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Mt. Batur Sunrise Trek – Day 2 (shenanigans at 2am)

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on top of the world

This was such an incredible experience. I watched the clouds part and the sun emerge as orange globe and illuminate the lush green caldera and silver lake of Mt. Batur as it lit up the morning sky. IMG_0245.JPG I was sitting on a bench at the top of the mountain where, moments before I had been a bit chilly since my sweat had dried from the epic sprint up the mountains on goat paths, I watched in awe the morning unfold upon island below me. I heard the birds start to wake up and suddenly it was choir from every direction.IMG_0238.JPG

I started with the highlight of my day because at 3am I didn’t know if I was going to make it up when I woke up at 3am instead of 2am! Stupid me forgot to set my phone to Bali’s timezone, 1 hour ahead of Thailand by the way! FUCK!

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My hostel at 3am

So I woke up and got all ready at what I thought was 2:30 amd and was actually 3:30am. I received an email from the company I booked saying the driver had come and left!! I quickly downloaded Whatsapp and called the company. Minor panicking involved. They sent the driver back to me. Turned out I was the only one on the tour that day! My driver zoomed in the dark along a single lane through villages and through cabbage patches I’m not sure how we didn’t fly off into the chili pepper patches but we arrived in the pitch black at the starting point.

My guide, this little 63 year old wiry Balinese guide, grinned at me, handed me a walking stick and a flashlight and proceeded to tell me he was “very optimistic about making it to the top in time for sunrise if I was a good trekker.” (he repeated this a few times on the way up!)

In the pitch black, we began or ascent straight up these tiny, narrow trails that were barely a wide enough for my shoes!! We went the “shortcut” meaning we didn’t go on the main trail but instead just took the little paths that would get us to the top before 6am. This was a solid climb. Wouldn’t recommend this unless you are a good, fit hiker who likes to scale steep goat trails in the dark. I had a fricken blast:) I laughed because we hit the general trail at one point and it was so flat compared the vertical climbing we had been doing that I asked my guide if this was a rest stop or campsite and he laughed and said this was the normal way up, very gradual and easy, he said before turning onto another hidden trail leading straight up the mountainside.

We made it up in 50 minutes (the main path usually takes 1.5-2hours) and all the young balinese guides already at the top serving their customers crowded around the two of us and were excited at how quickly we had come up by the local trails they climb as well. IMG_0228.JPGThese guides were hilariously shocked at first when we emerged from the grasses behind a hut on top of the mountain with my guide breathing heavy and both of us soaked from sweat and dew. My guide was out of breath and so, in typical balinese fashion, he chain smoked cigarettes while we waited  for the sun to rise. He also took a fun photo with me.IMG_0248.JPG

There were also monkeys at the top. I am not a fan of monkeys. They can sense I don’t like them and they hiss at me and I hiss back. They did pose though.IMG_0257.JPG

Most other hikers had already arrived and were crowded around the huts where the guides served them coffee and teaIMG_4506.JPG (which you do have to pay for) and bananas cooked in volcanic steam. My guide took me to where he put the bananas in a little cave with volcanic steam. I had a warm volcanic banana sandwich for breakfast as I watched the sunrise. What an experience.IMG_4505

On the way down we listened to my guides favorite Balinese song as we jogged down the mountain. Super fun. I was able to see the steep narrow trails we had come up in the dark.IMG_0286.JPGIMG_0278.JPG We had walked up volcanic rockIMG_0289.JPG through forest (I figured this one out because I was whacked in the face by a branch of pine needles as I was walking up in the dark!),IMG_0281.JPG and tall grass fields.IMG_0296.JPG

 

He took me to his house while we waited for my ride.  Turns out he is the village’s holy man and explained a little about what he did and showed my is house temple.IMG_4579

A very good day.

I fell asleep immediately upon arriving back at my hostel and woke up at lunch a new person!

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Arriving in Bali!

