Rss Feed
  1. Canada Day At Home

    Tuesday, July 01, 2014

    It's Canada Day and I'm at home! I'm planning to go enjoy some of the festivities today and ruminate on how lucky I am to live in this place - it's not perfect, but it's pretty good. Traveling does have a way of making you evaluate where you live and come from; it's impossible not to compare. For me, Canada and Vancouver came out looking shiny.

    You have not seen me post on here much because I am hard at work trying to complete a project I worked on while in Poland. If all goes well it will launch online in August! I think it will be fun - I'll put the link here when it is ready. It's a challenge to make progress in the scraps of free time left over after working full time, but I'm determined! It will mean a continued lack of interesting blog posts, however. Instead you should go check out my sister's blog - Bluenose Girl - she just did a great post summarizing her Poland travel experiences.
    Reactions: 
    |
    |


  2. When I last left our tale, Peter and I had just returned to Bangkok from a few days in Cambodia.

    March 13, the same day we arrived in Bangkok, we got overnight train tickets and started our journey to Koh Samui Island (it was a train to Surat Thani, then a bus to Don Sak, then a ferry to the island). There happens to be a giant crazy party on Koh Phangan island every full moon - the "Full Moon Party" which you generally get to via Koh Samui island, so our overnight train was full of young people starting the party early. So that was.... loud.

    We managed to get some sleep despite the party. In the end we got ourselves to Koh Samui on March 14. We decided, after very little research, to go to Lamai Beach for two nights, and luckily when we got off the ferry we found a guy going that way to split a cab with.
    Beach
    Lamai Beach, Koh Samui
    We checked into our hotel and promptly went to the much anticipated beach. And had jerk chicken at one of the beach-front restaurants. As you do in Thailand.

    Beach Reading
    We spent some time in the shade on the beach, very happy to be by the ocean and not have to go anywhere or do anything.

    For dinner later that day we visited the main drag in Lamai and had dinner at a nice Thai place where Peter ordered a dish and requested it be made Thai-spicy. The server checked our table after he'd had a few bites and asked if he wanted her to have the kitchen moderate the spiciness, but Peter said no and continued on. He suffered, but he finished it! I had something tourist-level-medium and found that plenty hot (I did just spend a year in Poland - land of bland).

    Cafe Kitten
    The next day we started our day by finding a breakfast cafe that had resident kittens = win. One of the kittens was wearing a bow tie. One curled up in Peter's lap while he ate. An excellent start to the day. Then we spent hours on the beach on loungers under umbrellas that we would later discover were not adequately blocking the sun (bad sunburns for both of us - that's after sitting in the SHADE). We tried to swim but it was very wavy and I couldn't hack it.

    The beach was generally nice, but had occasional tiny blobs of oil that you would find on your feet or towel or shoes at the end of the day. I've never heard anyone else mention this about Thai beaches, but it was kind of annoying - finding black oil all over your stuff. So - you've been warned.

    We had a lovely moonlit dinner on the beach at a French restaurant called "No Stress". Then stopped for a pretty epic fire-twirling show on the beach at the party bar. All in all, beach life was proving to be excellent.

    Our Ride
    Ferry from Mae Nam to Haad Rin
    The next day, March 16, it was time to go to Sanctuary. We needed to get to Haad Tien beach on Koh Phangan Island. We got a cab to take us to a tiny ferry in Mae Nam that sometimes goes direct to Haad Tien. Sadly for us the waves were too wavy and we could only get to nearby Haad Rin beach.

    Fortunately for us one of the guys on the tiny ferry, a guy from Amsterdam, was also trying to get to Haad Tien and he'd been before so when the boat guy at the beach we landed on (Haad Rin) wanted an exorbitant rate to take us on the short trip, our Dutch friend knew there was another beach to try where another boat might be.

    LongTail
    A long tail boat delivers us to Sanctuary
    He was right and the boat guy there was also asking a high price, but it was within the realm of reasonableness and we were all keen just to get to Sanctuary already so we clambered into the boat that was already full of coconuts and other supplies and passengers and tried not to fall out as the boat (a 'long tail') bounced over the waves.

    The boat ride was refreshing and cool and fun. And they successfully managed to land on the beach and unload us.

    We had arrived at Sanctuary and it really felt like it; peaceful after the craziness that is the rest of Thailand. We parked our bags by reception and said hello and sat in the restaurant enjoying the view. We suddenly had nowhere we needed to be and it was wonderful.

    I was grinning like an idiot. After 2 solid weeks of trekking around, navigating strange places, I was at a yoga retreat on a beach and didn't have to go anywhere for a while. I was stupidly happy. We ended up loving Sanctuary so much that we extended our stay and used up the remainder of our time there. We couldn't think of a good reason to go anywhere else.

