The Journey

“People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering.”

~St. Augustine

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“If you wish to travel far and fast travel light. Take off all your envies, jealousies, unforgiveness, selfishness and fears.”

 ~ Cesare Pavese

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“What does it mean to pre-board?

Do you get on before you get on?”

~ George Carlin

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“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”

~Martin Buber

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“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.”

~ Susan Heller

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We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.”

~ Anais Nin

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“Often while traveling with a camera we arrive just as the sun slips over the horizon of a moment, too late to expose film, only time enough to expose our hearts.”

~Minor White

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I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.”

~ Joseph Campbell

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Chiang Mai – Thai Foot Reflexology

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I took a massage class in Chiang Mai at ITM, the International Training Massage School. While I’m please to be certified in Thai Foot Reflexology massage, I don’t know how ready I am to have any clients. I still had to use the book to take the exam, so I’ll just practice on my friends and do trades for other services for now.

ITM is one of the bigger, well known massage schools in Chiang Mai. There were 4 of us in my class, 2 woman from Brazil and 1 from Spain, it was a nice way to meet people and learn massage.
The two teachers were nice but we never got to have them work on us. They were both from Pai, a small town 3 hours north of Chiang Mai, which I went to next. One of them is part of the family who started the Old Medicine Hospital, one of the oldest and most established massage schools in Chiang Mai. He said he had been doing massage since the womb. His nickname was “Gift”, which I hoped was for his massage skills. Gift would tease us at the end of class by telling us to go back to our hotels, knock on the door of someone across the hall and ask them if they wanted a foot massage.

We all passed the exam, but we all had to use the book to go through the steps because in 4 evenings there wasn’t enough time to practice and really learn all the steps. Unless, of course, you were practicing on the people in your hotel.

Now when family and friends are shocked to see me after being away for so long…I can relax with them with a good foot massage.

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Street Food – Thai Style

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Who doesn’t love street food in Thailand? If not to eat at least to photograph…

If you don’t love it, I want to hear from you!
If you do love it, leave a comment about your fav and what you still think about to this day…

This post is just to show off a few of the photos I took…aroi mak!

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Chiang Mai Walking Street Market

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I was excited to experience the Saturday and Sunday walking street markets in Chiang Mai. Whole streets close down, no cars can get in and streets are lined with Thai food, clothes stalls, jewelry, art, gifts galore, bags, scarves, shoes, you name it. It’s a great place for gifts and pictures.

I took the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and on the bunk bed across from me was a really nice Thai woman named Pim, who was going to visit her sister for a month. Once we arrived they sent me a text and we met up for the Sunday night market and they showed me around Chiang Mai a little. It was a fun introduction.

Everyone I know who has been to Chiang Mai loves the weekend walking street markets. It was nice to find out the locals do too.

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Get Your Shoes On in Bangkok

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For a culture that has you take your shoes off before entering a home, foot fashion is alive and well in Bangkok. I explored the Siam Paragon Mall (one of Asia’s biggest shopping centers) and started shooting away at some of the latest and most popular styles.

This post is dedicated to my childhood and lifelong friend Amy Denebeim Dean, who taught me about the fine art of shoe art!

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A Day in Bangkok : The Asian City of Angels [iPhone]

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Hot, sweaty, sultry, sticky,
Wats and wats and then the Grand Palace,
A King who became a monk and he sat on the floor when he talked to the poor,
Canals, waterways, shopping, bargaining….am I getting ripped off?

Art on rice paper,
Sorry just looking…opps, betters start booking,
Sultry, salivating, sweating, searching for shade,
Did I say the King became a monk and he sat on the floor when he talked to the poor?

Rice, chicken, noodles, pad thai, mai thai,
Coconuts, thirsty, tired, searching for shade,
Taxis, tuk-tuks,
How much to go across town? No, no stopping for shopping.
Bumpy, rough, rocking this way and that, weaving through traffiic, dripping, sweating,
Man I need a shower

Skyline has something old, something new, something battered and something true.
Golden Buddhas, reclining Buddhas, Monday through Sunday Buddhas,
All the while the current King became a monk and he sat on the floor when talked to the poor

Crowded, hot, rich, poor, humid and sublime,
Siam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, cultures all intertwined,
Diverse shrines combined,
Smiling, cagey, eager to please and eager to leave

