlic
Vegetable Stock
Mixed herbs
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) spray

Chop the first 4 ingredients into similar sized chunks, separate the cloves of garlic, sprinkle with the herbs and spray with EVOO spray.

Roast until the vegetables are cooked but toothsome. Remove the skin of the garlic. Tip the veggies into a pot and cover with the stock and blend using an immersion blender until you get to your desired texture. 

Done.

If you want, serve with a dollop of natural yoghurt and some greens stirred through your soup. Crusty bread is a (non) optional extra too.

Seriously. How easy is that? It’s also exceptionally delicious. And very healthy.

So, basically, even though winter is hard sometimes, it passes like all other things in life. I encourage you to embrace it with both arms, a bowl and a pair of super fluffy socks which you can hide under your runners. No judgement.

 

Hot Cross Buns- Two Ways!

I love Easter. It’s unpredictable, sneaks up on you (not unlike a bunny!) and it commemorates the most important part of my faith- the death and resurrection of my Christ. I know that many of our Easter traditions are rooted in pagan festivals and others are adapted from Jewish passover traditions, but I don’t think that devalues them at all. I love the symbolism of rising loaves and the empty egg- trite as they may be. If the heart and the message behind them is true and well intentioned, then what harm do they bring? I also acknowledge that many do not believe in Christ and while it saddens me that they will never know the true joy of Easter until they do, I see nothing wrong with those traditions being adopted by people from all walks of life, all creeds, all religions.

Easter is about Jesus dying to bring people to Him and save us from ourselves, our fate. Who are we to deny anyone entry into that?

On that note, these two recipes are ones which I’ve made this Easter to bless my friends and family with. They’re both significantly healthier than the ones you’ll buy at the shops, and I think, significantly yummier! I hope you enjoy them and they’ll remind you of the love Jesus had for you as he died and was risen to new life.

The first recipe I used as a base is this one from Tales From The Kitchen Shed

Author: Tales From The Kitchen Shed with some adaptations by Amy Carpenter (The Carpenter’s Daughter
Recipe type: Bread
Cuisine: Home Baking
Serves: 16
Ingredients
Dough:
  • Loose leaf chai (I used Hari Hai Chai and Mumbai Maple from T2)
  • 3/4 cup mixed dried fruit
  • 80ml unsweetened almond milk
  • 245g natural yoghurt
  • 1 apple – grated
  • 225g wholemeal spelt flour
  • 275 wholegrain rye flour
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • ¼ teaspoon bicarbonate soda
  • 1-2 tbsp of Apple Cake Spice Mix (contains cinnamon, cardamom, rosehip, ginger, cassia, nutmeg… lots of yummy things! And no sugar.)
  • 1/2 an apple, cut into match sticks
Instructions
  1. Place the chai and water in a small saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for about 3 or 4 minutes to reduce by about half. Add the sultanas (and mixed peel if using) and set to one side.
  2. Warm the buttermilk for one minute on high power in the microwave. Stir in the grated apple and, if desired, sweetener of choice.
  3. Add the flours, yeast, bicarb and cinnamon into a large bowl along with the buttermilk mixture and mix together to form a rough dough.
  4. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes until smooth and elastic. (Alternatively you can use a stand mixer to knead your dough.)
  5. Spread the dough out into a rectangle and sprinkle over the fruit mixture. Bring the dough back together and knead until the fruit is evenly distributed.
  6. Place the dough in a large greased mixing bowl, cover and leave in a warm place to rise for 1 ½ hours until doubled in size.
  7. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and divide into 16 pieces, approx 75 to 80 g each. Shape into balls and place on a baking tray fairly close together and flatten each ball a little. Cover with greased cling film and prove for one hour in a warm place.
  8. While your Hot Cross Buns are proving, julienne your apple and place the strips on top of your buns, like a cross..
  9. Preheat your oven to 400°F / 200°C / Gas Mark 6
  10. Place in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown.

The other one I made is a GF recipe which I sourced from Gluten Free, Grain Free

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cup almond meal
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 3/4 cups arrowroot/tapioca starch
  • 3/4 cups mixed dried fruit
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon bi-carb (baking soda)
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tbsp of aquafaba
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Chai (see above for the mix)
  • 1 apple

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 175C2.
  2. Soak chia seeds and dried fruit in chai tea
  3. Combine dry ingredients together
  4. Add eggs, soaked chia seeds, apple cider vinegar, grated apple & soaked dried fruit.
  5. Combine everything well until there are no lumps (except the bits of fruit)! It will be thickish – don’t be tempted to add any more liquid
  6. I used a silicon muffin tray to cook these. Bake for 25 minutes until the hot cross buns are firm to the touch and bounce back when lightly pressed. The top will be lovely and golden in colour
  7. Remove from the oven and turn out onto a cooling rack. DEVOUR!

Hope these tickle your fancy!