After sleeping in two different terminals and watching a premier league and bundesliga match at Don Muang Airport between 12am and 5am on April 3rd, IMG_4476I finally took off for the last plane ride that would take me to Bali for my spring break. Here I go! Completely free off on my own! Wahoo! It feels like my first vacation from Thailand. It is really. I took off a few extra days from school (shh don’t tell my professors) so I could have 14 full days to explore and enjoy Bali. So stoked.

From the airplane window Bali came into view as white sand beaches met by lush green jungle and awesome mountains climbing high into the clouds. I let out a huge breath of relief I didn’t know I was holding in. I was going to be just fine wherever the mountains meet the ocean. And its Bali, I’ve got roots here thanks to Opa.

The first thing I noticed after stepping off the plane into the heat was the smell of crushed flowers in the Bali airport and the huge smile the customs officer bestowed upon me when I greeted him in the Bahasa I had been practicing on the plane. (I just learned the basics: hello, how are you, spicy, more spice, bathroom, beer, one more please! and the numbers so I could bargain – there aren’t as many tones in Bahasa or Balinese like in Thai so I devoured these beautiful new languages, I couldn’t get enough of them).

My driver, Eric (ha!), who took me to Ubud taught me about the language, explained the bamboo offerings lining the street for the special ceremony taking place over the next weekIMG_0341.JPG, and recommended the best spots for sate ayam and mie goreng (yum). All the balinese I met over the next two weeks including some Sumatran and Javanese, were terrifically friendly and warm.

I arrived in central Ubud, my base for the next few days of adventures, IMG_0339.JPGdropped my stuff at Ode Hostel and grabbed a new friend, an Argentinian woman traveling solo as well, and headed for a cold Bintang and Mie Goreng. IMG_0218.JPG Ahhhh vacation tastes like a cold Balinese beer. Good stuff. It started raining (rain hasn’t been seen in Thailand for months so this was glorious) and the two of us headed to the Ubud market with a mission of purchasing sarongs.IMG_0340.JPG I made friends with a vender in my limited bahasa and ended up getting a great deal (1 beautiful sarong = IDR 20,000 or $1.50). We grabbed a fun cocktail while hiding from the down pour 🙂IMG_0221.JPG I had Nasi Compur, the dish with everything ( I even asked for chilis in Balinese 🙂 And headed to bed early because I was waking up at 2:30am to climb Mt. Batur to watch the sunrise! ha! that’s the next adventure!

 

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Purple apples, Phrao coffee, organic homemade jam, bananas and new friends: it’s the little things.

Driving up into the mountains is still epic every time I do it. I sigh with relief once I start going up and away from the buzz of the city.

I arrive around 9am most Fridays at Warm Heart and barely have time to settle in before my translator, P’Nian, is hustling me out the door to go interview a friend of a friend and while we are at it, try another friend’s coffee. Or we end up visiting another ill friend. I’m so lucky she wants to introduce me to all of her friends.

So yesterday, Friday, I get up to Warm Heart. After lunch it’s off to interview an Organic farmer named P’Jay. Here is her farm

When I meet people who I just instantly know are good down to their very core it lifts me up and makes me smile wider. She was lovely and an extremely smart business woman. She offered me her homemade organic mulberry jam and the healthiest most delicious organic bananas I’ve ever tried. She kept offering and would have let me try every one of her crops if I had time. I’m going back to help her on her farm:) she sent me away with a bag of her jam. I eat spoonfuls of it as a treat 😊 I thought of Grandma Beryl and my mom as I chatted and laughed with p’nian and p’jay while watching her ducks and black chickens (apparently the Chinese love these from Thailand) romp around.

