Wednesday, October 31, 2012

koh lanta

after i left bangkok i flew to phuket, spent one night there before heading to an island called koh hae. there are no stores or roads on koh hae. i rented a sada, which is basically a bamboo hut without walls. i  stayed on the island alone for four nights before heading to koh phi phi. i couchsurfed on phi phi (pronounced pee pee) for three nights before heading to koh lanta.
monkey beach

my sada on koh hae

in october 2010 i met susanna for the first time. she was a couchsurfer i had lined up to host me on koh lanta. koh lanta is a beautiful and often under rated island off the west coast of thailand.
and now, nearly two years to the day i am back on koh lanta with her.
this time i wasn't couchsurfing with her, but instead she helped set me up with a place to stay. she had a friend who was a yoga instructor at a resort on the island. her friend was away on vacation and needed someone to house/dog sit. so i lived in a bungalow over looking the beach on a resort property for a my first week on koh lanta. it was amazing! i literally could hear the waves crashing while i fell asleep each night.

susanna and i with our morning ceasars
when my week house/dog sitting came to an end i needed to find somewhere new to stay. this task was made so much easier because susanna knows basically everyone on the island. she put me in touch with a friend of hers named nikki. susanna told me that nikki was in need of a nanny for her 19 month old daughter layla. in exchange for looking after layla she would provide me with a place to stay. so the next morning susanna drove me over to nikki's place and introduced me and left me to settle in.
so here is the deal.
nikki and neng are a couple. nikki is from england and neng is thai. they have been dating for years and have a 19 month old daughter, layla. over the past four years they have built and ran a hostel together. neng built it from the ground up. recently they decided to break-up and in turn they sold their business to an american/thai couple. the day i arrived was also the day that nikki and layla moved out of their home with neng. it was a very weird environment to enter into. but upon my arrival i met mimi. mimi is a girl from lybia who was also working for neng in exchange for a place to stay. mimi explained how she became involved. there is an organization called help exchange. i'm actually kind of surprised i hadn't heard of it before. basically you get a free place to stay in exchange for doing a little work each day. the work varies depending on the organization. anything from farming, to child care, to construction. so mimi had come to be staying here by sending an email to nikki and agreeing to help take care of layla and help to build some of the cafe that neng was working on.
neng and nikki also have a property just down from their hostel. this property is called the funny farm. neng is in the process of building a clay house. and then turning it into a cafe/bar. aptly named the clay cafe. after mimi explained all of this i was starting to understand. then she told me that there were more people living here too.
there were five of us in total working and living at the funny farm. roman the frenchman, luke the american, mimi the lybian, martin the norwegian and me.

funny farm
my "room" at the farm. my bed is the one covered in a pink mosquito net
the funny farm family
the clay cafe construction
before i got there mimi had been on layla duty. but she deemed layla to be "the spawn of satan", so i took over layla duty when i arrived. mimi was moved to kitchen/clay duty. and the boys were in charge of getting the roof of the clay cafe up. we worked anywhere from 2-4 hours a day.
in our spare time we ate. we ate so much.
in the mornings after we woke up we would all gather in the kitchen and discuss where we wanted to eat that day. depending on what we chose, we would base our morning or afternoon excursions on proximity to the eating establishment. our favourite islands restaurants were the greek taverna, run by greek expat couple, and the red snapper which was a decadent western restaurant run by a dutch couple. roman and martin were both chefs and relished the daily foodie binges.
mimi and i had rented scooters from neng's brother for three dollars a day. so we doubled up on the bikes and took off to explore the island. visiting the national park at one end, and exploring many of the white sand and turquoise blue water beaches.

my shower/laundry station
living on the farm was definitely rustic. we had to make sure to tuck in our mosquito nets each night or we would wake up to find ourselves covered in mosquito and red ant bites. the washroom was small and dirty. to the point that i couldn't bring myself to use it. i showered underneath the tap (photo above) and i would take an early morning stroll into the papaya and palms trees that surrounded the farm to find a new place to squat each morning. we called the tap that i showered under laya's shower. because that black bucket that is beside it is used as her bathtub everyday.

i was neat living with people from all over the world. and hearing their stories. what brought them to this little island, and to this funny farm to help neng build a cafe made of clay. we all bonded so quickly and it was a shame to see everyone go.
our last day at work
after our last day at the farm we all left in different directions. roman headed to laos, martin headed to phi phi to begin his dive master internship, and mimi and i headed north to bangkok for two days. we called it our bangkok 48. we fit as many thai delights into my last two days in thailand as possible. we went to a VIP movie theatre, hunted down a famous mango and sticky rice place, bought illegal dvds, shopped for cheap pharmaceuticals and got one last thai massage.
and that was it. i hugged mimi goodbye and hopped in a taxi.
"airport please"

