Sunday, December 30, 2012

Koh Phangan or the Hotel California?

The winds of change blew threw this island with almost the same amount of whirlwind force as the water cyclone I witnessed off my beach.
Within the span of two days, the group of friends that I'd so lovingly grown accustomed to at my bungalows all departed to either continue their travels or return back home.
(Not only did I have to say goodbye to Matthias, but to his monkey skull as well).
I suppose I'd been a bit spoiled in Chiang Mai. The majority of my friends in that city remained there as long or longer than I did, so I was unaccustomed to such short lived/intense relationships with other travelers. But these brief relationships were just one more reminder that this island is not like Chiang Mai. The other, and most pressing reminder for me, has been that Koh Phangan is way more expensive. In fact, I was unaware how often I repeated that mantra until the Burmese workers at my bungalows nicknamed me "It Too 'Spensive!"
I hit a bit of a financial wall right before coming down to Koh Phangan, so I began looking for work in other islands. I applied to numerous volunteer jobs online that would supplement food and housing in exchange for [slave] labor. I had ten days to look for work before checking out of my bungalow, but as that date inched closer, I was still in the same jobless rut. I had to get creative so I began offering massages to friends at my bungalow. Word spread and before I knew it, I was booked for an entire week. More importantly, I had cash in my pocket which allowed me to eat.
I massaged one of my friends, a reiki master, who had been attending classes at the Yoga Retreat up the road from our bungalows. (A little bit of backstory about the retreat. Three years ago, I lived with a girl in India who had attended the retreat in Koh Phangan. It was a dream of mine to go there ever since, but for various reasons, aka financial/space availability, I was unable to attend. You can imagine my excitement when I found out that the retreat was randomly up the road from my bungalow!) My friend referred my massage services to one of the teachers at the retreat, so I ascended 20 minutes up a steep hill to meet my new client. It was my last official day on the island, and with no job/nothing to lose, I asked the owner of the Yoga Retreat if she needed any help around there in exchange for room/board. She didn't have any space for me to stay there, but offered me a room in which to practice massage.
Still unsure of what move I wanted to take, I didn't commit to the offer right away. I met the yoga teacher I was booked to massage and she offered to read my cards as an exchange for my services. I usually shy away from psychic readings due to my skepticism, but I was feeling particularly confused/lost that day, so I accepted the exchange.
The teacher put a crystal from New York in my right hand and almost immediately a butterfly landed on my thumb. The teacher assured me this was a good sign and it meant I was transforming.
As the reading progressed, I was shocked with how relevant the cards were to my life. The questions I had about where to go or what to do began to melt away. The most peculiar part of all was that tiny butterfly remained on my thumb for an hour despite me moving my arms and reaching for cards and crystals. It didn't fly away until I let go of the New York crystal.
Completely overcome with emotion by the end of the reading, I knew that I was going to stay on Koh Phangan and accept the job at the Yoga Retreat. Although I wasn't sure where I was going to stay or if I was going to make money or not, I knew that I needed to trust that there was "nothing to worry about" and just "go for it."
I'm entering my fourth week on this island and I cannot believe how incredibly things have worked themselves out. I've been getting booked so much that I've actually had to turn away people. I'm grateful for my work, but I haven't lost sight of the importance of enjoying my time on this incredible island by exploring beaches,
hanging out with friends,
and going to all-night parties.
(what? I can't actually show you photos FROM the parties...)
I tried to leave Koh Phangan, but I've found myself completely engrossed by the lifestyle here, putting my plans to travel through other islands and countries on hold for a little while.
If you find yourself in Koh Phangan, you can give me a call and book a massage with me up at the retreat. As the Thai's on the beach say, I make good price for you!