Wats everywhere, orange robes galore, so much folklore,
Monks praying, tourists straying,
One more satay, another pad thai and a coconut on the street

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Scuba Diva

photo by Cameron @ Dive & Relax
It was only last week, just before I came to Malaysia that I was in Southern Thailand. It’s already starting to feel like so long ago. After Phuket I jumped on a boat to Koh Lanta because I wanted to dive two sites that are local favorites, Hin Daeng (Red Rock) and Hin Meuang (Purple Rock). It was tough to find a boat going out there because it’s the end of the dive season (April 30th is when most boats stop going to the sites farther out because of the weather) and these two are at least an hour boat ride from Koh Lanta by speedboat. As it was the end of the season, I was lucky to get on any boat going out there, it took us 3 1/2 hours on a slow boat with Lanta Divers and I was just happy to find a boat that was going. Once we were out there I only saw one other dive boat the whole day. It was great.
Hin Daeng & Hin Meuang are two huge, deep water rocks that are well-known for sighting manta rays, whale sharks and leopard sharks.  Hin Muang is Thailand’s highest vertical wall, submerged below sea level. It’s covered with vibrant, purple, soft corals. The marine life, both big and small is beautiful and impressive. What surprised me the most was the size of the fish out there. I recognized many of the same fish I’ve seen at Koh Bida and the Similans, but they were 2-3 times bigger. Apparently, this too far out for fisherman, so the fish can obviously grow bigger when they are not being hunted. We saw great barracuda’s, bearded scorpion fishes,  coronet fishes, at least 8 moray eels, longfin batfishes, blue triggerfish, yellow tail triggerfish and a silver wall of travelly swimming past. On that particular day we didn’t spot any manta rays, whale sharks or leopard sharks, and I wasn’t able to get any photos of our diving from the others I was with.
Fortunately, the next day I had arranged to join Dive & Relax to try Koh Bida (again) and Hin Bida. Cameron from Dive & Relax was really helpful when I was trying to find a boat going out to Hin Daeng and Hin Meuang and suggested that I could experience some great things at Hin Bida. Dive & Relax is a great  company that has speedboats and offers dive trips, snorkeling, private trips and PADI courses on Koh Lanta. They’ll organize a nice day with lunch, experienced and professional dive guides and a small group of people to go with.  You can check them out at www.diveandrelax.com.
We had a great day diving, the conditions were really good and we experienced some fantastic sightings. As soon as we descended Hin Bida there was a big leopard/ zebra shark (photo above) just lying at the bottom of the sea, staring at us while Cameron took pictures until it swam off. It is a truly beautiful animal. At Koh Bida Nok, there was a big red octopus that we watched for at least 5 minutes. It was on the rocks and kept expanding and contracting and changing colors, camouflaging itself with the rocks. Then it swam in front of us from one rock to another, it was amazing. Usually when I’ve seen them they are hiding between rocks and you can only see a tiny little part of them.
Lastly, there’s a beautiful photo below of a cuttlefish. It’s the last photo at the bottom. This is the first time I’ve seen one and Cameron got a great shot of it. It was so nice to dive Koh Bida again and have better experience. Enjoy these fantastic photos courtesy Cameron at Dive & Relax.
photo by Cameron @ Dive & Relaxphoto by Cameron @ Dive & Relax
photo by Cameron @ Dive & Relax

Relaxing on Koh Lanta & the Long Beach Chalet

Pra Ae Beach (Long Beach)

This morning I met another solo traveler from New York  named Daniel. During breakfast we started talking about life, work, stress and ended up having one of those conversations, when you open up about your life to a total stranger, simply because you’re in a foreign country and the conversations flows. It might also have had something to do with the fact he had climbed a tree and picked his own coconut for breakfast, having just arrived the day before from New York. This alone amused and intrigued me.  So Daniel was telling me about how he works for a high powered architecture firm in New York and how he does 3D modeling and works with the architects to render buildings as physical models and virtual models to pitch to clients. As I listened to him I realized that what he does as an artist is use his imagination and intention to create something solid that is simply a thought. He models buildings by collaborating his thoughts with others. He uses his hands, his mind and his tools to bring them into a solid form. Sometimes, they don’t get the business, so the building stays a thought, outside of the modeling he’s rendered. When I said this to him he admitted that he had just been thinking about this yesterday. He was thinking about how he believes most of what we create comes from a place of potential energy and thought, then someone gives it form and shape,  that makes it a “reality”, as we call it.

