Thursday, December 31, 2015

Thailand part 1

Khao San Rd
After our flight from Kathmandu, Jordan and I landed in Bangkok and navigated the public busses to our hostel near the backpacker mecca, Khao San Road. We immediately missed Nepal's prices and weather! Talk about humid.
Fist meal in Thailand - street pad thai in Bangkok
We spent a few days wandering around, sweating, eating street pad thai and delicious fresh fruit, visiting temples and the Royal Palace and frequenting local and tourist markets. We also found a yummy vegetarian restaurant called Mango that came complete with a cat. It cost more than our daily diet of street food, but it was totally worth it.
Mango! Best place ever
We finally managed to get out of the big overwhelming city and took an overnight bus north to Chiang Mai. We got in super early in the morning and my phone with the directions was dead but luckily found a couple people staying in a hostel near ours so we took a shared tuk tuk and walked the rest of the way with them. Finally the reception opened and we took a long nap. Apparently this is the place to eat and cook in Thailand, especially for vegetarians, so we took a cooking class! It was tons of fun and the Thai woman teaching it was so funny. Instead of "spicy" she said "sexy." The food was amazing.
"More sexy!"

There's an old quarry near Chiang Mai that people go to swim in, and they call it the grand canyon. We rounded up a big group of people and hired a songthaew (shared truck) to take us. The water was really nice and there are a couple cliffs to jump off of. Supposedly they're 9m and 15m, or I've also heard 10m and 20m, but I think they're more like 7m and 15m. Anyway, I did not jump off the higher cliff because I have nothing to prove and I knew it would hurt and a girl at our hostel messed up her knee landing, so I didn't. But it was a lot of fun and they have rafts and other things in the water that make it a great place to nag out and spend an afternoon!
The grand canyon

Chiang Mai also has temples scattered all over its old city so those were fun to see as well. There are markets every day and the night markets are fun, but the huge ones happen on the weekends. The Sunday market was extensive and very crowded! There was also a lot going on because we were there for the king's birthday, which is also Father's Day because the king is the father. It's taken very seriously. (Edit: the king died on 10/13/16. RIP Dad)

The night before we planned to leave for the small hippie city of Pai, I felt nauseous and was sick all night. The road is notorious for its many switch backs, so I was not looking forward to the drive. Luckily the driver was very nice to me and let me sit in the front seat and even bought me gatorade, but it was still an extremely unpleasant experience. Somehow I made it the 15 minute walk from the center of our town to the hostel. It was the hardest walk of my life. Because we couldn't check in right away, I found a porch area with plenty of hammocks, cushions and mattresses where people could hang out. I met several other sick people, and learned that a lot of people had gotten the "Pai-rus". The whole previous day I had spent with someone who had also been sick in Pai before she went back to Chiang Mai, so it made sense. Luckily most of the people we had ridden with from our hostel in Chiang Mai to Pai decided to chill out for a day too, so I didn't miss out on much. By the time I felt better, we had formed a pretty great crew and spent our days renting scooters and riding to waterfalls, the Pai canyon, caves, and around the beautiful area. There were normal markets throughout the day, and every night the main streets turned into a walking area full of food and crafts and tons of tourists. Pai is a wonderful place and a vortex just like Pokhara in Nepal - almost everyone stays longer than they intend, and some people never leave!
Views from the bike
giant cave
Hot springs and mud masks
Pai canyon
After spending a while in Pai, it was time for us to make the trek a whole 6km to our next workaway, called the New Land Project. It was run by an English woman who had first come to wwoof on their sister farm and ended up staying. Someone had donated the land and she volunteered to take charge of it. Jordan decided to continue south and meet up with another group she had met, so I stayed and we parted ways. There were some reforestation and farming projects going on, but because of the time of year, most of out projects were building. I helped finish the walls and start the floor of a cob cottage, which involved a lot of elephant poop. We also expanded the bamboo kitchen with the help of a tiny old Thai man named Peedee. That man was amazing. We started calling him MacGyver because he could literally build of fix anything. We also helped a young Dutch-Thai couple who was building an earthbag house (literally bags of earth stacked on each other) nearby. We helped another American wannabe Thai man make mud bricks to build a house. We also started making a pizza oven on the farm. It was cool to learn so much about natural building!