    Sanctuary10The magic of Sanctuary is it's somewhat remote location, , it's good restaurant (lots of vegetarian and raw food options), it's yoga studio, spa, and friendliness. The type of people who go to a place like Sanctuary are the type you can introduce yourself to and just start a conversation with. Everyone we met there was super nice.

    I got in the habit of going to yoga every day at 8am while Peter went to work out at the Muay Thai boxing place up the hill.

    HorizonsWe spent a lot of time in hammocks, on the beach, chatting with people in the restaurant. We wandered over to the beaches on either side. We thought about a day trip to some other part of the island - but in the end decided we were happy just where we were.

    It's definitely an island place - with the slow pace of an island. Going anywhere other than the string of 3 beaches in the area meant catching a boat (kind of on a schedule, unless they weren't; I never figured it out), or maybe a jeep over the 'road' if you could figure out if it was going that day. There was no clear explanation of how any of it worked, but it somehow worked. Sanctuary doesn't take card and the nearest ATM is a boat-ride away. We would see people handing over their ATM cards to new friends who were making the trip to town to get fresh cash - that's the kind of place it is; you meet someone and a few days later trust them with your ATM card and pin so you don't have to make the trip. That sums up Sanctuary.

    Although it is mostly a quiet area, there is some action. There is a party every Friday night at the nearby bar (Guy's Place) that goes all night and into the next day (then Sat night the party is at Eden bar). They warn you about it when you check in at Sanctuary and they give you earplugs. They suggest that you just go the party - that being the best way to avoid being annoyed by the very loud music that goes on all night. So we went and hung out with nice people and had our faces painted with glow paint and danced. And we stayed all night. And sat on a rock and watched the sun rise. And went to bed at 7am while the music continued.

    Sanctuary4
    It was good to get back to yoga. I did my first baby headstand. I learned to stay zen in downward dog despite ants crawling over my yoga mat. I sometimes struggled to hear the instructor over the deafening chorus of cicadas because the yoga studio was in the jungle. It was wonderful. Peter and I both remember Sanctuary very very fondly.


    Eventually, after 2 wonderful weeks, it was time to go. The only thing that made leaving Sanctuary bearable was the fact that we were finally going home.

    We made the reverse trip - Koh Phangan - Koh Samui - Don Sak - Surat Thani - Bangkok without problems (our 3 overnight train trip in Thailand) and got to our hotel super early. We spent the morning by the pool then did something in complete contrast to our life of yoga and friendly chats at Sanctuary - we went shopping in the huge mall district. There are so many gigantic malls in Bangkok. Our favourite was a less shiny wholesale mall called Platinum Fashion Mall. Sanctuary felt really far away already, sadly.

    Mall April 1 - departure day! We collected our luggage from the storage place and headed to the airport.

    Many many movies and meals later, we arrived in Vancouver. There was a bit of a mix up with the guy who was to pick us up, so we ended up hanging out at Tim Horton's for a bit.... but that was okay, it was part of being home. And the moment we stepped outside the airport and breathed in that cedar-scented, clean air, we knew we were home. Travel is great - but coming home is better, I think.

    It's impossible to try to sum up our year away, and I won't try here - maybe another post. Here I will say - Thailand was interesting. Challenging for me in many ways, bits of amazing beauty, some lovely people, but also poverty and infrastructure problems - it's a place of contrasts... like so many places are.

    Southern Thailand photos are here.
    Reactions: 
    |
    |


  3. When I last left our tale, Peter and I had taken an overnight train back to Bangkok with our tour group. We arrived in Bangkok the morning of March 9. After saying goodbye to our fellow tour group friends, Peter and I went to the bus station to get our ticket to Cambodia for the next day (getting there from the train station involved some hard-core haggling with tuktuk drivers over the fare for the super short drive; fortunately our haggling skills had improved by this point).

    We left the bus station after successfully getting our tickets and thought we would walk to the Skytrain station and take Skytrain to our hotel. According to the map there was a giant park between the bus station and the transit station which looked like a pleasant place for walk. Which is true. Except the park is fenced. We ended up walking along some unpleasant streets (busy bus-filled streets, sidewalk-less areas) around the perimeter trying to find an entrance into the park. It was really annoying. Especially because the park was lovely once we were able to get inside - but what should have been a short, simple A-to-B trip was... not. Finding an exit on the other side that was near the transit station was also a problem due to the fence. The experience was kind of symbolic of our time in Thailand, actually - beautiful things surrounded by chaos, and difficulty getting from A to B.

