That was then, this is Laos

After a few days in Chiang Mai we set ourselves for pastures new once again, this time we were heading for Laos and the experiences a new country and culture have to offer.

Both of us were looking forward to further challenges, things had gotten pretty comfortable in Thailand, the tourist route so well travelled that it was rare you ever felt like you were really out of your comfort zone.
Laos has the reputation of being 10-15 years behind Thailand in terms of its tourist industry. Given its recent history that’s quite understandable…Per capita, Laos is the most bombed country in the world…..Yeah that’s right, hard to believe isn’t it? To give you an idea of the extent of the bombing, if you averaged out the frequency of US bombing between 1964-1973 it would equate to a bombing mission every eight minutes, 24 hours a day for the whole 9 years. Laos had more bombs dropped on it during that time than were dropped by all sides in the whole of WW2….. And all part of the Vietnam war, a conflict that they were neutral in.
Some of the history of the country was covered in Manufacturing Consent, the book by Noam Chomsky, so I had an idea of some of the historical background, and was eager to learn more about the country and how it is recovering from the devastation caused during the Indochina wars.

So we literally squeezed ourselves into a minibus, and set off for he Chiang Khong/Huay Xai international border crossing. The journey was a pretty hair-raising one to say the least, our driver fancying himself as Sebastian Loeb in the making, tires screeching as we overtake lorries while hurtling round blind corners-little did we know that this would be good preparation for the journeys to follow in the mountains of Laos!
Giving us some respite from the terror onslaught, we stopped off in Chiang Rai to visit Wat Rong Khun-otherwise known as the White Temple. Neither Jo or I had read up on the temple beforehand, and so we weren’t entirely sure what to expect. On approach the first impression is that you are beholding something truly magnificent-like when Superman first sees the Fortress of Solitude gleaming in the sunshine, quite breath-taking:

Like a beaming sparkly beacon of Buddhism....

Like a beaming sparkly beacon of Buddhism….

On closer inspection, things start to get a little bit weird…Take a look at the photo above again, notice anything? Anything like the bizarre statues in the foreground?! That was just the start of things, around the grounds, hanging from trees were the heads of various horror film characters-Predator, Freddy Kruger, Pinhead & Jarhead all featuring. Things got even stranger inside, where the temples walls were depicted with images of Michael Jackson, Hello Kitty, Superman, Terminator and Harry Potter! Turns out that this is actually privately owned by an artist called Chalermchai Kositpipat, and is actually an art-exhibit in the style of a Buddhist temple. It does serve as an active temple, but more of a tourist attraction than anything else. It really was quite bizarre-especially not knowing its background before visiting!

Quite magnificent in approach...but look a little closer

Quite magnificent in approach…but look a little closer

What you doing hanging around here...you should head to the temple!

What you doing hanging around here…you should head to the temple!

Somewhat baffled, we plunged ourselves back into our own personal vehicle of terror and set off to complete our journey to the border. Our entrance to Laos was rather more sedate, over the 4th Friendship Bridge that straddles the mighty Mekong River that separates Thailand and Laos.

The Mekong!

The Mekong!

And so that was it, we’d made it-we were in Laos, the third country on our South East Asian adventure. Our first stop was a night in Huay Xai, a small town near the border crossing where many travellers rest up before setting off into Northern Laos. Time for us to familiarise ourselves with the currency, the Kip, and attempt the language. The currency is particularly difficult, currently £1 is worth 12,000 Kip, so you’re always dealing with large numbers when paying for things. The conversion isn’t difficult, just simplify things so that you’re working at 10,000 kip to the pound and you’ll always be overestimating costs-no problems….It’s just getting used to having to pay 100,000 Kip for a night in a guesthouse, it feels like you’re handing over a lot of money!

