2018

This time last year, I was freaking out a little bit. I had quit my job, didn’t have anything lined up apart from occasionally CRTing, and I was looking down the barrel of 6 months of no real routine.

I started putting in place things to do on certain days- a faux routine that would see me through these uncertain months before I left for Thailand.

Looking back, it’s clear I wasn’t fully committed to this trusting God with everything- letting go of control- thing I had written so much about.

Fast forward 12 months later and I still don’t have it down pat, but it’s definitely getting easier. I’m getting better, in all sorts of ways.

2018 is another year of change for me- I’m travelling until April, when I arrive in Melbourne with no job but with good friends and connections which will hopefully see my CRTing and tutoring while looking for a new one. 2018 also sees me going to the UK- a choice I made today after seeing cheap flights… clearly some part of me has changed- I’m normally a bit scared to book things on whims, so this is a good step I think! And beyond that, I don’t know what else 2018 will bring.

I’m going to be working my way through a devotional book based on Proverbs- the first two studies have discussed the nature of wisdom- what it is, what it isn’t. Already, I can feel God pushing a theme for my year onto my heart

Wisdom- seeking it out and seeking the one who is and gives all wisdom.

Making wise- though not necessarily cautious or timid- choices

Encouraging others in wisdom

Learning from wise people I come into contact with and learning with them

Spending my time and money wisely- though not with miserly tendencies in either case

Treating my body wisely, exercising well, eating well and listening to what its saying to me

As I walk into 2018, I look forward to seeing what I will learn, how I will grow, what I will gain and what I will lose (rice fat!). I invite you to walk with me- what do you think your theme for the year will be?

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Burmese Days- Part One…

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I was really conflicted about going to Burma at first. Its history of human rights abuse, the ongoing issues with the Rohinga, the lesser known issues with the ongoing civil war between different ethnic groups… there are plenty of reasons to avoid the nation- boycotting it so the government won’t profit from any travel that you do in the area. But there are also so many reasons to visit the country- the people (those who are really suffering, the victims of the government’s choices and rule) benefit from your patronage of their shops, townships and villages, and when you travel to Burma, you have the opportunity to learn about the nation, its tumultuous history and how it has changed, in new and different ways to the learning you can do outside its borders.

Of course, it is all too easy to avoid learning anything about Burmese history while in Burma, I was surprised (although, on reflection, not that surprised) at how hard it was to elicit any discussion from the Burmese people I met about what life used to be like under the junta- responses from text books and newspapers that I could read at home about things that were different now were the norm but I didn’t really get to discuss any serious issues while over there and if you travel there now, unless you try to go somewhere that is banned for tourists, you would have no idea that any human rights abuses were occurring. It would be very easy to go, walk through beautiful scenery, take selfies in front of temples, eat your weight in deep fried food, and remain ignorant of Burma’s past, present or tenuous future.

I personally don’t think this is solely a reason to avoid the country- every nation- my own included- has human rights abuse in its past (and sadly, often present) which it doesn’t talk about. I think one must decide for themselves if they are to travel to “problematic” countries, and how they will do so in the most ethical and mindful way possible, if that is a concern to them (which I think it should be for everyone).

To provide you with a decision re: travel to Burma is not the purpose of this blog, I just wanted to preface my recollections with the reasons behind my choice. At the end, I’ll briefly detail what I did to ensure I felt at peace with my travel decisions and some helpful blogs.

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Burma was always with me when I was in Thailand- in the news, in my work, in my interactions with students, colleagues, friends… it loomed large in my mind and its presence dominated my thoughts.

I knew I was going to be travelling there after I finished my time at Free Bird Café and I was filled with anticipation. I kind of assumed it would just be like Thailand- Chiang Mai, but maybe a bit poorer. The place I came to know was not that of my assumptions- it was vastly foreign and eerily… old. Burma felt like the plane I had flown over in was actually a TARDIS- taking me just outside of my time stream into one which had some bits of the world I’m familiar with- thrust over with no explanation or infrastructure- but still retained the old world of Orwell, military rule, thanaka in equal measures.

