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Mokshadharma, a house by the river, and Cheeky Monkey Yoga in Chiang Khong

13 Sep

A few days ago we were cycling along the Mekong River path when Dom pointed out a small sign attached to the side of a building on stilts which read, ‘Yoga’.  Curious, we climbed the wooden steps leading to an entrance, only to be greeted by a Thai lady who pointed under the building and said, “That way”.

The space underneath felt like walking through someone’s cluttered garage with lots of doors on the right hand side, and hammocks hanging from beams in the ceiling. The garage then opened out onto an overgrown garden area, and a series of steps with metal bottle tops embedded into the concrete like a mosaic.

Once at the bottom, we finally came to a sign attached to a door which read, ‘Cheeky Monkey Yoga- This is it’. After several knocks and an overly excited greeting from 2 dogs with big ears, a smiling lady in her late 50’s/ early 60’s opened the door,  introduced herself as Diane (or Mokshadharma – her Yogi name)  and invited us in.

Di-Mokshadharma’s home/ yoga studio was a beautiful, airy, open plan space which looked out onto the whole of the Mekong River and Laos. She explained that her and her husband had moved from Australia 5 years ago to live in Chiang Khong, and she’d been teaching yoga for 20 years, but now offered 1-1 classes for travellers.

We visited again yesterday to do a class in the evening. Bamboo mats and embroidered cushions had been placed out by the large open window overlooking the river at sunset, and  candles flickered around the rest of the room. The yoga was incredibly relaxing and one of the best classes I’ve had. However, equally as interesting was how Di-Mokshadharma and her husband came to live there.

I had no idea that it wasn’t possible for non-Thai residents to own property in Thailand. Di-Mokshadharma and her husband’s home did not technically belong to them. The garage like room we walked through on the way there was actually part of a hostel, and 5 years ago the space that is now their home had been neglected and was pretty uninhabitable.

With permission from the hostel owners, they then did up the neglected section which is now not only their home and yoga studio, but also a space where they voluntarily teach local kids in the area English. In return, they only pay the relevant bills for their section of the property, and are involved with other developmental work in the community.

I’m not really sure what you’d call this- Perhaps just a friendly agreement? I’ve certainly never heard of anything quite like it, but I love the idea.

Condoms, coffee beans, bottle tops and tyre bins

11 Sep

Being a lover of art made from junk it pleased me to see how resourceful the Thai are with their rubbish.

The condom man was taken in Pattaya in a restaurant called Cabbages & Condoms where the food is ‘guaranteed not to cause pregnancy’. The man who owns the place aimed to make condoms the same price as cabbages in Thailand and fund social development in the surrounding area.

Despite not being a huge fan of the coffee bean faces, it’s nice to see there’s a lack of flower photographs printed on canvases and ‘Ikea Art’  in cafes in Thailand. Also liked the idea of the beer bottle wall. The whole outside wall of a cafe in Chiang Khong was covered in bottles- perhaps the kind of thing a teenage boy might make in his room on a grander scale.

When we arrived in Chinag Khong I kept seeing all these huge pot/ cauldron things outside each house. I thought, how lovely, perhaps everyone in this town cooks together outside and they eat huge feasts on the street together. Dom pointed out that they were actually bins made from old tyres.

Re: Eating insects in Chiang Mai (video)

10 Sep

Since I bought a cheapy netbook, I have now had the time to upload a video (leaving it on over night). Here it is:

On the top of Thailand in Mae Sai

9 Sep

Mae Sai, Thailand’s northernmost market town on the Burma border feels a bit forgotten about. I think there are only 5 tourists including us in the whole place. Despite the fact that there isn’t much to do here, the surrounding countryside is beautiful and the town is quite intriguing.

We were walking down one of the side streets one evening, and all the houses seemed to have shutters like the fronts of shops. They were all open and you could see right into people’s living rooms. It felt like I was walking past lots of intricately designed theatre sets showing snippets of everyday family life in Thailand.

On the subject of houses, whilst driving along on a hired moped to explore some caves a bit outside of Mae Sai, we  passed a bizarre clone like housing estate with identical red houses on one side of the road and blue on the other. They just didn’t look real and certainly not what I was expecting in the middle of the Thai countryside.

However, the main attraction of Mae Sai is not its houses, but its position on the Burma border, but we didn’t venture over. One day passes are no longer available, and tourists who do choose to cross over the bridge are not allowed to stray outside of the immediate border town without paying extra money and being closely watched.

Instead, we found some rickety metal steps which lead up from the Mai Sai market and through what looked like a small block of higgledy-piggledy flats which opened out onto a flat roof. I’m not sure if this was supposed to be a designated viewing point or not, but it was a good one.

Once on top we had a pretty good view of both Burma, Thailand, the surrounding hilltops, temples, and the tiny slither of the Mae Sai River which acts as the natural divide between the 2 countries. As we left a family on the Burma side waved and blew kisses at us from their house across the river.

Jungle Trekking

8 Sep
Clare tests out a bamboo bridge

This Is A Bridge?

After a bumpy hour long ride standing in the back of a pick-up truck we arrived at Akha Hill House. It felt like a tree house built on to the side of a mountainous jungle. The place was a little run down and after some really terrible noodles (think supernoodles with way to much soy and pretty awful veg) and over priced beer we hit the hay. The rooms were as basic as they come (a bed with a mosquito net, one light, four walls, roof and floor) but it was actually pretty comfortable and cool to sleep in.