    Yellow We did make it to our hotel. We went for something fancier than we usually do - the iSanook. Really nice staff, lovely facility. We spent the day relaxing and catching up on internet stuff. Peter visited the pool. We kind of ignored the fact that we were in Thailand, to be honest - took a day off. We used the hotel's free tuk tuk service to go to a nearby shopping area where we went to Pizza Hut. I have no shame in that like I normally would. I needed a day of comfort and familiar things, and that's what we did. It was a holiday from our holiday.

    The next day it was on to Siem Reap, Cambodia. For two people who had never traveled outside Europe, this trip made us a bit nervous, but we figured Angkor Wat was such a popular destination that the tourist infrastructure would be pretty good.

    We took a bus there and it was pretty easy - air conditioned travel, they give you water and food, the drive is smooth and uneventful.

    Waiting
    In between Thailand & Cambodia
    They do stop at a place before the border to change staff where they offer to prepare your visa for you for a fee (you can just do it at the border for free, which they don't mention on the bus); I recommend getting an e-visa before hand that way you don't have to worry about getting scammed or needing to bribe anyone (I don't know if that still happens at the border, online accounts vary.).

    The bus dropped us all off at the border. Going through Thai exit customs was easy, then there was a walk through a strange no-mans land before you hit the Cambodia border. This no-mans land has a casino in it. The difference between the Thai side and the Cambodia side is very stark and was the first sign of just how poor Cambodia was. Entry into Cambodia involved a long line and fingerprinting, but was otherwise no problem.

    The bus was waiting for us on the other side and once everyone was back on board, the trip continued. It passed through rural areas and that was our first glimpse of people living in places and ways that seem on the surface to be untouched by time. Such an incredible contrast to places that are part of my daily experience that I still have trouble wrapping my head around it. It was like this [link to images]. The disparity of living conditions in the world is really mind boggling.

    We arrived in Siem Reap at night, got a tuk tuk to our hotel and agreed to have that tuk tuk driver as a guide for the next day of touring. After checking in at our lovely hotel we walked to the main strip to get food. Notes: 1) not a town made for walking - the combination of busy street + no sidewalk + no streetlights was a bit stressful. 2) we ended up at an Indian restaurant (Curry Walla) where we had really good food. I felt bad for not having a more Cambodian food experience but after a year in Poland, I reserved the right to have Indian whenever the opportunity presented itself.

    Cambodia-29
    Baphuon, Angkor Thom
    So the reason for going to Siem Reap is, of course, to see the temple ruins. Any one of them would be amazing and destination-worthy, and there are a lot of them.

    Our first day of touring we made a rookie mistake by not starting out until 8:30am. In my world, that's early. In the reality of super hot places, you want to be out around 6:00am when it is slightly cooler and then you can hide during mid-day heat.

    Cambodia-11
    Bayon, Angkor Thom
    First we visited Angkor Thom which was huge, hot, and crowded, and amazing. Afterwards we let our driver take us to his friend's restaurant for lunch then we visited Ta Prohm (which you would recognize from Lara Croft). Ta Prohm was very very cool, but it was just too hot to stay very long (36C). We headed back to our hotel to cool off, stopping by a 10th century temple (Prasat Kravan) on the way, as you do.

    We cooled of in the pool at our hotel and thought about what a strange place we were in, this area with such a huge collection of ruined temples from so long ago. How civilizations rise and fall and how immense and important this area once was. At the height of their city-building days it must have seemed impossible to people then to think of their structures and way of life not continuing on; much like we are unable to imagine our structures and way of life not continuing on forever.

    Cambodia-101
    Angkor Wat sunrise
    The next day (March 12) we were up early to hit Angkor Wat for sunrise. Too many people said this was a MUST do, and we figured an early start was a good idea to avoid the heat, so off we went.

    We were part of the mob waiting for the sun to rise from behind the temple. It did. It was not a spectacular sight that day, but it was okay.

    We went in to explore - enjoying the slightly cooler weather at 6am. Angkor Wat is so massive it's hard to believe - given it was built in the 12th century by hand. The outer wall encloses 203 acres (only the temple remains; the city and palace buildings were made of perishable materials). It really is extraordinary.

    Cambodia-35
    Ta Prohm
    After Angkor Wat exhausted us, we tuk tuk'ed to Preah Khan, the other ruin with trees growing on the stones. Our tuk tuk driver dropped us off at a lesser known gate to this ruin and we had the area to ourselves - a ruined giant carved structure with the jungle working to reclaim it.  My camera battery died here, so Peter was free of me taking a million photos of all the cool scenes before me.

    Once again by mid-day we found ourselves melting in the heat (I can't overstate how meltingly hot it is with the sun reflecting off the stones) so we retreated to the hotel to shower and visit the pool.

