Temple Tour | Siem Reap, Cambodia

First off, my flight here from Bangkok was pretty terrible and I do not recommend Bangkok Airlines or the Siem Reap airport, but you don't really have a choice with the latter. My plane was sitting on the tarmac with no explanation for at least 30 minutes (the flight is only an hour) and the air con vents in my row weren't working so I spent the flight fanning myself in vain with a safety instruction card but I still got pretty sweaty. The airline is also incredibly wasteful; it's completely unnecessary to give people a moist towelette before takeoff and a crappy in-flight meal (with no vegetarian option I might add) for barely a one hour flight. I was also slightly disappointed to receive American dollars when I withdrew money from the ATM. I quickly learned that it's the standard currency here (at least for tourists and travelers) but you can get some 100 and 1000 Cambodian riel notes here and there as change (instead of US coins). 

Admittedly I had very limited knowledge of Siem Reap and Cambodia for that matter when I first included it in my itinerary months ago. I thought Siem Reap was just a temple or two but it turns out there are 100 square kilometers of temples and other ancient ruins scattered around this area, which is unlike anything else I've ever seen. It's a UNESCO World Heritage site, brings in tourists by the busload and it's even part of their national flag. So the flag also kinda functions like a perpetual advertisement, reminding you of how awesome their ancient architecture is, and that you are missing out if you don't come see it! Brilliant. 

Seriously, Rome and Athens ain't got nothin' on Siem Reap. 

Angkor Wat: The Main One

The main attraction of the Siem Reap temples is Angkor Wat itself, which translates to Capital Temple and is according to Wikipedia is the largest religious monument in the world. It was originally constructed as a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu during the reign of King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century but it soon transitioned to a Buddhist temple before the turn of the 13th century. 

It's surrounded by a large moat and is west-facing so the sunrises are supposed to be spectacular, but also super crowded with tourists, so I don't think it's worth getting up that early. As I walked up the first few steps toward the bridge, I was talked into renting a tour guide for $15 since I didn't do a ton of research in advance. He spoke decent English and gave me lots of great insight, but also walked me right through the mini market to the left of the temple where I was mobbed by merchants yelling at me to buy their stuff. 

Here are some of my humble pictures but there are way better ones online. 

Bayon: The One With The Faces

I really liked the rather serene faces, or maybe it was several variations of the same face at this temple. It was built by the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII in the late 12th or early 13th century. The faces are thought to symbolize either the king himself or the bodhisattva of compassion. 


Ta Prohm: The One With The Trees/Featured in Tomb Raider

This one is your Hollywood-induced picture perfect image of what all ancient temples in forests in movies look like - except it's real life. It was built by the same King Jayavarman VII from Bayon and was meant to be a forest monastery and university for Mahayana Buddhist monks. I love how much nature has started reclaiming the temple ruins. It really inspires your imagination and makes you feel like Indiana Jones or Laura Croft, maybe because parts of the 2001 Tomb Raider movie starring Angeline Jolie were filmed here and no doubt inspired her to adopt her now 14-year-old Cambodian son Maddox in 2002.  

Temple Tips

Tickets are pretty expensive and there's really no way to get around it because guards check your pass at every temple. A one day pass is $20, the three day, which I opted for, is $40 and a 7 day pass is $60 and you can only get them at this giant booth a few km south of Angkor Wat. Then there's the cost of transportation, either a bicycle, motorbike, tuk-tuk, car, mini-van or bus, except my bike was free to use from my hotel. 

There's the small loop which is relatively close together and includes the most famous sites of Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm and a few other sites that are stoptional. No matter what time you go, these spots are always covered with tourists like ants swarming a lollipop. This is the area that I spent two days and over 100 km bicycling. I probably could have done it in a day if I didn't get lost a few times and if I didn't have to bike 10 km each way to and from my hotel. 

The big loop includes a bunch of other miscellaneous sites that are more spread out so I hired a tuk tuk driver for $20 for this. Not only do you see a few more temples, but you also see more authentic Cambodian culture and landscape. I loved buzzing by all the little villages and rice paddies. There are also a lot less tourists. 

The forecast is always hot with 100% chance of sweating so I am glad I wore my lightweight, quick dry synthetic trekking top and pants from REI. You should cover up shoulders, torsos and knees both to protect yourself from the sun and to be respectful of the people and places you are visiting. 

You will have local merchants and kids begging you to buy things at every single temple. Magnets, postcards, elephant pants, scarves, paintings, guidebooks, etc. The kids are the hardest to say no to, as they will always tell you that the money is for school, but they're most likely being exploited because they should actually be in school - not selling trinkets to tourists.  

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Adventures in Chiangmai, Thailand

After two weeks at the temple in Fang, I took a minibus on Sunday back to Chiangmai, which consisted of a three hour journey and two military checkpoint stops. 

I stayed in a capsule hostel on the edge of the city that cost $4 USD per night. It had great reviews on Hostelworld but I wasn't a huge fan. Especially when two French dudes stumbled in after midnight and woke up pretty much everyone in the dorm. 

After at least a dozen different Mirandala (Miranda + mandala) sketches, I was finally satisfied enough with a design to have it permanently etched into my skin. It's more of an abstract lotus to represent this incredible journey during which I feel like I've started blossoming and it's located approximately where my heart chakra would be. 

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I went to the Master Tattoo shop and a cool dude named Aan took just over two hours to transfer the design in the traditional Thai style, using a piece of bamboo dipped in ink instead of a mechanical needle. It feels like exactly what it is, someone slowly and methodically stabbing you with a sharp stick. The pain was comparable to a modern tat and particularly hurt around the spine area and when he did the dots and the thicker lines. I'm super happy with how it turned out but it wasn't the cheap Thai prices you get accustomed to for everything else. It cost me 5,000 baht or about $140 USD, but with my limited knowledge of American ink, I think it still cost me less than it would have in the States. It you want to make bank in Thailand, be a tattoo artist. 