Next it was into the large town of Phrao for a delicious coffee from P’Nian’s friend, Nuoy, who roasts his own coffee beans sourced from small villages in the mountains like mine. Blue Bottle watch out! (I also just had incredible coffee at a tiny coffee counter on the back roads of Chiang Mai – buts that’s another story!) so good and the whole family is out in from of their baby supplies shop at this cofffee cart helping steam the milk, brew the coffee, do the latte art, and serve the drinks:)

Then, I met P’Nians best friend, P’Dao (Dao means Star), who owns the “Walmart” of Phrao (just a large everything store). She was whip smart, spoke English and was so excited to meet me. About my moms age, she immediately, along with her coworker, announced that they would be my mothers while I was living in Thailand. We sat and chatted and then, AND THEN… she introduced me to my new favorite fruit: The local purple apple.

You eat it with a spoon. Yes, really. It is the most delicious mix of mangosteen, mango, and some purple fruit. I’m not sure why it’s called an apple. Regardless, it’s only in season for a month so I will gorge myself on purpleness.

Dinner was kaw niaow (sticky rice) and gai (chicken) with sweet chili sauce with the kids from the children’s home and the Thai staff:)

I love the special moments I experience here.

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4 great days in Luang Prabang, Laos

⇒I just jumped on a plane to Luang Prabang, Laos from the small Chiang Mai Airport having only googled where I was going maybe three times. I had to leave Thailand for visa purposes, I knew I needed a vacation/break (haha) from courses and warm heart work, and I knew I would regret not going on an adventure to Laos. I was not expecting to fall in love with Luang Prabang.

Slower paced, less developed, and much smaller than Chiang Mai, Luang Prabang crept up on me when I walked into the center of the city and it took me 10 minutes to realize i was in the center of the city! Beautiful temples and French colonial architecture line both sides of the street. It is a 5 min walk across the peninsula (the city) to the bank of the Nam Khan or Mekong river, which converge at the tip watched over by a gilded temple.

We arrived at around 4pm, dropped our stuff at the hostel and set off for a backpacker bar/hangout right on the Mekong river that I’d looked up. I had no idea if it was going to look like the photos, things rarely do in Southeast Asia!, and I also wasn’t sure I was leading us down the right tiny backroads HA!

but low and behold it was exactly like the photos with the cushion laden balcony overlooking the sandy gorge that, in the wet season, was the epic Mekong river. We met our friend, Hanes, from germany who was traveling alone and who I had struck up a conversation with on the plane from Chiang Mai. He ended up joining the gang for the majority of the four days as did a hip Brazilian journalist traveling on her own as well. Fun making friends when traveling.

My two girlfriends and I stayed at the Downtown Backpackers hostel. which really was in the middle of the market. I woke up at 6:45 on our second day grabbed a cup of the nespresso and sat on the steps of the hostel watching as the market woke up right on the street in front of me.

Everyone was laying out their tarps and setting up stalls as the early birds came to get their groceries before the stalls were organized properly and overrun by the rest of the town and the tourists.

The second day we climbed up to the temple on the hill in the middle of town. I thought of Ann Krumboltz and her love of adventure as I navigated the lying buddhas, potholes, peddlers selling tiny birds, and gold inlaid serpents to reach the “summit”.

I loved how the temple was built in with the rocks the rocks hadn’t been moved but merely incorporated into the architecture. Very natural.

Here we are at the top. Ella is on the right and Sarah is in the center. These are the towo women I traveled with from Chiang Mai. They were great.

Walking around this section of the temple caused me to smack my forehead in exasperation at myself IMG_4250.JPGbecause it took me a few seconds to realize why when I peeked into the cave I saw an imprint of a wheel. Dang Liv! Duh! One of the 32 signs of the buddha is the imprint of a wheel on his foot. Gosh. My Buddhism professor will hopefully not be too disappointed I forgot briefly while I was at a temple. oops 🙂 I laughed pretty hard at myself so much so that I was hiccuping as I explained to my friends why this was so funny to me. They didn’t think it was that funny.Whatever. Buddha is laughing I hope.

We visited the Royal Museum next.

