The Laos Life

I’m sitting on the pool patio, sipping on ice cold water, soaking up the rays through the layer of thick, humid cloud that is concealing the sun. On the other side of the river the builders are blasting Laos pop music at max volume, I can hear the hammering of tools and the occasional outburst of laughter or shouting. The sounds seem to bounce around the hills in the distance, as if we are in a little box of Laos and the hills are the walls.

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Infinity

I’ve found myself back in Laos, this time in Vang Vieng, known for it’s party scene, drunken tubing and half naked tourists wandering confused in the streets after consuming mushroom shakes and taking too many shots at Sakura Bar,in the quest for a free t-shirt, labelled “drink triple, see double, act single”, rules which every bogan backpacker worth their salt will follow on their quest to find themselves in Southeast Asia.

I’m here in the quiet season, and I’m seeing a different side to Vang Vieng. Emphasis is on the beauty of the scenery, the tourists are mostly Korean who cruise down the river in their tubes, occasionally falling out and unable to get back in, they hold onto their tubes and scream with laughter as they bob around, lifejackets and armbands keeping them afloat, all the while holding their phones in waterproof casing and taking selfies with one hand, gripping for dear life with the other.

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Nam Song River 

I’m here for one month, teaching yoga for Yoga in Vang Vieng, based at the Silver Naga Hotel. Myself and my fellow teacher, the lovely Tye from Australia, take turns with our teaching days, me teaching both classes one day, and her the next, which means every second day is a day off! Living the dream? Ahhh yep.

It took a few days for me to settle in here, as I always do. I felt like I had stepped into a dream – after one month of quality, much needed family and recuperation time in the UK, I found myself back in sticky, sweaty southeast Asia with all its lovely sounds and smells and I had to break myself back in to the… different way of living here. My first night here I woke up in the middle of the night to thunder and lightning, very very frightening, and one of the hotel dogs scratching at the door trying to get in for a cuddle. However, I’m not living in a bamboo hut or showering in cold water every day, nor am I getting up at the crack of dawn and teaching all day. I remind myself daily of how incredibly lucky I am to be doing what I love while travelling the world, and I get to live in a beautiful hotel this time, which is the cherry on top.

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The doggy trying to cool his genitals on the floor

I’m up at 6.30am on teaching days, prepping the room and my class, I teach from 7.30-9.00am, have breakfast in the hotel (buffet awesomeness), chill by the pool, hang out in my room, explore the town, get a massage, go for a bike ride, practice my Laos language on the hotel staff (who just laugh at me, shaking their heads like “such a fool, at least she tries), visit a local cafe, plan classes, write my journal, chat to other guests, teach again at 5pm, then go for dinner and chill for the evening. On my days off – same same, except I attend the classes instead of teaching (or sleep in, haha…).

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One of my first days here I visited a cafe in the town for coffee and good internet, and got chatting to the owner, who offered me a job on the spot, “like a homestay! You come here, speak English with us and the customers, help us, eat with us, we speak Laos with you, you drink coffee??”. Obviously I said yes, we shook hands, and every day since I have wandered into Offbeat Cafe, bringing writing notebooks and coloured pens and Laos-English language books and we sit around miming things in attempt to make conversation. They laugh at my attempts at Laos language (my mouth just doesn’t make certain sounds), and they laugh at themselves when they try the English words. They call me their baby Laos, because I sound like a very special baby when I speak Laos, and they also call me “uaey” which means “big sister”, which makes me feel all happy. I call them “nongsau” which means “little sister”. There is Song and Prin, brother and sister who own the cafe, and the three young girls, Tame, Deuy and Daa. They are adorable and all wear their hair in the same high bun and their work t-shirt tied up in a fashionable way.

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Dinner Time!

I’m amazed at how eager they are to learn – when I was in school I don’t think my eyes lit up the way theirs do when the teacher walks into the room. They come running up to me, saying “Jao kin kao ya baw??” which means “have you had lunch??”, and they touch my arm and say “beautiful skin” and I’m like really cos I didn’t moisturise today hahahahaha and they look at me blankly but endearingly, like “she crazy, but we will allow it because she has the knowledge we require”.

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Munchkins.

Mealtimes are interesting. Sometimes I have lunch or dinner with them, and we sit around the table and eat with our hands. The first time I joined them, they put a box of sticky rice, a bowl of vegetables and a plate of meat on the table, pointed to me and said “eat!”. So I sat down, pulled the plate towards me and started to eat, and they started laughing hysterically, “NOOOOOO hhahahahhaah that bowl for EVERYONE!”. Needless to say I felt like a greedy little farang at that moment. Just goes to show that portion sizes in the western world are outrageous, that our normal evening meal would feed a family of four in Asia.

The next time we ate together, Song pulled out a plate of pastey stuff, called “jaeow”, gestured to the sticky rice and said “you eat!”.

Rosie: “what’s this? fish paste?” (It sure tasted fishy.)
Song: “no, no, no fish. Vegetable. And….”
Prin: “Vegetable aaaand…. and…. injection!” *flaps arms wildly*
Rosie: “INJECTION??!” *look of horror*
Prin: “Ahhhh…. Insects!”
Rosie: “mmmmm….”
Prin: *googling furiously…..* “CRICKETS!”

Welll. I ate no more cricket paste that evening, and awoke the next morning with a dubious sensation in the pit of my stomach. My body may not be ready for Laos cuisine in its entirety, but it sure is exciting!

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Green Cookies!

