Moonroots

Find your roots and grow, wherever you go. Travel-Yoga-Lifestyle


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Flashback to Thailand: Koh Tao Round 2: An Island Paradise

Because the first time I spent on this island was so magical, I just had to come back here before eventually heading back to Bangkok and getting on that dreaded flight away from Southeast Asia. From Surat-thani we took the overnight sleeper boat to Koh Tao, a big open space full of foam mats and weary travelers, excited to arrive in a land of beautiful beaches and spectacular diving.P1070585 Previously I had stayed at Big Blue Dive Resort, where I completed my Open Water and Advanced courses, and then one night at Spicy Tao, where we would take up residence this time. Nestled in the forest amongst palms and soothing sounds at night, the rustic accomodations are really all you need if you plan to spend all your time at the beach anyway, just make sure you have ample repellent at night. My dorm just so happened to feature a nice family of geckos living on the wall too! As I was still recovering from some kind of nasty bug that destroyed me in Cambodia, there would unfortunately for me be no diving done this time. At least snorkelling doesn’t require clear sinuses! Whether we were on the popular Sairee Beach or the amazing Koh Nang Yuan, our days were spent swimming with the fish until sunset enjoying our favorite restaurants like Su Chili and Blue Wind, and hanging with new friends where of course some shenanigans at the hostel turned into dancing and fire-jumping back at the beach. P1070593Now let’s talk about Koh Nang Yuan, a protected little island just off of Koh Tao. This sandy slice of heaven is straight out of an ‘Islands’ magazine. Although pricier to stay on, a day trip to this paradise can be arranged for very few baht, and makes for a memorable day above the surface. There are plenty of masks and snorkels to rent and buy if you don’t have your own, and it’s hard to get bored of huge rainbows of cute fish in warm crystal blue water. Sounds nice right? My one recommendation: pack snacks to bring with you as food is pricy on the island, and remember not to bring any plastic water bottles as they’re banned from the park.P1070597 P1070598P1070602P1070606P1070611For our last beautiful night on my favorite little island we ‘splurged’ and got a bungalow on the beach with our own little patio, right on the main boardwalk-like little strip. One last night of swimming into the sunset, dancing barefoot through the sand and truly enjoying paradise. See you soon Koh Tao!

What place do you think of as ‘paradise’? Let me know what you think!


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Flashback to Thailand: Finding Solace in Krabi

Returning to Thailand after almost a month in the Kingdom of Cambodia, we spent a long two nights sleeping on technicoloured buses, from Siem Reap to Bangkok and Bangkok to Krabi. The goal was to find a quiet and relaxing private bungalow where we could straight up zen out, away from hostels and partying, simply soaking it all in. Our prayers were answered as the two of us were whisked away in a songthaew to Pine Bungalows, located outside of Krabi town. We whizzed down the highway passing towering rocky cliffs covered in lush vegetation and dense palm forests that are characteristic of the coast. P1070553P1070563We paid a mere 500 Baht a night (250 baht each). Simple and exactly what we were looking for, right on Klong Moung Beach. The grounds were well maintained and pretty, with a badminton net, basketball court restaurant and hammocks strung from palm trees on a private beach. The staff were friendly ad helpful and our neighbours quiet but smiley, clearly looking for the same tranquil escape. Each morning I could practice yoga on our little porch, followed by a swim in the beautiful waters of the Andaman Sea.P1070513 P1070517P1070526P1070527The only way to really leave was by moped, taxi, or by boat to another beach, so when we grew tired of badminton, swimming or basketball on the resort’s court, we rented a bike and ripped into Krabi town, where we strolled through a market, walked the riverside and browsed a grocery store. (Grocery stores are a bit of a luxury when you eat out at every meal!) The hotels and restaurants up the road were definitely geared toward the more luxurious traveller and families, so we mainly stuck to a diet of rice and canned beans, but did treat ourselves one night to a nice dinner at a busy restaurant with great mood lighting.P1070556 P1070555P1070575 My favorite part of our stay at Pine Bungalows? The stunning sunsets over the ocean, swimming for hours and gazing out as it descends for the night, floating serenely in the dreamy pinks and blues of the late day’s light, peacefully and happily. Freedom of action, freedom of thought, and so much beauty.

Yes, this is a real photo!

Yes, this is a real photo!

The perfect way to spend a few days before going back to the beloved little island of Koh Tao!