That night I saw my first Muay Thai fight, which is basically Thai kick-boxing. The ring was a proper underground venue that had bars on all sides and smelled like cigarettes, sweat and tiger balm. I paid 600 baht for my VIP ringside ticket and happened to sit next to three Chinese guys. 

There were 5 warm up fights, a main mens fight and a ladies' title fight between a Thai and a Canadian. The guys were all Thai, progressing from the lowest weight classes that barely broke 100 lbs up to about my weight. Yes, I was a bit shocked that I weigh more than I think all but two of the fighters but Thai people tend to be smaller and some of the first few kids couldn't have been over 18. 

There was an intermission of sorts where two guys choreographically battled it out with swords, presumably because they both showed up wearing the same outfit: blue boxer briefs and a red bandana. I instantly thought of a Liu Kang vs. Liu Kang Mortal Kombat fight, sans the levitating bicycle kicks, and actually yelled "Finish Him!" at one point. After that was a comedic Blind Boxing match where three small guys and one fat guy walked around the ring punching each other while blindfolded. 

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It was a late night because almost all of the fights lasted 4 or 5 rounds and there was only like one knock out. The Canadian "Cocoapuff" ended up winning the belt in the Ladies title fight and I rode in a tuk-tuk back to my "crap-sule" just after midnight. It's a bit out of character and my first live fight but I have to admit I really enjoyed it. 

Midweek I transferred to new accommodation in the heart of the city, which turned out to be one of my most favorites throughout my whole trip. I was searching for yoga in Chiangmai and came across a 3 day package that included a morning and an evening group practice, my own little private bungalow and a daily green smoothie and bottle of local Kombucha. Only moments after arriving at Bluebird Eco Village, I was smitten and impulsively extended my stay to 5 days, encompassing all the time I had left in Chiangmai. (More on this in the next post about staying and eating sustainably in Chiangmai.) 

Despite loving the location I was in, I got a bad case of the Traveler Blues (not to be confused with the harmonica-loving 90's band of the reverse name). I guess if you travel alone long enough, you are bound to get lonely. I tried everything to shake it. Checked social media, still not happy. Morning yoga class, still not happy. Meditation in my room, still not happy. Reading my book, still not happy - although admittedly it's a book about the Pol Pot regime so I wasn't really expecting that to cheer me up. Ate healthy food, still not happy. Ate not-healthy food, still not happy. Took a walk outside and visited some local museums, still not happy. Took a nap, still not happy. I finally snapped out of it when I met some really interesting people that later checked in to the village. 

The Blues are the worst part but the best part of travel is meeting people that are way more interesting and inspiring than you are. I first met a chick from Canada who stared traveling the same time I did around June, except she is on a hiatus/sabbatical because unlike most of 'Merica, employers in our Northern Neighbor Nation actually believe people should have periods of enjoyable breaks from their jobs. Anyways, she brought her own bike and cycled/camped across Europe for three months before flying to Southeast Asia and peddling across Vietnam and Cambodia. She also came to some of the yoga classes. 

Then I met a super cool, super talented kid from Colorado that was on a bit of a break as well... from dancing in Taylor Swift's 1989 World Tour. Wait, what? Yep. Wow. They all get a few days off between China and Australia so instead of going home, he decided to stay in the area. I'd already been in Chiangmai a few days and have extensive tour guide experience from my days working at the Admissions Office during University so I volunteered to show him around.

We ate dinner at one of my favorite Veg joints nearby then strolled around the main streets of the city. Then we headed back to the Muay Thai venue, because everyone just needs to experience this while in Thailand. I'm making it mandatory. There were a lot more KO's this time and the 'lady fights' were far better and more entertaining than the mens'. Again there was a Canadian chick, who I suspect may also work as a lumberjack back home based on her size and strength, but she lost on points to her smaller yet faster and more agile Thai opponent. 

The next day we rented scooters and ventured out of the city towards Mae Rim to find some more "nature-y stuff." My scooter was much more bad-ass than the old beat up ones I had in Bali, and resembled a scooter version of the Bumblebee autobot, which I half-expected to transform at any moment. (But it didn't.) 

We followed signs up winding, mountain roads to the Tard Mork waterfall. All green everything! And the mountain air was so fresh and so clean (clean).The scenery was amazing and we hiked far off the beaten path near the falls. Despite the ominous high grass with mystery burial mounds and hidden holes, a handful of thorns and two leech attacks, I still had a blast. 

As we were riding back down the mountain towards the main road, we came upon rather festive occasion with loud, live music happening in the shadow of a large temple. We cautiously pulled in on our scooters and the group of questionably-sober, middle-aged Thai people beckoned for us to join them. They immediately offered us chairs and poured us some rum drinks, which we watered down because we still had a ways to go on our scooters. This was so much fun and my friend ended up in a dance battle with a little, old yet very spry Thai guy in a baggy blue suit. Another Thai guy that was missing most of his teeth was very seriously and intently explaining something to me in Thai, and I kept telling him I didn't understand but he would just nod and keep telling me and pointing in the opposite direction. I finally asked one of the ladies at the table to translate and it turns out he was trying to direct me to the bathrooms. 

It was all a bit surreal - like we totally crashed this Thai party and everyone loved it and now everyone has a great story to share with all their friends and family. You're welcome (lol). They took a ton of pictures of and with us before we graciously made our exit. We stopped at a simple, roadside cafe for dinner and I forgot to ask if the veggies were spicy so of course they burned my face off when I tried to eat them. We rode the rest of the way back to the eco-village in the dark and even through a brief rain shower that bordered on refreshing. 

