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

Koh Samui and three days of silence….

Having left our little island paradise of Koh Jum, our next destination was the popular island destination of Koh Samui. Well known for it’s beautiful beaches and lively nightlife, our plan was something pretty different-we had booked onto a three day meditation retreat!
From Krabi a 3 hour bus journey across Southern Thailand to the port, where an hours’ ferry got us to our destination with no problems. An established route, we found ourselves in the midst of a heap of travellers making their way over to Koh Phangan for one of the famous Full Moon Parties…Quite a contrast the three days of silence that we had ahead!

We had a few days to hang out in Koh Samui before the retreat, so we headed to Lamai Beach where we had booked a hut to stay in and looked to getting a few drinks under our belts before the spiritual journey ahead! Lamai Beach was much quieter than we had expected, and it seemed as if the area was suffering from a drop in tourists from the UK due to recent widely publicised events-whether that is true or not is difficult to measure-but for sure it gave the beach a slightly odd atmosphere. The main street is absolutely jam packed with bars and souvenir shops, with a central market area that is populated with ‘go-go’ bars where you find girls and lady-boys dancing on poles behind little open bar areas. In the centre of all of these bars, quite bizarrely, is a Thai boxing ring…More about that shortly.
Mooching around the shops and you discover that they all sold the same things-for sure there is an opportunity for someone to offer some diversity to this area! Anyway, our major find was the street food market, which served a plethora of gorgeous food for around 60 baht for a main meal (around £1.20). We ate here every night, picking out a different stall to sample their offerings and not a bad meal was had-the more time we spend out in Asia the more we appreciate the wonders of street food, and wherever we go now we try to search out these vendors in preference to eating in restaurants.

Given the upcoming days in the retreat we made the obvious decision to have a night out on the cocktails, unfortunately we made the unobvious choice of the night prior to retreat to go out-first rule of meditation retreat rookies, don’t start with a stinking hangover!
Anyway, back to our last evening of freedom and having ate at the street food market we indulged in a few beers and found out that there was actually going to be some Thai boxing in the central market area that night-bargain! We settled in one of the bars surrounding the ring and sponsored one of the female fighters, which essentially makes up her purse for the evenings’ work. Around half way through the fight they halted proceedings and invited ladies of the audience to get up and get in the ring for some sort of contest, with an iota of encouragement Jo was up there and having a balloon tied to her ankle-basically the purpose of the contest was to be the last one in the ring with an inflated balloon on your ankle. What followed was funny, disappointing and a little disturbing…Jo’s balloon was ‘faulty’ and just went down of its own accord and soon she was out of the ring, what followed was a bizarre few minutes where a guy who had entered got quite far on in the competition-and lets just say that he got a little ‘over enthusiastic’, and was soon dealt with by a group of remaining ladies and a lady boy….it got a little heated to say the least! Still, fun was had and certainly the beers and cocktails seemed to have done the trick:

And WE'RE OFF!

And WE’RE OFF!

Disappointment with the 'faulty' balloon...There were murmurs that this may have been rigged!

Disappointment with the ‘faulty’ balloon…There were murmurs that this may have been rigged!

Still, I was all happy rocking the duck t-shiirt

Still, I was all happy rocking the duck t-shiirt

And a late night stroll on the beach and the injustice of earlier was forgotten!

And a late night stroll on the beach and the injustice of earlier was forgotten!

Awakening the following morning with what could only be described as a monster hangover, we readied ourselves for the Diphabhavan meditation retreat. Having limited experience of meditation in the past, and knowing that we were facing three days of silence, what was about to happen certainly had the butterflies excited in our already troubled stomachs!
Here’s the schedule that we were facing for the next few day, while not being allowed to speak at all:

04.30 Wake up
05.00 Morning Reading
05.15 Sitting meditation
05.45 Yoga / Exercise
07.00 Sitting meditation
07.30 Breakfast & Chores
09.30 Dhamma talk
10.30 Walking or standing meditation
11.00 Sitting meditation
11.30 Lunch & chores
14.00 Meditation instruction & Sitting meditation
15.00 Walking or standing meditation
15.30 Sitting meditation
16.00 Walking or standing meditation
16.30 Chanting & Loving Kindness meditation
17.30 Tea
19.30 Sitting meditation
20.00 Group walking meditation
20.30 Sitting meditation
21.00 Bedtime
21.30 LIGHTS OUT