Then he said to me, “That’s exactly what I do. I’ve never admitted that I think about it this way to anyone. If I said that to someone in New York they’d put me in the looney bin.”

I replied, “Now, if you said that to someone in Bali, they’d invite you to a ceremony. That’s the thing about Bali. It’s overdeveloped, it’s touristy in places, but the Balinese believe in magic. They still practice magic all over the island.”

I’m appreciating these lessons about potential energy in our bodies, in our minds and how we either let it lie dormant or we understand how to access it. Our talk this morning just reflected what I’ve been asking myself as I’ve been traveling around, which is, when do I let my own thoughts lead me astray by not recognizing the magic, the potential energy, around me? I know it sounds esoteric, but I’m beginning to recognize it’s more powerful than going back to school to get another degree…I just have to wake up to it.

I’m sure you’re curious to know what happened next with Daniel. (if you’re Becky you’re wondering about the Island debate) We ended our breakfast conversation and I let him know I had to change hotels because the Long Beach Chalet was fully booked for the next few nights. I told him where I was going and we said we might see each other on the beach…

Following the diving is what lead me to Koh Lanta and it’s been a peaceful stay from the developed and touristy Phuket that I left 5 days ago. Koh Lanta is an island further South past Phi Phi and closer to Krabi. The whole island is about 30 kilometers and you can easily ride around on a motor bike in a day, simply exploring different beaches. It’s a nice mix of restaurants, bars, B&B’s, resorts and the lush tropical Thai island lifestyle.

The first few days I stayed on Pra Ae Beach in a place called Papillion Bungalows.  It’s not right on the beach but it’s a 3 minute walk to the beach. The bungalows are about $30 a night and are basic with air conditioning and a bathroom. I was diving for two days straight so I only needed a place to sleep. The beach itself is lined with restaurants and beach bars to hang out and eat.

The restaurants on the island are good but the best part for me has been my luck in staying at the Long Beach Chalet. On trip advisor it’s one of their top B&B choices and it was booked solid for the dates I wanted, as it turned out, Papillion Bungalows is right next door. I realized that when I arrived.

I managed to get a room at the Chalet for 2 nights because they had a last minute cancellation. The Chalet also has one of the best restaurants I’ve been to here called the Three Mums…and they know how to cook. It’s amazing.  I basically ate at the Long Beach Chalet until it was time to move in for a few nights and it’s been really lovely. The rooms cost a whopping $33 a night. I can’t imagine next season the prices will stay that low. They are booked solid and it’s one of the warmest, friendliest places I’ve stayed in Thailand, with by far the best home cooked food. Every morning one of the Mum’s comes to talk to me to make sure I’m happy with breakfast and always sends something extra over for me to taste. Everyone is really helpful, lovely and the food is delicious. Check them out http://www.longbeachchalet.com. It’s a gem.

I highly recommend visiting Koh Lanta if you want to get away from the beach crowds and have a relaxing vacation. It also has some of Thailand’s best dive sites, which is a big bonus. I’ll post something on diving Hin Daeng (Red Rock) and Hin Meuang (Purple Rock) in the next few days…

Long Beach Chalet

Long Beach Chalet

Pra Ae Beach (Long Beach)

The Wandering Jen

The Downside of Diving Phi Phi

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

No matter how many times I walk into situations staying open to experience whatever happens, when I least expect it, I step into a situation where I wasn’t paying any attention to how high my expectations were…and experience the crash…I know it’s common, we all do it.

This time I felt the let down on the second day of my recent dive trip to Phi Phi Island. After such a solid and positive experience on the Similan Islands live aboard I was excited to sign up for a two day trip to Phi Phi to dive the infamous sites there, Shark Point, Bida Nik & Bida Nai. It was a short two day boat trip that included four dives on your way to Phi Phi, a nice stay overnight at a hotel so you can explore the bars for an evening and then three dives the next day on the way back. It was a no brainer, sounded perfect.

The trip started out on a high note when I sat next to a really nice Australian couple about my age on the ride to the boat. Then, Tom, one of the handsome dive guides from the Similan trip jumped in the car. Things were feeling good. My expectations were high…the usual signal to relax… The boat was nice, the trip was really well organized and the rental equipment was good. There was really nothing about the crew, or the dive company or anything that could be controlled that made this a “less than average” experience. Tom was my guide again and he had his camera and we goofed around and got silly sometimes. That was all a plus.

