A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: ClareRoach

Catching Up in Indonesia

LONG AND BOREING BLOG ALERT!

I can't believe my last entry was the 6 October and it's now 13 November! Times just run away, but a couple of you have asked what's happened to my blogs, so here's another one:

As you will have seen from my photos and facebook check-ins I've been to a few places and met some nice people over the last couple of weeks. I'm not going to try and catch up on everything here, or you'll be reading a book - so just an overview to get myself back on the blog track:

Khlon Klen - Thailand: I adored this little student town, which remains undiscovered by tourists and wish I had allocated more time to spend there.

Bangkok - Thailand: Second time there and I didn't like it any more this time than last time. Didn't help that it was raining the whole time I was there mind.

Krabi - Thailand: Nice little town with a lovely beach and lots of restaurants along the front. Good place to catch boats to the Islands. Shame about the haze from the fires in Malaysia

Railey and Tonsai - Thai Islands: Amazing place! stayed in Tonsai which is only accessible by walking/climbing over rocks or if the sea is out far enough paddling around the point. All this with our backpacks! To this day, I'm still not sure how Hayley made it there in one piece, nor how Danny made it look so easy! Enjoyed nights out on both parts of the island. I think Tonsai was my favourite. I loved that there were so few tourists and just a handful of reggee bars. Also enjoyed our nighttime boat transfer from Tonsai to Railey courtesy of The Band. I'm quite adept at wading and climbing into and out of boats now - never know when you will need such a skill again!

Phi Phi - Thai Island: Not sure we did this island justice but first impressions weren't positive. It appeared to be set up for party goers and a bit contrived for me. Highlight was seeing Richelle and would have been nice to spend longer with her.

Patong - Thailand: Stayed here, thinking it was in Phuket, it isn't! Had a nice couple of days although night is very rowdy and focused on sex industry. Eye opening!

Phuket - Thailand: Went there with Hayley for the Vegetarian Festival and to see Wayne and Leila again. We didn't have long with Wayne as he had a flight back to South Africa :( Somehow, we managed to miss the festival parade, so on the advice of lots, we caught a bus and set off to 'catch it up'. Hour and a half later, we realised we had no chance and we were lost in an amazing little beachfront resort so spent the rest of the day there instead :). Back in time for dinner with Leila and then Danny turns up from Tonsai with the very lovely Kat. Fun times :). I fly to Kuala Lumpa where I'm meeting Kate, Perro and Feli (yes!!) but..... Have to say final goodbyes to Hayley and to Danny who's making his way back to America after almost six weeks of adventures - without a doubt the worst bit of travelling

Kuala Lumpar - Malaysia: So, So happy to see Kate again :). Did all the touristy things including the Batu Caves but spent most of my time hanging out with friends (Kate, Feli, Perro, Sam, Alyson and of course Hayley, who decided to come to Kuala Lumpa after all). One of my funniest moments, is seeing Perros face, posing for photo after photo in Jonny Rockets, priceless! I also can't not mention, I bought new (expensive, for me!) trainers - purple ones!!! I so nearly went for black but am delighted I didn't. Kate will have to be my new partner in crime in all future shopping trips lol! Oh, and the amazing, delicious food we had in the Vietnamese restaurant that Sam and Alyson took me and Hayley to on our last night.

Melarka - Malaysia: First Kate and I went here on a day trip from Kuala Lumpa and loved it. Yes, you can see the highlights in a day but I felt I wanted to see a bit more. Once Kate left Kuala Lumpa me and Hayley went and stayed on Malarka for a couple of days and really liked it. Chilled out days and reggee nights, bit of a theme developing.