When I exited the tiny Yangon airport, I was immediately taken aback by the fact that every taxi driver I saw was wearing the traditional longyi- old, young, some in uniform, some privately owned companies… this wasn’t unique to the airport. 90% of men I saw were in longyis… and looked incredible. Beau, one of the Belgians on my tour, worked in fashion and fell in love with the style- I have to admit, I did too. It was classy and comfortable- able to be easily customised, easy to move and work in, easy to dress up or down. It was fabulous. The women also wore traditional dress more often than not- beautifully tailored in silks, lotus, cotton longyis and strictly structured shirts which elongated and beautified their every move.

I arrived around lunch time and as usual when arriving in a new city, walked aimlessly around the streets. I knew the river was at one end of my street so I walked down it; pass tea shops, betel nut sellers, books strewn over tarps ranging in subject from fiction to high school chemistry text books, to cookbooks in both Myanmar and English. I may have picked up a Burmese cookbook on day one. I really do have a problem. As I passed through these streets, I never felt unsafe, but I never felt as welcome or comfortable as I do in Chiang Mai. The stench of colonialism is still present in Yangon and the tourists are few and far between. But the stares I received were not hostile, they were curious- if anything. The areas I was walking- first down back streets of the city and then along the river, a seemingly quasi residential spot, were hardly the glittering pagodas and well manicured parks that I was shown on my walking tour the next day. I was seeing the city proper, and I’m glad I did. From the rattan ball bouncing off the skilful feet of young and old men to the cool tamarind juice which quenched my thirst, even to the fight I witnessed as I walked past the ferry to the village not ten minutes away from the modern hustle and bustle I was living amongst- this was a different reality to that which I was used to.

That night, I went to a restaurant which was training young, disenfranchised Burmese people in hospitality skills. The food was delicious, the location hidden away up a flight of steep, steep stairs, and the waiters and waitresses were pleasant, eager to please and eager to learn.

The next day I went across on the ferry to the island village across the river. Again, the boat ride was a portal to the past and the poor- the poverty was shocking and striking when held up against the neighbouring city. The longyis were tattered and the faces were grubby, the children’s hands outstretched, the rickshaw riders and tuk tuk drivers more insistent and intrusive than I’ve ever experienced. I walked for a while along dusty streets before I realised this was one place that I not knowing where I was going was probably a bit of an issue. I hailed down a rickshaw rider (poor lad. Must lose rice fat) and he biked me around the island to the temples- a patch on the pagodas on the mainland- fishing communities, rice growing communities… conversing in few words “picture?”, “you buy?” before taking me back to the ferry where I hid from the touts and the fruit, pickle, betel nut sellers- staring out across the murky water which separated the two pieces of land in so many ways.

That night I met my Stray crew- 3 other travellers and our guide. The whole tour was Belgian and all extremely lovely. We shared BBQ together, trying new and strange things, and at the end of the night I walked back to my hotel with a bag of watermelon and a cup of sugarcane juice, content and excited for the 10 days to come.

Woops. Burma is not Thailand and one can probably not quite trust the watermelon that one sees on the street. Or maybe it was ice. Regardless, I did not feel well the next day and as we walked around one of the biggest pagodas in Burma, snapping photos of gold and jewels, each other and other people taking photos of us- locals amazed by our pale skin and the height of my Belgian companions, I began to feel worse and worse. Luckily, the afternoon was ours to do with what we will- I collapsed onto a bed- praying and messaging prayerful friends to ask them to pray I would feel better by that evening when we were travelling by bus on unknown roads.

By evening, the rest, prayer and lack of food paid off- I was feeling marginally better, ate a few mouthfuls of plain rice and some Burmese yakult, and slept through the evening despite the horrendous roads. Miracle.

That morning we arrived in time for our first Bagan sunrise and high tailed it to an ancient temple to watch the first rays of light break. Even though it was cloudy, it was magical and upon the crumbling chedi I reflected on how blessed and lucky I am to be here. The sky was changing fast and we drove to a few other temples- some more intact than others- before settling down for breakfast where I felt well enough for some toast. The rest of the day we spent scooting around on electronic scooters, checking out the dusty plains of Bagan- temples scattered everywhere and the history nerd in me just wanted to walk into their walls- see those who worshipped, lived amongst and revered these temples, before they were victims of time, war and tourism. I didn’t think about it at the time but if I went again, I’m not sure I would climb the chedis. While they were clearly meant to be climbed, originally, I’m not sure how damaging my footprints were.