    Cambodia-106In the afternoon we visited a local Wat and made a donation to the Life and Hope Association as a small way to try to contribute to improving things for people in Siem Reap. I still feel very conflicted about visiting poor places - when I think about how much money I'm spending for a frivolous holiday and how so many people there lack basic necessities. I feel both very privileged for being born in Canada and having a life full of ease and opportunity and very guilty for not making more of an effort to help others.

    After the Wat we tuktuk'ed out through villages to Phnom Krom on top of a hill (many stairs) to watch the sunset. It was us and another couple and one young monk (there is an active temple on the hilltop in addition to the temple ruin). We shared snacks with the monk and he asked us for money which kind of spoiled our romantic notion of monks letting go of worldly goods and desires. But the view of the countryside from the hilltop was lovely. The sun didn't set into the horizon though, it disappeared behind a thick layer of smog. So that was weird.

    Cambodia-108The bumpy tuktuk ride back to town on the dirt road at night was interesting - a chance to get glimpses into houses lit by 1 bulb, parties, people outside having dinner. It's a whole different world.

    We had our own dinner at the Butterfly Garden Restaurant (no butterflies at night but there was a cat and a frog, and the business is a social enterprise, so: win) and walked through the market and Pub street (hello tourist central). When I showered before bed actual dirt came out of my hair from the dusty tuk tuk trip.

    There was a lot more to see around Angkor Wat - we skipped entire temple complexes; there's just too much, we hit our temple wall. It was time to go back to Thailand.

    March 13 we were back on the bus early in the morning and arrived in Bangkok at 4:30. When we crossed the border into Thailand, everything suddenly looked shiny and tidy - which was not our impression arriving in Thailand from Europe. It's all relative. Cambodia was an interesting experience, one I'm still thinking about. One clear thought I have: being a tourist in a poor place is a weird thing to do.

    The next phase of our trip was to get to an island and a beach. We bought an overnight train ticket to get us down south and discovered we were headed to the island that everyone goes to for the full moon party, just in time for the full moon! Uh oh.

    That will be Part 3 - Thailand Island Adventure!

    Cambodia pictures can be found here.
    Reactions: 
    |
    |


  4. Thailand Summary - Part 1

    Monday, May 19, 2014

    We were in Thailand/Cambodia for 4 weeks. This is the first of 3 blog posts summarizing our trip. Photos of Bangkok are here.  Photos of Northern Thailand are here.

    Peter and I arrived in Bangkok (Feb 28) and got ourselves to our hotel with our enormous quantity of suitcases. I was sick - apparently as soon as the stress of leaving Poland was off my immune system went down. By the time we landed in Bangkok I had lost my voice. We were pretty exhausted and hot so upon arrival at the hotel we went against all travel advice and showered and took a nap. It was lovely. We discovered that the property next to the hotel had roosters in residence. That was unexpected.

    Bangkok SidewalkWe eventually realized it wasn't ever going to cool down (it was about 33C), so we headed out to find supper. We walked (as we always do in a new city), which was kind of a challenge because sidewalks in Bangkok are not really for walking, apparently, they are for markets and seating, and parking and anything other than a clear path for pedestrians. On the one hand - how interesting and different, on the other hand, how annoying.

    We found food and a nice cool place to sit in the form of a cheap restaurant below a mid-price hotel.  We dined with the other white tourists and then continued wandering all the way to the water and found ourselves in a park where a krump and break dancing competition was going on. After watching dancing for a bit we found our way to Khao San Road - the centre of the expat/tourist community in Bangkok. We walked the length of it, sat on a patio (on Soi Rambuttri, actually since Khao San Rd is insanely busy) and had mango and sticky rice and thought about what a funny place we were in. A community of non-Thai people in the heart of the Thai capital. Very strange.

    Bangkok-15Mar 1: After a tasty Thai breakfast at our hotel we headed to the Grand Palace by  tuktuk. It was really hot and we were not yet hip to the idea of getting up insanely early to avoid the heat, so we toured the palace in the hot hot hotness. (The palace loaned me a long skirt to wear to make up for my short skirt.) The palace was pretty incredible - probably the shiniest place I've ever been. I took approximately 40000 photos, as did the other million people who were there at the same time, so I'm sure my photos are super unique.

    Bangkok-66 After the palace we caught the river express boat back to our hotel and recovered from the heat. Later we took the boat back up the river to an area with shiny, fancy hotels thinking there would be pleasant places to stroll. There were not. But we found a market and a nice restaurant (Curry Queen) for dinner, so success! We then walked to River City mall and sat on a patio by the water, watching the dinner party boats return to dock and unload their partiers. Caught a cab back to the hotel. We were quickly learning that doing anything in Bangkok was very very tiring.