Gorgeous red mosaic ceilings telling many Hindu stories. There were displays of gifts given to the Laos royal family from many countries including Vietnam, Russia, Japan, the U.S.A, Myanmar, and Thailand. All of the gifts were beautiful vases, jewelry, carvings, and paintings except for the U.S’s gift which was a pen and a model spaceship. What the fuck! We weren’t allowed to take photos otherwise I would have shown the differences in what the U.S. valued enough to send the royals of Laos compared to their neighbors.

Then we rented bikes and rode around the peninsula visiting almost every temple we saw, which meant we stopped every few minutes. Fine by me:)

Sarah and I grabbed a great gin and tonic at a cute gallery on the rivers edge while trading stories from home and abroad. Reminded me of river cocktails and chats.

The next morning (Sunday) we went to the Koung Si Waterfall via tuk-tuk with Guilie, our Brazilian journalist friend. It was beautiful! I just expected a hike to waterfall but instead we swam in the incredibly blue pools below the water fall before heading to the main falls.

It reminded me of Semuc Champay in Guatemala. I swam and ducked under the mini waterfalls. Some selfies with Guilie’s Gopro were a necessity:)

 

The main falls were magnificent.

What was even cooler was you could hike/scramble up a steep path to the top and look out over the edge.

I left Sarah and Ella in the dust, sorry guys, because I was so energized by being around such awesome water energy.

At the top was a beautiful marsh area that was fed by a spring a 5km walk down a path Robert Frost would conjures up in his poetry.

Alas! I did not take that path for there was too little time but I would like to return and make it all the way to the spring. However, “as way leads on to way…” Shut it Frost I’m coming back!

We arrived back in Luang Prabang in time for a lunch at the visually stimulating buffets in the market. YUM.

(later this would cause some unpleasant stomach pains but it was worth it).

Us three girls bought ourselves imported cider from the local grocer (why she carried it is a mystery) and headed to the west bank of the Mekong to watch the sunset.

Beautiful. And the cider was tasty. I am going to have to find it in Chiang Mai.

Later that night we splurged on our dinner, meaning we spent over $2 (The Horror!), on the most delicious meal we had in Laos. It was a tasting platter of all of Laos most renown dishes as well as the local Luang Prabang specialties such as crispy Mekong river weed, the city’s own style of sausage, and dessert with black beans, coconut, and banana ( it was very good).IMG_4347.JPG I would highly recommend Bamboo Cooking School and Cafe located on the bank of the Mekong river for a tasting platter ($10-12 dollars per person)

The last morning I split off from the girls and headed to the renown French bakery on the peninsula for a croissant, I had two, and an espresso.IMG_4351.JPG

Of course, while I munched and sipped and dipped I was being watched over by the large golden Buddha across the street.IMG_4350.JPG

What a trip. I fell in love with this part of Laos. It was my style: adventurous, outdoors, culture, relaxed, tasty, good people.

I also did some solid shopping. The night market was fantastic and not as overwhelming as Chiang Mai’s. No one will know if what I got them is from Thailand or Laos unless I tell them:)

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Happy Accidents: Incredible Masaman Curry and a Thai Oil Massage

When plans and back up plans fall through…

I had made lunch plans with a woman from Israel who I met last night at live music but I forgot I already had lunch plans with the massage instructor in my class. So, I apologized and cancelled the first only to learn the massage instructor wouldn’t be able to make it because her massage class in a temple nearby was running late. Very cool lady.

Anyways, I grabbed my Lonely Planet Guide, opened it to EATING in Chiang Mai and picked Dash, a restaurant known for its curries in the old city. I wasn’t sure I would make it there because I generally tend to stop and check out whatever catches my eye. But I made it into this back road to this beautiful restaurant nestled in between backpacker hostels and a German beer garden (I’ll check that out another time). I ordered the Masaman curry, something I had been needing to try as it is known for being amazing in Chiang Mai.

OH. MY. GOSH. This was the most delectable, rich but not too thick, aromatic, sensational northern Thai curry. I mean right up there with my favorite Burmese Gaeng Hang lay. I do have to frequent restaurants more to get these Thai delicacies. It was $6 for curry and rice, enough for two. I had to take half to go because it was so large. They also had good looking cocktails. I almost tried the one called Putin on the Beach hahaha (only for the name).