I’m off to swim in the infinity pool. Peace and love from Laos to you all.

La Kon! Goodbye!

p.s. six weeks until our Whole & Happy Retreat in Chanthaburi, Thailand on the 4th of November. Wanna join us? There are still some spaces available. Email me at rosie.moreton@gmail.com to reserve your space, or book online at:

http://wholeandhappyretreat.eventbrite.com

See you there?

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Slice of Weird Pai

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These days, every time I leave my house, I see an elephant. Sometimes five in a row.

As a child, I would leave my house and see a cow, sheep, or on a more exotic day, a goat, and then I would probably either ride it or milk it, which is what us country bumpkins do. Elephants were something I read about in a large novels on the school bus (yes, I was that girl), and certainly not a daily occurrence.

Fast forward to 2016, and this kiwi country bumpkin finds herself in a hippie town in Northern Thailand, living and working on a yoga & meditation retreat, fist-fighting gigantic spiders the size of her face in the darkest hour of night, and overtaking elephants on her moped. I have not yet ridden or milked said elephant, so I’ve really moved up in the world.

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He sat there all night, watching over me. This photo is poor quality because of my shaking limbs.

Pai, Thailand. A backpackers heaven, where you can rent a scooter for three dollars a day, eat  incredible street food for under five dollars a day, and sleep for around the same (depending on your standards!). Strangers become friends when you a share a bowl of steaming Thai soup under the crumbling umbrella of  a street-side stall. Everyone is there for the same reason – to have fun, to relax, and in general to have nothing to do, which is the joy and the downfall of a backpacker – what do you do when you have nothing to do? Drink. And there are plenty of places for that. An atmosphere of late nights, sleepy mornings, and meandering slow-paced days makes this little Northern Thai town a welcome reprieve from bustling Chiang Mai.

There’s a curious duality to Pai. There’s the backpacker crowd, who embark on a windy road from Chiang Mai, unprepared for 700-and-something hair raising, stomach-turning bends they must endure before arriving in the lush Pai countryside. They stay a few days, spend their money on drinks, street food, and scooting about, then head back to Chiang Mai to continue on their travels, another glorious pin in their world map.

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Open Mind Centre, Pai

Then there are the “alternative-lifestyle” nomads who come to Pai because they have heard through the organic grapevine that there is kombucha, coconut kefir and sharing session aplenty. They come with no agenda, other than to spend their days traipsing from cafe to meditation centre, writing in their journals, drawing in their colouring books, purchasing airy, colourful pants, getting tattoos, and partaking in fermentation workshops.  They sit on the pavement in the midst of the night market to sell their handcrafted mandala postcards to fund their travels. They come for three days, and leave three years later, as if emerging from a bubble in time, in need of a good shower.

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“Sharing Session” at Art in Chai, Pai

It’s also a pretty quirky place. As you drive into Pai, coming from Chiang Mai, you pass a handful of kitsch roadside cafes with human-sized letters boldly announcing names like “Pai in Love” and “Strawberry Pai”, which attract hordes of Chinese tourists, doubled up on mopeds, in full length plastic raincoats, seeking shelter from the daily monsoon downpours.

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There is a gigantic white statue of Buddha on a hill overlooking Pai, a cavernous canyon, hidden waterfalls, a bridge left over from World War Two, and a cafe called “Land Crack” on a back road into the hills, where you can buy fruit juices from a five year old pig-tailed girl, no parent in sight. There is a sign encouraging you to “Swim in the crack! At your own risk!” I dare you.

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You can walk down the street and come across a community gathering, which at the front appears to be a casual get-together and barbecue, but enter through those doors and its a discotheque complete with flashing lights, live music in soundproof walls, a curvy Thai woman singing soulful husky tunes to the backing of an 70’s style rock band, wearing waistcoats and beards and holding their guitars like screaming babies. Western women slide wildly across the dance floor, wafting bodily odours every time they lift their arms, but a tiny little Thai girl with some bodily deformities and a lovely dress steals the show with alternative dance moves that demonstrate both creativity and outrageous self-confidence.

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The thing that baffles me the most about Pai, which I will almost certainly never be able to explain, is this: I was driving down the country road in the early evening, heading for civilisation, and stopped dead in my tracks when I saw Captain Jack Sparrow lighting up a cigarette and waiting for his coconut in a roadside bamboo shack. I had consumed no highly fermented semi-alcoholic kombucha before this encounter, and I saw it with my own two eyes. Boots, white blooming shirt, waistcoat, eyeliner, long matted hair, complete with hat and feather, sitting calmly at his table. I sat in the middle of the road, stared for a good ten seconds, then continued down the road, blinking rapidly.

Either he’s been here too long, or I have.

Thai-ed in Knots

I’ve just finished a two week intensive Thai Yoga Massage training, at Sunshine Massage School in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Woohoo!

There were just four of us on our course which was perfect – the week before had around 15 people, so I think we were lucky to get one-on-one time with the teacher.

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All excited about our certificates

On my course was Kay, a fellow yoga teacher and travelling soul from Japan, who is just the sweetest person and shares my love for finding healthy restaurants and yoga studios everywhere she goes – we ate some amazing food around Chiang Mai together, fuelling our bodies for full days of massage and being massaged. She plans to open a yoga and massage studio and coffee shop back in Japan, and I’ll definitely be going to visit in the future. All of the best things combined in one place!