I also went walking in this town- exploring the river and the roads- experiencing much more of Bagan than I was intending when I got completely lost with no data, wifi or physical map. It’s not that big of a city and I quickly found a vaguely familiar road, but I discovered a few more backstreets with their cows, goats and children washing in creeks, in amongst the temples I was used to. Sunset saw us back amongst the old temples and it was just as beautiful (more so…) than the rising sun.

Day 2 of Bagan was another sunrise, this time with balloons punctuating the unsure sky. The pictures speak for themselves and a thousand words were spawned in my poets mind, some spewing onto paper- or Instagram caption. We got bikes again, scooting to surrounding villages which specialised in different handicrafts. Our guide knew the families we visited well and set aside my worries of going to “model” villages. These people were craftsmen of the highest quality and it was a pleasure to see them work. After riding through the villages, I suggested a boat ride down the Irrewaddy which took us to another temple, a fisherman’s house on the banks, and allowed us to settle in for a spectacular sunrise over the water- different to anything we’d seen so far.

The next day was a long bus ride- hair raising for many reasons, the bends, break neck speeds, blind over taking, average food at the pit stop… but it took us to Kalaw where it was chilly, rural and most importantly, the starting point for our two day trek which would take us to Inle Lake- the thing I was most looking forward to on my journey through Old Burma…

Dream days to nightmare nights…

After I got home and cleansed myself from my cycle tour on Saturday, I explored George Town in the dying hours of light. It was a beautiful, beautiful evening and the light was that of a poetically, ambiguous sky. I wandered around Armenian Street, browsing through the market which had popped up there, and got my first henna tattoo!

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As the girl deftly patterned my skin with the thick reddish brown goo, I closed my eyes and surrendered to the world around me- the mix of languages filling my ears, the smells of the street food wafting around me- still not appealing to my rebellious stomach-, the damp heat and the cool breeze from the port brushing my unruly hair from about my face. I heard children laughing, the call to prayer, street vendors calling, live music from a nearby busker… it was a cacophony of easy, unassuming joy.

After getting my henna and nearly smudging it off immediately (thankfully I remembered just before ruining it completely), I walked around, snapping pics of the famous street art scattered around and perusing some little museums which were housed in coffee shops offering a break from the chaos of the market laden streets.

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Still not hungry, I stopped for a tea at one of these coffee houses and pulled out my guide to the George Town festival. There was a show on at an art space a few doors down from my Airbnb, starting in about half an hour. Excellent. I called them, asking them to put aside a ticket for me, and meandered back to Lebuh Malayu to see some local drama.

The play was a one woman show centred on a woman writing a letter to her daughter on the eve of her wedding. It was performed in Chinese with surtitles presented on a screen behind the actress. It was a really interesting piece, filled with insights about the cultural differences between the Chinese and Malaysian cultures, expectations on Chinese women when they are married and especially during pregnancy and childbirth, and then generally, on expectations for women in general. The actress was excellent and I really enjoyed the show. By the time it finished, I was well and truly ready for bed and made my way back home, filled to the brim with deep thoughts (and no dinner.)

I awoke the next morning hungry. I was excited but didn’t want to push it so I thought I’d wait for a while, set myself up for success and go hire a bike from a little shop near me (stop laughing at me for hiring a bike the day after an all day bike tour). The bike was a bit of a shock to the system after the incredible bikes I’d ridden on the Matahari tour but it did the job fine. I cycled around, taking pictures in the early morning sun, getting snaps of the graffiti minus the tourists who are much better at sleeping in than I am. But I was on a mission. Breakfast time. I cycled to Little India (also the home of more amazing street art) and settled on a little outdoor roti, chai and dosa/tosai spot which was filled with chatting Indian men. A good sign which I did well to heed. I had an egg dosa which was served with a sambal and some soupy curry to dip it in. It was delicious, not greasy and the perfect thing to fill me up for the day ahead. I then rode to the wet market, got my fill of utter madness and crowds for the day and experienced a slice of the ancient/modern contrast Penang has come to embody in my mind.

