Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Another Day in Pairadise...kind of!

Well, since my last blog, I've been here chillaxing in Pai, (Northern Thailand). It's a beautifully quaint little hippie town surrounded by natural wonders. Waterfalls, jungles and a great bunch of great restaurants make up the town of Pai. It's very quaint, and the hill tribe women are always around selling their goods as well.

Mick and I did a 24K hike on Sunday. We made our way up to a ridiculously beautiful waterfall, winding through jungle and crossing the river numerous times. It was perfect, and we were the only ones up there! After we got back down, we were pretty hungry, so we jumped on the motorbike and headed out for a bite to eat. The light was getting dim, the adrenaline was flowing and we were pretty hungry, so neither of us was thinking completely straight. A speed bump jumped out of nowhere, and Mick slammed on the breaks...or shall I say break. Only the front ones worked well, and the bike tipped over throwing us on our left sides. We slid on the loose gravel and pavement and got some pretty good road rash. Everything is all superficial, and we went directly to the hospital to get it all treated and cleaned. We're gonna hang low here for a couple of days until the wounds dry up, which is a good thing. I don't think there is anywhere I'd rather in Thailand recovering from something like this.

Mick has been really nice and looking after me. He payed for a nice place where we can recuperate and out in the shade for a few days. I am just taking the whole thing with a grain of salt, knowing that everything happens for a reason. I keep telling myself that someone was trying to tell us to slow down a bit, and I am listening. Perhaps if this hadn't happened, I would have had something much worse happen. I've got to believe in stuff that.

We're going to look into doing some Raiki training and a Thai Cooking Course here for the next couple of days. Good old low-impact activities. Maybe after 4 or 5 days, it will be trekking time. Just need my knee to heal up well. No infections though, so that is a major positive. I'll try and round up some pictures for you for my next update. Mick has a camera and is going to burn me a disc of whatever we take. Still haven't found a camera worth purchasing yet...

I'm doing just fine, don't worry!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Team Pun Pun

At the counter of the Internet cafe where I printed the directions, a nice young British guy offered me a ride to the truck on his motorcycle...I normally wouldn't do this, especially in a foreign country, but he was friends of the owner of the Internet cafe, and he seemed very well respected, so I though, what the hell. IF I don't take him up on it, I may miss the truck!

I gathered my things quickly, tied up all my loose ends, and made it to the pick up spot with 10 minutes to spare. Joe (whom I later found out is the owner of the farm) greeted me with a big Thai smile and explained to me that the truck would take about 2 hours, and that it would stop at a few village markets on the way to drop off produce and fish for the people. HE said not to worry, and to sit back and enjoy the ride.

They began loading the back of the truck (the sangthew again with benches in the back) with heaps of fresh produce, and about the biggest fish I'd ever seen dead. I mean, the whole back of the truck was filled to the brim with stuff including me and two elderly Thai women. We began our journey down winding corridors of Thai garage-warehouses. I realized that this was the very place where all those little do-dads that say "Made In Thailand" came from. We continued out of town and into the countryside, stopping at local markets and dropping off produce, and boxes and rugs. It was really cool to be a part of how it all works. To actually be the middle-man! I helped in the best way I could.

When we pulled up at the entrance to the Pun Pun Organic Farm, it was almost exactly what I had imagined given Peggy's description in the directions, except turned around a bit. What I found when I walked onto the farm was a totally different story.

I was greeted at the beginning of the rice patties by an English-speaking Monk (every village needs at least one) who lead me through the patties and up the hill to the farm. I took my flip flops off and greeted the residents, none of them speaking any English except for the broken vocabulary of the monk. HE offered me lunch, and I was famished, so I accepted. I asked if Peggy was around (I'd never met her before) and the showed me to where she was working.

She greeted me up to her elbows in mud. I gave her a hug, and thanked her for having me, already completely amazed by what my eyes had seen, but the best was yet to come! Peggy was right in the middle of working on a project in one of the Earthen houses. It was then that I realized what amazing treasure I had stumbled upon. This place was like an ewok village! She led me up to the project, and I asked if I could help. She smiled and said "of course, we'll put you right to work". I walked with her to the site and got my hands dirty with work...literally. She had made a mixture of mud, water and tapioca to "paint" the walls of one of the earthen houses. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, it looks like an Adobe house, but it's made out of mud instead of clay, and boy are they beautiful. It would literally blow your mind if you could see what just mud is capable of, it blew mine alright! I stuck my hands in the mud mixture and began smearing the walls in a reddish brown colored natural paint, and loved every second of it. I even covered my arms in mud so that I felt really connected. I guess that's kind of a childish instinct, but it was fun!