Conveniently located next to the village was a temple which happened to host a "Monk Chat" on Saturday and Sunday evenings where they were clearly targeting tourists to come learn more about Thai culture and Buddhism. The two of us headed over and talked with a monk named Bin for probably close to an hour. It was really interesting and insightful and I think everyone left at least a little bit more enlightened. 

I spent the night packing up my laundry - my incredible, intoxicatingly fresh, machine-washed and dried clothes - the first proper wash they've received in 6 weeks - before falling asleep a little bit too late. I woke up early to return my rented scooter and then it was time for me to take a red Thai open cab to the airport. There's one of those crappy parts of traveling again - having to say bittersweet goodbyes to awesome people (this includes the adorable owner of the village) that you meet. I definitely left part of myself in Thailand - beyond just the buckets of mid-day sweat and the bit of blood lost to the thorns and leeches.  I totally could have hung around there for another day or two. Le sigh.

I Heart Street Art | Chiangmai, Thailand

Found quite the collection of Street Art in Chiangmai, Thailand so far. There are also some galleries and lots of tattoo shops so I'd consider this a pretty creative city.

I guess I like street art so much because it challenges the traditional idea of art being hidden away in a gallery or museum and/or only accessible to a privileged few. It's often a healthy dose of civil disobedience and it's up to the artists themselves and the public to deem what is art, not just a few critics or curators. As long as it's not outright offensive, and especially if it has a good message behind it that can provoke thought and conversation, I like that street art is free and always available to the masses.

Many times, I prefer it to the 'modern art' (ex. a straight up piece of rope nailed to the wall) or rather homogenous antique paintings that I've seen in legit museums. Don't get me wrong, museums and galleries are cool too but you expect to see art when you go there. I like turning a corner and unexpectedly seeing a mural like "Oh hai! Here's a little eye candy for you. You're welcome." If I find a few murals here and there, it becomes like a little urban treasure hunt and I always try to find more! 

Thailand Temple Time: Part II


The border mountains with Burma

The border mountains with Burma

Thailand is the cleanest Asian country I’ve visited. (Well not counting Singapore which is almost sterile since everything is concrete or indoors.) In the past few countries, there is rubbish everywhere and people tend to put it in piles and burn it from time to time. Bleh - the smell of burning plastic is the worst. But not Thailand - they even have recycling! And I didn’t believe this at first but there are also people that make a living by going through the bright blue garbage bins and taking out anything that is recyclable as well.

Recycling makes me happy! 

Recycling makes me happy! 

I was surprised  that the traffic here is pretty much a parade of pick-up trucks. While waiting at a bus stop one day, I counted and there is literally about one sedan for every 20 trucks. Then at the other extreme lots of people buzz by on motorbikes as well. Maybe it’s just Fang but I just expected mostly motorbikes with some small cars mixed in and even tuk-tuks.

image source: thaizer.com

image source: thaizer.com

There are pictures of the royal family everywhere. On calendars in shops and restaurants, framed in the middle of street medians, on giant billboards. But most of them are not current and show especially the king in his much younger days. Not that I would have any reason to, but I’ve been told on multiple occasions not to insult the king as Thai people are very patriotic and hold their king in high regard.


I thoroughly enjoyed the little temple tour that was arranged for us on Sunday. Oui, a Thai lay person that runs a canteen at the nearby school and helps out around the temple, drove us around in a truck to three very different temples north of Fang. The first was a traditional Chinese Buddhist temple which is not out of place since there’s a pretty significant population of them in Northern Thailand. It featured the traditional style architecture with the sloping roofs, lots of red and gold, paper lanterns and dragons draped over everything. There was also a ginormous Budai statue, or the Laughing/Fat Buddha that most people recognize in the West because they are always in Chinese restaurants and nail salons. Budai was a Chinese monk who was so well liked and admired that the Chinese consider him a Matrea or Future Buddha. Not the same at all as the original calm, cross-legged, meditating Buddha that lived in India 2500 years ago.



Chinese temple

Chinese temple

The second stop was an immaculate meditation retreat (open to Thai only) with a golden pagoda that you could see shining amongst the green mountains from far away. As we were driving up the last incline to the entrance, the left and right sides of the road were lined with adorable, lotus-shaped huts that house the resident nuns and guests. The circular temple was gorgeous inside and out and had a series of paintings of the Buddha’s life and legends on the inner walls and a lotus mural carved and painted all along the outer walls. In the center of the temple was a delicate looking glass structure that made me feel like I was looking at a scale model of the Emerald City from Oz. Strategically placed throughout the property was a collection of statues of Buddha, devas and nagas like an outdoor art gallery.

Golden pagoda

Golden pagoda

Mini Emerald City? 

Mini Emerald City? 

After this we stopped at a local restaurant for lunch and I had pad see ew - the closest thing they served to pad thai. It was basically big, flat noodles with veggies. I was craving a salty snack while they prepared my food so I perused the racks of potato chips that they had to offer - and even 90% of these were meat flavored! There was pork, shrimp, chickend and even cuttlefish flavored crackers or chips, along with like two regular potato flavors and one bag of Thai Cheetohs. I ended up skipping the junkfood appetizer.

Cuttlefish Crackers, anyone?

Cuttlefish Crackers, anyone?

Our last stop was an impressive, seven level Forest Temple that was about as close to the Burma border as you can get. The mountains to the west form a natural border with Burma and Graham even pointed out a military base in a clearing atop one of the peaks. I was probably way too excited to see a cat which was pretty scraggly looking and was missing an eye, but still… kitty!

Forest Temple Meditation Trail

Forest Temple Meditation Trail

There was an amazing little meditation path the wound through the woods and ended at a giant concrete ‘boat’ overlooking the Me Kok river. The panoramic views of the landscape were incredible from this vantage point. As we walked along the path, Graham told us that some of the older monks can recall the days when wild tigers and elephants used to roam the area but of course they have long since disappeared. The trees would be gone too if it wasn’t protected temple land, and even then some loggers still try to force their way in sometimes.