Kuching, Borneo - Malaysia: Very pretty, small town centred round a lake. Got to see the orangutangs which are amazing! We couldn't go too close as they are wild animals but close enough to see their human like features and behaviours and to get some great photos. We also visited a tribal village and stayed overnight in a longhouse. OMG.... I don't think words can capture this experience. Firstly the tribes manner is not friendly, even if they are your hosts. No smiles in response to our hellos, at this stage we weren't even sure if they can smile. All very intimidating, especially as we know the tribes are known for head hunting and displaying skulls - last ones being in the 70's. Somehow being there I can believe it.

Anyway it turns out they not only can smile, but can also laugh hysterically. They put on a tribal dance for us. As me and Hayley were the only guests, we felt a little awkward about the efforts on our behalf. Little did we know, it wasn't entirely for our benefit. After watching the dancing for around 40 minutes along with about 70 other people we realised we were to take a turn. Anyone knowing me, will know I am the least coordinated person ever. That was until I met Hayley! So the two of us doing a tribal dance resulted in mass hysteria from the crowd. We ended up doing about four dances, or attempts to do tribal dances and had to be clear about not doing any more, as I'm sure they would have had us continuing all night.

Semenyak - Bali: Lovely balance of town and beach. Found an amazing vegetarian restaurant and had many more lazy beach chilled days and nights. Hostel had bed bugs! Yuck!

Ubud - Bali: Nice little crafty feeling town. First time on my own for many weeks. Miss everyone, but really nice to spend some time alone, although didn't quite manage all day and night on my own as every evening whilst out for dinner, I met people who were also travelling solo so we ate together. Had a great last day doing a bike ride from the volcano down through the beautiful Bali countryside. I can't put into words how beautiful it is.

Gili Air - Indonesia: One of the three little islands making up the Gili Isles. Still on my own and enjoying the tranquility. I keep on extending my stay here, almost on a daily basis it's so nice. Originally I had planned on visiting Gili Air, Gili Trawangan and Lombak. I've now decided against Lombak, mainly because the volcano is active so many of the usual sights are closed. I'm aiming for Gili Trawangan in Sunday now - we will see. The main reason for me going there is to see Hayley and Catherine and to meet Olivia. I also probably need to rejoin the land of the living at some stage. Either way my time here is running out, as I fly back to Borneo next Thursday.

I promise I won't leave it so long until I next write and that it will be less bland than this update!

Posted by ClareRoach 21:18 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

The Mindfullness Project - Thailand

Last night I finished my time with the Mindfulness Project. This morning I woke up late and on my own, which feels strange after communal living for nearly two weeks. What is even stranger is that I thought the communal living was one of the biggest challenges for me whilst at the project so I'm somewhat surprised to find I missed the bustle this morning and even the gong - although not the 5:00 am start.

So looking back at the experience, what do I think? Well without a doubt it is a truly inspirational project with special individuals focused on genuinely making a difference. The project fundamentals of learning and developing in the areas of Mindfulness, Buddhism, permaculture, yoga and meditation will no doubt leave a mark on anyone who attends the project, myself included. Gaining an understanding of the local people and the wider Thai community was one of the things I particularly enjoyed learning about. I knew from those I'd already met that they were nice people but having gained a deeper understanding of their values and belief system I am truly touched.

When I arrived I had absolutely no insight into what I was undertaking and in lots of ways that was probably just as well. Without a doubt the practicalities of communal living in a permaculture community was a bit of a shock to me. Some things I never managed to fully embrace. For example, no running water, let alone hot water. The amount of critters that were omnipresent, ants, mosquitoes, daddy long legs, spiders, frogs, I could go on but Sharon will probably already have stopped reading by now! I also felt constantly tired which I think was a combination of the early morning starts and the emotional challenges that mindfullness brings. Also, having spent my life in an office environment I'm not used to daily physical work, so even though we only had around four hours a day to do jobs like, flipping compost, these were hard for me, I thought the fact that I had my hands deep in piles of rotting vegetables and shit in the mid day sun would be the hard bit of that task, but it seems I didn't mind that, or even the smell but it did get to my back.