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I rode down to Beach St where another market was taking place- it was kind of small but in it I saw something I never had- a massage being given with giant knives. I had to get one- event just for 10 minutes. It felt strange, although that’s perhaps because I knew about the knives… it was nice nonetheless. There were also some flashmobs going on which was pretty cool and some cool market stalls. I had some nutmeg juice, bought a pair of leggings (which I would later come to love more than anything in the world) and stumbled upon a church service but it was already half way through.

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I then hopped on my bike to go and visit my mum’s old home- I’ve already waxed lyrical about this in another post, but the ride itself was quite lovely. The traffic in Penang is much less intimidating than CM and I was able to ride along the coast for a while which was absolutely stunning.

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After visiting the old RAAF bungalows, I rode back, aiming to make it to the hipster artists market. I got a little bit lost (predictably) but eventually made it there and was glad I did. There was more amazing street art, cool live music, some awesome local craft, a few baked goods to sample and I got to chat with a lovely lady who remembered the days when the RAAF was in town. She was about my mum’s age so I’d like to imagine they would have been friends.

I stayed at the market for a while before eventually riding home, checking out more street art on the way before going to Little India and settling on a vego place called Woodlands. I had a tali plate and a salty lassi- both fabulous. Honestly, the Indian food is so good in Penang and much less oily than the Malay food, it was all I wanted to eat. I sat and read in Woodlands for a while before heading back outside, only to find that the sun which had scorched my skin all morning has now clouded over and the rainy season was about to live up to its name. I pedalled hard to my bike rental place, said goodbye to my little fixie and proceeded to walk around the rest of the city, finding the last of the street art pieces on foot. Soon, the downpour became too much so I went back to my airbnb, picked up my backpack and found a cafe to sit, read and people watch in, as I finished up my time in beautiful Penang.

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Eventually, I braved the rain, had dinner (Indian again) and caught an uber out to the airport, farewelling this city which had totally seduced me.

But the fun doesn’t stop there. My flight was delayed from Penang, and then as my fb friends will know, I missed my flight from KL to Chiang Mai (not because of the delay but because of a case of mistaken gate identity) which led to me spending over 12 hours in KL airport. I do not recommend this particular travel adventure. Especially not when you have finished your book, your phone is dying fast and you don’t have a Malaysian adapter. I bought a portable charger (excellent device, a must for travelling, especially when using the GPS- it sucks the life out of your phone), a lot of tea and walked around the airport a lot.

It wasn’t the perfect end to my trip BUT my flight back to CM was super smooth, it wasn’t that expensive to change my ticket, and I had no one next to me. I also got a ST driver who was clean cut, honest and nice on the way home, and the sunset when I arrived in CM was stunning.

Travel teaches you a lot and even with the hiccups, I wouldn’t have changed any part of my trip.

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.

 

Doi Pui- a day to remember.

There are some days that you’re just not going to forget, no matter how long it’s been since that fateful day and how many bumps on the head you have endured in the passing years. Yesterday was one of those days. As you know if you’ve been following this blog at all, I’m a bit of a fan of hiking and I’ve been loving weekly hikes to various spots in Chiang Mai. I’ve done Doi Suthep a few times, last week was a hike to PhuPing Palace and then yesterday, my walking group and I did the big one- Doi Pui. Over the course of 6 and a half hours, we traversed 16km of jungle terrain, both up and down (mostly up) and saw not only beautiful landscapes, views and villages but we also got to see some 13th century ruins, local farms, and insane trail runners taking part in a 160km “fun” run which lasts for three days.

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The hike, as usual started at 7:30, so I hopped on my bike around 6:45 so I could make it with plenty of time to pop to the market for a carb loading breakfast of plain sticky rice and boiled pumpkin (BEST.) and grab some snacks (almonds, apples and dried mixed fruit) for our epic adventure. I would later regret riding to our start point, but to be honest, it was nice to run the legs through the motions on the way home as a bit of active recovery!