Capu, or Capucine, was my beautiful bunk buddy from the south of France, an effortlessly beautiful human who radiates positivity and sunshine. We spent our evenings swimming in the pool, studying, wandering the Night Bazaar and drinking avocado and mango “Sweet Sunrise” shakes.

Ruben was the only boy on our course, a masseuse from Spain, so he had a head start on the rest of us. He could barely understand what our teacher was saying in her Thai accent, and would look around the room at the rest of us with a quizzical look on his face. She would tell him to do something and he would nod slowly, fully uncomprehending, and then they would laugh and speak the language of massage, talking with their hands and their bodies. Not in a weird way.

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The Team

And Dot – our sweet little pea of a teacher. She is the same age as my mother and I truly felt like she was our mum for the past two weeks, guiding us through the teachings with a cheeky little smile on her face, allowing us to indulge in nap time, and sitting us down for “talks” after the lunch hour, when we all felt a bit sleepy and weren’t ready for massaging just yet. Every morning and evening we sang together, chanted OM three times and did a short meditation. In the afternoons she would talk about traditional medicine, thai culture, how to read the stars, how to lose weight (which she was mildly and hilariously obsessed with, even though she was a tiny human), her favourite colours (gold and yellow!), massage, yoga, temples, the list goes on. At the end of one particular afternoon towards the end of the course, when Kay had just finished massaging me, I fell into a deep, body-stoned dream where I could hear them all talking but I couldn’t move my body. This is what a full day of bodywork will do for you. Dot also spent half an hour one day braiding my hair in the most delicate way, and I felt like a princess.

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Princess Hair
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Me and Dot

Dot would come to the Eco Resort where we were staying every evening to “do her exercises” in the pool – she wore a little unitard and a swim cap and goggles and would peel a mango and sit eating it on a chair by the pool, her pre-swim snack, swinging her legs back and forth like a child, completely involved in what she was doing, every action a meditation. She inspired me to lead a life more simple and focus on the little things.

So now I have finished my course, I am officially certified to give a 2 hour thai massage to a normal human being, and I feel very well stretched.

I’m amazed at how similar thai massage is to yoga. I knew they would complement each other, so its been great to learn how they go hand and hand. Thai massage is a little bit like “passive yoga”, where the masseuse does most of the work and the receiver just lies there like a dead weight, their only task to relax as much as possible. Learning the energy lines in our bodies and the acupressure points on our hands and feet has given me a more informed view on how our bodies are truly wired to heal themselves. Every part of your body, inside and out, is connected intrinsically with another, which explains why holistic medicine is the way to go – we can’t isolate any one part of our body or brain. Healing comes from the whole. It also reaffirmed my suspicions that meditation and mental serenity is the most important thing. We can heal our body through our mind, and our mental state has a direct effect on all of the systems in our body.

Before each massage, the masseur does a prayer, wishing for the happiness and eradication of pain or illness in the body of the receiver. If you as the masseuse are feeling on edge, nervous, irritated or distracted, the receiver will feel that and absorb your energy, even if their eyes are closed and they are half asleep.

Likewise, if you’re the masseuse and your patient is in an emotional state, stressed out or radiating nervous energy or anger, you will feel that and come away from the massage feeling a little off kilter. You have to learn to protect yourself from the energy of the patient, whilst also being able to read it and act upon it. You make your massage a meditation – focussing only on what you are doing, the contact between your body and the receiver’s, radiating compassion and warmth through your hands (and all the other parts of your body used in thai massage – knees, forearms, feet, thighs, anything!), leaving your anxieties and preoccupations at the door. Much like when I teach a yoga class, I find it is the best way to forget yourself and become completely immersed in what you’re doing. Theres no space for anything else. The massage becomes a meditation in motion, a practice of yoga through touch and connection, a mindfulness practice.

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Hippie Central 

There was also a lot of talk on bowel movements and menstruation which was cute and fun – certain series or “families” of massage techniques can’t be done if a woman has her lady time, and there are also certain movements that can help with digestive disorders which was quite helpful for those of us that have been travelling in Asia for some time – the stomach massage was the one I was most nervous about, but proved to be wonderful for my stomach. Our stomach and all of the inside soft lines of our bodies (inner thighs, inner arms, chest)  can be incredibly sensitive, and we hold a lot of emotions here, so we learnt how to balance stronger pressure on the outer lines with a more gentle pressure on the inside lines, listening to the breath and the reactions of the receiver.

So I’ve come away from two weeks of training feeling full of information and some lovely new friendships, and really hoping to do more training in the future.

I didn’t take many photos these past couple of weeks, we were all too sweaty and dishevelled all the time (no changes there, really). I’ve included some from my trip to Pai, a little hippie town north of Chiang Mai which is just heaven.

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Pai Canyon

The next adventure is as of yet unknown – I’m taking my time in Chiang Mai, exploring street foods and little alleyways, weighing up my options and planning our retreat in November in Chanthaburi, Thailand. I’ve been tying myself in knots thinking about what I will do after my course, then avoiding thinking about it, simply because the unknown can be scary and overwhelming.  But it also can be a blessing – I can do anything I want. Sometimes its good to slow down, take stock, and think about what I really want to do next, not just the first thing that comes up. It seems to me that when I get very clear on what I want, its a lot easier to see it. On the other hand, sometimes I don’t know what I want until I’ve got it, and it looks so incredibly different to anything I could have imagined. Hmm.

That’s the joy and the wonder of life. Predictably unpredictable.

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Beautiful Chiang Mai

Anyone who wants to be my Thai Massage practice victim, get in touch.