Our first two dives at Shark Point and Koh Bida Nik the visibility was ok, not great. No one can control that, it’s simply Mother Nature so you make the best of it. We saw a few sting rays’, snapper and clown fish. It seemed amazing; unfortunately, I couldn’t see too far in front of me. Koh Bida Nik was the same, shaded batfish, scorpion fish, lion fish, puffer fish with juveniles, coronet fish and titan trigger fish. I still couldn’t see too far in front of me but there was so much life around me it was amazing. The highlight of the day was when we were on the boat during a rest period and a huge school of dolphins came right near the boat for about 20 minutes jumping in and out of the water. It was great to watch.

I digress, because I was talking about getting caught up in my expectations. By the third dive there was no visibility and the current was strong. It was a workout. I put on a smile, did the dive, and saw a moorish idol and various parrot fish but I couldn’t see them unless they swam right into me. I thought about this as I was resting after. I’m still a beginner and thought about passing on the last dive, it was going to be a night dive, and I knew there was no visibility. I’m listening to that inner voice more and more, while keeping a beginners mind. I didn’t want to miss out on anything; even though I knew when I got out of the water I could barely see anything. Why do we do that? Why is that fear of missing out so strong at the most obvious moments?

I did the night dive at Palong Bay with Tom and he was safe and very cautious. He knows the site really well. When we finished our decent we could barely see. We had our flash lights; I could see Tom if he was 2 -3 feet in front of me and that was it. Everyone else looked the same to me in wet suits. Tom was wearing bright shorts and a shirt and that’s the only way I could follow him and only if I was shining my light right on him. I had gotten into the habit of staying close to him (and kicking him in the head regularly) and this time I was so close that when he spotted a couple of sea horses I could see them immediately from his flashlight.  He knew where to find them and took our group to them as soon as we descended. I saw them right away knew the others would want to see them. For some reason people get really excited about seeing seahorses, I don’t really, and we had just seen some earlier in the day and taken pictures. So I backed off and floated above letting others in my group come in closer because the visibility was so bad. Suddenly we were descended on by a whole different group of divers. Because we couldn’t see anything it felt like they came from out of nowhere. One minute I’m floating quietly, the next these two women are treading water on top of me, kicking me and having absolutely no control over their buoyancy or anything else. Everyone in my group was backing off to get away from them and they were following Tom’s light to the see the seahorse. It was a total cluster fuck. Once I backed off I lost Tom’s light, there were what felt like hundreds of other divers all around me, everyone looked the same and I had no idea what direction I was facing because I couldn’t see anything. Not everyone was trying to see what we were looking at; it was just way too crowded down there. Suddenly it felt like there were tons of dive groups. It was chaos. Long story short, one of these girls stepped on a sea horse and crushed it trying to see the other one. Once we came up for air Tom told us she saw her smash it with her fin and he didn’t know what happened after that because he was too busy shoving people away with his hands so they couldn’t get any closer. He was pissed off when we got out of the water and the rest of us were just confused. It was so crowded down there and we couldn’t see 2 feet in front of us; total diver chaos. I didn’t know about the seahorse smashing until we got back on the boat. It turns out these girls were on our boat with their own dive guide. It sort of killed the day for me. I learned about the down side of diving, especially in crowed areas at night.

We ended up on Phi Phi Island and went to a bar for a beer. Phi Phi felt like a tourist trap to me after that. A bunch of bars, restaurants, hotels and the usual tourist hawkers. I’m sure on a different day with my peeps it would be fun. The next day the visibility was ok, not great, but we had fun. I had experienced my first lesson in overcrowded dive sites and how important it is to pay attention to everything around you when you are 15 meters underwater and not destroy the life down there. It’s a reminder about keeping my expectations in check and paying attention to everything around me. At the end of the trip, once again, Tom had some awesome photos. The photos below are courtesy of Tom Booth.

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Feeling Free during Songkran

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I had a moment the other night where I felt in my bones how I have never felt as much freedom as I’m feeling right now. It’s not just the freedom to go wherever I want or do whatever my heart feels. That’s true and that’s amazing. It’s the internal freedom I’m uncovering that makes what’s happening now so powerful. It’s the emotional freedom that is unfolding that compels me to say what I’m feeling, when I’m feeling it. Not wait until after so it’ll have less of an impact on someone.I’m caring less and less about what people think about me and caring more and more about whether or not I’m speaking my truth. How often am I saying what I mean and meaning what I say? Each day I’m aligning with that more and more.