Wat Thaton

Wat Thaton

This is also the location of Wat Thaton, an impressive, rainbow colored temple that houses a variety of Buddhist relics, so it’s kind of like a museum too. There are even ornamental baby Buddhas outside. We took a break here before heading home and I indulged in ice cream, thai iced milk tea and had a cup of traditional hot tea.


So many feels today! I decided to have lunch at the canteen that Oui and his wife manage at the school. Yesterday he invited me there for lunch and said his wife would cook me something vegetarian but I wasn’t feeling great yesterday so I just had toast here instead. Today I walked over at a quarter past 11 and all the monks were heading to lunch as well. Oui wasn’t there but his wife was and she was very cute and very pregnant. She offered me iced thai green tea which is very sweet and loaded with condensed milk. Then she cooked me a simple meal of some sort of greens and sprouts with sauce on a bed of rice. I covertly added my usual handful of peanuts for protein and flavor. (I always do this at alms breakfast as well.)

I sat by myself at the end of a picnic style wooden table. It was just like sitting in a cafeteria back home except the students were all boys with shaved heads, wearing bright orange uniforms. One monk cautiously walked past me and said hello. I responded “hello” enthusiastically and eventually he sat down at the table - as far away from me as possible on the other side, but still. He had pretty good English and I found out he was 18 and his name is Kon. After a few moments, another monk shyly approached, said hello and politely asked permission if he could sit across from me. “Yes, of course!” He was very eager to practice his English and was so honest that he admitted he was nervous to practice with me and that he needs to work on his confidence. I assured him that his English was very good. His name is Long and he is 17. He practices a lot because he wants to study English at University and I don’t blame him. It will definitely open up a lot more opportunities for him. The two boys were in the same class and they have been monks for 5 years.

By this time, it was time for them to go back to class so they excused themselves and I thanked them for talking with me. The temple gets plenty of guests but I doubt most of them interact with the monks so much. I really hope I gave those two kids some confidence after our little chat!

School for Monks

School for Monks

When I was finished with my meal, Oui’s wife offered to refill my tea and I asked her how much for lunch and she insisted it was free. I had a 100 baht note (about $3 USD) in my pocket and tried to hand it to her but she refused until I insisted she take it for the baby (in her tummy). She finally accepted it with a wide grin and I walked away with a smile, myself. It can be a bit intimidating being the totally obvious, odd person out but all the Thai people I’ve met so far are so nice so it really hasn’t been bad at all.

Another English-speaking monk actually added me on Facebook last week which I thought was a bit strange at first but then I thought they are just people that want to make connections like everyone else. I'm pretty sure he's going to University soon and may not even be a monk after that. Who knows? 

Longtail, our resident roadblock

Longtail, our resident roadblock

As of today everyone else is gone, even the coordinator, Graham (but he has a good excuse: he’s getting married.) So it’s just me and Longtail, our resident temple dog who I sometimes prefer to call Roadblock because she is always laying across one of the top stairs so that we have to step over her completely. She rarely moves - I think because the other dogs tend to bully her but she’s got it made and gets her own food and water and far more attention than all the others.

I'll be leaving on a mini bus to Changmai city on Sunday but I'm super thankful for this incredible, unique and inspiring experience. 

Week Three Wildlife in Thailand

For my last week at the sanctuary I switched over from elephants to work with the rest of the wildlife. These can be divided into a few sub-groups: two types of Bears, Primates, which include macaques, gibbons,  dusky langurs and one Capuchin, Nocturnals comprised of several slow lorises, a binturong and leopard cats and other wildlife consists of deer, otter, birds, reptiles and some other miscellaneous creatures. There is also a slew of domestic animals that have been collected over the years: at least a dozen dogs, a handful of cats, pigs and piglets, a horse and too many chickens. I got to work with or for all of these animals at one point or another during this week. 

The center cares for dozens of bears, most of whom were rescued from various places that thought it was a good idea to keep them as pets. You can literally buy bear cubs - and many other animals stolen from the wild - at some night markets throughout Thailand. They arrive unsocialized and malnourished as they were often fed soda, candy and junk food in small, cramped cages. 

Sun Bears and mostly black with a few tan markings and are known for their dragon-lady like long claws that I'm pretty sure they use mostly for digging because I've had to avoid several holes when cleaning their enclosures. They seem pretty small, until they stand up, and then they look pretty intimidating. We feed them a variety of fruit and often hide pieces in trees and tires and scatter it around their habitats to keep them stimulated. (Obviously the bears are locked in their dens when we do this.) We also sometimes stuff bamboo with pieces of corn and cucumber like a type of puzzle. Its really cute to watch because they usually sit down and play with it for a while before they finally pry it open; either by pulling out the piece of corn that acts like a cork or just breaking the piece of bamboo wide open. They're almost all adults but there is one mamma bear and a 12 week old cub that are heart-meltingly adorable. There are some really fluffy Asiatic Black Bears scattered amongst the bear habitats as well. 

Looks like a bear bong lol 

Looks like a bear bong lol 

The primates are probably the biggest challenge because they are smart and they are cheeky. I learned this the hard way. Generally, we put their fruit and veggie salads in baskets and they reach through the fences to retrieve it. As I was feeding a macaque named Dollar, he swiftly reached through the fence and grabbed my teal blue sunglasses right off my head and promptly dismembered them. I also got a bit too close to one of the gibbon enclosures during feeding time and a hairy go-go-gadget arm came out of nowhere and grabbed my hair, jerking my head back pretty fast. I'm glad it was french-braided at the time, otherwise, he might have pulled some hair out completely. 