Fed, watered and rested, we got up early the next morning to make our way for our first stop proper, Luang Namtha, and our first efforts at travels on a local bus. If we thought that the previous days’ journey was terrifying, that was just the warm up. Now faced with roads that snake and carve their way through the mountains, we got on a decrepit old bus that looked like it was ready for the scrapheap. The general rule of thumb on the bus seemed to be, if there’s a modicum of space, then there’s room for one more-and soon we were jam packed to the rafters for departure. So we headed for the mountains, at some points I think that it would have been quicker to walk up some of the inclines, and then during the descents we would be treated to the occasional wrecked truck lying prostrate in the ditch, just a nice little reminder of the perils that the road offers! It took us roughly 6 hours to travel 150Km, and yes that’s only an average of 25km/h, but I assure you that the downhill sections were perilously quick!

Eventually we made it, shaken & stirred, but in one piece and we headed into the town to explore Luang Namtha. The town services a national park area in the Northern Highlands of Laos predominantly known for its hiking and kayaking-given that we’re here in dry season, a jungle hike was the obvious choice. The town is literally centred on one main road that passes through-and there wasn’t really much else there at all. A few guesthouses, a couple of restaurants and some tour offices-that pretty much sums it up! So we found a guide and opted for a single day hike-the following morning we would be setting off into the Nam Ha protected area for a day in the jungle. It was that evening that we first encountered Lao style balut at the street market that was quite something else-not that we actually tried it, but for those of you that don’t know balut is a developing duck embryo that is boiled and eaten in the shell. Literally you have a ducks egg with the top open, and the head being presented for you to chow down on, definitely something that sits outside of our comfort zone at the moment!

Onto the hike, and it really was great to get out into the jungle for the day. The hiking was of moderate difficulty, which was perfect for just the single day. We passed through primary and secondary jungle areas, before finishing the hike through some rice farms-really was quite stunning:

Rough in the jungle, in the jungle...

Rough in the jungle, in the jungle…

...Inner inner jungle

…Inner inner jungle

Look closely and you'll see LOADS and LOADS of spiders!

Look closely and you’ll see LOADS and LOADS of spiders!

Leaves...Big in Laos!

Leaves…Big in Laos!

Great example of jungle bridging!

Great example of jungle bridging!

As we emerge from the jungle into the valley

As we emerge from the jungle into the valley

One of the rice farms we hiked through

One of the rice farms we hiked through

A look back at our travels!

A look back at our travels!

Fantastic to experience and very much washed the memory of the previous days’ bus journey away, only problem being that we now had to think of the bus to our next stop, Luang Prabang-a mere 9 hours across the mountains…

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Fantastic design: Tiger Ted Cafe, Chiang Mai

Worthy of a post of its own, Tiger Ted Café in Chiang Mai really inspired us as a fantastic use of materials and a low cost construction method.
It’s not a new idea, basically the café s made up of a couple of shipping containers. We’d both seen examples on shows like Grand Designs, but this was the first time that we had actually been to a structure made like this.
Brilliant for it’s simplicity, fantastic use of resources, functional and low cost-for sure this needed to be documented for further consideration. To add to it’s merits, the café was absolutely great too-fantastic low cost food and drink. Inside all of the furniture was made from reclaimed materials as well…Basically they ‘nailed it’, tip of the cap to you Tiger Ted!

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The next extreme-Thai boxing Christmas in Pai

The last couple of weeks had certainly proved the contrasts in experiences that you encounter while travelling-precisely the reason that many hit the road. For sure we hadn’t planned the meditation and the permaculture farm beforehand-one thing that we had planned was to get involved with some martial arts training, and without doubt at the top of that list was to do a Thai boxing camp in Thailand.

We’ve both missed our various sporting activities, and being able to fit in regular training while travelling is really tough; we have managed a few runs so far-and even got to hit some pads on the beach in Cambodia, but this was our first opportunity to dedicate some significant time to training. With a resounding endorsement from one of our friends (cheers Stevie!), we headed North to Pai and Charn Chai Muay Thai for two weeks in a Thai boxing camp. Our start date locked in for the 21st December, we were going to be spending our first Christmas away from home in a gym….It kinda made sense to us!