    We had one more day on our own, part of which we spent getting our giant suitcases to a self-storage place (didn't want to drag them around all of Thailand for 4 weeks) and a trip on their Skytrain. Then we moved to a hotel on Khao San Road where we met up with our tour group (16 total). Our first organized tour ever (with Intrepid)! We met in the evening and were off early the next day - to the bus station to head north.

    Mar 3: At the train station we learned that in Thailand they play the national anthem every day at 8am and 6pm(?) and everyone stands for it. We caught a bus (with AC, yay) for the 6hr trip to Sukhothai. The trip included a stop at a roadside place for food where our guide Tony warned us that any spicy dishes would be Thai-spicy, not tourist-friendly spicy. The food was quite tasty, certainly better than road-side bus stop food options in Canada.

    Hotel After our arrival in Sukhothai we piled into songtaews (open air trucks) to get to the hotel.  Songtaews are really fun for short trips. The hotel was lovely. We spent the evening by the pool and getting thai massages. This kind of travel is hard, eh?

    After a buffet breakfast at the hotel we were off early via 1 super-long songtaew to the Sukhothai Historic Park to tour some temple ruins via bike.

    Wat Sa Si We rode from temple to temple - they were all amazing. It was 36C out, so we did our best to stay in the shade. We stopped for lunch in a shaded picnic area and had homecooked food served to us by a local family that Intrepid hires. It was really good food. Also cold water. So good. The afternoon is spent back at the hotel, napping, swimming, chatting with the other nice people on the tour.

    Fair GamesThen we piled in the back of a pick-up truck (12 in the back, 3 in the truck) and got a lift into the centre of town where a festival/fair was going on. We paid our entrance and wandered the whole thing - sampling foods and enjoying the entertainment. It was really nice to see what a local fair looked like, rather than a market aimed at tourists. We attracted some attention, as a big group of white people wandering around. Afterwards we stopped for dinner at a roadside cafe and had okay food. (Everyone told me the food in Thailand would be amaaaaazing, so I think my expectations were rather high; mostly I found it to be okay.)







    3 Legged Elephant Our time in Sukothai came to an end. On Mar 5 we split into two minivans and headed to the FAE Elephant Hospital (with a pit stop in a mall for lunch - that was an adventure). The Elephant Hospital was pretty crazy - there are elephants there that have lost limbs due to land mines and they have given them prosthetic limb replacements. Incredible to see. Still sad, since these elephants can't live in the wild and some of them are chained up because the enclosures can't contain them. :(  I got to touch a little one, and he grabbed my hand with his trunk and pulled, almost pulled me off my feet. Amazing animals. We purchased one of the artist-painted elephants from Elephant Parade as a souvenir (funds go to help the elephants).

    Elephant Looking for Treats

    Pull a Block From the BottomAfter the Elephant Hospital, we arrived in a village in Mae On District where we would be staying. We sat outside in the large covered area and enjoyed some relief from the heat via fans (it was generally 36-38C every day). Our host's son enticed us all into a game of jenga before turning his attention to a game on someone's phone.

    MusicIn the evening, our hosts cooked us an amazing meal and played music on traditional instruments for us. Then some local girls performed traditional dances for us (pretty adorable). As if that wasn't enough, they provided a giant lantern for us to write our wishes on, which they lit and we all released. It was a very wonderful, full day. (The only downside was that I had my usual post-illness persistent cough and was prone to middle of the night coughing fits which I fear bothered my roommates all night long, instead of just keeping Peter up.)

    We had a wonderful breakfast at the home stay and took off on bikes they provided for a tour of the village.

    Classtime We stopped at Malee Handicrafts - a sewing business started via micro credit that employs 30 people in the village now. (Their sewing building is CRAMMED with fabric - it took me a while to realize, as we walked through, that it was a work space!) Then we visited a school where we sat with 7 year olds, quizzed them on some English letters, played duck-duck-goose and danced the hokey pokey. We all had to sing our respective national anthems (Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand) which the kids found amusing. They were very energetic kids and seemed to enjoy having us stop by.

    Shiny We rode by the ceremony for a local senior monk who had passed away - they built this incredible cremation pyre and there was a huge tent full of monks and others praying. It was quite the production to come across in a farm field.  We continued on to a mushroom farm and then a stop where someone showed us how rice used to be processed using manual traditional techniques (hint: it was harder back then).  We returned to the homestay for lunch and then loaded into songtaew buses for the drive to Chaing Mai.

    After cleaning up at our hotel most of us headed out on a privately booked minivan to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep which is a very shiny temple at the top of some cool stairs. We got back from that in time to join the others for dinner - since our hotel was just down the street from the night market, we had dinner on a patio there, did a bit of shopping, and called it a day. Another very full day.

