Monthly Archives: April 2013

Adventures in the Hills: Ob Luang National Park

There’s a lot more to see in northern Thailand beyond Chiang Mai. Check out my latest post for the ATMA SEVA blog all about our recent trip to Ob Luang National Park and Thep Phanom hot springs! A great escape from Chiang Mai and some beautiful scenery.

ATMA SEVA

This past weekend the ATMA SEVA team took a trip out to Pa Pae to pick up Dan, our latest Lawa village volunteer, who has been teaching summer classes in the village for the past month. We were fortunate enough to have a little extra time, so we set off from Chiang Mai a day early to check out the “grand canyon” of Thailand: Ob Luang National Park! (Ob Luang literally means “canyon grand”, making this park the home of Thailand’s very own Grand Canyon!)

The park itself is located about two hours southwest of Chiang Mai. We took a airconditioned van from Chiang Mai headed for Mae Sariang (200 B per person, or about $7) but asked the driver to let us off at the entrance to Ob Luang instead of taking the ride all the way to Mae Sariang.  Local busses (~70-80 B) are also an…

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SONGKRAN.

In case you’re unfamiliar with THE BEST HOLIDAY EVER, let me fill you in.  Every April, Thailand basically shuts down for three days (in some less urban areas, it’s only celebrated for one day, but the cities go hard for three whole days.)  This beautiful holiday, Songkran, celebrates the Thai new year.  Coincidentally, this occurs in mid-April during the height of the hot season. This is key because the holiday is essentially the world’s biggest water fight.  When temperatures are soaring right around 100 for days on end, and when your apartment lacks a/c, any way to cool off is a welcome change.  Especially one that involves water guns.

I’m lucky that my four months here in Chiang Mai coincided with Songkran.  Last weekend, I spent three days throwing water on friends, neighbors, strangers, police men, little kids, and little old ladies.  It was the best thing ever.  Home base was a Thai friend’s house, right in the heart of a busy little neighborhood. We ventured out to the main roads and down around the moat, but the highlight of the weekend for me was seeing how Thai people celebrated just as much as falang. We went down to Thae Pae gate, basically backpacker central, to see the festivities, which were NUTS. There was a foam machine (a la HMC), multiple dance stages, six inches worth of water flooding the streets, and countless people dancing amid the chaos. It was a sight to see, but personally I preferred the time at the house where fresh cooked french fries and endless buckets of water were available. We had quite the battle going with the Thai family who owns the restaurant across the street. Unfortunately, they were more consistent than we were with the purchase of ice blocks to chill their water… Brr.

Anyways, I must say… Songkran is something that should be on everyone’s bucket list. Young, old, Thai, falang… everyone celebrates together and it is a BLAST! I mean, when else is it socially acceptable to shoot a police officer in the head with a water gun?? Come onnnn.

I’ll leave you with a few favorite photos, courtesy of Katherine’s waterproof camera…

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Me, Katherine and Lindsay playing down on Huay Kaew!

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Along the north side of the moat around the old city of Chiang Mai. NOT my favorite water to be splashed with, but “no” really isn’t an acceptable option.

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Nid’s costume shop located in Santitam, our Home Base. We’re so ready!

Needless to say, it was a little hard to get back into the swing of work after a 3.5 day celebration like this. After a day of recovery, we’ve managed to have a pretty productive week with a lot of good things on the horizon for ATMA SEVA.  We’ll be heading back to the Lawa Village this weekend to pick up a volunteer who has been teaching there for the past few weeks, and then next week we head off to another district for a three day English camp! I can’t believe I only have five weeks left… man time flies.

Until next time,

J

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A Word a Week Photo Challenge- Dawn

A Word a Week Photo Challenge- Dawn

Sunrise on Rarotonga, Cook Islands. One of my favorite mornings ever.

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Thai yoga.

So one of my new favorite discoveries in Chiang Mai is Yoga Home, a yoga studio five minutes from my apartment run by the most adorable Thai teacher.  He teaches classes mostly in Thai, with some English thrown in when a falang (aka me or Katherine) is present.  Classes are 90 minutes and while the classes aren’t as intense as some I’ve done in the past, it feels good to be moving and exercising regularly again!  Anyways, I wanted to share some things that I’ve learned from the few classes I’ve been to thus far…

1) Falling out of shape is NOT FUN. There’s nothing more frustrating than struggling to do something that three months ago was a piece of cake, whether it’s running five miles or holding a particular pose. Luckily, as with any exercise regimen, each day gets a little better. It’s just hard to keep that in mind on days 1 and 2!