When the work was done for the day, Peggy showed me around the farm. She gave me the full tour of the orchards, all of the 10 or 12 buildings that they had made from the ground up, and introduced me to all of the residents along the way. She showed me to my house which turned out to be the VIP house (how I scored that I had no idea!) The place was lovely. Terra-cotta in color and decorated perfectly. IT had bottles protruding through the walls to allow for light, and an open floor plan in the entry way. The bedroom was separated by an archway clad with various bottle caps. It was marvelous. Before I knew it, the dinner bell rang, and it was time for a beautifully organic dinner.

Everything we ate at Pun Pun, 3 meals a day was grown there on the farm (except the mushrooms I think), from the rice, to the herbs and vegetables to the passion fruit wine. Everyone contributed to the meal in one way or another. Some helped gather while others cooked and others cleaned. It was quite symbiotic. It was perfect. You could walk around the farm all day pulling fresh berries and passion fruits from the trees and drinking rain water. How much better does it get?

I don't want to call the farm a commune, because it didn't fit my exact connotation of one. To me a commune means that there is a leader and a lot of little worker bees, bu that everyone benefits from the fruits of their labor...and there is usually weed involved. Not Pun Pun. Pun Pun was simply about living healthy, helping each other, and making things with your natural surroundings, and not wasting a bit. I mean not even a seed or a piece of wood or your own urine! Everything had a way to be re-used. It was quite remarkable really. I could go on and on about the operations there and everybody's jobs, but I'll wait to tell you all in person.

During my time on Pun Pun, I learned a bit about farming and permaculture, natural architecture, construction, cooking, and living a perfectly harmonious life with the people, plants and animals that surround you. I learned how we should all be living, and I think I learned how I'd like to live. I could seriously consider living there for a few months and learning the ways of the farm in depth. To me, this was heaven on earth, and I was lucky enough to spend three waking days on it.

I could write so much more, but in the best interest of your eyes in mine, I'll end it there. Dont' worry, I wrote about 10 pages in my journal while I was there too!

Back, and better than ever

From a world that many of us have never traveled to, and for me it is one that I'd always dreamed of...the world of a completely sustainable organic farm....

More on that in a bit. I've experienced so much in the past 5 days, that I have to split it up into two blogs. Before I get to my favorite part of my trip thus far, let me tell you a little bit about what I did to get there.

In my last post, I was on my way from Kanchanaburi to Ayuthya. Ayuthya was really cool. Met back up with another friend who I met in BKK named Mick (another Aussie), completely randomly. Dylan was sitting in the common area downstairs finishing his beer and I had just come back from the bathroom at my guest house, and there he was! Kind of divine intervention, because he would be the one I would travel with for the next week or so.

Dylan, Mick and I traveled together to Ayuthya, the old capital of Thailand to visit some amazing temples. We rented cycles and rode all around town, quite a beautiful ride through a park in the middle of town and to three Temples. We had a bunch of laughs as well. It was really sad to see the destruction of the Buddhist temples. Years ago, the Burmese came in and raided the old king's dwelling and stole all the gold off the large Buddha and decapitated all the smaller ones. When they were finished with the mass religious homicide, they burnt the city down, leaving it in ruins, which remain today. It was quite impressive and disappointing to see. How could someone ruin something so beautiful? The Buddhas had been reconstructed, but there was just this erie sense of bad energy there that I simply cannot explain. On the contrary, it was actually somewhat peaceful...

The next day, the three of us parted ways. Dylan and Mick went a bit east, and I north to Chiang Mai. I had a few hours to kill before getting on the sleeper train (which was soooo awesome) so I grabbed a cocktail at a local pub. I was the only patron. I looked behind me only to find a complete instrument set up just collecting dust waiting for someone to play it. Naturally, I asked to play it! I played guitar and drums for a bit, and then had a game of pool with a Thai woman...that's the good old bar girl in me I guess! At 9:30pm, I jumped in an overcrowded sangthaew (a truck with bench seats in the back) and headed to the train to Chiang Mai.

What a great way to travel. You get your own little pull down bed and a curtain(I got top bunk!), and you just sleep on the train! It's your moving guest house for the night! I had this crazy-eyed German guy across from me, so I pretty much crawled right into bed as soon as I got on board, read for a bit and passed out. I woke up at 8 am and had a couple of hours of taking in the sights from the train window. We had begun winding through the mountains, and I had eye fulls of rice patties and green rolling hills, a sight I embraced whole-heatedly after being in the city and flat lands for a week. This was more up my alley.

Upon my arrival in Chiang Mai, I immediately rented a motorbike and started cruising around town. IT's amazing. In Thailand, you can rent a motorbike for 200 baht or less, which in dollars equals out to about 6 dollars or so...for 24 hours! IT's a hard deal to pass up, and having a motorbike really allows you the freedom to do and go as you please, and believe me, I did! I loved the feeling of being on a motorbike. The breeze on your face, and the power of the machine were enough to give me perma-grin all day. I drove around the moat that circles the downtown area for hours sussing out my new surroundings. I found a guest house for 100 baht ($3), set my stuff down, and went back out to paint the town red!

Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand, except for the exhaust and traffic, it doesn't really feel like it, except when you go to the Night Bazzar. It's just loads and loads of merchants on the side of a closed road that sell everything you could imagine. If you were a shop-a-holic, you'd be in big trouble here, because everything is sooo cheap. I had to try really hard to resist buying anything. I'd told myself that I would rather get things at the end of my trip so I don't have to carry them around for the next 6 weeks...I did buy one small thing.

The next morning I woke up and decided that I'd had enough of the city life and that I would look into heading up to the Organic Farm that I'd heard about. The girl who invited me, Peggy, had sent me an email with the directions and timing on when I needed to be where in order to catch the truck 2 hours north to the farm. As I read through the directions, I realized that If I wanted to make it to the farm that day, that I needed to meet the driver at 12pm, and it was already 11:30. I still had to get my laundry, return my motorbike, and check out of the guest house...and arrange transportation to meet at the rendezvous spot, but I knew that if I hustled, I could do it...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Kanchanaburi on a Motorcycle!

The last two days have be quite adventurous...

After spending the last few days in the crazy city of Bangkok, I was about ready to get away to a bit more of a relaxed atmosphere. I heard that Kanchanaburi, just west of Bangkok, was home to some rolling hills and amazing waterfalls, which sounded just about right.

Dylan, the Australian, yoga-hippy-friend that I made at the last guest house in Bangkok accidentally missed his flight to India where he was headed on a yoga retreat for 6 months, and ended up tagging along with me to Kan'buri. He couldn't get another flight until Thursday. We get a long well together. He's very polite, easy going and pretty damn hilarious. It's nice having a male to travel with for a few days too, rather reassuring.

We took a 3 hour bus ride ($2) and arrived at a lovely guest house with some excellent single bungaloos on stilts above the River Kwai for 200 baht a night ($6 or so). The place is great. Family owned and operated, and really genuine. I made friends with a couple of youngsters, gosh the children here are adorable! We threw tree fruits at a lotus leaf for hours together! The only strange thing that I found about the bungaloos was that the toilet doesn't flush...we'll not the way we would flush it. The bathrooms come equipped with a bowl next to the toilet which you fill with water and pour into the toilet once you've done your business. The pressure from the weight of the water forces it down...kinda strange, I just now realized that you are supposed to pour a large amount in at one time rather than lots of small little bowl. Oh well, live and learn I suppose!

On Saturday night when we arrived, we strolled 3 km to the Bridge over The River Kwai (built during WWII) and watched the train pass on the rickety Death Railway. Before dinner, we rented a 200cc Honda Phantom motorcycle for our driving pleasure, and boy was that a good move...quite possibly the best of my trip so far, especially because Dylan knew how to drive the thing! He was actually quite adolescently pleased by the whole idea of the bike. I caught him giggling afew times while driving...I was giggling too!

After breakfast yesterday morning, we hoped on the hog, and drove 1hr south to Erawan Falls National Park, home to a 7 tiered waterfall. At about the second tier, we accidentally disturbed a wasp nest, and I got stung about 7 times. Dylan grabbed my arm as I let out a girlish screech at the top of my lungs and pulled me into the water to divert the attention of the wasps, but what he didn't realize was that I had my digital camera around my waist...still hoping it dries out and miraculously comes back to life. Everything else was alright sans a couple of soggy bills and a damp passport. It could have been a lot worse I suppose.

We made it all the way to the top and swam in an absolutely majestic pool at the top pool. There was a neat little cave that was really special with some impressive stalactites hanging inside it.
Hopped on the bike and back to Kan'buri for a late dinner on a floating restaurant on the river Kwai overlooking the Bridge at dusk. Amazing fish dishes fresh from the river here.

I settled in for an early night, and got a great sleep in. Probably the best since I've been here. I just came back from a ridiculously perfect massage that only cost 100baht ($3...I gave her $5, it was just not fair)

Now it's off to Ayuthya, the original capital of Thailand before the Burmese invaded and looted the king's palace and forced the royal family to the Bangkok area. I'll stay there a night and then north to Chaing Mai, where I will stay on an organic farm with a friend of a friend and possibly with Brian the Boston guy I met in BKK.

Oh, the life of a traveler. I may be hooked...

Friday, October 19, 2007

3 Nights in Bangkok

Whoa! What a trip. Bangkok is the hub for all travel, so I'll be back before I know it. Gosh, where to begin. Talk about sensory overload! BKK is a place a million smells, we'll start there...then throw in a million or so people and a huge tourist population along with endless shopping, eating, touts and did I mention smells? Given all of these factors, it's amazing that I stumbled upon the Villa Guest house just outside the city near Khosan Road in East Banglamphu. This is about as good as it gets, although my first impression wasn't as promising...