    Picture Perfect

    ErgonomicsMay 7 was a bit of a missed opportunity for us - it was a free day in our schedule and we didn't research in advance what one should do in Chiang Mai, we thought we would wander and explore like we always do in cities, but it's just too hot and too unpleasant to walk around Thai cities so we ended up joining a few others on a tour of Doi Inthanon National Park. We would have been up for a hike but it sounded like a bus from destination to destination kind of trip which is what it turned out to be. The other more interesting tours involved elephant rides, which was not an option for reasons, so we ended up on this waterfall tour. It was nice, but it's really hard to be impressed by waterfalls when you live in BC. We also visited a hill tribe village which was shocking in it's lack of amenities. We bought a bed covering there to support their weaving industry because, wow, that looks like a hard life. Note: they do not haggle - the lady there did no budge on price even a tiny bit (we had to borrow some cash from a fellow tour group member). Anyway, the tour was okay - visited the highest point in Thailand! - mostly it was nice to get into the cooler forest area and to get to chat with the people on the tour with us.

    Market Peter and I did go for a wander around the city later that day. Found a lovely courtyard area away from traffic with a bunch of shops and restaurants and had some good food. We got lost getting back but managed to find the night market with enough wandering.

    We did some shopping at the market then met up with all the others for the ladyboy show at the local club.


    CostumesOur tour guide arranged front row seats for us and Peter and I were the last to arrive so we got the very front and centre seats. The girl sitting next to me got all the attention from the acts that came off stage, fortunately. She even got pulled on stage to dance at one point. Narrow escape for me, that one. She got off easy compared to the guy who got pulled on stage and had his shirt removed (pic here). It was an entertaining evening - definitely memorable!

    We ended the evening in the night market at a cool ice cream stall that makes the ice cream in front of you on a super cold plate, it was very fun to watch and tasty.





    Chef Peter Our last day in Chiang Mai we all went for a cooking course at Baan Thai. Our instructors took us down the street to the local market and explained the main ingredients to us. We brought the market purchases back to the school and divided up based on the dishes we were interested in learning. We did several dishes, and made an enormous quantity of food (far more than we could eat, which felt wasteful). It was all very tasty. We had a good time - definitely a good thing to do when in Thailand!

    We were delivered back to our hotel via songtaew, very full. All that was left to do was to clean up and head to the train station for our overnight train to Bangkok (arriving May 9). The overnight train was nice. We were in 2nd class sleeper seats which are seats for the beginning of the ride, then someone comes along and converts the seats into beds for the evening (pics here). The biggest complaint really was that the ac was too powerful!

    We quite enjoyed our Intrepid tour - we definitely did things we wouldn't have otherwise (particularly the homestay in the village), and it was very relaxing to have someone else handle all the details like arranging hotels and transport to/from. It was a bit of a switch when we were on our own once more - had to reengage that part of our brains. Because we had a night to relax in Bangkok and then we were headed to Cambodia!  That will be a whole other blog post....
    Reactions: 
    |
    |


  5. Alive

    Monday, May 12, 2014

    I am still alive.

    Our boxes just arrived from Poland after their long boat trip, and their arrival feels like the last piece of the puzzle falling back into place. The trip seems so long ago already.

    Aside from not having enough free time, life is good. Catching up with friends, enjoying the bits of beautiful weather when they happen. I'd forgotten the extent to which Vancouver explodes into blossom in spring - it's pretty over the top and I love it. We went to a party at our dance studio and caught up with a fellow dancer who moved away but was back in town visiting. It was wonderful to see everyone again. I got pulled onto the dance floor by all the instructors and did okay but, man, I need to practice. Schedule is full this week but I think I'll get to a class on Saturday.

    Working on writing a post about our Thailand trip before I've forgotten everything but I haven't had a chance to upload the photos. Maybe this weekend? hahaha - I say that about everything now - maybe this weekend. It's my own personal joke.

    Here is something you should watch:

    Reactions: 
    |
    |


  6. Regular life

    Friday, April 18, 2014

    As part of the return to regular life, I am finding it hard to make time to blog; hardly a surprise. I will write a proper blog post one day, trying to wrap up the sabbatical year and say deep, meaningful things about it. Right now I am enjoying the experience of running into friends and co-workers and seeing them be happy that I am back - it really is wonderful to be welcomed home like this.

    Things are slightly different - for example, I just went to an 8:15am yoga class on a weekend day.  That's weird. But I discovered during our sabbatical that there is no amount of sleep I can get that will allow me to easily get out of bed full of energy. I will always have to drag my butt out of bed reluctantly. And if that is the case, I might as well drag myself out of bed early occasionally. And starting the day with yoga is good whenever possible.