There were a few jungle treks you could pay for, but as most of the starting prices were around 2000 Baht a person, we decided just to get a little advice and do it ourselves. The nearest ‘attractions’ around were a waterfall and hot springs, being that we hadn’t seen the waterfall yet (as we saw the hot springs on our previous cycle) we set off for that.

The path that one of the guides had told us about took us up higher and away from the village. It was hard work in the sun but the view was pretty stunning. Eventually the path narrowed as we left the hills village and slowly entered the jungle. With bamboo thickets on one side, sheer drops on the other and mystic plants growing over the path it felt pretty adventurous. We pass only one other person;  an old man carrying a huge sack of rice (of course).

Soon we could hear the rush of water and eventually could see bits of waterfall. We reached a path off the main track that lead to a large pool of water just before one part of the falls (it was more like many smaller falls rather than one huge drop). I could see that the only way further down the falls was to first cross the river, the only obvious way to do this was across 2 sections of bamboo that had been laid down. Edging along the 2 beams of bamboo no more than 20cm wide we crossed. After trekking down we reached another bigger pool which had a slightly weathered bamboo bridge (with a bamboo woven floor and bamboo railings) leading from the edge so you could access the pool.

This pool was great to swim in and although it wasn’t deep the ‘exit’ was protected by a huge rock, which meant there was no chance of being swept downstream or over the edge. The spray from the falls and the huge trees that surrounded the area meant it actually felt quite cool in the area, so returning to the hill house after this meant it felt even hotter than before. After some lunch we somehow reached the conclusion that the walk to the hot springs in the midday sun would be a good idea.

Clare stands in extremely tall grass

Child Height Grass

We pushed through the jungle once again; this time it opened out into a strange grass like field. The grass was so tall here that it felt like being a child again, playing in the fields next to my home. This path then sidled up to a bamboo fence, which took us past paddy fields and around a little village.

After passing through a village (where everyone gave us the look of “why… why are you here? HOW even!?”) and running low on water, we finally got to the point where we admitted we were horribly lost. Then from the road in front came one of the guests from the hostels.  He asked (without prompt) if we were looking for the hot springs, we nodded and he told us to follow the road for another 2km or so and we’d get there.

The hot springs were more than a welcome sight, it was an accomplishment. We soaked our aching bodies in the bath water warmth, to the point where the return journey seemed like it would be hell.

The return journey along the road was a lot less pretty and less interesting, save for the fact it was rapidly getting dark and we had no torch (except Clare had pointed out at the time “I have my mobile and part of my sandal glows in the dark”, though to what effect these would have been on a jungle mountain road is anyone’s guess). We made it back to the hill house through some tea plantations just as the daylight gave out.

Pigs bladder and whisky

6 Sep

We’ve been staying in the jungle just outside of Chiang Rai for the last few nights. After almost getting lost in the dark we returned back to where we were staying, to find out that earlier in the day the people who own the guest house we were staying in had slaughtered a pig.

One of the other guests had said, “They killed it right in front of everyone cutting through all the bones with a machete.” The meat would then be shared with everyone in the surrounding village/ tribe, and none of it would be wasted.

After we’d eaten dinner that night one of the local Chiang Rai jungle trekking guides offered us some home-made corn whisky from a plastic Coca Cola bottle. As we sat down at one of the nearby tables to accept the offer, I noticed some sort of bruise coloured, bloody animal part lying on a tray next to the whisky.

Apparently it’s traditional in northern Thailand to eat all parts of a pig once it has been killed. There is also an ancient Thai ritual which involves mixing the raw contents of a pig’s bladder with whisky, and drinking it before bed to cleanse the body for the morning. It’s also supposed to be a good remedy for back pain.

The Portuguese guy sat opposite us had already tried some of the concoction and said, “You can still smell the remnants of it from the empty glass.” It smelt a bit like strongly smelling feet.

The trekking guide added, “When you drink this, it makes you a real man.” I asked him how to make some which involved squeezing the bladder over a glass until fluorescent yellow liquid spurted out. About 2-3 teaspoons is enough for one dose. The mixture is then topped up with whisky and downed.

Having no interest in becoming a man, I cautiously tried a tiny sip out of curiosity. It was probably one of the most disgusting, bitter and horribly smelling drinks I’ve ever tasted!

After I’d finished, the Portuguese guy and the trekking guide halved the left over mixture, clinked glasses and polished off the lot between them. I dread to think what the after taste of a whole shot would be like. From now on, I think I’ll just stick to plain whisky.

Chiang Rai market animals

2 Sep

We were winding our way through this maze like market today which sold everything. I was quite enjoying soaking up all the different colours, smells, sounds… until I reached the alive animal section.

There were hundreds of fish swimming in tiny bowls, birds in only fractionally larger individual cages, and piles of turtles squashed inside small buckets of water.

I asked the woman how much one of the turtles would cost but she shook her head and said, ‘No sale’. I wanted to buy some of the animals, load them into a tuk tuk, then ask to be driven to a nearby lake so I could release them. I wonder how long I’d have to spend in a Thai prison for stealing animals.