road to the farm
making lunch
hanging out in the kitchen
Making the mixture for the floor in the cob cottage. There was plenty of elephant dung involved
Helping work on an earthbag house. These are rice bags filled with clay, mud and rice husks that are stacked in a circle and then pounded down so it is actually quite strong. 
We also helped smooth out the walls on the ground floor
Starting to build a house with mud bricks we had helped make and leave out to dry a couple weeks earlier
We made banana bread almost every day in the solar oven
making thin bamboo strips so we could tie the leaf shingles onto the bamboo structures for the new kitchen roof. Peedee tried to teach us how to make them but his were pretty much the only ones that were worth using.
We nailed these beams up temporarily so we could reach to put the roof on. They were also a great place to do pull ups and by pull ups I mean one pull up. I didn't want to embarrass myself by trying any more.
Almost done!
There were about 10 volunteers that all decided to stay for Christmas. We had a wonderful Christmas Eve pizza party bonfire. Somehow I became the pizza master and made the dough and baked the pizzas. It was sweaty.
Pizza master
One of our pizzas. We bought real cheese from the foreign foods market for the special occasion. I made the dough and helped with the sauce and baked most of the pizzas and even turned some of the dough into dessert pizzas and bread for the next morning. It turned out better than I expected
Fire, friends, guitar, cat.
I made a friend

The next morning we had a delicious breakfast, did a gift exchange, found some secret hot springs, make veggie burgers for dinner, and watched Love Actually. It was a great first Christmas away from my family.
Christmas Day
our beautiful tree
We had a gift exchange with homemade presents, wrapped in banana leaves
my present!
The crew
secret hot springs
I finally had to leave because my visa was running out and I wanted to go hang out with some elephants! So I made my way back to Chiang Mai for a couple days and then on to Chiang Kong and across the border to Laos to board a slow boat bound for Luang Prabang.

Last morning on Thai land before crossing the river into Laos

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Mountains and Monkeys


Pokhara is a city that sits on Lake Phewa, and a strip right on the shores has become a major tourist hub. It's kind of a weird mix of people – families, backpackers resting for a while, people who have just returned from trekking, and older hippies who have been there for years. You ask some people how long they've been there, and they don't really know. It's easy to see why – life here is easy. There are plenty of restaurants, coffee shops, bars and bakeries with delicious food and good views to hang out at. Not to mention the lake and mountains that fill the skyline. It's the kind of place backpackers call a vortex – easy to get stuck here for way longer than intended.

I planned on spending a few days here, and possibly volunteering at a coffee farm nearby. But thanks to Jordan, I met Melanie, who wanted to go trekking and was looking for people to go with her. So she, a friend of a friend of hers Daniel, and I decided to go to Poon Hill in the Annapurna region. It's a short and simple but challenging trek with amazing views. After we finally found the right bus (where we were banished to the roof), we got our permits sorted out and set off on our way. There were lots of stairs. But we made it to our first stop and picked up two other guys who were on there own – Tom form Canada and Yannick from Belgium. Because of the lack of tourists, the guesthouses along the way are desperate for business. We were able to stay for free if we bought food, but the food is where they make their money anyway. We played some cards and chatted with the few other guests and their guides before heading to bed early.

On the third day we reached our destination – the little town just below Poon Hill. Most of us were tired, but I went up with Yannick at sunset. The view was incredible. The next morning, we trekked up in the dark to see the sunrise which was equally impressive, although much colder. We came back and ate breakfast before starting out again. We made it a short day so we could stay with Yannick one more night before he broke off to continue on to Annapurna Base Camp. Tom went on ahead, so for our last long day it was back to the original 3 of us. We made it back without much complication.

I had a few more days in Pokhara which were spend relaxing by the lake eating delicious breakfasts, hanging out with new friends, playing mafia on an 8 person paddle boat at sunset, and really just enjoying the rest of my time there. Before I knew it I was off to Kathmandu with Melanie and another trekker we'd met. I met up with Jordan and Hanna from the farm for a day, and we went to the monkey temple which was pretty entertaining. My month in Nepal went by so fast! I loved this country and hope to be back many times!
Tom and I set off at 4am to hike almost 2 hours and see the sunrise from Sarangkot just above Pokhara. We only got lost in the dark once...


From the World Peace Stupa

World Peace Stupa

On the way to start trekking - we were banished to the top of the bus

The crew on Poon Hill

puppy outside the monkey temple, Kathmandu