Setting the practicalities aside, it was the emotional challenges that learning about mindfullness brings that I think I probably gained the most from. I had several light bulb moments surrounding 'issues' I didn't even know I had and these were accompanied by Buddist teachings to help develop further. Although we were staying in a monastery outside of Khon Klen we were in a building located in the grounds so the interaction with the monks and their practices weren't as I'd anticipated. This changed when we went to stay in the main monastery in Khon Klen. What an experience! We took part in 'Buddha Day' with both local people and the Monks. The day comprised of various Buddhist 'ceremonies' lots of meditation, chanting etc. And was incredible. The time we spent in the project learning how to meditate beforehand proved invaluable and our Buddhist teachers stayed with us throughout to support us and answer the many questions we had.

On reflection, the whole experience was very difficult to do but totally amazing. I've left feeling saturated with the amount of revelations I've discovered and I recognise I need to absorb some of the teachings and practice active mindfullness before I will really understand what I've taken away from the experience.

Being invited into the Khon Klen monastery and having the opportunity to attend Buddha Day, not as a tourist but as a participant is a privilege that I'm sure will stay with me for years to come, Thank You x

Posted by ClareRoach 05:09 Comments (0)

Thailand: Pai and a 'Foof"called Jimmy

Loads of people told me I have to go to Pai, that it's amazing. A chilled out little town with a hippy vibe. That was me, hooked! The only problem was I was reluctant to leave Chaing Mai which I absolutely loved. It's a perfect combination of quaint old town and modern living. I also met some lovely, and mad people there. Uwe I'm including you in the mad group.

Anyway, mind made up and off I go on the notoriously horrendous mini bus ride, stuffed beyond full with fellow travellers and backpacks. As it turned out, I didn't find it that bad and even managed to sleep for some of the way. Arriving before I knew it on a sleepy little corner at the edge of the town. The best thing I spotted was what became my favourite little cafe - The carrot and Moon. The lovely guy in there, drove me to my 'bungalow' on his scooter and also ended up being my tour guide (and photographer) for one afternoon. So nice, thanks Ping.

The town itself is tiny and is centred around a street called Walking Street. There are a lot of tourists, particularly Chinese. It has loads of cute shops, tiny bars and little cafes and is very laid back. The highlight for me has to be, the street food. Oh my word, it's amazing. I thought Chaing Mai was good on street food, but this takes it to another level and I've managed to over eat every day so far - not so good :(

The other thing that is evident everywhere are the Thai massage spas offering back, foot treatments etc. On my last day in Chaing Mai I had back to back treatments starting at 11:30 am and finishing at 5:00 pm. A mammoth day of pampering after the jungle and all for around £30. This time I decided to go for a maintenance treatment. A leg wax. Should have been simple......!

The first place I stopped at, said yes no problem, sat me down and looked at my leg then said "actually could you come back in the morning, my eyes aren't good anymore and I see better in daylight". Needless to say I had no intention of going back.

The second one I stopped at and asked could they fit me in for a leg wax, pointed to my 'foof' and said 'legs and Jimmy'. It took me a while to work out she was asking if I wanted a bikini wax as well (least that's what I think she was offering). When I said, no thanks, just legs, she said, (with attitude) "no Jimmy, no legs" and shooed me out! I was rendered speechless.

Anyway third time lucky. I did get my leg wax this time, just hadn't banked on being on full display in the front of a hut whilst everyone walked past for their night out. Dignity? Out the window, literally!

My trip out with Ping was really good and I managed to visit another Buddha. I also got to go in my first ever natural hot springs. They were amazing (not sure about publishing the photos though, as I was in swimwear, not a pretty sight!). I only managed the 34 degrees pool and have no idea how people there were doing hotter. The hottest of the lot, was between 80 and 90 degrees and obviously had no people in. The whole experience was so relaxing and I'd recommend.