Apparently Pai has had a boom in popularity over the last few years because of a couple of films set in the region, don’t ask us what films-the only answer I can give is that they were popular in South Korea! This popularity results in Pai being extremely busy over the Christmas period, something that became apparent when it came to booking accommodation-so, quite bizarrely, I had found a hut at a piranha fishing farm for us to stay in for our time at the camp. Being 8km outside of Pai, it wasn’t ideal in theory, but at £7/night and scooter rental at £1/day-it was the best option available. On arrival at our home for the next two weeks any reservations of our choice in location quickly dissolved, and we fell in love with our little hut in the country!

Our lovely little hut!

Our lovely little hut!

Complete with its own fire pit!

Complete with its own fire pit!

The calm of the fishing lake....Little do you know of the terrors that lurk beneath!

The calm of the fishing lake….Little do you know of the terrors that lurk beneath!

.....But apparently they're 'vegetarian' piranha...At least that's what we were told!

…..But apparently they’re ‘vegetarian’ piranha…At least that’s what we were told!

Settled in to our little hut a day early, time to rest up before the commencement of camp-two weeks, twenty sessions and forty hours of Thai boxing…. Oh, and Christmas and New Year!

Saturday 21st December, 7.45AM…… Our first session at Charn Chai Muay Thai.
We thought we were being clever by starting our regime on a Saturday, as the one day of the week that you get off is Sunday. Little did we know that Saturday’s ‘warm up’ is sprints up 356 steps at Pai’s very own mountainside white Buddha, Wat Phra That Mae Yen, at the end of a 4km run…. Something of a shock to the system first thing on day 1!

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‘Warm-up’ done, and it was time to get involved in our first session proper. It’s a nervy feeling when you train at a new gym for the first time, and this was no different. As it turns out some of the fighters from the gym had fought in Chiang Mai the night before, so we were treated to a relatively quiet first session where they monitored our current level; technique coaching/observation, general fitness work, bag work and then some core-a relatively straight forward start for our first two hours in the gym.
Come ten o clock and we settled down to eat at the gym, we had opted for two meals a day with our training, and so would eat with others training at the gym for extended periods. We thought it would be a good opportunity to get to know people, little did we know that we would be treated to some outstanding food to boot-it really was quite fantastic. Typically you would have a meat dish, a vegetarian dish, an omelette, and rice-there wasn’t one meal that disappointed!
As soon as we had eaten, we hopped on the scooter and high tailed it back to Pai Piranha to rest before the afternoon Thai boxing session that started at 3PM, we knew that this interim period would be essential rest and recovery time for a twice daily training regime.
A few hours in the hammock and we returned to the gym for our second session of the day from 3-5PM-as is the heat of the day, skipping and press ups formed the warm up rather than a jog…So 15 minutes of skipping and 60 press ups later and we were into our first session proper-and the first session with the gym owner, initially a quite imposing figure by the name of Bee.
Bee wanted to review our skill levels personally and the afternoon session followed the structure of the morning quite closely-understandably not willing to let ‘unknown quantities’ loose in sparring or on the pads until they knew we were ready to do so. We completed day 1 with no problems-aside from the shock of the morning temple run, and once again feasted on another wonderful meal with the rest of the guys.
One of the surprises that arose from chatting with the others was the number of people that were there long term, there were 6 or 7 people who had been there for a couple of months or more-I naively thought that we would surrounded by people just dipping in and out of a few sessions-but we were the ones that were actually ‘short termers’. All the more reason to make the most out of the twice daily training opportunity that we had over the next two weeks.

As we had cunningly planned, just the one day of training before our first day off! Unfortunately you can’t plan for everything, and Jo was stricken with a 24 hour bug that had been going round Pai, and was confined to the hut for the entire day…Not the day off exploring the locality that we were hoping for.
I’ll spare you the details, and skip forward to Monday where the training ramped up as we were judged to be fit to take part in ‘proper’ training-and so our daily regime for the next couple of weeks began, every morning 7.45 till 10.00, then every afternoon 2.45 till 5-welcome to camp!