    While I was gone I won a few online contests!  3 non-fiction books from Canadian Gift Guide which is a great site because it makes gift reviews that are relevant to Canadians (i.e. you can get the items in Canada easily). A Misfit wearable fitness monitor from Best Buy which I was really excited about until I learned that my old phone and brand new tablet both fail to have the newer operating system required to communicate with it (so it sits on a shelf waiting for Samsung to update my device OS, bummer). A lovely necklace from a jewelry maker in Turkey that I have been wearing a lot lately - understated but fun (won via Thought and Sight blog). And a pair of Dansko walking sneakers from All Things Fadra (blog) and Dansko (I've heard lots about Dansko shoes, am looking forward to trying these out.).  It was really fun to come home to a bag of parcels (the bag of bills and bank statements was less fun)!
    Reactions: 
    |
    |


  7. Roger

    Monday, April 14, 2014

    I have a functioning cell phone now, which is very nice. It involved getting a SIM card mailed to me. Which looked like this.  Which is ridiculous, but also funny.

    Reactions: 
    |
    |


  8. Normal

    Friday, April 11, 2014

    I remarked on Facebook recently that I had forgotten about the fact that working full time makes it hard to do all the other things. I mean, obviously I knew I would do less - I remembered that, but I had forgotten how sometimes you can't get more than one thing done in a day. I have this mental list of things I want to do that just keeps getting longer because I can't get to any of the items, and for part of the week I was baffled about my inability to do more - I had honestly forgotten what normal was like!

    So that's what my first week back at work has been like. Work itself is great - my co-workers are awesome, the work is interesting... it's just the full-timyness of it that is a challenge! I'm sure I'll get back into the swing of things and will increase productivity in my private time soon. Have to ramp up a bit from sabbatical speed, that's all.

    One of the things I haven't gotten to - editing the 1,000,000 photos I took in Thailand. People, that is an entire month's worth of vacation photos I have to sort through. Hopefully I'll make progress this weekend.

    Peter had the week off work (new job! starts later) and consequently did more stuff than I. He has obtained a new mountain bike and taken it to the mountain twice already (he is very happy). He also got a giant cat tree for the beasts which he purchased from our local pet store and they loaned him a dolly so he could walk it home. Wish I had seen that.  (The cats are awesome, totally their normal selves like there had never been a year of upheaval.)

    Life chugs on. It's good to be home. We are both managing to hold onto some of the zen from our Thailand yoga retreat, but the time in Poland already seems long long ago. Isn't that weird, how quickly you slip back into the familiar and comfortable?

    Bangkok-6
    Bangkok TukTuk ride.
    Reactions: 
    |
    |


  9. Ahhh

    Friday, April 04, 2014

    Home is nice.

    Our flight was... not pleasant but it got the job done and I am sitting at my desk with a Kitty asleep on my lap, and life is good.  We arrived in Vancouver in the early evening of April 1, took forever to get our bags and get a customs form we need for something we mailed home. We picked up the keys to our apartment from our friend and then went right to Kitty's foster home in the car full of suitcases. Kitty was pretty wary of us there, but once we let her out in our apartment and she had a look around, she was her old self - she knew she was home and we were suddenly not scary. Peter and I had chips and salsa which we have been fantasizing about for a few months now (Poland does not do salsa - if you ever see anything labeled as 'salsa' in Poland, run away from it). We are simple, easily pleased people.

    We woke up on April 2 and I had my usual breakfast cereal, which I hadn't had for a year, and it was wonderful. Familiar things are so lovely. It's been a year of new things and strange things and man, new and strange kind of wears you down month after month and you find yourself dreaming of strange things like boring breakfast cereals and chewy oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  We went for a walk - it was a perfect sunny Vancouver day. Cherry trees are in blossom and we walked along the seawall with all the joggers - haven't seen so many joggers in a long time - admiring the scenic scenery. We met Peter's dad in a cafe for coffee. Resumed strolling. Unpacked a bit. Cuddled with Kitty.

    It is a really good feeling when you arrive home after traveling a lot and feel, without a doubt, that you've come to a good place. Vancouver is a good fit for us. And I say that even though today was grey and rainy and tomorrow will probably also be grey and rainy (etc. etc.). When you have been away for a while and you step out of the Vancouver airport and take your first breath of that clean cedar-scented air - it really is amazing. We are very lucky to live here - that is one thing all our travels taught us.