Then, I was planning on heading home and a bar tucked away on a side street overflowing with westerners had me stop my scooter just a little ways down from the restaurant. The bar was not interesting at all but I did end up walking into a massage spot right next store.

I thought I communicated clearly when I said I wanted an hour long Thai massage but something was missed or, really, something was added because the next thing I knew I was being told to get out of my clothes for a Thai Oil Massage. I didn’t say no to the two nice thai ladies expectantly holding out a bath towel barely big enough to cover my torso. I did laugh while i changed into my towel attire. UNexpected for sure but an interesting and nice experience. I realized as I was about to correct the two ladies on the type of massage I wanted that I wouldn’t have chosen a Thai Oil Massage for myself but since I seemed to have stumbled into it I should try it.

My next fling is going to have to be a handsome thai masseuse who can lather me up with lovely smelling oils and give a killer massage 🙂

Happy Accidents. The beauty of finding adventures and then letting go of the reins and going with the flow.

 

 

 

 

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The best beer and company in Northern Thailand: Chiang Dao Star Mountain Bar.

Saturday my interview with a restaurant owner fell through so I decided to check out this beautiful mountain road my professor had told me about from Phrao west to Chiang Dao. I had heard Chiang Dao was known for coffee, wine, and hiking. None of those were I was able to try because of this great craft beer bar I accidentally happened upon. How great. I was on my way to hike the Chiang Dao Mountain when I saw a sign for craft beer. I couldn’t believe there was craft beer in the middle of the rice fields and mountains so I swung right into this little guesthouse and bar nestled in a little garden off the road. 

It turned out to be Thai craft beers brewed in small breweries all over Thailand. Ooh the IPAs were fantastic. I was sorely in need of a good beer after so many Changs. Their draft IPA on their single tap was incredible. 

Suda practiced draft pours and served me a second Gateway IPA, brewed in Thailand

I ended up at some Japanese hippie music festival on the recommendation of Suda and Ilko. Felt a bit like Strawberry Music Festival missed my strawberry crew.

I went back the next day and tried a few more. Run by a very personable, young Dutch-Thai couple, Chiang Dao Star Mountain is the best place to grab an incredible Thai brewed beer (so reasonably priced) in a relaxed atmosphere just off the main highway from Chiang Mai to the hot springs and epic hiking in Chiang Dao.
They boast the most IPA’s I’ve seen in northern Thailand so far, and the best (I’ve tried 12 now:) and if you aren’t a beer connoisseur before you arrive you will surely be one when you leave. Ilko and Suda aren’t just selling the tasty beer they’ve collected through their travels throughout Thailand, they are presenting the drinker with the intimate relations they’ve cultivated with microbreweries operating throughout Thailand. With hops from Thailand, New Zealand, and the U.S., whatever someone fancies can be had with the owners suggestion.

Think laid back atmosphere,  great beer, good company, and epic outdoors (after the beer of course). Why wouldn’t you want to stop by for a beer or five…. because you have to try all the different hops and their unique flavors.

In honor of finding great Thai brews my friends and I had a beer tasting sesh the next night with the craft beers I brought back. So good. So fun. Channeled Mikey Gardner and Eric’s with this fun beer tasting.

Couldn’t have worked out better as I needed some wall decorations for my empty Thai dorm:)

(Trying my hand at promotional writing for the craft beer bar for practice)

 

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On the way to Phrao

After I had passed this Wat every ride to and from Warm Heart for the past two months I finally took the bumpy road off the main road to see what it looked like. It was different than any other Wat I’ve been in,

 less gold, lighter colors, and landscape murals on the ceiling.

I sat and just watched the light hit each part of the temple. 

The light mosaic tiled columns and open air style temple made it my favorite so far.

And then there were puppies that greeted me when I walked in to the temple at first