Morning warm up – 5km jog (Wednesdays and Saturdays featured the temple run) / Afternoon Warm up 15 minutes of skipping, with sets of 20 press ups every 5 minutes
Technique – coaching and practice of various combinations working with a partner. Of particular note were the elbow and defensive techniques taught
5 x 4 minute rounds on the pads, 10 press ups between rounds (sparring on Wednesdays and Saturdays)
Circuits – timed rounds of single kicks each leg, double kicks each leg, knees, alternate teeps on the heavy bags, and some weights
Clinch rounds – 20 press ups, 20 sit ups between rounds
‘3 to a bag’ – 100 kicks on the heavy bag, 50 kicks each leg
100 knees followed by 20 press ups
….
and then, at the end of every session-the core circuit:
Legs in the air
Crunches
Side crunches, each side
Normal sit ups
Butterfly kicks
Plank
Side plank, each side
Superman
21 press ups

Each on of the exercises was performed for time rather than reps, and the time was dictated by each person in the group having to count to ten….When there are up to 25 people in a session, this can get pretty drawn out!
Session would draw to a close with some stretching, and then respect to the trainers before devouring our meal and high tailing it back to our hut.

First few days came as a bit of a shock to the system, the twice daily training really doesn’t give your body time to recover at all. Some pretty impressive bruises on bruises were being developed on our shins, they were in a proper state! But, as they say, no pain no gain and we really threw ourselves into it. we both really rated the coaching from the team of trainers there, and that’s no surprise given that at least 5 of the coaches there have had in excess of 300 fights! Bee himself was ranked number 1 at the world famous Bangkok Lumpinee stadium when at his fighting peak.
There was real attention given to your technique during the rounds on the pads, and new combinations and techniques were gradually introduced during these sessions throughout the two weeks.

6 sessions in and Christmas Day was upon us already, and yes-at 7.45 Christmas morning and we were at the gym training! We did treat ourselves to the afternoon off though as the owner at Pai Piranha was a British guy who was putting on a massive Christmas dinner. We didn’t want to miss out on festivities altogether and so we joined about 30 other people at the restaurant. It far exceeded any expectations that we had, not ever thinking that we would get a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, but it was absolutely superb.

Christmas done and back to training-although I was unfortunate to be hit by the 24hr bug on boxing day, so rather annoyingly missed two sessions. Again I’ll spare you the details, but needless to say I confined myself to a cool dark room.

Sunday arrived and we finally had a free day to do some exploring-so we headed to Pai Hot Springs Resort to soak our aching muscles. This place was pretty spectacular, with natural steaming hot springs and an icy cold infinity pool-we spent the afternoon in hot/cold muscle recovery mode! Each night there is a walking market in the centre of Pai, and even though we had regularly passed by through the week-Sunday was something of a highlight and so headed down after the springs to take in the various sights sounds and tastes.

My poor tortured legs!

My poor tortured legs!

The more time that we spent in Pai, the more I thought it is a bit of an odd place. There are A LOT of westerners that are pretty well settled in Pai, and they all have a similar story when you speak to them “oh I just came here for a couple of days, that was 3 years ago”. I think that the reason for this is that it’s easy, it doesn’t really feel like you’re in Thailand. Everyone speaks good English, there are familiar items in shops, nice coffee shops, bars, and there’s something of a ‘hipster’ scene going on. I can see the attraction for some people, but it turned me off a little-the way that saw it people were just doing the same thing in a different place, living a cliché. Don’t get me wrong, it was pleasant enough, but I couldn’t envisage staying there for any extended period of time. I was happy that training dominated our time in Pai, that’s what we were there for after all.

We got the chance to head out to a local festival in an adjacent village, where some of the fighters from the gym were going to be fighting-and for sure this felt like a more authentic Thai experience. A great spectacle, a boxing ring in a field, children throwing firecrackers and fireworks all around, the buzz of a local village hosting their own fight card! A mixed bag of results for the fighters from the gym, one French guy that trained at Charn Chai was spectacularly knocked out by a local….Something of a sucker punch really, but that is the thing about any combat sport, it only takes one punch! Another one of the Charn Chai fighters was a young Thai lad who fights at Lumpinee stadium, and he was amazing. He pretty much exclusively traded in elbows and knees, his range and timing was something else to behold-it was a rare and unexpected treat, in this ring in the middle of a field!