Soooooooo…..Yeah, that was it-this was the challenge that we were facing. I had no idea how hard this would be, and it’s only really a ‘taster’ course-usually these retreats would be 7 or 10 days, so the quick fire few days should be a breeze right? No, not at all. On arrival you’re reminded of the rules of the retreat, and you sign up to these rules and pretty much commit to staying there for the duration-all electronic devices and reading materials are packed away, and at eight o clock on the first evening you begin ‘The Silence’, clearing the mind allowing for effective meditation.
Some of the rules:
-Men were to sit on the left hand side of the meditation hall and dining area, women on the right.
-Wherever possible try to avoid non verbal communication as well as verbal, so if you’re going to smile at someone-try to make sure that you’re already smiling before you make eye contact
-Respect all living creatures, do not kill any bugs
-No reading
-No writing
-You sleep on a mat on a wooden platform, with a wooden pillow (male and female dorms separate, obviously!)
-You must attend all sessions
-You do not leave the boundaries of the retreat
-No drinking, smoking, sexual activity or drugs
-No nudity in the wash area (something that I didn’t realise and broke this rule on the first day!)

So, feeling rather daunted by it all (and still REALLY hungover), Jo and I said our ‘goodbyes’ and entered ‘The Silence’!
The first evening and we had our introduction to meditation techniques and postures-it was actually surprising to discover how difficult it is to find a sitting position that you can stay n comfortably for half an hour…Try it, straight back, legs crossed, hands rested on your knees-remain in that position for 30 minutes without moving-it’s harder than you may think.
The meditation technique that we were being taught was that of breathing and walking meditations, or Vipassana. In it’s most basic and simple explanation, by focussing on your breathing or walking you clear your mind of all other thoughts, and achieve mindfulness and focus. Easier said than done I tell thee.
So first evening out of the way, and we retired to our wooden platforms for a night of broken sleep-looking forward to the chimes that awaken us at 4.30AM.
The first full day really hit home how tough it was going to be….It was a REALLY long day, and over the next couple of days, I think that I speak for both of us when I say we experienced quite significant feelings of loneliness. It’s really difficult to not to be able to engage with your partner, just a smile and to check on how they are feeling.
Still, our underlying competitiveness drove us through the day, neither of us wanting to give up! One highlight of our days was the Dharma talks from one of the monks there called Hubert. This guy was incredibly happy, and gave talks on the meditation techniques and their grounding in Buddhism. He had an infectious smile, and really did emanate calmness-for sure he was a fantastic advert for the benefits of meditation!
Pretty much until the last two sitting meditation sessions I didn’t ‘get it’. I didn’t feel that I was clearing my mind, and really it was just a case of ‘getting to the end’….However, following Hubert’s penultimate talk, something happened…I found myself in a mental space where there was no inner dialogue, there was only the sensation of air passing in and out through my nose. Nothing else, just this mindfulness/consciousness of my breathing. For me this was something of a breakthrough, and to some extent the ‘trial’ of the retreat was looking justified. Jo also found meditation success, both through the latter sessions of the breathing techniques, and also in the walking meditation-where you focus entirely on the sensations and mechanics of slow walking.

The final morning came and following a few more sessions of meditation the silence was finally broken. This was such a strange time, people didn’t really know what to do! You felt like you had some sort of connection with your dorm mates, however you hadn’t spoken to them for days so when the opportunity finally came-it took some time to get comfortable with being able to speak once again. At this point we were reunited with each other, and felt the relief of being able to converse once again. To share our common struggles, and to give each other a hug! Reunited with our technology, predictably I got my camera out to take a few snaps of the location for this ‘journey’:

The retreat was set at the top of a hill on Koh Samui, it pretty much dense forest

The retreat was set at the top of a hill on Koh Samui, it pretty much dense forest

The meditation hall, where we spent most time

The meditation hall, where we spent most time

The view from the meditation hall

The view from the meditation hall

More of the jungle around us

More of the jungle around us

Did I mention we were surrounded by jungle?

Did I mention we were surrounded by jungle?

The Buddha statue in one of the popular walking meditation areas

The Buddha statue in one of the popular walking meditation areas

This meditation was a real test, as it was populated with some quite aggressive mossies!

This meditation was a real test, as it was populated with some quite aggressive mossies!

Ahhh, there it is, my bed for the duration...Just looking at it makes me tired!

Ahhh, there it is, my bed for the duration…Just looking at it makes me tired!

The ladies had shower cubicles, the gents had a trough!

The ladies had shower cubicles, the gents had a trough!

Everyone happy to have finished-and if you look closely you'll see Hubert...Ahhhh, Hubert :-)

Everyone happy to have finished-and if you look closely you’ll see Hubert…Ahhhh, Hubert 🙂

One of the many 'friends' dotted around the place to keep you on your toes!!

One of the many ‘friends’ dotted around the place to keep you on your toes!!

There may be more to add to this post once I’ve given it even more thought and reread it a couple of times, but for now-that’s your lot! Now onwards to back-to-back night trains, a revisit to old faithful Terminal 21, and Chiang Mai….Oh what stories await!