A gibbon, or as I prefer to call it, a Grabbin' 

A gibbon, or as I prefer to call it, a Grabbin' 

There are several breeds of macaque, generally categorized by tail-type. There are long-tailed, stump-tailed and pig tailed and they abound all over Thailand. You'll see them lurking around temples and terrorizing villages. I guess I can't really blame them because people have taken over much of their habitat. The gibbons swing from tree to tree using their disproportionately long arms and make the most interesting and after while annoying howling sounds. The noises alternate between police siren and R2D2 and it always sounds like they are watching an intense soccer game where their team is really close to scoring a goal but the ball doesn't actually make it into the net. 

Many, many macaques 

Many, many macaques 

I find the dusky langurs really creepy as their face markings kind of make them look like members of the Insane Clown Posse. They always come out of nowhere and clasp the cage at eye level with you, bearing their teeth and making little gurgly/clikcy sounds. A lot of them have chain link tunnels connected to their cages that are suspended high in the trees and they will try to poop or pee on you if the timing is right. 

Creepy, clown-faced little monkey!

Creepy, clown-faced little monkey!

The nocturals were some of my favorites. The slow lorises are so cute, which is why there is such a huge issue with them being kept as pets. Despite their large, innocent-looking eyes, their teeth are poisonous and therefore often get yanked out without anesthetic to prevent their toxic bites. They are also night-dwellers so the daylight hurts their eyes and they are never feed correctly when kept as pets. These poor creatures get tortured then locked away in tiny cages just so someone can occasionally take them out and use them for their own amusement. Which brings me to my next point: photo props. Wherever the tourists go, the animal handlers follow, hoping to make a quick buck by exploiting their heavily drugged and/or sedated animal for pictures. DO NOT ENCOURAGE THIS INDUSTRY. Don't take pictures with wild animals when approached and don't go to tiger temples or anywhere else that promises safe interaction with an animal that would naturally want to rip your face off. 

One last quick anecdote about the slow loris. I helped my team leader with nocturnals on my very first day of wildlife and somehow one of their cages got left open. He had the keys but it was dumping rain so I'm not sure how happened. I didn't find out until the next day, at which point I felt horrible, but luckily the same leader found the slow loris that afternoon in a nearby tree because as their name suggests, they don't move very fast. I was so relieved. And I do a pretty amazing slow loris voice, according to my roommates. :P 

Slow Loris

Slow Loris

There are a few orange and green iguanas that reminded me of Miami. They never eat all their food and they love to have water sprinkled on them with the hose. There is one crocodile that gets fed one chicken per week by the Thai staff. There are a few birds of prey and a few non-native parrot species including a Macaw named Blue that will shout Hello (and sometimes expletives) at you as you pass by his enclosure. There is Bernie, the brain-damaged (dropped on his head by people as a fledgling) Cassowary that eats a lot of fruit and looks like a rather pre-historic creature. He looks like a cross between a colorful ostrich and a velociraptor and has the capacity to kill you but doesn't really realize it. The otters are freakin adorable and sound like living squeaky toys but their enclosure always smells a bit like dead fish because thats what they eat. 

The pigs and chickens and deer can be a nuisance but are useful as the scavengers of the sanctuary because they eat all the leftovers from our dinner and scraps from food prep for the other animals and whatever the monkeys drop or intentionally toss out of their baskets. 

If you've ever worked in the food service industry, volunteering for wildlife is a breeze. Its literally like working in a restaurant for wildlife: you prepare food, serve food and wash dishes. There is also a fair amount of pool and enclosure cleaning to keep everyone happy and healthy. When comparing it to the elephants work, it's more tedious and there is more to do, both because less people volunteer with wildlife and because there are so many more animals that require smaller meals. Working with elephants is like a series of sprints with lots of breaks whereas working with the rest of the wildlife is more like a daily marathon. 

I also took on another special project utilizing my occupational skills. Apparently there was a falling out with a former designer and she sabotaged a nearly 40-page document detailing everything e new volunteer needs and wants to know. All the fonts were converted to outlines, rendering them inevitable, and the pictures were all unlinked, making the document useless for printing. I helped teach their assistant In-Design (the whole teach a man to fish vs give a man a fish principle) and helped rebuild the file as well. I was really grateful for this extra experience because I enjoyed getting to know Tommy the UK Sanctuary manager and Edwin, the sanctuary's Dutch Founder. 

I was a bit sad to leave but I think three weeks was the perfect amount of time for me here. I would love to come back for another visit and encourage anyone else that loves animals to volunteer here! 

Furry bug, Limpy Gimp & Blister Girl

Furry bug, Limpy Gimp & Blister Girl

One Night in Bangkok

I landed in Bangkok in agony. My left foot was throbbing and I had trouble hobbling through the airport, even with the assistance of the moving sidewalks. I thought about what could possibly have caused this and remembered my foot getting boarded over my last day surfing in Bali. (I think the stress of the flights, altitude & air pressure changes made it worse.) 

I cleared customs, withdrew some baht from an ATM then loaded my bags into a trolley and went outside to wait my turn in the taxi queue. It was almost 10 PM by the time I reached my hostel in town. Bed Station was very similar to the pod hostel I stayed at in Seminyak. I was surprised to meet another American in my room, who also happened to be a graphic designer, who invited me out to a bar with his newfound friends but I declined as I felt decrepit and exhausted. 

I took a naproxin and had the crappiest, intermittent sleep before finally getting up and deciding to go to the hospital for an x-ray on the recommendation of my parents and their friend who is a nurse. There was a handful of hospitals in the area so if it was any other body part that was battered I would have walked but instead I took a taxi. 