On the way back we stopped at the famous memorial bridge and also the Pai Canyon. I think I may have developed a thing about heights because I failed to walk across the really narrow path over the top with sheer drops either side (no safety barriers or anything). I didn't feel too much of a failure as Ping didn't do it either, nor several other tourists although many did of course. I also had the ready made excuse of still feeling lightheaded from the springs. All in all a really nice day. Thanks again Ping.

My last day here I cycled out of town (think I should have hired a scooter again not a bike). I say cycled loosely as there was quite a bit of walking and pushing my bike. I visited a charming little village known as China Town, the scenery on the way up was spectacular and the tiny village a really peaceful oasis which I enjoyed for an hour or so before, freewheeling all the way back down woohoo!

Out this evening and meeting with Lizzie from the elephant camp who came and joined me yesterday. This will be our last evening again as I leave in the morning. I've only had a couple of days here and to be honest, that's probably all it needs. Yes I could easily do a little more sight seeing in the surrounding area, or even better just slob around the town for longer but I am happy to move onto Laos and will write you from there x

Posted by ClareRoach 05:02 Comments (0)

Journey To Freedom:Thailand: Please share to raise awareness

JOURNEY TO FREEDOM is a project that can't be described, it has to be experienced. It is one of those once in a lifetime, life changing experiences that impact more than just the purpose of the project itself.

Journey to Freedom is the ultimate vision of an amazing women called 'Lek' who has dedicated her life to helping elephants. Their website http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/volunteer/journeytofreedom/index.htm described the volunteer position I signed up for as follows:

Journey to Freedom was created by Elephant Nature Park in June, 2010 to allow elephants owned by the Karen tribal people to retire from trekking camps and return to living in the jungle and hills near their villages. The project enables the elephants to live a more natural life and restores the close connection that the Karen people traditionally have with their herd.

A home stay has been set up in a village south of Chiang Mai for volunteers to learn about Karen culture and watch the elephants roam freely in this remote mountainous region. Fees paid by volunteers are used to compensate the tribes-folk for the income they would have received from leasing their elephants to tourist camps. It is hoped that the interest and affection shown toward elephants will spark a similar drive amongst the younger Karen generation.

Funds from the project flow into the local school where volunteers teach English, plant elephant’s food, build elephant shelters, toilets and other community facilities. Karen women have the opportunity to trade their beautiful hand woven textiles. This community project, run in cooperation with the Karen people, provides an economic boost to the villages and benefits the entire community.

My experience is more or less as outlined. With the exception, that we didn't stay in a Homestay but in a wooden hut, 'on site' which meant miles from anywhere. It was a real back to nature experience and we were hosted, in the main, by the Karen Hill Tribe who looked after us amazingly; cooked us delicious food and basically saw that all five of us were happy and safe throughout. The nearest we came to accidents, were lost shoes in the muddy jungles or urgent tramps through undergrowth when the elephants decided they wanted to walk where we were standing. Pretty hairy on times, but all good.

As a volunteer, I also got involved in the community development aspect of the programme which I absolutely loved. It involved building a road, literally and every day after our jungle Trekking we got to meet with local children; playing with them and talking with them, so they could improve their english. On the Friday we also got to go to the village kindergarden and host a class each (or in twos) (mainly games). We stayed to help with lunch and the whole experience was an absolute delight. The excitement and pleasure shown to us by the children and teachers was evident and every moment was a pleasure.

The project is based just outside a tiny village called Mae Joom Sam, high up in the mountains about 3 hours north of Chiang Mai. It's focus is on rescuing elephants that have been abused in captivity. (Trekking camps, circus shows, logging, begging etc.). It returns them to their natural habitat, and works with them to help them learn how to be elephants again.

To fully understand the project it is necessary to share some of the experiences that these magnificent animals have been through so you have a full appreciation of the scale and enormity that faces the project. I'd also suggest you take a look at the Elephant Nature Park website as a starting point to learning more, if your interested. For now, I'll try my best to share what I learned. Keep in mind, I may have some of the detail wrong, as I'm relying on my 'amazing' memory, but I should be able to give you a flavour. I should warn you, some of it may not be easy reading.

