Island Hopping

It has been a couple of days since I left the craziness of Bangkok and entered the craziness of Krabi, a province down south on the Andaman Sea. I’m staying in a town called Ao Nang, aka Tourist Central, with the rest of the Gap Adventures group (more on that later). At first I was horrified and couldn’t wait until we move on, but after I got settled in a bit I realized it wasn’t that awful. Part if traveling is taking the good with the bad and so far I’ve had a whole lot of good.

I met the rest of the group (10 of them) in Bangkok on the 6th of December and had a few days to explore the city some more. The group is really nice, but they like to drink and party, so I don’t hang out with them much at night. I did a yoga class with several friends from Yoga Thailand who were still in the city and after, we randomly met up with some more classmates in a sky-train station. Small world. Aoy, who lives in Bangkok treated us all to an amazing lunch at a vegetarian Japanese restaurant.

On Tuesday we traveled down south by overnight train, but I didn’t get much sleep because the lights stayed on the whole night (we had curtains, though) and I was either too hot or too cold. Like I said before, Ao Nang is very touristy and the beaches are packed, so on the first day I set out by myself to explore and hopefully find some solace. At the end of the beach I came to a trailhead and followed the rickety stairs up a steep hill and down the other side. I found myself at a private resort with an empty beach. Mission accomplished.

The second day in Ao Nang (yesterday) two friends (Jo and Dan) and I took a fishing boat over to Railey Beach, a 15 minute ride from Ao Nang. Again, I was disappointed with the masses of white bikini and speedo clad tourists, but we found a spot on the beach and spent a few hours swimming and soaking up the sun. We were about to leave when Dan offered to show us where a troop of monkeys liked to hang out (he’s been to Krabi before). We set off down a worn dirt path and soon came across the monkeys (I have no idea what kind they were). We decided to keep walking down the path and head over to the other side of the island. Unlike the beaches we just came from this side had no white sandy shore, only mangroves and dirt. I liked it better, though, because it was less crowded, more laid back, and had a backpacker/traveler feel. Krabi is world famous for its rock climbing because of its tall limestone bluffs and as we made our way down the shoreline, we saw why the area draws so many climbers. At the end of the beach we came to some limestone caves, which were really cool with the stalagmite and stalactite formations. We also came across a “trailhead” that supposedly led up to a viewpoint and secret lagoon. When I say “trailhead” I mean a slippery red clay path the leads almost straight up with jagged rocks as foot holds and a knotted rope to hang on to. I had to try it. Dan and Jo weren’t so keen (although Dan did end up going after me – I met him as I was going back down), so I set off on my own. It really wasn’t that bad, just muddy (or clayey) and quite steep. I asked a few others I met on the way up about the lagoon and they said it was too difficult to reach. So I settled for the look out, which I reached about 20 minutes later. It was so beautiful and definitely worth the orange hands and feet (I went barefoot). The view was out over the two sides of the island, so I could see both beaches with the limestone cliffs in the background. The drop down was probably about 500 feet. It was incredible. Dan said looking over the edge was the scariest thing here’s ever done, but he also thought the climb up was particularly difficult.

Today was another adventure. Nine of us hired a speed boat to take us around to some of the islands. At the first stop we snorkeled with the fish and around the reefs. Then we headed to Maya Bay which is where The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed. It was more than a disappointment. The beach was absolutely packed and there were some many speed boats that the air was polluted. Maybe it would have been beautiful if there weren’t so many people and boats. The next stop was better, though. We had lunch on Phi Phi Don island (yes it’s pronounced pee pee) and after eating I headed out to explore. The beaches were still crowded, but it had a more laid back, island feel, so it was nice. Then the last stop of the day was my favorite. We went to Bamboo Island and after wading to shore, I once again took off by myself (I’m starting to realize that I’m quite different from the average traveler who doesn’t explore farther than what they can see). I wasn’t complaining though because as soon as I walked around the bend an climbed over some rocks, there was absolutely nobody. White beaches and turquoise waters all to myself. The only problem was that I didn’t know how big the island was and we only had an hour and a half there, so I couldn’t stop and relax. I found some really cool stones, though, and eventually, after climbing over sharp rocks, tip-toeing over scorching sand, and wading through waist deep water, I made it all the way around the island with lots of time to spare (unfortunately! I would have like to have spent more time on my own private beach).

Tonight is our last night in Ao Nang, then tomorrow we take mini-vans down to Malaysia and the island of Penang. I can’t wait to do some more exploring!

New Pictures

I spent a good portion of my afternoon today organizing and uploading pictures onto Facebook. Check out the new albums and pics!

Third and final blog of the day

If everybody had a birthday party like the King of Thailand, every day would be a full out bash. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, having already seen what Bangkok is capable of, but this was slightly insane. I stepped out of the restaurant I had dinner at (amazing falafel and hummus) to a busy, but not-unusual Khao San road (where all the tourists congregate). A little farther down, though, I came to a stage where young Thai girls dressed up in fancy, glittering, traditional Thai costumes with perfect faces painted on, performed for a throng of foreigners and Thais alike. I was handed a yellow candle and soon everyone as far as I could see had a lit candle in their hand. After the performance was over I thread my way through the crowd thinking that I’d make my way back to the hotel. As soon as I turned the corner, though, I was met with thousands of bodies swarming the sidewalks and streets, white Christmas lights adorning everything, and fireworks going off above my head. It was crazy. I stayed for a little while to watch the fireworks, snapped a few photos, then squirmed my way between food vendors selling everything imaginable, men in pink shirts, and piles of trash waiting to be picked up in the morning.