All aboard, the night train! Bangkok-Krabi-Koh Jum

Once again we find ourselves in Bangkok as our hub for Asia travel, although this time we only need the one night before heading down South to hit some of the world famous Thai islands.
So this was it, our first night train! Obviously when traveling, the beauty of a night train is that it saves you the cost of a nights accommodation, while getting you where you wanted to be next-so we were excited to see how we would get on.
We had a day to pass before the train departed at 7.30PM and so we left our bags at the train station and set off to get some food and have a mooch around, the only reason why I tell you this is that we actually found the most outrageous shopping centre that absolutely needs a mention-Terminal 21. This place was ridiculously good, it’s set out like an airport and each floor is a different world city. From San Francisco to Istanbul-each floor is fashioned after the city that it represents, to give you an idea-here’s a couple of snaps from London:

Yup, that's right....A tube train!

Yup, that’s right….A tube train!

And when the tube doesn't go there-the buses do!

And when the tube doesn’t go there-the buses do!

It won’t surprise you to find out that I managed to bag myself another bargain t-shirt special here…You’ll see more of that later.

Fast forward a fair few hours and we’re boarding the night train for our inaugural voyage, and boy were we impressed! We approached the train with a fair amount of trepidation, as we were going to be booking the 1st class tickets but they had sold out-so we had to go with the 2nd class A/C option…Who knew what we were going to be faced with upon finding our seats?! With much joy and relief, what we found were ingenious seats that converted into sleeping berths-fantastic!

One minute a seat

One minute a seat

And now a bed!!

And now a bed!!

Fed, watered and rested; 12 hours later and we had arrive in Surat Thani, the central transport hub for southern Thailand. From here we had a three hour bus transfer to Krabi, from which we were going to decide on our first Thai island to explore. Sitting on the coast of the Andaman Sea, the beaches around Krabi are famous for the many lime rocks jutting out from the water-think James Bond in Man With the Golden Gun.
The beach areas of Ao Nang, Railay and Koh Phi Phi are major tourist destinations, but we were looking for something a little out of the norm-and so after much research we plumped for Koh Jung.
Having booked our island retreat, we first had some time to explore Krabi Town, and the most notable excursion was to visit the Tiger Temple. Set in the hills just outside Krabi, we had an afternoon exploring a bit of jungle where the monks live in caves, with some pretty hefty spiders for company it has to be noted, and then set off on the hike up the steps to the actual temple. There are over 1,200 steps to the top, so you can imagine that we made the obvious and wise decision to attempt this jaunt at the peak of the midday heat-nice! The climb was so much more difficult than either of us was expecting, but oh boy were the rewards worth it!

First venture into the jungle-breathtaking

First venture into the jungle-breathtaking

Various monkey shrieks and animal noises certainly added to the atmosphere!

Various monkey shrieks and animal noises certainly added to the atmosphere!

Some of the monks actually lived in the caves, others had these sweet lodgings!

Some of the monks actually lived in the caves, others had these sweet lodgings!

Who lives in a house like this?!

Who lives in a house like this?!

One of the many cave temples with a Buddha relic

One of the many cave temples with a Buddha relic

Some of the friendly neighbours!

Some of the friendly neighbours!

The view as we start the climb to the top

The view as we start the climb to the top

Obviously Jo was taking it all in her stride-I wasn't faring so well!

Obviously Jo was taking it all in her stride-I wasn’t faring so well!

Not even halfway, already looking decidedly 'damp'

Not even halfway, already looking decidedly ‘damp’

Finally at the top, bloody marvellous!

Finally at the top, bloody marvellous!

Just glorious!

Just glorious!

What can you say-awesome!

What can you say-awesome!

The effort to get up there was quickly forgotten.

The effort to get up there was quickly forgotten.

Just stunning scenery in every direction

Just stunning scenery in every direction

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So after a couple of days in Krabi we set off on our first island adventure in Thailand, and what can I say-we struck absolute gold! As I mentioned before, our research had lead us to Koh Jum, much less popular than it’s famous neighbours, Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi…..Koh Jum doesn’t even have a pier for a ferry to drop you off at. Instead you start your adventure with the ferry to Koh Lanta, and after about an hour the ferry just comes to a stop in the middle of the sea, and you have to literally jump onto long-tail boat that has come rushing off the island to meet you. It was mental, and a little scary! Certainly we were wondering what we had let ourselves into as we watched bags being flung from our ferry into this rickety old boat below. What was to come was truly wonderful….And will have to be saved for my next post as bedtime is calling!

Somehow it all just works perfectly, as we 'transfer to the long-tail for the last part of our journey

Somehow it all just works perfectly, as we ‘transfer to the long-tail for the last part of our journey