2) Thai people have some miraculous gene that prevents them from sweating, even in the hottest places. I’m sweating before class even begins, thanks to the 100 degree days we’ve been having here. Somehow everrrrrybody else in the class manages to complete the entire 90 minutes without even a modest glisten on the brow. Not fair.

3) Myself and Thai people are built very differently. Well duh, you say… but it’s interesting to me to compare the poses that I struggle with vs the poses that everyone else finds difficult.  For example, I cannot do anything that involves hip flexibility. Sitting Indian style with both knees flat on the ground? Doing a split? Forget it. But when it comes to hamstring stretches, I have a much easier time grabbing my foot and putting my head on my knee than the rest of the class. I know there’s always some variation in any class, but I find it interesting how specific the differences are. It could just be the particular group, but it’s been constant across several classes with different groups of people.

4) Thai yoga class is a great way to pick up random Thai vocabulary.  Today, for example, I learned that “clai” means “relax/release” and “lehk” means “and.” Success! I really like that the class is mostly in Thai. Yoga is one of those things that doesn’t require too much talking once you have the basics down, which is nice.

Anyways, I’m really glad that I found this studio.  It’s relatively new and located on the ground level of an apartment complex on one of the Sois (maybe 8?) off Nimman. If anyone in Chiang Mai is looking for a good place to practice that isn’t run by and attended solely by falang, this would be the place! Google “Yoga Home by Kru Noom.” The studio also has an air-conditioned cafe attached that makes coffee, fresh juice and other drinks!

Cheers,

J

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Escaping the heat of Chiang Mai

One of the biggest challenges as a foreigner living in Chiang Mai is finding the balance between the “farang” tourist scene and “authentic” Thai life.  Finding tourist hotspots is easy- just follow the flock of elephant pant-wearing white folks clutching Lonely Planet guides.  Places like Wat Doi Suthep and the night bazaar are well publicized.  I have nothing against a pretty wat on top of a mountain or a market where I can find hippie pants for $3, but sometimes these places can start to feel like tourist traps.

This is why I loved this past weekend.  It began with the Lanna World Music Festival on Thursday night, which featured a lovely mix of Lanna (a region including parts of northern Thailand, Burma, Laos and probably more), Korean, African and even American artists.  I went to the festival with a few friends and was introduced to several new ones there through a mutual friend.  We ate some delicious stall food, enjoyed a few beer towers and relaxed, enjoying the music and atmosphere.  We all hit it off so well that we agreed to go out again the next night.  And again the following afternoon. Our Saturday afternoon destination? Huay Tung Tao, a lovely lake about 25 minutes outside of the city.  As a tourist, you probably wouldn’t hear about this place, or if you did, it could be a bit of a stretch to get there.  This is how we spent that afternoon…

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Enjoying some snacks and cold beverages in our own personal tiki hut!

One of the best parts was that I don’t think I saw any other huts of farang, or foreigners.  Not that I’m anti-farang, obviously almost our entire gang was comprised of ex-pats, but it’s nice to find a place where you don’t feel like just another dot in a sea of tourists.  Not to mention the sunset…

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Beautiful, pink sunset over the lake. No editing required.

Needless to say, it was a wonderful afternoon.  Getting out of the city is necessary when the daily average temperature is hovering just around 100 degrees. Even if we didn’t swim, courtesy of the snake David almost grabbed in the water and the bits of trash floating around, the breeze was fabulous. For only a 20 baht entry fee, it’s well worth it.  I highly recommend Huay Tung Tao to anyone currently suffering through the oppressive heat of Chiang Mai!