As the clock ticked over to 7:30, our extremely efficient and organised leader hustled all 26 of us onto two songtaews who drove us to Huey Tung Tao Lake where the hike would begin. It started reasonably innocently; a flat field of ripening bananas stretched before us, leading to the base of some… significant… mountains. These were our destination. As we walked toward our start point, we joked about snakes until someone pointed out a, thankfully, headless one on the side of the road.

Right. I would NOT be advertising my Australianness nor would my eyes be straying from the trail too much. That said, I wasn’t overly concerned as our group was huuuuge and with the amount of noise we were making, I’m impressed we saw any wildlife at all. No live snakes materialised through the hike and the only encounter we had with any sort of animal was a leech on someone’s pants, mosquitos for days every time we stopped to wait and the obligatory rivers of ants which crisscrossed along the trail.

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Far too quickly, we reached the trailhead and started our relatively easy ascent to our first stop- the Helipad. This section of the hike was reasonably well marked, steep but smooth, and reasonably easy. For those playing at home, it was about the level of the lyrebird track in the middle… and the view was worth any discomfort. It was beautiful from the helipad and we all enjoyed snapping selfies, sharing our snacks and swapping stories about our backgrounds and what brought us to Chiang Mai. I always love this part of the treks- meeting everyone and hearing their stories. So many different people from different walks of life come to the mountain and trekking binds people together in a way that nothing else seems to. It must be the fact we see each other in all our sweaty glory- any pretence, language barrier or class fades away on the trail. All that matters is that you put one foot in front of the other and keep on walking.

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After a while, everyone started looking much too content and relaxed so our fearless leader prompted us to continue up the trail… and this- he warned us- was the hard part. And the snakiest bit.

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His warning was not unwarranted. BUT our next stop was the hill tribe village which had coffee so many people were definitely spurred on by this promise. It was an extremely steep climb and it was unrelenting. There really was, at many points, no end in sight, and it felt like you were just going to have to climb forever. At this stage, most conversation was at a minimum as we all focused on the path in front of us, the person in front of us, the poisonous snake that COULD be in front of us… But then we reached a ridge and we were suddenly between two valleys, overlooking fields and jungle. The views were unparalleled and completely different to those at the helipad, even within the same hike!

Image may contain: sky, cloud, ocean, plant, mountain, tree, outdoor and natureAfter a while, including many false finishes, we reached the hill tribe village were some workers deemed us crazy (we all agreed with them at this point) and we all had some coffee or tea. Some hikers also partook in some Thai energy/electrolyte drinks which they said certainly had an effect on them! The coffee the shops was using is grown in the hilltribes themselves and is apparently, excellent. Some trekkers bought some beans to take back with them. It was really amazing to visit the hill tribes- it wasn’t touristy and there was barely anything catered for “farang”, just the few coffee shops we spread ourselves between. It was clear that these people weren’t being exploited by trekking companies and being “sold” as living monuments but this was just their life and they acknowledged that sometimes, insane hikers would come through and coffee is always a big seller!

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After this, we set off to our highest point- the view point of Doi Pui. Our leader warned us that this part was also extremely steep- but that we wouldn’t notice because of the view. Now, to be fair, I think my legs noticed, but my breath wasn’t just taken away by the hike but by the landscape which stretched out far below me when we reached the top. We were above the clouds and the serenity was overwhelming. It was very peaceful and the mountain vistas were seriously calming. A cool breeze was ever present and all of a sudden, I felt like I could hike for days.

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Luckily, because we still had more to go.

Most of the rest of the way was downhill (not my fave) but this trail offered its own surprises like 13th century ruins and a cute little campsite which seemed to be basically abandoned- not many people came all the way up here. We eventually scrambled down to Phu Ping palace, slipping on muddy slopes and making me extremely glad that we had all agreed to take a songtaew from PP back to our meeting point. I hate down hills and today’s hike only confirmed that they hate me too.

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So, we hopped in the back of our red trucks, trundled down the hill and finally, after 6.5 hours reached our original start point. It was an incredible hike, a beautiful day, and an experience I’ll never forget. Many thanks to our fearless leader, the lovely Aussie I borrowed a long sleeve shirt from when it started to become EXTREMELY chilly and to the whole group who constantly encouraged each other through the hard bits and the easy bits.

