Moments | November 30

Sharing little moments, thoughts and stories with you.

Traveling and vacationing are two different things. Since January we’ve been traveling the world, seeing fantastic sites, and experiencing so many different things, but it hasn’t always been easy. A vacation is calming and relaxing, where everything is simple. Here in the islands of Thailand, we’ve taken some time to relax and reflect back on all that has happened this year. Sitting at a bar on the beach, watching the sunset and remembering all that we’ve done has been quite a welcome “vacation from traveling.”  

Before we really relaxed, we stopped off at the high-energy all-night party island of Phi Phi. It was amazing how the entire main town on the island is dedicated to drinks and house music. You can buy literal buckets of alcohol everywhere, and every other store is either a tattoo parlor or massage place. The beach at night is lit up with fire shows set to the techno and party music from the bars. Though it was a blast drinking the night away watching the beach-side spectacle, we weren’t too disappointed to move on. 

A quick ferry ride away was the more chilled-out island of Koh Lanta. Cozy mellow bars on the beach play great mixes, and serve fantastic cocktails while the sun puts on a show each evening over the ocean. The sunsets here have been the best we’ve seen all year long.

Things were a bit rough when we arrived in Koh Lanta. Immediately we both got sick, and spent the first few days in our room. Then the rains washed out a few more days. Disappointed our week had melted away and feeling so drawn to the relaxing beach vibe, we did the only sensible thing, stay longer. We extended our visa and decided to stay an extra 10 days. It has been completely worth it.

We got a massage here on the beach

It seems fitting that the last stop on our trip is one of the first things we thought about doing. Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia has always been a fascination. After seeing so many temples and religious places throughout our trip, it only makes sense to end with the largest one in the world.

Till next time,
Jon

Moments | November 15

Sharing little moments, thoughts and stories with you.

We’re relaxing in the islands of Thailand after some illuminating moments in Chiang Mai. We timed our visit with the Yi Peng and Loy Krathong Festivals – also known as the Festival of Light. The whole city was lit up with sky lanterns, floating lanterns, hanging lanterns and fireworks. You know when you’re somewhere where you can clearly see the stars? Imagine a night sky filled with hundreds of tiny golden lights instead of stars, and that’s what the sky looked like in Chiang Mai for three nights.

Sky lanterns are like small hot air balloons…you wait until they fill with smoky hot air and then simply let go!

The krathong we placed in the river. Krathongs and sky lanterns symbolize the drifting away of bad luck and misfortune and signal a fresh start.

Mango sticky rice…I could live on this.

I have a slight, possibly serious addition to mango, so the very first thing I ate in Thailand was mango sticky rice. We learned how to make it in a cooking class at Thai Cookery School. I can’t wait to try and replicate some of these Asian dishes at home. When using a wok it’s amazing how little cooking time is involved – the hardest part is getting all your ingredients chopped and ready to go.

And we learned about something else I have a certain affection for…elephants. We met one named Thxng Phechr (pronounced “tong-pet” which means “golden diamond”) at Baanchang Elephant Park. The park is a sanctuary for rescue elephants and has a program called Elephant Day Care. So we didn’t ride the elephant or see it do circus tricks…we actually took care of it for a day while our guide taught us all about the needs, behaviors, characteristics and qualities of elephants. It’s fascinating how much they are like people. Touching the skin of our elephant (3 inches thick), feeding and bathing him – was one of the coolest experiences of my life. 

Taking our elephant out for a walk through the forest. If he stopped for too long or tried to eat something it shouldn’t we learned what commands to say to keep him going.

On another day we got up close and personal with people in Chiang Mai, learning about street life portraiture on a photo tour with Alan. We met monks and market ladies, seamstresses and silversmiths, and then there were these adorable school children. After allowing us to take some photos of them they started gathering little flowers and presenting them to us – so sweet! They had fun putting some flowers in my hair and snapping some photos of us too.

These flowers seemed to transform me into Jack Nicholson.

One of the girls, me, and Alan.

Educational activities continued with a two-day meditation retreat. I was curious to learn more about this ancient practice and its place within Buddhism. We focused on “mindful meditation” and learned how to do this sitting, standing, walking and lying down. It’s pretty simple really, but the point is not to zone out. The point is to be aware of your thoughts – to be mindful of them. Whatever activity you might do to exercise your body, this is an exercise for your mind.

For me the most magical moment was the sitting meditation we did outside at 5:30 am while the sun was rising. It was so peaceful hearing the sounds of nature around us and I relaxed into the thought that I could sit still without any expectation to do anything…this was exactly where I was supposed to be.

At the meditation retreat - everyone wears all white. 

Part of the program allows for a “monk chat” – an opportunity to ask a monk questions about their daily life, meditation techniques, Buddhism, etc. So I asked about something that has puzzled and troubled me in temples I’ve visited in Thailand, Myanmar and Indonesia. Why are some temples and inner sanctuaries off-limits for women? What are the roots and reasons for this tradition? And do these physical restrictions limit women’s ability to access the divine?

I was really disappointed with the answer I got which boiled down to “because I'm a man I don’t concern myself with these things” and “that’s just the way it is.” Researching it further, it seems the practice stems from a monk’s vow of celibacy. Women aren’t allowed to touch monks, and even our close proximity in special areas is considered a threat. Women are not allowed to visit some temples at all when menstruating. I found this simultaneously hilarious and infuriating. It’s based on the belief that during this time women are impure. (Sigh.) It seems the path to enlightenment needs some illuminating.

Till next time,
Beth