Immediately upon arriving at Pyathai Hospital around 7:30 AM, I was seated in front of a check-in desk and welcomed by my very own English-speaking attendant. I described my general woes, gave her my travel insurance info and soon enough an orderly appeared with a posh and padded wheelchair for me. It was very comfortable - like the La-Z-Boy recliner of wheelchairs. I hate feeling helpless but I climbed into the chair anyways and fastened the little seatbelt and smiled awkwardly as I was wheeled through a sea of Thai people staring at me with a variety of facial expressions. I ended up in the Musculoskeletal Center and spoke briefly with a doctor before getting the x-ray. Then I waited for a bit and munched on dried mango and peanuts that I had brought for breakfast and comprehended almost none of the Thai morning show I was watching.

When I was summoned back to the doctor's office he gave me the good news first: my left foot wasn't broken. The diagnosis was severe contusions that left blood and fluids to settle throughout my sole, heel and ankle. He wrapped it and said it could take up to two weeks to heal. Dammit. This used to be my good foot! (My right ankle is a bit weaker and slightly deformed from where I tore all the ligaments in during a beachside basketball game when I was sixteen.) 

The doctor wrapped up my foot then sent me on my way. Right in the same waiting area was the cashier and a pharmacy. Brilliant! Back home in the States, there are so many extra steps: take Rx to pharmacy, wait a while, pick up Rx at their convenience. Makes so much more sense to have it at the hospital! I left with a copy of my x-ray on cd-rom, some Ibuprofin and some muscle relaxers. The total cost of my visit was around 2 hours and 3,500 baht or about $97 USD. 

I marveled about how fast and efficient the whole experience was and my orderly hailed a cab to take me back to my hostel. On the return trip, I happened to glance out the window at the right moment to see a faded yet familiar orange face grinning at me from across the road. I immediately recognized Atomik's signature tag and took a picture to be uploaded and hash tagged ASAP on Instagram. (Atomik is one of the awesome Miami-based street artists that I worked with on my last big project for Whole Foods Market.) Seeing that simple visual really brightened up my otherwise discouraging day. 

I had only a few minutes to pack and requested help with loading my bags into the car that would soon after whisk me away to my volunteer destination in Phetchubari. I really wish I had a bit more time in Bangkok and that I had seen more than the inside of one hostel and one hospital, but I'm thankful my injury wasn't more serious. (Still seriously painful though.) 

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Several people that have visited before me told me that I would love Ubud. Turns out they were right. 

It took almost two hours to get there from the coast by taxi, mainly because my driver got lost a few times. My homestay was a bit hard to find, even for me. After turning off the main road and up a steep, gravel hill, I had to load myself up with my rucksack and backpack and walk a few more hundred meters down a narrow, paved path with a giant concrete wall on one side and a small moat on the other. After passing several other structures, I arrived at the entrance of Nirwa Homestay. It's was like a forgotten temple that has been reclaimed by nature. Tropical trees and plants fill every nook and cranny of the multi tiered home. I had a private room on the second floor with a balcony and a killer view of the nearby rice paddies and semi-wild jungle. My bed was big and comfy and had mosquito nets neatly tucked into each corner of the purple linens. There's also other wooden furniture scattered throughout the room as well as my own bathroom complete with toilet paper and a toilet that flushes it. You can hear a bit of the main city noise in the distance but mostly you just hear the birds chirping and the breeze passing by. Yeah, this will do. 

"But wait, what is this Homestay you speak of?" you may be wondering. Basically traditional family houses are built in walled compounds with several structures, including its own temple, inside. Some of these have been converted into affordable accommodation for travelers, and is a more unique, authentic way to stay in and around Bali. I totally recommend it! 

Anyways, after settling in, I headed out to explore the area. Very near to my Homestay I found the Cantika Spa. It too was full of greenery and I became just a little bit calmer the second I stepped into the courtyard. I found their menu of treatment options and saw that I was in desperate need of a massage, manicure and pedicure, in that order. The receptionist called a beautiful, young Balinese girl with jet black hair that is even longer than mine, who spoke pretty good English and escorted me to my treatment room. She left the room again briefly so I could take off everything except the pair of disposable, mesh underwear she handed me. I laid face down and proceeded to experience one of the best massages of my life. Balinese massage is deep tissue and kind of a blend of shiatsu/acupressure and Thai stretching. For such a petite person, she seemed to have superhuman hand strength and for once I didn't have to request more pressure. I'm a bit of a massagochist (masochistic massage preference) and firmly believe (pun intended) that massages should hurt a bit if your masseuse or masseur is properly penetrating your muscles and releasing tension. 

This was truly a head to toe massage, including scalp and face. I was blissfully relaxed when it was time for me to shower off with surpringly good products and hot water. I tied my wet hair up, redressed and went outside for my nail treatments. I sat in a comfy, reclining chair while my masseuse tended to my hands and another girl tended to my feet. I chose a bright Barbie-pink shade of polish for my toenails and clear for the fingernails as usual. I was served some delicious ginger tea in a wine glass with a decorative palm frond origamied into a bird sticking out of it. As I looked out over my incredible, virid view, I felt like a pampered jungle princess. Or maybe a naive village virgin that was getting primed and perfected in order to be sacrificed to some ancient Balinese gods. Either way, it was awesome and I tried to savor every second of it. And I'm still trying to wrap my head around how this only cost me 341,000 IDR (including 10% service charge) which is less than $25 USD. How is everything so cheap here??? 

Staying both on the eastern edge of town and true to my sustainable travel philosophy, I didn't feel the need to rent a motorbike, as many tourists do here, and opted to walk instead. This of course prompted every local guy lurking on the sidewalks to shout "Taxi? Taxi! Taxi, yes?" at me as if it was the local greeting. This became quite annoying and I briefly thought about the millions of dollars I could make by designing, printing and selling "no taxi" t-shirts in Bali. 

I feel like I've become quite the hedonist whilst in Ubud. I've suppressed my materialistic impulses for the most part since I started traveling in June but I kinda went nuts here. I guess it's the combination of the dirt cheap prices and being alone with absolutely zero responsibility, resulting in endless amounts of free time that I fill with shopping, eating and excursions. Not to mention I've completely blown my original budget for Bali but I don't know if/when I'll be back. 