    Last night I met up with some of my friends from UBC and it was so wonderful to be with them and hear their stories and discuss the things we like to discuss.... it is so hard to find like-minded people that you connect with, isn't it? I think I took my friends for granted previously, but a year of being unable to have complex conversations due to language barriers and just not finding like-minded people has made me really appreciate the intelligent, wordly, open-minded friends I am so lucky to have here. One of my vague 'things to do differently when I get home' plans is to spend more time with these great friends.

    Monday I am back to work. That will be weird.

    Reactions: 
    |
    |


  10. Coming Home

    Monday, March 31, 2014

    Peter and I managed to leave Sanctuary, it was hard, but the pull of home helped. We got ourselves back to Bangkok via overnight train. Did some shopping here (malls here are huge and numerous) and today we fly home!!!!!!!!!!  Our apartment is waiting for us, we have arranged to bring Kitty home tonight and Bernoulli home in a few days, I have a date at a pub with a bunch of my friends in a few days.... I get giddy thinking of it all.

    I realized yesterday this is my first time going back to a place. All my previous moves have been permanent departures (Dartmouth, Ottawa, Wisconsin, etc). This is much better - going to a place I love filled with good people.

    It has been an amazing year, I am sad the adventure is over but I am also a creature of habit and I yearn for familiar, comfortable surroundings, so it is time. Time to go home.

    Reactions: 
    |
    |


  11. Extending

    Sunday, March 30, 2014

    I posted this on Facebook a few days ago:

    This island, this place... people come here for weeks, months, years. The number of people we have met here who have extended their stays is nothing I have ever seen before. One of our new friends just decided to stay for 3 more weeks instead of leaving today. It is that kind of place. People are open and friendly and warm. Occassionally throughout the day boats arrive and people come and go (people do, apparently, leave eventually). There is a wonderful tradition, it seems, of people seeing off their friends by standing on the beach waving - full arms over head waving - until the little boat rounds the corner and is out of sight. It is wonderful to watch. This really is a special place.

    Peter and I are now in Bangkok. We extended our week-long stay in Sanctuary to just shy of two weeks, happily giving up the idea of trying to see more of Thailand. We have done enough sightseeing over the past year and Sanctuary offered rest and good company (and Thai boxing and yoga), so we stayed. Yesterday, as we rode out on the back of a 4x4 pick-up over an insane 'road' we were sad to leave, but happy to be heading home. We are ready to be home. Leaving Sanctuary to go anywhere else would be very hard, I think.  Interestingly, the bumpy dirt road with crazy grades eventually connects with a nice concrete road that they are slowly extending. I think it will take a while, but one day there may be an easy way to get to Sanctuary (they are about to open an airport on the small island).... which makes people worry aloud if things will change. Part of the magic of the place is that it is a bit of a pain to get to; if you remove that, more will come, the dynamic will change... who knows if it can survive that and be what it is.

    Peter and I fly out of Bangkok on Tuesday and I am already having dreams about being reunited with my cats. :)  Ironically, we probably won't have internet access right away at home, so it may be a while before I next post here.

    Reactions: 
    |
    |


  12. Sanctuary

    Sunday, March 16, 2014

    Peter and I arrived on the small island of Ko Pha Ngan to a place called Sanctuary. Getting here involved a small ferry crossing from the bigger island of Ko Samui and then a small boat going over big waves that landed on the beach. Arriving at this peaceful place after the hectic chaos of every other place along the way is startling. Sanctuary is a collection of bungalows nestled into a hill in the forest with glimpses of the ocean down through the trees. There is yoga and meditation and spa treatments. A restaurant on the small beach. It is all very chill and friendly and artfully blended in with nature. We had dinner at a table by the beach bathed in light from the full moon reflecting off the ocean.  I have been grinning since we arrived. I may have spent a few hours yesterday in the hammock on our balcony, reading. I may do that again today.  We have a week here and it is exactly what we need.

    Thailand has been an interesting trip so far. It has been hot, which makes travel hard, and it has been a challenge for me as I love neat and orderly places and nothing here is neat or orderly! I desperately miss being able to walk down a sidewalk that is free of obstacles and free of the smells of cooking food (and garbage). But it has been good to see something different from what I know, get out of my western box.  Cambodia was hard - the level of poor that exists there is something I've never seen in person. It's complicated traveling there - being faced with how fortunate one is just to have had the luck of being born into good circumstances in Canada. My life has been so easy - it seems unfair, like I should be doing more to balance the world.... but how?

    These thoughts come up in Thailand too - although coming back to Thailand after Cambodia.... Thailand suddenly seems very advanced and organized (even at the border the difference is shocking - the shack you line up in for Cambodia immigration vs the air conditioned building for Thai immigration).  I can only imagine how shiny and clean (and uncrowded) Vancouver will seem when we get back!


    Reactions: 
    |
    |