Rosie Posie xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whole & Happy Yoga Retreat in Thailand!

Beyond excited to be teaming up with one of my favourite teachers to offer a 7-day yoga and meditation retreat in paradise!

Located at the breath-taking Faasai Resort and Spa in Chanthaburi, Thailand; nestled between lush mountain greenery and the clear, blue sea. I wrote about this place in a previous blog post after having spent two weeks there soaking up the healing energy.

Come and experience the power of nature, community, laughter and yoga in rejuvenating your mind, body and spirit! Delicious farm-to-table cuisine, luxury bungalow accommodation, and a beautiful seaside village to explore. Click here for more details.

Hope to see you all there!

Love & Light,

Rosie

Loving and Leaving

I can’t quite believe that my one month in Luang Prabang, Laos, has trickled past so quickly. In a hazy blur of yoga, sunrises, sunsets, a birthday, lush countryside, new friends, some illness and homesickness, but most of all an overwhelming feeling of contentment and gleeful disbelief that my world right now allows me to work, travel and live like this.

There’s something very special about Luang Prabang, in a way that you can’t quite put your finger on. It is the kind of place that just keeps ticking along – you come, you settle in, then you leave, and it just keeps going without you, which is both sad and comforting at the same time. A month is too short a time to fully experience life there, at least in the way it needs to be experienced. The most captivating part of Luang Prabang life for me is that life feels easy. Nothing is too far away, you have culture, religion, outdoor adventure, nature, comfort and a bounty of good, cheap food on your doorstep.

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I was there for a month, teaching yoga daily for Luang Prabang Yoga, overlooking the Nam Khan River, through rain and shine, sunrise and sunset, to whoever passed through. I had some regulars – people staying in town for a while, expats, or returning visitors who went elsewhere and decided this was the place to be. I was teaching most classes at Utopia, which is just as it sounds – a chilled out, everybody welcome kind of place with good food, interesting people, cosy seating overlooking the river, a volleyball net and a yoga deck.

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One of my favourite evening activities was to visit one of the temples at around 6.30pm and join the monks and novices for their evening chanting and meditation. From 6.30 – 7pm they would chant Buddhist verses, then from 7 – 8pm they would meditate in silence. I would do my best, sometimes sneaking out a little earlier, because an hour and a half is a long time to sit without stretching out your legs. The feet are considered the lowest part of your body in all respects, so its very rude to stretch your legs forward and face the soles of your feet at Buddha. If you want to stretch, you have to awkwardly poke your legs to one side. One time I made the foolish mistake of wearing a wrap around skirt to meditation, and quickly realised that I couldn’t sit cross legged without baring my crotch to the Buddha, which is generally deemed inappropriate in Buddhist tradition.

At the end of the meditation sometimes the novices would turn to practice their English with any westerners in the temple. They were very inquisitive about our lives and how we can travel, and in exchange I asked questions trying to get a grasp on the day in the life of a monk or novice. It’s a lot of discipline for these tiny little boys, and one night in meditation I opened my eyes to just watch them sitting. Some of them are so small and their heads keep lolling forward, then they catch themselves and try to sit upright again, only to keep falling asleep every few minutes. It’s adorable and kind of sad and also very impressive all at the same time – as teenagers these kids have more discipline than many of us might learn in a lifetime. At their age I was running around half naked in a field, building tree houses and singing at the top of my lungs. The contrast is pretty eye opening.

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The food… People say that Laos food is nothing to write home about. I found some gems in Luang Prabang that made me rethink – my particular favourite breakfast at Delilah’s consisted of a little bamboo box of sticky rice, a Lao omelette with dill and vegetables, steamed vegetables and a pot of spicy eggplant dip which was the best in town. I would go there for brunch after teaching, use the Internet, and just watch people passing by. It was a weird little place, they would often be blasting the music at 9am, even if I was the only customer, but I took my food outside and they took a shine to me because I tried out my rudimentary Laos on them every day and they thought I was hilarious.

Some places in town make awesome Laap or Laab – made with either chicken, fish or tofu/mushroom, mixed in with fresh herbs and served with greens and sometimes sticky rice, it makes a refreshing lunch or dinner. Street side stalls have grilled bananas, fresh fruit, tiny pancakes, sandwiches, and fruit shakes. I discovered an alleyway in the night market offering a buffet selection of vegetarian food, where you grab a bowl, fill it with as much as you can pack in, get them to heat it up for you, chuck an egg on top and pay a tiny 15,000kip (less than 2usd). You can also choose to wash it down with a big beer Laos, at the average price of 10,000 kip. Cheap and cheerful.

A favourite was also the Sin Daad or Laos BBQ, with baskets of vegetables, noodles, raw meat or tofu, pots of broth and dipping sauce. You grill your own meat or tofu on the hot pot which is built into the table, pour the broth into the little most and fill it with vegetables and noodles, and then scoop it out bit by bit into your bowl and try to get it in your mouth with chopsticks. An awesome social way to eat, pretty cheap, and there are places around town that offer an all-you-can-eat situation, including icecream for dessert, and you can just stay there for several hours to see how many meals you can squeeze in for your kip.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows in Luang Prabang for me, though. I got a nasty burn on my leg from riding on the back of my friends motorbike, which I was terrified was getting infected, especially when it started bleeding and looking quite worrying. Luckily a friend had some medical supplies and it has started to heal nicely. Apparently they call them “Laos burns”, because everyone gets a burn in the same place from bumping against the exhaust pipe on their bike.