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Next week, I’m going on a paid trek to Doi Inthanon and I’ll be honest, it’s going to have to be pretty amazing to beat this one, but I’m sure it’ll be incredible in its own spectacular way.

Missing you all. Will post a general life update soon.

Mwa!

Amy xx

‘The Lake House’- A day at Huay Tung Tao Lake

I love a good public holiday and it’s even better that you don’t know that one is coming. It’s like that for all the holidays/special days over here- I’m blisfully ignorant of ANY of them so when one comes up it’s a wonderful surprise.

Last Friday was a brand new holiday in Thailand as it is the birthday of the new King! We had the day off so I decided that I would explore my new home a little bit but also have a bit of a relax and chill out. I’ve been reading a really fantastic book and a public holiday sounded like the perfect time to get some serious page turning in.

I’ve also been reading some blogs about places to visit around Chiang Mai and found a lot of references to a national park about 10km out of town. So, I decided to ride out there and do some relaxing, some exploring and some people watching. According to all the blogs I’d read, not many tourists visited the lake, but loads of Thai families and groups of friends go out there for long picnic lunches. I really enjoy getting off the tourist track, so this sounded perfect- plus 10km isn’t too far on my bike and the track looked reasonably straight forward- an important component to note as I have the WORST sense of direction.

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So, I set off in the morning, after doing an awesome workout with my friend, Sammy, before it got too hot. I had a general idea of where I was going but there were some moments where the map took me on what I’m sure was actually a quicker (and probably more legal than what I thought looked more direct) route but which got me a little lost as the turns escalated and became less obvious. However, I soon got to a really love bike track which took me straight to the well signposted road to the lake. Upon arriving, some lovely Thai ladies waved me through the admission gate, the 50baht fee being waived due to the public holiday. I was NOT expecting this, so was pleasantly surprised as I’m sure you can imagine. This trip, due to my free method of transport and the public holiday, was becoming even cheaper than I imagined.

As I continued riding along the road toward the lake I reached a small crest in the road and suddenly, the lake was in view. Surrounded by mountains and lined by bamboo huts, it was idyllic and an extremely welcome sight after riding through the midday heat. I continued along the road which hugged the lake, cycling slowly, taking in the natural environment- the mountains, the fields, the water and trying to decide where along the lake I would stop for my lunch.

After circumnavigating the lake, I found my way back to a little inlet and I settled at one of the many restaurants lining the lake. There are LOADS of different restaurants but they are kind of a much of a muchness- they all have delicious seafood, noodle and rice dishes so it’s just a matter of choosing which one you want to settle at. I actually have no idea which one I stopped at but it was great. I ordered a seafood salad with an egg and some sticky rice and then found my way over to a floating hut where the lovely ladies brought my food over while I sat and stared at the beautiful scene in front of me.

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Next door to me on one side was a cute couple who were enjoying a romantic lunch and on the other side, an eerily familiar looking bunch of uni students accompanied by a guitar and lots of selfies who could have been my and my friends back home. As I ate my beautiful, fresh lunch, I felt completely relaxed as the sounds of nature, my neighbour’s guitar, and chatter which I could not understand washed over me.

It was the perfect place to just let myself chill and become totally absorbed in my book. Unfortunately, after a few hours, the menacing sounds of thunder broke my reverie and after the last two days of absolute DOWN POURS which were immediately preceded by a similar rumble, I decided I should probably leave straight away lest I get caught cycling through a monsoonal shower- not something I enjoy doing and not something I would wish upon anyone.

Sadly, I said goodbye to my hut, packed my book away in my backpack and cycled back around the lake to the road, along the bike path and along the more direct route to my apartment. Surprisingly, it didn’t rain at all- a dry spell which lasted all weekend and which resulted in some seriously sticky weather. I think I prefer the rain.

Regardless, I had a wonderful day which included so many of my favourite things. I don’t want to recommend you go to the lake if you get the chance because I kind of want it to stay a little hidden away, but that would be selfish of me. Please, visit this place and enjoy the serenity and peace it offers.

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Or go swimming… that’s what the students next to me did.

Love you all

xx

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