I was standing on a boat when I first had that moment. We were going back to Phuket from Phang Nga Bay and the sky was full of stars, lightening was flashing every 5 minutes or so and there was a warm, soft, tropical wind blowing. It was one of those breathtakingly beautiful moments that I shared with a few other people on the boat as we all soaked up the beauty of the night. I recognized that internally there’s an emotional tsunami happening inside me. My dreams are sometimes hard to describe the next day, filled with symbols and signs I can’t understand yet I’m waking up with a deep feeling of things being churned over like the ocean.

The next day was Songkran, the Thai New Year. The Thai celebrate the New Year with a massive water fight throughout Thailand. Spiritually, it symbolizes a cleansing for the year to come. They call it a “Water Festival”. What I experienced was thousands of big kids of all ages lining the streets, people on motor bikes with big water guns, loads of people driving in pick up trucks filled with people in the back throwing water buckets at everyone and anyone. Scantily clad tourists with massive water guns (see below) and waterproof cameras. The whole area had the childlike freedom of being one big water fight. You couldn’t walk five minutes without getting a bucket thrown at you and being fired at by someone’s water pistol. I realized halfway through the day I was only using my water gun in self-defense. ..and that putting my hand up didn’t actually do any good to stop the ice cold water in the bucket that was being thrown at me. After 4 hours of walking through the mayhem, I treated myself to some serious gelato, being the big kid I am.

That morning just before the craziness started, once again, I was having breakfast at Uncle Nai’s joint near my guesthouse.

As I sat there having breakfast, I read over what I had written the night before and simultaeousIy I had a moment with Ratdech at Uncle Nai’s that warmed my heart. It made me aware of when I don’t really speak the truth and when I’m not living in the moment. I arrived at my table hungry, with my laptop in tow and knowing the madness that is Songkran had already started. I really had to eat and felt completely compelled to do some writing before the day got away from me. I’ve become so engrossed in the blogosphere I was up late the night before catching up on the whole “Texts from Hilary” story (how brilliant was that??). Ratech, Uncle Nai’s wife came to greet me and offered me her special Vietnamese breakfast to which I happily said yes, (it looked good and I can tell her what I can & can’t eat) so she prepared a mini feast for me. In the course of serving me breakfast we had the typical conversation about where we are from and she was so excited I was from America. Next thing I knew, she brought out 4 mini family photo albums of the family holiday in 2000 to Washington DC, Boston and I think the Cape. She excitedly starting showing me pictures of her daughters and all the places they went.

I was so hungry and could hear the mayhem of Songkran building around us. (In fact as I wrote this I was surrounded by 8 Russians with massive waterguns…barely missing me in the line of fire)
Ratech wanted to go through the albums with me, she was so proud and so enthusiastic that I sat there starving and having the running commentary in my head of the next thing I wanted to do, which was eat and write (running commentary is the signal I’m not in the moment).
I realized I couldn’t say to her,” These are lovely, really, but I have to eat right now and do some writing, could we take a look tomorrow?”

Nope, that truth was not coming from my mouth. She was so excited and so sweet. So I did what any self-respecting tourist would do and I nibbled at my breakfast, smiled and shifted my attitude to, “how adorable is this woman?”. It was funny. I sat there looking at family holiday photo albums and eating breakfast. Not to mention whenever I put them down to write this I felt compelled to pick them up again when she walked by my table. I was able to tell her some of the foods I simply won’t eat as she kept bringing me plate after plate of food. I am getting real about speaking the truth about food, my friend Rony would be proud.

By the end of breakfast the craziness had begun in Kata. Uncle Nai had the sound system set up on the sidewalk and Ratdech was covering people’s faces in baby powder and dancing with the crazy Russian crowd. Joan Jett’s “I love Rock n Roll” was blasting from the sound system and the Russians were shooting everyone that went by on a motorbike or anyone who came in their line of fire. I resigned myself to the fact I couldn’t possibly bring a camera out with me and if I was lucky I’d get a few pictures on my phone. I laughed at myself and felt how lucky I was to discover my own freedom and be in a big old Thai style water fight at the same time…

Happy Songkran and Happy Passover!

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