Charn Chai Muay Thai Pai-highly recommended!

Charn Chai Muay Thai Pai-highly recommended!

Group shot of all at the gym

Group shot of all at the gym

Fight night!

Fight night!

Our time in Pai really flew by and New Years Eve was upon us in a heartbeat-fatigue setting in a bit now and so we charged ourselves up with the Thai energy drinks before heading out for the evening. The guys at the gym put on a bit of a shin dig and so we enjoyed hog roast, karaoke and a fair few beers-Chinese lanterns seeming to be something of a Pai New Years tradition-there were hundreds let off across the town, as well as a couple from Charn Chai!

New Years eve preparation-M-150 and red Bull!!

New Years eve preparation-M-150 and red Bull!!

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And so we exit stage left, on the back of a truck!

And so we exit stage left, on the back of a truck!

Into 2015 we hobbled, fatigued and with bruised shins-something of a whirlwind of a few weeks; first meditation, then Willows farm, and now Muay Thai-it couldn’t have been more varied! Our time in Pai had come to an end, and so back to Chiang Mai for a few days before our next chapter-Laos!

Double bubble night trains, Chiang Mai, the good life with a hippy called Willow….And eating bugs

Still somewhat dazed from the previous three days of silence, we headed back to Koh Samui with the intent of getting to Chiang Mai as soon as possible. Given our enjoyment of the night train on the way down, we decided that we were going to take back-to-back night trains and skip spending another night in Bangkok, just push on through and head north in readiness for our Thai boxing camp in Pai.
The familiar combination of bus, boat, mini bus once again punctuated our day-and we managed to get to the train station and book a ticket with no problems at all, despite the efforts of one ‘friendly local’ who advised that we should get the bus through him, as trains get booked up 4 months in advance. Always worth checking for yourselves in Thailand, often being friendly and helpful is a ‘commissioned service’!
Anyway, our train journey was notable simply for the fact that Jo and I absolutely chewed two poor lads ears off, after three days of effective isolation-they really didn’t stand a chance sat opposite us, we just didn’t shut up until it was apparent that’d we’d induced them both into a waking coma!

Arriving in Bangkok and we increased our traveller kudos rating by plumping to use the showers in Bangkok Railway station…Something of a necessity to pull off our B2B journeys without offending fellow travellers with our ‘aroma’. Showers safely navigated, definitely something of an ‘experience’, we spent the day in Bangkok and set off on our second night train on the bounce. Again we had the opportunity to talk to our hearts content with a few patient listeners on the journey to Chiang Mai, and quickly the morning came round and the quite beautiful scenery surrounding us greeted our morning gaze. The landscape was quite different now, and we were now treated to gorgeous countryside and rolling mountains-welcome to the North of Thailand, and Chiang Mai.

Many people rave about Chiang Mai as one of their favourite cities in Thailand, and it’s easy to see why once you’ve spent some time having a walk around. Unlike the chaotic and daunting nature of Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a much more relaxed city-and at its centre there is the ‘Old City’, a former walled area which used to form the epicentre of this northern Thai kingdom capital. Within the old city you have a myriad of temples (no surprises there!) and a number of funky coffee shops and bars to explore, as well as some great street markets to grab some bargains from. For now our exploring of Chiang Mai was going to be short a sweet, as we were due to arrive with Willow in a couple of days-so more about this city in a later post. Of course I got the opportunity to take some snaps to share though……

An obvious first stop for tourists-the museum!!

An obvious first stop for tourists-the museum!!

This is Wat Sang Fen, notice the unexplained Donald Duck statue...

This is Wat Sang Fen, notice the unexplained Donald Duck statue…

To think that these carvings adorn the same temple as the previously highlighted Donald Duck statue!

To think that these carvings adorn the same temple as the previously highlighted Donald Duck statue!

Wat Chedi Luang in all its glory

Wat Chedi Luang in all its glory

Found this story particularly amusing

Found this story particularly amusing

Loves a good recline does Buddha!

Loves a good recline does Buddha!