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Island Life For Me

Once again, I apologize for the delay in posts. I've been on island time for the last 8 days which apparently moves slower than both the Chiang Mai and Pai time warps combined.
Although I was sad to say goodbye to Chiang Mai after two incredible months there, I was ready to venture out to another unfamiliar part of Thailand. I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a little apprehension mixed in with my excitement about leaving my comfort zone and going to a place with geography and people I didn't know, but regardless of my fears, I said goodbye to my guest house,
had one final dinner with friends,
then strapped on my backpack and was caravanned motorbike style to the Arcade Bus Terminal where I *barely* made it on time for my night bus. (Lesson learned: do not separate your bags amongst friends on different motorbikes)
10 hours traveling on a Thai VIP bus playing Korean Pop,
two taxis and a flight from Bangkok (no photos here because I hate Bangkok), another bus, a trolley and one ferry later, I said GOODBYE to the mainland of Thailand
and said HELLO to Koh Phangan, a beautiful island in the gulf of Thailand that had been without electricity for five days.
Since I arrived around 9pm, I literally could see nothing except the Milky Way, so I threw caution to the wind and hopped on the back of a very nice motorbike taxi to ride the mountainous Coast Road to my bungalows. 
The entire island was pitch black, so I was led by candlelight to my bungalow and fell asleep pretty immediately (there was no electricity/facebook to distract me from my slumber). The electricity came back to the island around 4am that night, but it went unnoticed in the morning, when the sun beamed brightly and I was more than pleasantly surprised to see my surroundings for the first time.
(My view over breakfast on my first morning)
One of my fears traveling to an island by myself was that I would be alone most of the time, but it was hardly any effort at all to meet the fantastic and laid back crowd that was also inhabiting the bungalows. I made fast friends with Xaida, a beautiful curly haired Spanish girl and Matt, a South African engineer living in Oxford. With the help/persuassion of my new buddies, I was convinced to attend the Half Moon Party that night.
Matt, three German boys and I were taxied in the back of a truck from the bungalows to the jungle where we dropped into an enormous party full of glow paint,
black lights,
and a cranking DJ hanging from the sky.
We got to work decorating ourselves with paint,
then danced all night long with hundreds of fun and good natured foreigners.
I left the party on the early end (around 5am) and was far outlasted by the German boys who stayed until mid morning. All in all, Half Moon ranked as one of the best parties I've attended.
I spent the next day (and pretty much every day after) chillaxing in a hammock by the beach,
socializing with my new mates,
and listening to the musical stylings of 50 Baht, a Burmese boy/entertainer extraordinaire who works at the bungalows. If you go to my Youtube page, you can listen to him playing one of his original songs.
Although I had taken my talents of being busy doing nothing to a whole new level, I was able to squeeze in some time to practice massage daily and rent a kayak to go snorkeling with the German boys near our beach. The conditions were crystal clear and I happily floated amongst another exotic and tropical world.
Koh Phangan rose far above my expectations. Whether I was on the verge of tears with laughter, swimming with fallen coconuts in the crystal water or just sitting quietly in a hammock, I've once again come to realize just how spectacular and nuanced life can be.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Goodbye Chiang Mai/The Smile Party