Another Adventure

I’m sitting, once again, in the middle of nowhere on a pair of old car seats that have been reassigned as chairs. A mangy dog is sniffing for leftovers and sunburned tourists are snacking on junk food. I left Yoga Thailand at 12:00 this morning (afternoon?) after a last led yoga class in the shala and a brunch of fresh carrot-apple juice, corn pancakes with ghee and honey, and sweet fried rice with raisins. After saying goodbye to my fellow yoga teachers, I climbed into a taxi with four others headed to the ferry dock in Nathon. There I had to say goodbye to them as well, over mango and papaya shakes, since they were taking a train to Bangkok and I’m arriving by bus. Three of them are going north to Chiang Mai and Pai, then India, and one is headed to the Philippines and eventually South Africa.

The ferry ride was nice. An hour and a half of sitting on the deck with the sun shining down and little fish jumping out of the wake. I did some breathing exercises and before I knew it we were pulling up to the Suratthani pier. I boarded a large coach bus, which took us a hour to where I am now… Wherever that is. I was told a hour wait for the next bus that I’m hoping will take me all the way to Bangkok.

12 hours later…

Well I made it to Bangkok easily enough. Only one bus this time (compared to the four it took me to get down to Koh Samui). We were dropped off on a street corner at 5:30 in the morning somewhere in the city, so I was pretty glad that I had made a hotel reservation before I left Yoga Thailand. I climbed into a Tuk Tuk, still half asleep and took a short ride to my hotel, where I am now, drinking coffee and catching up on e-mails. I can’t get into my room yet since it’s so early, but I’m happy to relax until then. Tomorrow I meet up with my Gap Adventures group and begin my journey down south through southern Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia!

Dance Party and Qi Gong

What happens when a 65 year-old woman gets in front of a roomful of yogis? It turns into a full out dance party. That’s what happened this afternoon, at least. It’s Friday and everyone was tired, especially after a two and a half hour practice this morning and then sitting through four hours of anatomy lecture this afternoon. So when Dorian, the resident “guru” came into the shala dressed in a bathing suit and leggings, we didn’t really know what to expect. Then the music came on and she started to dance. I mean really dance! Pretty soon everyone was doing the steps, legs were flying, hands were in the air, and sweat was spraying in every direction. It was hilarious and so much fun. Dorian is amazing. She started yoga and meditation after a bad car accident in which she should have died, but walked away unscratched. She took that as a sign to change her life before she really did end up dead. So now she lives at Yoga Thailand and does counseling and therapy, as well as kicks off the occasional dance party. I doubt there are many 65 year-old women who can do the moves she came up with today.

After we were spent from dancing, Dorian led us outside to the beach where we calmed down and cooled off with several Qi Gong exercises. It felt kind of surreal, with the ocean before us, the white sand under our feet, the sunset lighting the sky red, gold, and pink, and 39 sweaty yogis doing Qi Gong on the beach. Something I’ll definitely remember.

After, we plunged into the salty water, clothes and all, then squeezed some more sweat out in the steam room. And tomorrow we have a day off!

Learning Chakrasana and Practicing Forward Jump

We’ve been focusing a lot on each individual pose of the Ashtanga Primary Series in class and I’m slowly beginning to see improvements in my own practice. Today we went over Chakrasana, or backward somersault. Everyone had a turn at the front of the room with one-on-one help from Paul. It was a little intimidating, but very helpful. After class I also spent some time practicing forward jump, which Aoy, a friend from Bangkok, recorded. I included it at the end of the blog, so you can see what I’m spending 3 hours + of my day doing!

As for everything else,I think everyone is settling into the schedule and place. We’re becoming more relaxed and getting to know each other better. We had a free night a few days ago, so we watched The Fountain in the lounge area. It’s a good movie, but quite eclectic and mind-bending. On our (minimal) time off we go swimming in the pool or ocean, sweat in the steam room, study, and eat at the amazing buffet. One of my favorite (non-buffet items) is a fresh coconut, served with spoon and straw. First you drink the coconut water, then scoop out the meat. So delicious and all for $1.25! I’ve learned that coconuts are amazingly good for you, even though they’re high in fat. The oil helps fight diseases and viruses (including HIV), lowers the risk for heart disease, reduces cholesterol, aids in weight loss, among other feats. So eat lots of coconut!

Thats it for now… We have a day off on saturday, so hopefully I’ll be able to get out and see the island a bit!

PS – If you want to watch a really good movie about food and our food industry, check out Real Food. It’s very good!

Karma Yoga and Cool Photos

This afternoon several of us went down the road to Laem Sar Pagoda to do some karma – or selfless service – yoga. The golden temple is right on the beach, so the waves wash up a lot of trash and debris. We spent about an hour picking up pieces of glass, plastic, rope, styrofoam, and other random objects that aren’t biodegradable. It was pretty eyeopening even though I consider myself pretty environmentally conscious. Like straws, for example. I love drinking out of straws, but after picking up one after another on the beach I’m definitely going to limit my use of them. Plastic bottles, too, were plentiful, as well as lighters and small pieces of styrofoam. It was impossible to pick up all the tiny chips of broken apart plastic, but I tried because I’ve learned that birds and other animals think that they are food, so they eat them and eventually die because of all the plastic accumulated in their stomachs. So please, be conscious about what you buy and when possible, reduce, reuse, and recycle!

On a happier note, I found an amazing app for my iPhone. It’s called Histamatic and it let’s me take pictures with different lenses, films, and flashes. It’s addicting, but here are some of my results. Enjoy!