Hundreds, if not a couple of thousand, ribbons are tied from the ceiling by visitors to symbolise wishes

Hundreds, if not a couple of thousand, ribbons are tied from the ceiling by visitors to symbolise wishes

The main shrine at Wat Phra Singh

The main shrine at Wat Phra Singh

Wat Phra Singh has one temple where they exclude women, we don't know why, but here it is for you all to enjoy!

Wat Phra Singh has one temple where they exclude women, we don’t know why, but here it is for you all to enjoy!

Guess what, another impressive golden Buddha shrine!

Guess what, another impressive golden Buddha shrine!

Prayer flags in the wind...

Prayer flags in the wind…

Having done a little exploring of the city, and destroying a porcelain soap dish in the hotel bathroom with my head (!), our next mission was to navigate our way to Doi Saket, and the hill tribe permaculture farm found by Jo on AirBnB where we were going to be spending the next couple of days. After falling foul of my increasingly poor navigation skills, it seems that my internal compass has gone completely haywire since we have been in Asia, we found our way to Warorot Market and got on the bus to Doi Saket. The instructions to get to the farm were simple, “get off the bus by the Seven Eleven in Doi Saket and find a taxi to go to Willow and Buti’s farm, all the taxi drivers should know where it is”.
Sounded easy enough-we managed to get the bus there no problems, then the fun started. First up, there are no ‘taxis’ in Doi Saket as you or I would think of them, there are only motorbike taxis. Secondly, there seemed to be a distinct lack of motorbike taxis when we arrived, and after about twenty minutes or so we managed to locate one…Just the one though, and obviously he had no idea where Willow & Buti’s farm was! No great problem as he borrowed someone’s phone to call ahead and get directions, and soon enough it was decided that Jo would hop on and get to the farm, and then he would come back to pick me up. At this point is dawns on you that you’re about to discover what a ride on the back of a motorbike would be like when carrying a ruddy great big rucksack-obviously Jo got to experience that first hand straight off the bat, while I sat on the street and contemplated it for the next 25 minutes or so while I waited for our trusty steed to return! Eventually another taxi turned up and I was ushered onto the back, and what followed was a full on white knuckle ride as I held on for grim life on the back of this bike…All the time hoping that if I did fall off, then I would be lucky enough to land on my back pack and just be left in the road doing an impression of a turtle on it’s shell! A few wrong turns, and a couple of random farms later, and we finally arrive at Willow & Buti’s, and little did I know what we were about to discover.
Obviously Jo had already been there for about twenty minutes as I arrived, and as I walked to the kitchen she was already in deep conversation with our host, Willow.

Now Willow wasn’t what I expected whatsoever, but more fool me for having any expectations anyway! He is an 84 year old fantabulous story teller, originally from California, and having lived quite the incredible life. Immediately I was greeted with warmth and excitement, and instantly quizzed on my date of birth so that he could ascertain my Taoist birth animal….As it turns out I am a Golden Sheep, and only 24 hours from being a Horse, something quite spectacular it would seem! Willow was a Horse himself, and Jo is a Fire Snake-apparently each animal has a very specific set of characteristics and this was his way of immediately understanding those who come to visit….He seemed pretty happy with our arrival, and so our education began.
First of all a snippet of Willows life, he used to be a psychiatrist in San Francisco and lived in Haight Ashbury through the summer of love-he had a life full of material riches but had his own form of enlightenment though hallucinogenic experimentation and gave it all up to live the life of a hippy, and to travel the world and experience life in its fullest. For three years he lived without speech, and he travelled through India and Nepal living as a sadhu-from there he has travelled extensively and set up communities for off the gird living in many locations. When 9/11 hit, he was in Hawaii-and the disaster was the prompt for him to leave the United States and come to Thailand, that and some disagreement with the police it would seem….
As with all great story tellers, some of the tales were beyond comprehension, and it was difficult to believe that one person had led this life-but if you met Willow then I would be surprised if you were not captivated as we were.
Buti is his wife who is part of a hill tribe in this area of Thailand, and she was an absolute force of nature! Rather regrettably, she was leaving the farm for a family funeral on our arrival at the farm, and she returned the day before we left-so we didn’t get to know Buti as well as Willow. For sure in just the small amount of time that we did have we appreciated the sheer energy and knowledge of the woman as she buzzed round the farm and demonstrated her immense cooking skills on the open fire.