I got a weird bite or something suspicious on the back of my other leg which became a curious texture and felt all squishy when I touched it, but I just kind of ignored it for a while (out of sight, out of mind) and it seems to have gone away. Phew.

I also had some nasty stomach issues which still haven’t quite been resolved – a sensitive stomach at the best of times can struggle in Asia, with all the hidden ingredients and language barrier when you ask for certain things to be excluded/ added to your meal. Laos has come a long way, but if you’re looking for gluten free dairy free vegan chia seed muffins, this is not the place. And maybe that’s a good thing.

In general, being sick when you’re away from home is pretty much the worst thing. Every tiny little inconvenience of living in Asia comes to the fore – you can’t find the medicine you need, you can’t drink from the tap, there’s a power cut and you lie there all feverish with no air con, nobody understands what you’re saying (to the point where you think perhaps you are delirious and rambling), the thought of noodle soup makes you turn green, and everything comforting and familiar is far away.

Nobody ever talks about the shitty hard part of living and working away from home. It’s like it’s a little bit unacceptable to admit to being unhappy while you’re living in sunshine paradise and working your dream job. It’s natural that there are ups and downs, and being sick makes you realise that your health is the single most important thing, coming before everything else. If you’re not well then you can’t enjoy everything that your surroundings offer.

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And THAT, my friends, is the time to go to Chiang Mai, a vegan/ vegetarian/organic/ gluten free/paleo Mecca for anyone with awkward dietary requirements. It was very sad for me to leave Luang Prabang, where life was easy, and faces had become familiar, but the time has come, and I’m looking forward to starting a Thai Massage training in Chiang Mai and having the resources around me to get my glow back.

I’m currently up in Pai, a chilled out ‘hippie town’ north of Chiang Mai, where I plan to spend several days doing just that – chilling out, doing yoga, catching up on some work and exploring the lush surroundings. Next week I start my course, where I will learn to massage bodies.

✌️

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Peanuts

  

It’s amazing how quickly we get used to new situations and find them ordinary. Take, for example, my current life situation which I stumbled into quite unplanned. The past several days, I have been living and volunteering at an eco resort and spa on the south coast of Thailand, not the disco, gulf of Thailand, booze cruise, sun sea sex side of Thailand, but the peaceful tranquility of Chanthaburi, a town approximately 100km away from the border with Cambodia, ripe with fruit and sparkling sea and tinkling cow bells and Thai families holidaying. 

   
I came to see a fellow New Zealander, the lovely owner, who invited me to visit and offered for me to stay longer and work for my keep. I abandoned vague plans to go island hopping and decided to get back to my farming roots, perform some manual labour, catch up on sleep, and enjoy some peace and quiet outside of Bangkok. The city was awesome but also drained me of energy and of funds, and probably gave my liver a slight green tinge. 

  

 Now I’m staying in my own lovely little bungalow with attached bathroom and a real flushing toilet that one can plant ones peachy bum on (for many, this goes without saying, but it’s not a guarantee in this part of the world, no sirree), eating eggs from their chickens, rambutan and mangosteen from the trees, vegetables from the garden. It is just like Little House on the Prairie, my childhood fantasy (no Potter, I haven’t forgotten about you – this was before your time). 

  

My days so far have involved rising early before the heat of the sun is overwhelming, watering the plants, raking leaves, or bicycling down to the farm to harvest the peanuts. Who knew peanuts grew in the ground? It’s one of those things I’ve never really thought about, like, where do nuts come from? I just eat them and know they are expensive and full of fats but mostly the good kinds of fats but don’t eat your body weight in roasted cashews cos that’s too much of a good thing. But now we KNOW! Peanuts grow in the ground, with big leafy green leaves protruding out of the surface, giving away their location. 

   
   
Hahahahaha, I must laugh. I thought I was tough, I thought I was big and strong. But put me next to a compact and muscular Thai woman and this is how tough I am:

She is Asian squatting in the peanut field, her big colourful hat shielding her from the savage sun, steadily hoisting bunches of peanuts out of the dry soil, hiffing them on the pile, sweat pouring down her face and darkening her grey tracksuit top, and she doesn’t breathe a word of complaint or “poor me”. 

I am, meanwhile, just taking a small breather in the shade, my stupid fluorescent running shoes sticking out like a sore thumb, sweat running like a river through all of my crevasses. I feel a little woozy, as though all the liquid inside of me has exited through my sweat glands and all that is left inside is a dry, prune like mass. My hamstrings ache from bending over, my arms and back are protesting at the repetitive peanut-wrenching motion, my shins are scratched from the creepy little vines that have wrapped themselves around the peanuts in attempt to strangle them to death. I am pooped.

  

But I quite love it. There’s something very satisfying about pure physical labour. You demolish a row of peanuts and weeds, sit back for a moment and admire the neatness of your work, then continue. You don’t have to think too much – just get on with it. Maybe you think about the word ‘peanuts’ and say it over and over again in your head until it sounds naughty and you giggle out loud. I like the three cows because they eat all the weeds and peanut shoots that I throw over the fence to them. They’re not fussy. The little things become the most important things – a cup of ice appears and I rejoice! I give up any attempts to stay clean or even to wipe the sweat off my face. How liberating! 