The day has finally arrived for me to pack up my things and leave Chiang Mai. It's been just shy of two months in this city, and I can happily say that my time here has far exceeded expectations. Whether I was learning Thai Massage, swimming at the pool or jamming with friends in the garden of my guest house, my experiences were full of laughter and happiness.
So what better way to say goodbye to Chiang Mai on my last night than to attend the Smile Party!
Four of the most popular bars in Chiang Mai- Roots Rock Reggae, Babylon, Zoe in Yellow, & Cafe Del Sol- teamed up with the best bands and DJs to create this outdoor party. Located at a big lake about 20 minutes outside of Chiang Mai, the Smile Party cranked from 5pm to 7am. Farang (Thai for foreigner) from all over the world gathered between two stages to dance,
paint their faces with glow paint,
and drink obscene amounts of liquor out of buckets
Smile Party could be categorized somewhere between frat party and rave. I was enjoying dancing with the international crowd but was happily reminded of home when I came face to face with a cute Thai girl in a Yankee cap.
At some point in the night, I found the semi-competitive sport of tequila luge. It was around that time that the Smile Party turned into the Frown Party, and alongside my Aussie girlfriend Taj and hundreds of other sloppy Farang, I fell asleep on the grass in front of a bonfire.
Eventually Taj's boyfriend, Punya, came to retrieve us from "sleeping in the bush" and we shared a tuk tuk back to their guest house for a very subdued slumber party.
Although I felt a little closer to 21 than 31 last night, the Smile Party was a fun, albeit painful, way to say goodbye to fair Chiang Mai. I'm headed down south to Koh Phangan this evening where I plan to detox my entire system, practice yoga and sit on the beach. Nevermind that it's the biggest party island in Thailand...
I'll miss Chiang Mai and the friends I've made here. It was the perfect start to this journey.
(Oh yeah, and a big shout out to my girl Taj on her 28th birthday! Easy on the buckets...)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

When You Wish Upon a Lantern...

I returned to Chiang Mai refreshed and excited after a week in Pai. Since this was my first week in Chiang Mai where I didn't have school or travel plans, I knew that I'd be able to accomplish many tasks that I simply hadn't found time for previously. These tasks included but were not limited to 1.) extending my visa for an extra 30 days, 2.) booking my bus and ferry to Koh Phangan, 3.) buying toilet paper. I was raring to go but I somehow found myself busy doing nothing all day every day and the majority of my tasks remained unfinished. You may be wondering what "busy doing nothing" might look like, so I'll tell you.
7:30am Wake up/check Facebook
8:30am Go to breakfast
11am Leave breakfast and work on my Shaklee business (see, I was a little productive!)
12:30pm Check Facebook/take a nap
1pm Check Facebook again in case I missed anything during my nap
2pm Make toast
2:30pm Go to the pool (it's obviously too late to accomplish any of the other tasks I'd intended. Besides, it's late in the day and I want to get some sunlight while I'm swimming laps)
4pm Leave pool/shower/check Facebook
4:30pm Practice massage
6:30pm Check Facebook
7pm Evening activity
There were a few other activities stuffed in there. For example, one day I went on a bike ride and met a purple pug.
For some reason, many of my friends left Chiang Mai this week either to continue their journeys elsewhere or return home.
Dariya and Ainaz began their bike tour of Southeast Asia, which you can follow here.
Sarah flew back to France, but not before sharing some of the Bordeaux she brought from home.
Sweet Marie finally returned from Pai 5 days after schedule, but only to fly back to France the next day :(
And my dear friend Lauren left to spend a few days in Bangkok before flying home toTexas. (But not before receiving some love from those of us in Chiang Mai)
I'm really not okay with all these goodbyes, but I suppose that's the name of the game when you're traveling for a while. The bright side to all these departures were my evening activities were rich savoring the remaining quality time with good friends.
One of the evening activities this week was attending the lantern lighting festival, Loi Krathong. Loi Krathong happens on the full moon in the last month of the Thai Lunar Calendar. During the festival thousands of people gather around the river to release krathong (floating lotus shaped flower baskets) onto the river and yi peng (large lanterns) into the night sky. Traditionally, when you release krathong into the river, you are supposed to release the things in your life that are weighing you down.
(My bread krathong was not only pretty, but edible as well)

After floating your bad habits and mental afflictions down the river, you make a wish on a lantern and send it up into the sky.
My photos don't do the festival justice. If you didn't know better, you'd think the entire sky was lit with stars instead of lanterns. If I can take a moment to be cheesy, I will admit that it was nice to look up and see all those beautiful wishes hanging over Chiang Mai that night. It filled me with a deep sense of gratitude for my friends, the city and the year to come. 
And just in case you wanted to see a live action shot of the lanterns being released, here's a video Martin letting his wishes go...