I booked two out of town trips from the combination laundry/travel shop downhill from my Homestay. The first was a four hour cycle tour, which actually started at a tea/coffee plantation where they employed the old try-then-buy technique and had us sample 10 different tea and coffee varieties, and then directed us to the shop in hopes of selling us some stuff. 

During this detour, we also had the opportunity to sample Indonesia's famous Kopi Luwak coffee, which I was already familiar with only because I've seen Anger Management starring Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler. If you haven't heard of it, Kopi Luwak is pretty much the most expensive coffee in the world. This is because it is made from beans that have been eaten, partially digested and pooped out by little mammals called civets. The manufactures would have you believe that they employ people to scavenge the forest floor to collect this special scat left from free range civets. But it's all lies! Only after I had bought some mangosteen tea and coconut coffee did I see the little creatures locked up in tiny cages with nothing but a branch and a water bowl. If you just look into their eyes for a second, you can see how sad and spiritually broken they are. I had to leave before my anger and disgust reached a tipping point, causing me to go all PETA on their asses and free the little civets. I know I haven't completely planned out my time here, but I definitely don't want to spend any of it in an Indonesian jail. 

Moral of the story is: DON'T BUY KOPI LUWAK COFFEE. 

But I digress. Back to the bikes! 

Next we were driven to a little restaurant overlooking the volcanic Mt. Batur and fed a morning snack of fried banana and fresh papaya. My group consisted of me, a Canadian family (typical mother, father & tall, lanky, teenage son) and our small yet smiley Indonesian guide, John. The fat-tired, blue mountain bikes were lined up in rows outside and we each chose one based on height and seat preference. 

Honestly my hands and forearms got the most workout because 90% of the ride was downhill and I had to keep pumping the brakes to stay at John's pace. We followed a mostly paved path amongst mandarin orange groves, around traditional home compounds, through a small but bustling city and even off-roaded down a rocky dirt path straight through a tiered rice paddy field. We shared the road with cars, trucks and a mini motorcycle gang of stone-faced rural school children in their khaki-colored school uniforms. Seriously, some of these kids driving looked like they hadn't even reached double digit birthdays yet. Altogether we did 35 km (21.7 m) through the Bali countryside and enjoyed a freshly prepared lunch of Nasi Goreng, noodles, veggies and tempeh/tofu for me, but chicken for everyone else. 

The next morning I woke up at 1:30 AM in order to be ready to get picked up at 2 AM for my sunrise hike up the Mount Batur Volcano. After being the inaugural passenger, my driver picked up several other patrons from France, Austria and Brazil until our van was full. When we arrived at our destination over an hour later, we found the parking lot packed with other tourists and locals alike. Apparently the hikes are most popular on the weekend, Saturday and Sunday mornings, so I would recommend going on a weekday to avoid the crowds. 

We were divided into smaller groups and assigned guides, although this seemed superfluous since there were so many people that we could basically herd ourselves up the single trail to the summit. It was like we were all at a massive concert and having to climb up a rocky, gravely, sandy path towards the really, really cheap seats at the top of the amphitheater. Or maybe we were walking up someone's really steep, badly maintained driveway. I was wearing proper hiking boots and still found it tough to grip the ever shifting volcanic rock beneath my feet. I have no idea how people in crappy tennis shoes or even socks & sandals were able to trek successfully. Once you got towards the tippy top, it became solid sand and felt like hiking up a giant dune near the beach. Since I'm used to living at sea level, I had a bit of trouble breathing with the altitude, but I really believe yoga teacher training strengthened both my mind and body so I am better able to tackle the challenges I take on. 

I reached the top just as some fiery colors were appearing on the horizon and did in fact get to see the sun rise from the summit, albeit slightly obscured by hoards of other tourist silhouettes and selfie sticks. 

I was glad that 1) there was no precipitous, in contrast to my failed sunrise hike in Sri Lanka and 2) I had a Brazilian buddy to share the experience with. She was older and slightly slower than me but we both made it to the top and shared a mug of hot tea to celebrate. I ate my rather disappointing pre-provided, styrofoam packed breakfast which consisted of an impossible to peel hard boiled egg, two slices of white bread with mystery spread, a green banana and a mandarin orange. I also brought a chocolate my treat that I had resolved only to eat if I reached the top. Determined to leave no trace, I put the peels and wrappers and everything back in my bag, whereas many people just left their rubbish wherever they dropped it, which made me smad (sad & mad.) 

The descent was just as challenging, if not more so, than the ascent. Gravity is a cruel bully that persistently tried to pull me down so she could sadistically laugh at me. I only had one close call where I lost my footing on loose rocks but was able to catch myself and stop short so that only one butt cheek touched the ground, kind of like I was sliding into home plate after a successful run around all the other bases. 

When I reached the car again, it wasn't even 9 AM. I just wanted to go home and have a proper breakfast and take a nap. But instead our driver stopped at a coffee/tea shop exactly like the one I had to go to before the cycling, complete with caged civets, and I begrudgingly sat and sampled the same coffees and teas and breezed through the shop and back to the van. I finally got back to the Homestay around 11 and the host graciously still offered to make me a green pancake. And I was eternally grateful. I napped for the next few hours and decided to expend as little energy as possible to find lunch and later dinner. 

The next few days consisted of shopping/haggling in the local market, an traditional Indonesian cooking lesson that yielded a six course lunch, and a trip to the sacred monkey forest which was just like the jungle book, sans King Louie the orangutan. Only small monkeys that all looked like they had 19th century aristocratic facial hair lived in and around an old temple and climbed tourists to steal their bananas, which were all bought at small stalls throughout the park for monkey-feeding anyways. 