IN THE NAME Of TOURISM

Just some of the things I learned during my time volunteering with the rescued elephants and visiting the Elephant Nature Park which I think should be shared with anyone thinking of riding an elephant.

Forced breeding (the method accepted as standard by trekking and performance camps) results in crushed pelvises of many female elephants.
Their babies are taken away from them and these mothers often fall into a depression refusing to work. This results in more cruelty and brutality as their Mahouts (elephant carer/owner) trying different tactics to continue making money out of them. One of the worst I heard of was stabbing one such elephant in the eyes until she was eventually blinded (she's one of the rescued elephants I had the pleasure of meeting)
Elephants giving rides to tourists on their backs are chained all day and night when not working. As large carnivores they eat vegetation for 20 hours a day! Sleeping for the remaining 4 hours. Or that's how it should be. Of course when working for 10 hours a day that's impossible.
Elephants are wild animals and taught to be submissive and have their spirit broken, so they can be controlled. This is done in a brutal fashion, using bull hooks, prods etc. When a tourist elephant is coming towards you and it's ears are flapping. Look close and you will usually see it's because the Mahout is jabbing it behind the ear with the bull hook to keep it going.
I mentioned that elephants should eat for 20 hours a day. Look closely at the tourist elephants and you will see their trunks sniffing along the floor, constantly searching for food. Withdrawal of food is another way the mahouts control them. Also, it's impossible for the Mahouts to feed them the varied vegetation diet they need, so generally they are fed high sugar diets of bananas, fruit etc. they like this food but it's not good for them and is often what eventually kills them. Prematurely.
It is not uncommon for the renting camp or mahout to give trekking elephants drugs, or speed, to keep them carrying tourists all day, then begging for money on the streets all night.
The performing elephants (painting pictures, playing musical instruments or doing headstands) are put through additional training methods which are the most violent form of animal abuse And often results in the deaths of the baby elephants put through it.
Street begging elephants are often seen with tell tale signs of mental illness, rocking and head bobbing, elephants have extremely sensitive feet which detect sound from miles around and help them to communicate. the city and all its noise literally drives them crazy, if they aren't hit by a car which happens often. they are often hit by cars.

ELEPHANT NATURE PARK

Lek also set up the Elephant Nature Park for the elephants she's rescued that are too damaged to live in their own environment. As part of my time in the Journey To Freedom programme, I also stayed overnight at the park where I met several of the damaged elephants. There were several rescued from Burma that had land mine injuries to their feet. Others with broken hips, legs etc. Injuries caused by working in the logging industry.

Tourist Trekking is a huge industry in Thailand that should be illegal in my view. I also think that if people were more aware of the suffering the elephants endure, so they can have a ride and take a picture less people would want to ride an elephant. It isn't a simple message though and there are lots of misconceptions around the industry.

Oh, did I also mention the Elephant Nature Park also houses 400 rescue dogs which have their own volunteer programmes along with hundreds of rescue cats. An amazing place and an absolute privilege to have been part of it, even for one week.

Posted by ClareRoach 04:48 Comments (0)

Cambodia - The Killing Fields

Well I'm finally ready to write up my visit to Phnom Penn. I'll start with the town itself before I tell you about my experiences surrounding the awful things that took place there.

I made the mistake of arriving without accommodation and after visiting about 6 different places and getting quoted ridiculous prices I finally settled for somewhere that was pretty minging. I later discovered, not for the first time on this trip that I was staying in the 'happy' mans part of town. That said, the location was central and I had some of my best times this trip whilst staying there. Including the legendary night at the drag club, courtesy of Kate of course. Food was good and company throughout was amazing (yes, I'm including you in there Kate).

Overall I liked the town and did think I could do with a bit longer there to properly see it all. A return visit I think.