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Pai: Soul Sanctuary

If seemingly every traveler you meet urges you to visit a particular place, with a reminiscent glow about them as they drift into memories of it, then you should probably take their advice. We did, and found ourselves in little Pai, 3 hours north of Chiang Mai. On an over-air-conditioned mini bus on roads that probably look like noodles from above, we made our way to the little town. To distract me from windy road queasiness, there vast canyons and numerous immensely lush green mountains. Very fitting for the foothills of the Himalayas.photo (18)

What I felt in Pai was exactly how I hoped it would be. A perfect size and set in an amazing environment, there was a tea shop selling wheatgrass shots that had swings for seats, a walking market that felt like a community outing, an intimately placed temple that ensures you don’t miss it’s beauty, bars that you actually enjoy chilling in, and shops selling original items you won’t see often in Bangkok.photo (13)

Humble. Sanctuary. Relaxed. Happy. All these words come to mind, matching it’s positive carefree atmosphere. The perfext way to spend a day here is to rent a poped and enjoy the breathtaking scenery on the way to beautiful waterfalls and caves in the surrounding area.photo (16) photo (17)

On one of our excursions we exited from a bridge on the far side of town, hauled along a boardwalk like road and through the jungle, passing farms, elephants in the sun, and endless living countryside. The views were definitely enough to tear your eyes off the road for a concerning amount of time. Eventually this path led back to the highway, where we sped on perfect pavement to Pai Canyon. With a Jurassic look and feel, it offered a generous viewpoint to gaze in awe at the mountainous backdrop while pondering Earth’s aging processes.542847_10152266044225454_1271561929_n

Further toward town, we turned onto a narrow road that contrasted the vast highway in quality, but was well worth the bumpy ride. So much so that in our short time in Pai, we traveled twice to one of my favorite waterfalls, Pam Bok, also known as “Jumpy”. Although the places to jump into the refreshing waters aren’t standout, the power of the crashing water and the mesmerizing jungle that encapsulates it made me fall in love with this hidden gem of a place.

beautiful

beautiful

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paradise

Closer to town, we attempted to visit another waterfall, Mae Yen, but after bushwacking and trudging up a river for an hour and a half, we discovered that there was still another hour and a bit to go, and didn’t fancy the idea of coming back through the Thai jungle at night. Still, it made for a worth while walk.photo (14) There was only one obvious flaw I saw with Pai; it’s not near the ocean. But to compromise, they do have an awesome pool just across the bridge, within walking distance. They play good music, serve delicious food and have a relaxing grassy area where you can bask in the sun, or cool down in the shade of one of their bamboo huts. There’s even a mini gym inside if you feel up to pumping some iron! Our nights ranged from enjoying sizzling street burritos and hoola hooping with the lady who makes them (among dreadlocked expats that made the wise decision to call Pai home), to playing giant drinking games at Spicy Pai (a popular hostel, for good reason), and going out on the town. Or, just as happily, browsing the night market, maybe get a crunchy rice salad in bamboo leaves and retire in the comfort of our awesome guesthouse. The streets felt like our front yard, where we could enjoy the vibe and company of others, and the waterfalls and canyons our playground, where we had liberty to roam as we pleased. It was ultimate freedom. So there you have it. I am now one of those people, speaking of this place with admiration, overflowing with nostalgia as I write this, encouraging you to visit this little oasis if you someday find yourself in the wonderland of northern Thailand.


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Roaming the streets of Chiang Mai

The cool morning air nipped at my exposed limbs as we sped along the streets of the northern city of Chiang Mai. Fresh off the night bus, we awoke as the city did too, observing monks in sunset hued robes collecting their daily alms as we rode to our guesthouse. Upon our early arrival, we discovered that the reception was not yet open for the day, and we sought refuge at the nearest café that was. This little place would be one of our new favorites. The tiny mom and pop establishment seemed to be tucked discretely into the wall, and I’m not even sure of it’s name, only that the friendly couple who owned it served up the best 30 baht noodle soup we’d had yet. Simple and delicious, it was exactly what we needed to chase the chill of the early morning.

After a much needed nap, I ventured out of our cozy room to go explore. We were on Moonmuang Soi 6; a popular area that hasn’t grown out of it’s cuteness. Along the alleyway there were charming little restaurants, a couple of shops and hostels to the right, and to the left towards the street was a big spice and produce market, a few more little cafes, a tea house and the best smoothie place I’ve ever missed. Accurately named Happy Smoothies, they made the best tropical fruit, yogurt and coconut concoctions, as well as humongous fruit salads with honey and muesli (for only 45 baht!). My go to was the avocado smoothie, made with avocados the size of my head! Happily nourished, I made my way down a few alleys and came across an enticing leather shop. Owned by a rad Thai guy named Jack, this tie dye and moccasin haven called out to me. I discussed getting a couple of items handcrafted, and all of a sudden I was on the back of his moped ripping around the city while my friends napped. We passed through a large fabric market, made a stop at a local bike shop, and then to where his custom painted van was parked. One of those vans I’d be honored to camp (or live) in.  photo (3)