  
I speak no Thai and have absolutely no idea what anyone is saying, ever. One thing, however, that crosses language barriers is physical comedy! When myself and a more elderly Thai man were working together (me bundling together shoots of peanuts, him sawing off the leafy ends with a “Scream” shaped scythe), he pretended to saw off my entire hand with said scythe and then laughed uproariously, beaming a toothless smile and turning around to the others to see if they had seen. We laughed, oh how we laughed. These moments become even more hilarious because you’re desperate for something to connect with the other person over – when you can’t say words, you have to find other ways to giggle.

 The same with the kids – they speak to me as if I understand what they are saying – bless their souls. I obviously do not understand, I am a fool. So instead of talking to each other, we have established relationship through laughing at the cows, imitating animals noises, doing high fives and feeding the cows big bunches of leaves then running away screaming before they can get us with their big nasty horns. These are fulfilling and educational relationships that reach me on my level. 

   

When the work is done, I return, panting, to my room, drink 1.5 litres of water, and shower away the filth. I have a newfound respect for these Thai people – day in, day out, working hard in the heat, smiles on their faces, no complaint. If they do complain, I don’t catch it, cos I don’t speak Thai. 

For now, this is my new normal. “Nut” so bad.

Peanuts peanuts peanuts peanuts peanuts peanuts peanuts peanuts (say it with me now)

  

Cambodian Village Life

After a month of Rugby World Cup shenanigans and family time in England, my travels took an unexpected turn and I jumped on a plane bound for Siem Reap, Cambodia. Definitely did not foresee such action, but it turns out it was an excellent decision. 

Whilst in Spain, I was also applying for various yoga jobs in Europe, just throwing my CV out there and hoping the universe would provide. Old universe came through, but as usual, it was in a highly unexpected way. 

So now I’m in Cambodia, working in the traditional Khmer village of Bakong, near the temples of Angkor Wat, surround by rice paddies, an overwhelmingly stinky marketplace, curious-looking cows, tiny children dressed proudly in school uniforms riding bicycles far too large, dusty brown roads and dense green jungle. The villagers throw wild, loud parties that begin at 4am and finish at 3am. They celebrate life, death, weddings, anniversaries, getting a new cow, their neighbour getting a new cow, the anniversary of 100 days since their neighbour got a new cow…. Anything is a reason to party, and I respect that. I also respect and relish my one hour of silence between 3am and 4am, when the wailing and chanting ends and the frogs begin.

   
   
I’m teaching yoga at Hariharalaya Yoga and Meditation Retreat, quite possibly the best yoga retreat in Cambodia, but maybe I’m biased… I live in a little thatched hut, with a mosquito net that I keep throughly tucked into my mattress, and a broom to sweep out the fresh gecko poop. My pet gecko is called Fred, and sometimes I burst into my room to find him squatting hurriedly in the corner, an alarmed look in his beady eyes as he is caught doing his thrice daily ablutions! One of Hariharalaya’s pure intentions is to get people back in touch with nature, and there’s no doubt it has done that for me…  A frog squad lingers outside my hut at dawn and dusk, exchanging tales from pond life, leaping over each other and avoiding my huge human tread. Once, on a sleepy midnight trip to the bathroom, I stepped firmly on something very soft and squishy, which turned out to be a tiny frog, fresh from tadpole life, and I felt so sad and mournful. 

  
There are also giant worms, and I mean so so large. As long as my leg (which in fact is not very long but long if you’re a worm). The first few weeks I was here, there were still remnants of the rainy season, and after the rain the giant worms would come out to play. At first I thought they were snakes. And then the first time I saw a snake, I thought it was a giant worm, so I peered at it curiously, considered prodding it, until one of the Cambodian girls came sprinting out of the house, broomstick in hand, and started bashing at it furiously with all her might. She turned to me, eyes bright, and cried “ees small, but ees baaaaaad!”.  Poisonous worm, otherwise known as snake. I should not be left alone in the jungle.

  
My first week was a challenge. Up at 5.30am every morning, sometimes earlier, learning the ropes, planning classes for groups of 20-30 people of mixed yoga experience, from all different backgrounds and languages, and trying to balance doing a good job with socialising with guests. Plus I was dealing with the culture shock, the temperature and humidity, jet lag, a cold turkey vegan diet (pun intended) and caffeine withdrawals. 5.30am is rough WITH a nice cup of English breakfast tea or strong coffee, but without… I truly felt like a zombie going through the motions. Jasmine tea and meditation is what I have to work with. Days off though…

  
My first two weeks of morning and night meditation was a STRUGGLE. I’ve tried to meditate regularly over the past couple of years, but never really got into the rhythm. Here I have no choice, which as it turns out, is exactly what I needed. I could not sit comfortably for half an hour without fidgeting, worrying about bugs in my hair, scratching mosquito bites, adjusting my shawl, rearranging my sitting position from cross legged to kneeling to cross legged to kneeling.. I soon realised that I am obsessed with being comfortable (which anyone could guess from my collection of chunky jumpers and yoga pants) and that maybe it is quite good for me to sit with the discomfort for a while. And that’s when my meditation improved. Amazing! I mean obviously, it’s still bloody awkward sometimes, especially when a moist slimy gecko lands on your leg in the darkness of evening meditation, and you can’t see what it is, so you let out a wisp of a scream and jump from the ground, fumbling for the light of your phone then realising you don’t have it because it’s a digital detox and all phones are contraband, so you scamper to the bathroom and sit on the toilet until the meditation bell rings to signal dinner time, and you emerge, pale and shamefaced, admitting defeat by a wayward gecko.