Choeung Genocidal Centre, commonly referred to as The Killing Fields of Cambodia

I arranged a lift to the centre which is about 9 miles outside of Phnom Penn. My driver was nice chatty enough and we didn't really talk about where I was going. I deliberately didn't do any research before I went, wanting to keep a totally open mind. Of course I had some vague knowledge of what had happened but to be honest, before visiting Cambodia it wasn't really on my radar.

Upon entry, as part of the ticket price you receive a headset, which guides you around the site and talks you through the history, explains what has happened and what you are looking at. There is an option to skip parts, or to replay. For example at one section there are a series of survivor stories told by the individuals and you can choose to only listen to a selection. For me, I couldn't jump one section. I was compelled to listen to every single word once I'd started. I needed to rewind several times, as I tried to absorb exactly what I was hearing and had to sit with no narrative several times, just to adjust to the sheer volume of horror that was unfolding. The whole site with all the tourists is totally silent. Very surreal.

I'm not going to try and highlight, or explain any of it here. There is enough written for you to research yourself should you wish but of course to go here in person, should be a must if you ever have the opportunity. I will share one of the things that struck me that I wasn't aware of, which I think is important to know to set the context. That this particular, well known killing field was in fact one of thousands. The scale is difficult to reconcile I think.

Returning to my ride, I was clearly much quieter than I had been on the journey out. I asked my driver what he thought of the centre being set up as a commemorative centre and wasn't really expecting the answer he gave, although, I emphasised immediately when he responded. He said (and I'm obviously paraphrasing) he hated it. He loved his country and didn't want it to be known for genocide. He wished it could remain in the past and not have to think or talk about it ever again as it was too difficult. His voice broke as he said this and I allowed a moment before moving back to more neutral topics. I knew tourism had increased in the area by 40% since the centre opened and naively had assumed everyone was happy.

My next visit of the day was to The Tuol Sleng Museum. I hadn't really heard about this museum and had assumed it would be like the war museum in Hanoi which was interesting and sad but this museum went to a whole new level.

It was originally Tuol Svay Pray High School until the Khmer Rouge took it over in 1976 and turned it into S-21 a torture, interrogation and execution centre. It is now the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide and I was totally unprepared for how it would impact on me. In fact I had to leave after a while as I had reached saturation point with emotions for one day. Although people had told me beforehand how difficult The Killing Fields were no one had mentioned S-21 to me how utterly harrowing this place was. I left even quieter again.

Back in the car I said little, not able to even make idle chit chat. Then the most incredible moment of my whole trip so far unfolded. My driver, who clearly hadn't wanted to talk about the atrocities earlier, suddenly started, without any prompting from me, to tell me his experiences under the Khmer Rouge. He told it with some long pauses at points and he obviously found it difficult but for some reason had decided to share it with me.

He was only six at the time but clearly remembers them coming. He recalled his mother reassuring him that they would only be away for three days (he also had a elder brother). They had some sort of transport for some of the way (I'm not sure what type as that got lost in language barrier) but I think he said that they were made to leave it along the way. He saw his first ever dead person, one of many during that walk. He didn't elaborate on what happened during the period that they were away, simply saying it was a living hell and he was lucky that as a child he had been protected from some of it, simply because he didn't understand wholly what was happening. He lost one of his parents during that time and all his extended family.

He was clearly finding this part difficult to tell and moved forward to after the Khmer Rouge had lost power. He said it took several months before they eventually returned to Phnom Penn and found everything gone, literally. He remembers his parent (I don't know if it was his mother or father) crying, and was surprised as they hadn't cried for such a long time and he had thought at the time, they no longer had any tears.

He is now considered a successful person in his own right and has no evident injuries as a result of what happened. The psychological ones however, as you would expect, lay barely beneath the surface. He was quiet and dignified and I remain grateful that he choose to share with me in the way that he did.

Posted by ClareRoach 06:37 Comments (0)

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