I also kept up with my yoga, doing my own 1-2 hour practice in the mornings on my balcony before breakfast. With the exception of the last morning when I decided to attend a local class labeled "Ashtanga" but it turned out to be "vinyasa flow" for naive tourists that have never done yoga before. I was thoroughly disappointed and considered leaving without paying the 100,000 rupees but I didn't because I'm too nice. 

I got one more full body massage and a hair treatment at my favorite Cantika spa and indulged in Nasi Campur and homemade rice wine for my last meal in town. Bali, and Ubud specifically are fast approaching the top of my favorite travels list and I've vowed to return one day. 

The next morning, my Homestay host drove me over two hours to my next destination, Balian Beach on the west coast. 

My super cute homestay  

My super cute homestay  

Sacred Monkey temple/forest  

Sacred Monkey temple/forest  

The elementary motorcycle gang  

The elementary motorcycle gang  

Disco Buddha!  

Disco Buddha!  

Loving the architecture/family compounds  

Loving the architecture/family compounds  

Cooking class where I learned to prepare an Indo feast!  

Cooking class where I learned to prepare an Indo feast!  

Canggu, Bali, Indonesia

The first place I went after landing at Denpasar Airport was Canggu in North Kuta. It's kind of on the outskirts so it's not as touristy as the main city but the streets are still packed with scooters and surfboards. I stayed at the Brekele Berawa Beach House which was just a few hundred meters from the ocean. I met Jochen, as well as some new and exclusively blonde, German friends, here. They surfed way more (not to mention way better) than I did but I attempted to catch a few waves myself and did actually stand up on occasion. 

Some highlights here include starlit scooter rides on the way back from dinners and/or drinks, whizzing through lush, green, tiered rice paddies on a cobblestoned causeway, sipping coconut water straight from the source at sunset, and developing a taste for roadside fried banana. Bali has been so much fun - even when things don't go according to plan. Like when every single ATM was out of order or money or both so we were cashless for about a day and when the whole area experienced a power outage on our way to dinner one night, forcing us to dine in the dark. (Well there were small tea light candles and we kinda cheated by using our smartphones as an additional light source.) 

The sand is dark, thick and covers  your feet in clumps like wet, moldy sugar. The water was a bit cold but by no means unbearable. The weather was great; not too hot and I don't remember any rain. I even attempted to do some asanas on the sand while Jochen surfed, which makes maintaining your balance all but impossible. So I gave up and rolled out my mat later at the beach house.

We also took a trip in town to Kuta which entailed nonstop scooter swerving and maneuvering. It was like we were wheeled contestants on that show Wipe Out and had to get from point A to Point B while avoiding a whole hot mess of obstacles like cars, trucks, pedestrians, dogs, sidewalks, street signs and several other scooters. We did make it there and back surprisingly unscathed and I was finally able to mail my yoga books home. 

After three days here, it was time for me to ramble on to Ubud. 


Kerala, India

Our last day off was spent in the neighboring district of Kerala, India. We left the ashram at 5 AM and got to see the sun rise on the road. We drove through the famous Kerala forest where it's rumored you can see elephants and leopards but we only saw deer and birds. The greenery surrounding us for several miles on each side was lush and lovely. 

We arrived at Lincy's beautiful home for a special breakfast that included her famous curried eggs. (She helped prepare the Onam meal for us at the Ashram the previous week.) After some food and some hospitality, we headed off to the Banasura Sagar Dam. Surrounded by the water and the mountains, we practiced some yoga poses and discovered a family swing park in the nearby woods. We could fit two at a time on the swings and at one point a guy plopped his kid on my and Amanda's laps for photos. It was so cute/awkward because the kid clearly was not as excited about this encounter as his dad. 

Then we had perfect timing when arriving at a tea plantation as the ladies who pick the tea were coming in to process their bags full of leaves. They were so friendly and most of them balanced the loads on their heads. Its a great reminder of how much work in a land far, far away goes into your morning cup of tea. 

After that we stopped at stupid lake, which paled in comparison to the dam, and I was starting to get 'hangry' so our next mission was lunch. We stopped at a local restaurant and had a bit spicier food than we were used to at the ashram. All six of us were stuffed for about $20 USD. Then I indulged in Cardamom flavored ice cream that came served in a little clay pot. 

The day lingered on as we visited a dilapidated old Jain temple and did a bit of shopping before finally returning to the ashram around 7 PM. So went our 14-hour day off. 

Mysore, India & Namdroling Monastery/Golden Temple

I spent two Mondays off in Mysore city and they were both fantastic. Compared to what I've seen on TV and other peoples' own tales of India Travel, it seems like Diet India - cleaner, less crowded and slightly less chaotic, than your typical tourist city like Mumbai or Delhi. 

I enjoyed some relaxing massages at a spa called Windflower and visited some local sites like the temples, the cow and the palace. We also had an interesting experience traipsing through a traditional Indian market, complete with seller-stalkers that followed us all the way to our cab, trying to sell us trinkets. 

Mysore is a famous spot for all the Ashtanga yogis, so there were tons of cute yoga-themed shops and other ahsrams/teacher training facilities. We stocked up on snacks, essential oils and supplements at Dhatu, a mini, Mysore version of Whole Foods Market. 

I could go on, but I think the pictures can say more than I can type. 

During our second trip, we drove to the Namdroling [Tibetan Buddhist] Monastery aka the Golden Temple in Bylakuppe. The sights and sounds here were incredible - one of the most inspiring places I've ever been. We arrived during one of their prayer times, so we heard the chanting of hundreds of monks ranging from like 8 - 80 years old. The deep voices were accompanies by deep gongs and the sound traveled through your ears and straight to your soul. It was almost mesmerizing. Not to mention the temples were ornately decorated with ginormous, golden Buddha statues, a rainbow of colors & murals and intricate carvings. I am officially adding Tibet to my travel list!