As I hoofed it across town to search for this guest house which was explained in my guidebook as "not well sign-posted" I thought to myself that it would be nearly impossible to find. A few finger points and broken English conversations later and I was there. I walked down a long front corridor down a side street or "soi" just off the main road to a wooden door. I rang the bell, and a small elderly Thai lady came to the door and greeted me. She said the room was 250 Baht (about 8 dollars a night) and that she did indeed have a room open. I took my shoes off at the door (as is customary) walked my bare feet across the old teak floors and to my new room. Upon setting backpack down, I was excited to hear some other travelers speaking English in an Australian accent. I introduced myself to Shane and Dylan, and we immediately got to chatting. Dylan a bit more on the timid side, and Shane rather lively. Dylan and I went to get a bite to eat, and came back to Shane and another guest named Brian (actually a high school teacher in Cambridge from Boston!) finishing off a bottle of whiskey. We followed them down the street to a blues club and had beer or two. This was the smallest pub with live music I'd ever seen, but, man did it rock. A large Thai (a rarity) stood belting gout American classic rock while her 4 piece band sat squished against the wall and not phased by the lack of space. We somehow managed the only remaining 4 seats right front of the band. We capped the evening with deep conversations and a second bottle of whiskey. We joked at how we were the Fantastic Four (all staying at the same guest house) the next morning at breakfast.

Before breakfast, I jumped on a local bus at 8am amidst many Thai's on their way to work in order to head to the train station to get my ticket in advance for my travels north. I ended up at the wrong end of town (which was just fine by me) and had to taxi back to the train station. Something got lost in translation when I told them I wanted to go to the train station, they took me to the bus station. I have since learned how to say these phrases in Thai! The bus ride was worth it though. 15 baht (about 50cents) is cheap price to pay for a tour of BKK, especially cuz I got to ride shotgun in the bus! They drive on the left side, and the shotgun seat on the bus is the best! It feels like you should be driving! So fun.

I returned to find the boys back at the house ready to eat. We did, relaxed a bit after a long night, and welcomed in two new travelers names Sandra and Michael also from Australia. We had dinner and a chat with them and woke up and did some great yoga in our front sitting area this morning at 6:30am.

Today it's off to Kanchanaburi, which is a river town just west of BKK. About a 3 hour bus ride. It is home to the Bridge over The River Kwai, right near the POW camp from WWII. There is a 7 tiered waterfall there and 3 rivers that converge to make for an amazing weekend getaway for Thais. I've heard there's a floating Karaoke boat that should be a hoot!

Living page to page i a guidebook is really something. I feel so free...

Pictures next time.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Arival in the Land of Smiles

18 hours (12 of them completely dark) on a plane, 3 Hollywood blockbusters, 6 hours of sleep and 3 square meals of 10,000 year eggs (don't they were green and brown!) and other various rice and vegetable dishes...and voila! I'm in Thailand!

Needless to say, it's amazing here. I am just outside of Bangkok in a part of the city known as Kho San Road, which is basically a landing pad for travelers all over the world. The ratio is certainly heavier on the "farang" (foreigner) side, but the smiles and shopping are abundant... the shopping actually too abundant!

I decided to take the bus instead of a cab from the airport mostly because it was cheaper, but also because I didnt' want to get harassed by the cab-driver wanting to take me to his "business parnter's" shops. I also wanted to have a bus experience right off the baht (Thai humor!) I slept on the bus a bit and woke up to photos of the Thai President strewn across a major intersection which housed more motor bikes than cars! Pretty impressive.

I got off at the Kho San Road stop and began my journey to find a guest house which is basically a single hostel room. The first 2 I saw were on the 5th floor...arg, too hot. Then I found this one. 2nd floor, modest, yet smart room with a single bed, a fan and a shower that runs over the toilet like on a boat! For a cool 190 baht (about 6 dollars) it was for sure my best choice.

I checked it, set my stuff down, strapped on my fanny pack which contains all my valuables and headed out to the street markets to see what I could conjure up to eat. I also looked for a brief moment for flip flops and a tank top (pretty damn humid here!) I settled for a bowl of Pad Thai noodles from a very kind street vendor about my age whom I had the chance to speak with for a few minutes. She was very nice and had a wonderful smile. After that, back to the the room to rest my weary head. I was so tired from the traveling that I passed out at 8pm and slept almost uninterrupted until 6am. The walls are thin and people have an urgency to slam their doors late at night.

Woke up this morning, got some sticky rice and mangoes for breakfast and here I am! I'm off to explore Bangkok a bit more today. I'm sure I'll have plenty to talk about so stay close! THIS is the city that never sleeps!