Cheers,

J

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Some Reflections on SE Asia

When I arrived in Chiang Mai back in January, I had never set foot onto Asian soil.  This city was my first exposure to Asian life and culture.  I’ll never forget my first experience riding down Huay Kaew road on the back of Dave’s motorcycle: I thought I was going to die.  Everything seemed so frenzied, with cars, tuk tuks, motorbikes and pedestrians darting everywhere.  The sights, sounds and smells of the city were a full on assault on my senses.  Despite the initial chaos, I quickly adjusted to this foreign place and Chiang Mai became a kind of home, my baseline Asian city.

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Home sweet home! And our new ATMA SEVA office!

It wasn’t until I left the familiar comforts of my apartment in Chiang Mai to venture south to Bangkok that I realized just how good I have it here.  From the moment I arrived in the Bangkok train station to the great pleasure of the dozens of taxi and tuk tuk drivers vying for my baht, I realized that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, as the saying goes.  From there things only got more aggressive, heading into Cambodia where the poverty is much more prevalent and in your face.  Walking around Angkor Wat, you can’t go twenty feet without ten cries of “Lady! Fresh pineapple for you! Very cheap!” or a dozen little girls following you along the road trying to sell you postcards and other small trinkets.  At first it’s easy enough to smile and say no politely.  At 2pm when you’ve been climbing around temples since 5am in 100 degree plus heat and approximately 147% humidity, it’s much harder to put on your happy face to turn down vendor #493.  I can sympathize with their position, but at some point, it’s just exhausting to constantly have to say “no” ten times before someone hears it.

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The streets of Saigon. One of the many vendors who will approach you on the street, peddling his wares. As he repeatedly told us, he didn’t JUST sell sunglasses, but he had an impressive collection of lighters too! Unfortunately, we were not in the market for either.

It’s the same with tuk tuk and pedicab drivers.  The only time you’re safe is when you are physically in another tuk tuk.  Until then, you are fair game and you will be hassled.  I remember one afternoon we were in Hue, Vietnam trying to walk around the old Imperial Citadel.  This is a large complex of restored buildings, old gates, crumbling walls, and other sites.  After spending 75% of the previous day in a car, we were ready to explore on foot.  A helpful pedicab driver pointed us in the right direction to the Citadel.  Starting to understand how the game works, I knew we hadn’t seen the last of him.  After waving and thanking him, he continued to follow us all the way to the Citadel, repeatedly offering us a ride in his pedicab for lower and lower prices.  I tried to explain to him that it wasn’t the price- we just didn’t want a pedicab ride- to which he replied, “you never try, you never know!” Clever, sir.  Unfortunately all we wanted to do was walk around and he did not seem to be getting the message.  It took us a solid ten minutes to lose him, at which point I’m pretty sure Anna, my traveling companion, was on the verge of snapping his head off.

Similar scenarios occurred in every city we visited in Cambodia and Vietnam, although this particular experience in Hue was the worst.  It really opened my eyes to comfortable my life in Chiang Mai is.  Everyone always says that Thai people are extremely friendly and welcoming and I can personally attest this to be true.  In Chiang Mai, when somebody says hello to you on the street, 99% of the time they are just being friendly and have no agenda.  When a tuk tuk driver pulls over to offer you a ride, if you say no, they nod and drive off.  I was absolutely astounded by how different the culture in Chiang Mai is to the rest of the parts of SE Asia that I visited.  Granted, I went to mostly tourist hot spots and didn’t even make it to Laos, but overall, I was amazed at how artificial the friendliness felt everywhere we went.  Sure, that lady with the basket of donuts is all smiles and cheer until you say “no, I don’t want donuts” for the fifth time, at which point her face drops and she stomps off to her next target.

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Classic Hanoi. You can find everything on the sidewalk except for pedestrians!

There are plenty of things that I loved about Cambodia and Vietnam, which I’ll be writing about soon, but this feeling of fake friendliness is one of the biggest things that stuck out to me throughout our trip.  Had I started in Hanoi, I would have had a very different understanding of SE Asia.  It just goes to show how relative our impressions are.  Also, although the cultures do share a lot of similarities, this trip highlighted how different these three countries and the cities within them are. It makes me very grateful to have found such a warm, welcoming temporary home in Chiang Mai!

Cheers, J

p.s. For more thoughts, check out my latest blog entry for the ATMA SEVA organization blog, Southeast Asia on a Shoestring Schedule. Another entry with pictures coming soon!

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