As the sun set, we discovered the area’s many restaurants, including and Indian place in a touristy bar district. It was dangerous for the traveller’s wallet, but with food and people so awesome we couldn’t not go back.  Also on the nighttime itinerary was a trip to the city’s night market, which sold a colorful array of hill tribe handicrafts, jewellery, knick knacks, clothing, and had multiple booths selling delicious dried fruit of every kind. Enthusiastically running around in sequined peacock like costumes, a group of lady boys also promote their cabaret show at the night market, offering a sneak peek of choreography that was definitely eye-catching.

a sight on a lovely bike ride

a sight on a lovely bike ride

We spent Halloween in Chiang Mai, and although I did get the chance to carve a pumpkin for a friend, I probably wouldn’t have noticed my favorite holiday pass by had I not known the date. Using leftover UV paints, we did our best to ‘dress up’ for the occasion, bought some candy and initiated our reverse trick or treating; running around handing out candy to almost everyone we passed. It brought a smile to people’s faces and ours, except maybe the few who were just plain confused. The night ended in that bar district, where a Halloween celebration was alive and well.

I was a leopard.

I was a leopard.

One of the main attractions of Chiang Mai, Doi Suthep, is still probably my favorite temple thus far. Be it the long winding road up the mountain surrounded by lush forest, the stunning view from the top, or the glowing golden chedis within, this temple gave me a lingering feeling of joy that very few similar places of worship can instill.

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blinding golden chedi at Doi Suthep

view from the top

view from the top

On the way back from the temple on the mountain we made a stop at the Chiang Mai Zoo. Although it was impressive in size and they did house some cool animals, it was a lot of walking up hills in the heat. The highlight was probably the zoo’s aquarium, which featured a long underwater tunnel where you can marvel at sharks and giant groupers passing overhead.

A lucky banana recipient

A lucky banana recipient

One day after a long night out we were swept away on the back of a local friend’s scooter and taken to a large lake outside of town. There we sat in a bamboo hut style booth and ate fragrant roasted fish and rice, awaiting a ‘surprise’ from our host. The waiter came to the table holding a mysterious little pot. As we removed the lid, out jumped squirmy grey things, desperately trying to escape as they were picked up one by one and eaten alive. Not by us. The thought of living freshwater shrimp from a hot lake makes me think of parasites, not an appetizer. But hey, to each their own. We watched a heated rowing competition as we savored the hot fish, gazing out at the calm water and the surrounding parkland that was a nice break for the senses after being in the city. On the drive back we took an alternate route around the lake, where local Thais were picnicking and jogging in the refreshing shade of tall trees. photo (9)photo (8)

the worst photo ever, but it captures my reaction well, as the shrimp jumped, so did I.

the worst photo ever, but it captures my reaction well, as the shrimp jumped, so did I.

If you ever visit Chiang Mai, definitely rent a bike for the day. Or two. It’s cheap, fun, good for you, and a more intimate way to see the city. As we rode single file down busy roads ringing our bells, we passed beautiful temples, parks and interesting shops that might otherwise go overlooked. Experiencing enough of the city life for a while, we ended our last day at a welcoming Thai massage parlour, preparing ourselves for adventures ahead in a little town I would grow very fond of; Pai.

watchers in the wood

watchers in the wood

 “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” -Henry Miller

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Space exploration on Earth: Scuba diving for the first time

486735_486870328013013_1149903569_nCharging through a glistening deep blue body of water that is the gulf of Thailand, I had no idea where I’d be sleeping, or really any knowledge of the tiny island of Koh Tao (aka Turtle Island). Unlike the previous two landmasses I’d set foot on, Koh Tao had the allure of the unknown, as I had not seen any photos, or really read anything about it. Surprising. I had set sail (figuratively. This was not a sailboat.) on the promising words of new friends, and the beautiful images my mind had conjured from their stories. Before I knew it, I was riding along a smoothly paved road away from the port. I clutched my 65 litre pack tightly, preventing it from launching out the back of the songthaew (a pickup with benches and a canopy). Myself, a close friend, and 5 others who were soon to be, were on our way to a popular dive resort on the island. Located on the buzzing Sairee Beach, Big Blue Diving was where I would take my first (successful) breaths below the surface.

Even with parents in the trade, and my obsession for all things aquatic, the idea of voyaging beneath the blue never really occurred to me. It was almost as if the universe had planned it. That night we started with and informative intro on the course’s itinerary and some necessary bookwork, preparing us mentally for what we’d later do in the water. The following day we hit the stinging clean waters of the shop’s pool, where we breathed through regulators for the first time, and acquired the basic skills we needed for our very first open water plunge.