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

the land of smiles

school's out in dali

the south of china was a blur for me.
i quickly bopped along from town to town.
shangri-la, lijiang, dali and kunming.
highlights for me include meeting two friends from france.
sylvain and pierre.
they have been traveling for nine months so far. they left france in february and are biking to australia!
they were occasional cyclists before. but on a whim decided to bike around the world.
i met them in shangri-la and was lucky enough to meet up with them again in dali before i left for kunming.
hearing stories like theirs inspires me so much. thinking about cycling around the world sounds daunting. but hearing it from someone who is doing, and someone who really had no travel or cycling experience before really makes me aware that anyone can do it.
stories like theirs put ideas in my head.
once i made it to kunming i took two days to thump around before thailand beckoned.
the contrast was immediately apparent, and welcomed. i got off the plane and immediately i could sense the difference.
people smiled. everyone smiled. getting through customs was a breeze and soon i was at the info booth asking directions. i needed to navigate my way through public transit to get to my couchsurfers house.
i like to ask someone about every five minutes that im walking to make sure im going in the right direction.
everyone spoke english, everyone stopped to help me, everyone smiled.
people even came up to me to make sure i knew where i was going.
it was pouring rain. a mid-monsoon downfall. the worst rain i'd seen on my trip so far. but i couldnt stop smiling.
when i arrived at my couchsurfers house i looked like a drowned. soaked to the bone. but i didnt care. my cs'ers were a couple from europe. fiona is from scotland, and cora is from germany. they were just living in bangkok for a month while fiona wrote her final paper for law school. i spent three nights with them while i took care of thai logistics. getting a cell phone and sim card, buying a flight south, and contacting places where i might be able to stay at. during those first days in bangkok i consumed an absurd amount of pad thai and fruit smoothies. pad thai and green curry are my favorite foods in thailand. although really there are too many to count.
when i said bye to the girls i headed off to catch my plane. bangkok to phuket.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

someones shangri-la

this is taken from my journal.
i wrote it while on an early morning bus ride leaving the city of the famous shangri-la.

i can see its beauty, shangri-la.
a valley. low hanging morning fog.
dipping itself over the hillside in the foreground.
the mountains, an idilic background for a novel. for someones shangri-la.
but it is no longer just a beautiful landscape. 
it is tourists and trucks. dust from construction, concrete housing surrounding the small somewhat preserved old town. 
look at it while walking at dusk or squint your eyes while you ride past in a taxi. taking in only the types of trees, or the way the land lifts and falls. 
my friend christopher reminds me to look up. always look up. look up and you will see blue skies, clouds rolling. just like the hillside they are painted a top of. 
people talk of the national park. 20 km outside of town. they talk about the temple on the outskirts of the city. nothing about the town itself. no streets, no building, land or people holding attention.
nothing about the town possesses the beauty it once did. 
the beauty we all believe it to have.
it has become another niagra falls. another 'it' island off the coast of thailand. that in a few years becomes populated by tired locals selling postcards and backpackers seeking a cheap getaway. an escape from their lives. forgetting quickly that their escape is the everyday for those people whose homes they rent for two dollars a night, whose food they eat with chopsticks, an exotic culinary appendage. 
the road taking me away from shangri-la talks. 

change of direction

when i left canada i had a vague plan.
i was thinking of doing mongolia then going through western china to get to pakistan.
spend about a month in pakistan and then decided where next from there.
but as my time in mongolia drew to a close, i had a decision to make.
tourists kept getting killed on the exact buses and bus route i would have been on in order to cross the border to pakistan.
i kept getting emails from my mom.
'i know youll make the right decision bumper'
*my parents call me bumper
'stay safe kid' etc.
i came to the saddened conclusion that i shouldnt head west. that it wasnt meant to be.
so as you saw a couple entries ago, i sent a package home. full of all my outdoor gear.
tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, hiking boots, wool socks, etc.
i had picked a new direction. one that wouldn't require that type of gear.
i decided to head to thailand. lands of smiles :)

boris, me, georgie and the terrcotta army in xi'an china.
couchsurfing with tong and yue helped a lot with getting me started in my new direction. they booked two train tickets for me. one from beijing to xian. and the other, xian to chengdu. both were 13 hour night trains. they got me first class and second class sleepers for the journey.
xian is known for its terracotta warriors. which i saw when i was little on a national discovery program. i also read about them on rob lilwalls blog when he walked from mongolia to hong kong this year. xian is where i met liling and boris, and rid myself of my aforementioned cave feet.
chengdu is known for their pandas. so pandas is what i did. i joined three aussies and made the early morning trip into see the endangered species.
after i got my panda fix i headed west, towards tibet.
i took an eight hour bus ride to a town called kangding. on the ride there i met a german guy around my age named christopher. we hit it off right away and ended up traveling for over a week together. we stayed a couple nights in kangding before taking a mini bus further into the tibetan area for a couple nights. we hiked to a tibetan nunnery, ate yak yogurt and stayed the most colorful guesthouse ive ever seen!
me and christopher in tagong
my colorful guesthouse near tibet
the next leg of our journey was traveling further south along the sichuan-tibetan highway. i ended up taking an 18 hour bus ride from kangding to daocheng. the bus traveled along single lane, unpaved mountain passes, no guardrails. it was one of the most terrifying things ive done. luckily i loaded up on motion sickness tablets and slept for a good chunk of the journey. i was very conscious of my ipods battery life. the last thing i wanted was to be without music to drown the chinese classics that were being blasted throughout the bus.
but my bus binge didnt stop in daocheng. it was just a twenty-four hour stopover before my next bus. daocheng to shangrila.

dali, china