  
There are many humorous moments, and many meaningful ones too. At the end of each retreat we do a closing circle where everyone shares something of their experience. Sometimes people start crying which generally makes me cry and then the sight of me crying makes other people cry because it’s not very pretty, in fact it’s a bit scary. It’s a healing place though and I’m so grateful that I’m a part of it.

   
   
 The next retreat is over Christmas, so that’ll be weird. Vegan, wine-free Christmas? If I was Santa I’d stay at home. But maybe it’s a good opportunity to give Christmas a different meaning. My family dinner this year will be with my lovely workmates and retreat-goers, passion fruit smoothies will be my prosecco, and the treehouse will be my Christmas tree, the sunset will be my Christmas lights… These are the things that people who live on yoga retreats begin to say. Village life is going to my head. 

  
I’m currently enjoying a luxurious three nights off,  recovering from some kind of savage bird flu (maybe just normal flu but I like to be dramatic), partaking in hot showers, green juices, mineral water, jacuzzis and vast swimming pools. All the different types of water please. I recently had a very bad, very boyish haircut from a lady in the marketplace (in hindsight, not a good idea) so I don’t particularly want to go out where lots of people can point and laugh. “It’s not so bad!”, my friends cry, but they’re not the ones with a frizzy mullet. 

  

I will be back soon with more tales of Cambodian village life. This post was mainly about insects and creepy crawlies, but this stuff is important to cover. In the meantime, if you’re in Southeast Asia….. book yourself in for a retreat here

  
   

  
  

  

  

  


…. And please bring me some Christmas dinner. 

Naturally.

You would be forgiven for thinking I had perhaps fallen into a wine stupor in an Irish pub and never awoke again. The last time I posted I think it was something to do with the weather, cycling in the rain, living in a cottage, and feeling slightly deflated about my choice of summer location.

To catch you up –  the weather did not improve, in fact it may have gotten worse. But I learnt that if you let the rain stop you, you will never ever do anything in Ireland. Overall it was an excellent summer. And then I learnt that if I wanted sun, I should go to Spain. So I did.

    
Here I am, after one month of intensive yoga training in a tiny Andalusian village. I have sprouted muscles in places I did not know you were allowed to grow muscles, and last night I enjoyed my first piece of meat in many weeks. I barely remember eating it because I was like a savage, starved hound. It could also have been the wine that impaired my memory.


The yoga course was intensive, but in different ways to what I expected. Living in a house with three other random females, there is always a bit of drama, but the most dramatic moment was being awoken at 3am by one of the other girls, who was sure she heard someone in our house.. either it was the wind, an active imagination, or a confused elderly spanish man on his way home from the local bar….. I lay in bed for the rest of the night, heart pounding. The next night I behaved like a small child and slept in my friends room with her. I was the youngest on the course, therefore it is okay for me to be the weakling. I may grasp the philosophical teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, but I am still a little girl that is slightly scared of the dark and monsters.


I chanted a lot of mantras, read a lot of weird spiritual yogic textbooks, giggled at the words “anus” and “perineum”, got very good at wind releasing pose, mastered a visually pleasing forward bend and discovered the art of Yoga Nidra – conscious deep sleep. So now, when I say I’m doing some yoga, I’m really doing a big sleep. Heads up. I am also very good at breathing now, all different types of breath! So fun, but slightly alarming for passers-by.



We also took a trip to the Hare Krishna Temple in Malaga. I felt as though I was being initiated into a strange cult. There was a five year old child being breast fed by her mother in the courtyard, decrepit older men wearing white robes that left nothing to the imagination, and at one point (much to my amusement) I was caught up in a hare krishna conga line! The woman in front of me had armpit hair that I probably could have braided, and they all had a distinctly “spiritual” smell to them, as though they bathed in incense. I surrendered to the moment and showed them some of my best “middle of the party circle” moves, then we made a swift exit and headed to a cafe for coffee and normality.


Obviously, it was not a high enough dosage of weird for me, because I arranged a slightly unusual work exchange placement for my last week in Spain. What better place to get a full body tan than a nudist resort?

I am here now, fully clothed, modesty intact, and it is glorious. My companions include a great dane called Dino, who weighs the same as a muscular adult human being, and a small scruffy dog called Billy, with two different coloured eyes. Dino comes to say hi and smears his rope of drool all over my clothes, which is very endearing. He is so large that I might try to ride him one day, if he doesn’t mind too much.

  
 Today I put on my bikini for some sunbathing, then remembered I would be the only weirdo wearing clothing by the pool, so I eased myself into it by removing my top half, then half an hour later I removed my bottom half and squirmed in a very prudish way. I lay there, thinking how I had laughed when I first found this place on HelpX, but it stuck in my mind and obviously I love a good naked challenge.

 
 Things I am slightly concerned about are nipple burn and/or the state of my bottom, because I never really see it, and I don’t know how the view is back there, but i am sure someone would tell me if there were any issues. Also ants are rife here, and they seek out the lovely warm spots on one’s body. As long as I don’t accidentally dribble honey on myself I should be fine.

Naturist problems eh!

The grand auld cottage life.

And so another Irish summer begins, yet a hot water bottle is necessary every night and my evenings mainly consist of sitting by the fire wrapped in my poncho and pondering my choice of country in which to spend the “sunny season”.  For the third year in a row – when will I learn? Or at least, when will I learn to bring extra pairs of socks and waterproof over-trousers? 

It’s hard to plan for bad weather when you’re in Greece, knee deep in raki and zooming around on scooters in skirts. 