Departing at around 6:30 am the next morning, we set off into the glassy abyss. The excitement of the boatful of new divers, as well as the staff, created a feeling of encouraging community. After some briefing and with buddy checks completed, we took our first giant strides into the beautiful blue gulf.
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After getting past a little initial ear squeeze, we descended to a comfortable 12 metres. Submerged in the warm clear waters, it was truly another world down there. We glided over the lively reef, spotting Christmas tree worms, who timidly retreated into their holes, yellow tail barracuda, bannerfish, and my favorite the butterfly fish; the lovebirds of the water, who always swim in pairs.
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Experiencing the underwater world through scuba was magical. Enough so that I had to go on to complete my advanced course, where we were blessed to swim with TWO WHALE SHARKS! On our 8th dive ever. I should have bought a lottery ticket. To share the water with such a large beautiful creature is something else. Seeing it move along peacefully with such grace was humbling, reminding me once more that all things are connected, and we are all part of this amazing world together. My fondest memory of this encounter was swimming about 15 feet under the big fish and blowing bubbles up at it’s underbelly, the light shining down from the surface creating a dreamlike silhouette.
whale23I didn’t take this photo, but it’s a pretty accurate representation of what it looked like from below!

We reluctantly returned to the boat for a surface interval accompanied by tea and tropical fruits. I could see bubbles breaking the surface from fellow divers, and with whoops of excitement heard, I ditched my tea and jumped in the water with just a mask. A whaleshark had ascended to shallower depths, where we were lucky enough to trace it’s path overhead, getting a bird’s eye view this time of the shark and it’s friendly followers.

On dive 2, we got down to business and descended to 30 metres. We were given a test to determine if we were affected by nitrogen narcosis (which everyone passed), although one might think, with these giants whimsically gliding above, that they are in fact being fooled by the depths! After that meeting, I can say that I now share the same enthusiasm about these animals with fellow divers and humans not only on Koh Tao, but around the world. We motored back to the shop after a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience (hopefully more!), not bursting with the news, but calmly cleaing our dive gear with smiles on our faces. It was like we shared a little earthly secret. As the sun set, we sipped Singha and filled in our dive logs; a quaint celebration of our new certification, new friends and vivid new memories.
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“A mind that has been stretched by new experiences can never go back to it’s old dimensions.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes

 

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Waking up alone in Bangkok

I stepped out onto my petite patio to take my first conscious breath in a foreign land. It had been pouring and dark when I arrived the night before, so this was my first view of my new surroundings. In a state of ecstatic shock I gazed out over the beautiful monster that is Bangkok. The emotion that surged through me was unlike anything I’d ever felt before. It was all so beautiful! The sounds of roosters and tuk tuks, the sight of building upon brooding building, lustrous color and a moist haze that envelops your entire being. What hit me hardest though was the smell. Until later, I would not find out what this strange aroma was, but even now I revere it with respect, for it is an aspect of the city that to me makes it that much more charming.
Bangkok?
Charming?
photo (1)How Bangkok transfers from my memory to paper.

Some may disagree, instead suggesting a comparison to a pitbull, or a dust devil of delicious (and often suspect) street food, insane drivers and many a far fetched tale of events barely imaginable. That being said, the extremes of the city captured me in a unique sensory whirlwind. Arriving there alone was the first time I’d ever felt truly out of my element, and I was so excited.
I remember going downstairs for my first overseas breakfast (other than the interesting food served on the plane). I can almost feel the warmth in the air as I write this, as if these first memories have solidified more than others. There was a metal tin with steaming yellow eggs and one of some kind of ground meat and tiny green chili peppers, which I would discover was an amazing dish called “laarb”. There was also coffee, tea, and bread with jam and little butter packets. It was really quite fancy for what I was expecting, and what I would see in days to come in Southeast Asian hostels. “Kapkun-kah!” I thanked the lady nearby who was washing dishes, shyly trying out the Thai word for the first time. Sitting at the table sipping coffee, I formed an itinerary for the day. Skype mom, nap, shower, and then figure out how to get to Khao San Road. Not particularly a place I have any desire to go now (in fact many of the feelings I had at this point seem humorous to me now), this was the gateway, as it is for many, that would help me begin my solo explorations.
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Otherwordly and unforgettable, these thoughts brings a smile to face, reminding me that no matter where we go, what we do or how many lessons we have learned, life never ceases to surprise and amaze us, the journey is everlasting, and as long as we keep out hearts and minds open, there is endless possibility.

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