This brings me onto his life today, and the farm that he and his hill tribe wife are building. This permaculture homestead has everything that you would need to return to village life, take yourself off grid, and lead a wholly sustainable life. Fruit and vegetables grow all around you, there are chickens and ducks, a swimming pond and various quarters for people to stay. Basically they invite people to stay at the farm and work with them on projects in return for subsidised food and lodgings. We had happened on the place through AirBnB so we were ‘luxury guests’ to begin with, but soon enough we had agreed to stay on a couple more days as helpers! For £8 a day we got three meals and accommodation for the both of us, and we simply had to help with things like watering the farm, feeding the ducks & chickens and joining in with the cooking duties for everyone.
Others we met there were there longer term and had the freedom to take on projects of their own; for example a French couple who were there had built a pond, a British/Australian couple had started developing a couple of ‘Jacuzzi baths’ from some concrete cylinders that were left over from a well, and just prior to our arrival a guy from Australia had installed a drip feed irrigation system!

Jo and I felt that this was our first real living experience on our travels, something that we could envisage as a way of life rather than a ‘holiday novelty’. Simple things really made the difference, Jo learnt how to build a fire for us to cook on, and we managed to go to the local market to get supplies for the group for the evening. That may sound simple, but three of us were going to the market and there were only two push bikes, so Jo and I volunteered to run a leg of the journey each-no mean feat at 8km in the Thai sunshine. Jo set off on the outward journey on foot first, and made remarkably good time-actually arriving at the village before I got there on the bike, having given her a thirty minute head start. Once at the market we set about our business, bought the supplies we needed as well as some cake…and some crickets to eat for later, yeah that’s right, we decided to give eating bugs a go as well-we were getting seriously native! Having had the luxury of two wheels for the journey to the market, the second leg of my duathlon was upon us and I set off on the run back-this being notable simply for the meanness of Jo an Ivan, breezing past me on their bikes, and then slowing to an equal pace to me only when they were about 50m ahead. Seriously, for ages they were coasting along, chatting away having a nice ride in the country, while I was pounding the hard yards behind them, trying to catch up and join in. They claim that this was non intentional….But as the sweat poured down my brow I was pretty sure that they were just teasing me!

Everyone we met there was really interesting and lovely, and it was great to find this alternative way of travel that so many were experiencing. For us it has opened up a door to sustainable travel, and now we are registered with a website called HelpX and are looking at similar permaculture projects in South America to get involved in. This definitely wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for sure it opened our minds to something a bit different. I suppose it’s just about finding luxury in the more simple and natural things, and taking yourself away from mass consumerisation….As Willow would say, it’s about getting back to village life….And yes, part of that may be eating bugs, and as it happens-they were OK, a good source of protein, a little nutty, and crunchy in texture!

The view from our new home at Willows farm

The view from our new home at Willows farm

View was pretty spectacular at sunset too!

View was pretty spectacular at sunset too!

Bursts of colour to be found everywhere

Bursts of colour to be found everywhere

Getting involved with cooking for the 'team'

Getting involved with cooking for the ‘team’

This is Rosella and makes the most wonderful tea-a staple drink during our time there

This is Rosella and makes the most wonderful tea-a staple drink during our time there

Drying out tea and corn for use in the kitchen

Drying out tea and corn for use in the kitchen

The chicken coup-which Jo and I actually thought was a guest room-it was amazing!

The chicken coup-which Jo and I actually thought was a guest room-it was amazing!

Jacuzzi progress to date

Jacuzzi progress to date

A herb garden spiral build by one volunteer

A herb garden spiral build by one volunteer

Our little corner of the farm

Our little corner of the farm

One of the volunteers, Ivan,' finessing' the pond

One of the volunteers, Ivan,’ finessing’ the pond

Some of the growing beds that supply the farm

Some of the growing beds that supply the farm

The HelpX volunteer accommodation

The HelpX volunteer accommodation