There must be a reason I keep returning. Is it… The sheep? No, although they are pretty adorable. Even when they stop for a suckle at mothers teat in the middle of the main road, and simply expect you to stop and gaze upon them, as if they are what you were cycling furiously up the hill in the driving rain for.

 

 I have to say, my humble abode for this season makes the bad weather more bearable. I come home, wet and bedraggled, like a wee hamster flushed down the toilet, and my cottage welcomes me with open arms. The shower pressure may be more ‘geriatric dribble’ than ‘power shower’, but i have learnt that if you sit awkwardly in the bath tub, fill it to a mid – bum cheek level, then turn on the hand held shower head and hold it over you, sloshing a bit of water around like a naughty baby,  it’s a whole new bathing experience. It’s just a bit awkward when you need to wash your hair, because a girl only has so many hands, and you need at least one to grip the side of the tub to prevent a slippery death..

  

  
The open fire can really make or break a cosy night in. Now, having grown up with log fires, a turf and coal fire is a whole new challenge for me, and one I am so willing to accept. My first time trying to light the beast ended with me retiring to my bed, chilly, with only a hot water bottle and failure to accompany me. I have tried, several times now, but I cannot seem to get the ratio of firelighter: coal: turf correct. My housemate lights a mean fire, so tonight I watched over her shoulder as she lit it. Now I sit, regally, by the roaring fire, casually hiffing chunks of turf on the fire, swirling my red wine, gazing into the flames and remarking out loud to no one in particular, “By Jove! What splendid heat!”

  
In the morning I shall climb on my noble bicycle steed and begin the daily trek to work, come rain or shine, hail or gale. It’s character building stuff. (And I look ridiculously good in high visibility rain gear and men’s overtrousers).

  
Ahh, the Wild West of Ireland. It’s good to be back.  

The Cretan Obesity Centre, and other stories. 

 

 Ahh, sibling fun.

I met Josh at Crete airport and one of the first things he said to me was “we’re not camping.” Having spent a week in our tent aptly named “The Womb”, including one 48 hour period during a storm in the Italian mountains where he could not leave its confines, he was ready for a bed to rest his weary head. He was also pretty ready for some good food, after existing on whiskey and carrots for a little too long.

  
It’s basically been a week of consuming awesome Greek food and alcohol, sunning ourselves on Crete beaches, hooning about on a scooter and seeing some pretty old stuff.

Being in recovery from a savage bout of Turkish Tummy food poisoning, my stomach couldn’t really cope with a lot of food, but I slowly and persistently coaxed it into sampling the local Cretan cuisine. My body was telling me no,  but my mind was telling me “Greek yoghurt, woman!”.

   
   The thing I personally love about Greece is that just when you think you’ve finished your meal, they bring you a small jug of raki and a dessert platter (sometimes two!) and you just feel so fondly towards them that you tell them you will marry their son. Perhaps that’s the raki talking, and perhaps they planned that all along, but if it’s free then who’s complaining? Is he handsome?

  
One particular night in Chania, at a restaurant on the port,  we had consumed some stuffed vegetables, a marvellous Greek salad and slab of moussaka, and we were already pretty satisfied. Then we were brought our nightly nightcap of raki and dessert, consisting of almond cakes and a plate of six glistening donuts. Josh’s inner fat boy jiggled his stomach, moistened his lips, and cried “CHALLENGE ACCEPTED !” 

Sadly all I could do is sit and watch while he hoovered all six of them, which I found both mildly repulsive and strangely fascinating. Needless to say, the next day he experienced a severe food hangover, and could only muster the strength for a light, oil free salad. 

A lesson we learned: you don’t have to to eat ALL THE FOOD. But you do have to drink all the raki. 

We watched some traditional Greek music one night, which was hilarious and deadpan. These four guys sat on little stools with their instruments they have obviously been playing since they were 3 months old, their fingers flying across the strings, making incredible music but staring off into the corner of the room like they were on the toilet and there was no reading material. I loved it.

  

Our favourite day was when we hired a scooter and scooted about the island, visiting beaches and eating Greek salads in all different localities, remarking on the thicker cut of the red onion or the curious addition of parsley in some varieties. We like to think we are now connoisseurs of the Greek salad.

  
I look very good on a scooter, I have decided, and I would quite like one. Some say you should not wear flappy pantaloons and sandals on a scooter, but it’s all the rage really, and I like to feel the wind against my little toes. I clung to Joshua like a koala bear initially, feeling like I was going to topple off down the cliff side and impale myself on an olive tree, but eventually I loosened my vice grip on Joshua’s beard and relaxed.  

  

 We also went to the palace of Knossos just outside Heraklion, which was a fascinating excursion, but naturally we couldn’t enjoy it until we had had a frozen yoghurt and a coffee. Frozen yoghurt is basically every second shop down the street, and I feel like we sampled a good selection of the flavours, a personal favourite being the simple Greek yoghurt with honey. 

   

     
  

There’s a running theme of food, and that’s not a bad thing. We one day came across a building called “The Cretan Obesity Centre”, with some very sorry figures going in and out. I feel like it was a near miss for us. It doesn’t sound like a good place to go.

So now I return to work in Ireland, with slightly snugger (a word?) pants and considerably less money, resigned to the fact that I will be living off meaty slop and taters for the next few months.

  

Joshua is off to spend two weeks walking alone across England, sleeping in The Womb and talking to himself, dreaming of donuts.