Life is Change, Growth is Optional

I returned to Canada on January 22, 2016 after 380 days of travel around the world with a very specific agenda for my time back in my homeland. Traveling sparked an inner questioning process that I did my best to distract myself from while on the road, but I needed to explore this spark and ask myself some really tough questions. Was I on the course I wanted to be on? Was I growing emotionally, spiritually, physically? Was I achieving the connection I desired? Was I reaching my personal and professional goals? If the answer to any of my questions was no, then I had to discover why.

I wish I could say asking yourself tough questions is fast, easy, or fun- but that would be a lie. What I can say is that it is the most rewarding thing you could ever do.

I feel I have accomplished what I set out to do upon my return to Canada. I think in order to live your best life you need to stop, slow down, and take inventory of yourself. As the old saying goes, you can’t see your reflection in running water.

Through this questioning and reflection process one theme emerged as the most important: adventure is a core value in my life. To get the most satisfaction from life I needed to explore ways to continue to work towards my professional goals whilst simultaneously fulfilling my need for adventure.  It seemed like a lofty idea at first, but as I began researching different opportunities I realized that it was entirely attainable.

It may seem obvious that working abroad would meet this need, but it took me a while to seriously consider it. Don’t get me wrong, I have always wanted to live and work abroad, but I believed it too difficult as a health care professional due to licensing requirements. Nevertheless, I began researching different countries and their requirements to become licensed as a foreign trained pharmacist. I won’t bore you with the lengthy results of my findings, but the summary is it is difficult in most other countries and you need a lot of money and time to do so. However, there are a few countries that it is (relatively) easier to obtain a license.

I am excited to share with you that I have accepted a pharmacist position in Bermuda and will be moving there in a few short days. I settled on Bermuda due to the proximity to Nova Scotia, the likeness in pharmacy practice, the ease of licensing, the climate, the friendliness of the people, and the incredible opportunity I was presented with. I will share more details of the process after I settle in!

I am very hopeful Bermuda will provide the balance of adventure and structure that I crave. I am beyond thrilled and excited to share this new chapter in my life with all of you.

 “It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.” – Alan Cohen

 

 

 

An Epic Canadian Weekend

Hey everyone!

I am so excited to share with you our adventures from the weekend. It was one of my favorite winter weekends to date, and it may be the most stereotypical Canadian weekend ever to be written about.

We awoke on Saturday morning to a crisp morning with beautiful sunshine forecast for the entire day. After the storm at the end of the week there was enough snow to cover the trees and ground and make for a stunning winter drive. We jumped in the car with our sights set on discovering the Northumberland Shore.

Our first order of business, as always, was food. I have wanted to visit Sugar Moon Farm in Earltown for years after stumbling upon their Facebook page with delectable looking pancakes. We decided it was the perfect winter day for a visit to the Maple Syrup Farm and to sample their specialty brunch.

We arrived after an hour and twenty minute scenic drive along the backroads. We were greeted to an adorable log house with a wood stove pumping heat to a full restaurant of patrons. We were quickly seated at one end of the family style tables and given menus with mouthwatering selections. Chris opted for the “Sugar Moon Classic,”a 3-stack of buttermilk pancakes, maple baked beans, and a knackwurst sausage. I went with “Wild about blueberries,” a 2-stack of buttermilk pancakes topped with wild blueberry compote, maple whipped cream, and breakfast sausages. Of course, all of this was drenched in their house made maple syrup.

20170211_121012

Seriously, could this be any more perfect of a meal? (I wasn’t able to snap a picture of Chris’s before he dug in).

We finished our brunch and purchased a bottle of mid-season harvested maple syrup and a bottle of maple mustard that we sampled with our sausages and couldn’t get enough of.

20170211_123351

We then hustled outside for a Canadian classic, sugar on snow. This is a winter treated created by combining maple syrup and water, boiling for a few minutes, and then drizzling the resulting sugary liquid over snow to be promptly eaten. It took me back to my childhood when mom used to do this for us as kids. I don’t recall it being quite as chewy, but it was delicious nonetheless.

20170211_124116

We wandered the grounds of the farm for 20 minutes while waiting for a syrup tour to start. You are able to rent snowshoes from the farm and there is a 6.5 km trail system accessed from the parking lot. Chris and I were both so incredibly full from our brunch that it was out of the question. Pro tip: Snowshoe first, brunch second.

The syrup tour was 30 minutes long and very informative. Canada produces over 80% of the worlds maple syrup, the greatest producer being the province of Quebec. We learned it takes a TON of sap to produce a single bottle of syrup. It deepened our appreciation for this delicious national treasure.

We bid farewell to Sugar Moon Farm and headed towards Lyons Brook with our eyes set on our next local delicacy: beer. Uncle Leo’s is one of our absolute favorite brewers and we couldn’t resist stopping by on our way through. We picked up an altbier, red ale, cream stout, and a smoked porter before continuing on to grab something to pair with the beer.

What could go better with beer and the maple mustard we picked up at Sugar Moon? Sausages of course! We swung in to The Pork Shop in New Glasgow to grab several varieties of sausages for an easy supper after a long day of venturing.

20170211_144056

On Sunday we were graced with another stunning winter day and decided to try our hand at cross-country skiing. Chris’s coworker was kind enough to lend her gear for us to give it a go. The local golf course allows for skiing during the winter months and is just around the corner from our house.

It was an entertaining couple of hours to say the least. I thought my downhill skiing experience would be of some help; I  was wrong. It was so much fun despite the numerous wipeouts on my behalf, and there is no better way to enjoy a beautiful winter day. Chris and I are interested in investing in skis for next season.

20170212_141045

20170212_142626

20170212_142633

20170212_141103

After skiing we headed to the rink for a public skate. It has been over 2 years since either of us have been on a pair of skates, luckily we faired better than on the skis. I failed to snap a picture of us skating, but if you google pro skating pictures you will get the idea (haha).

We warmed up with a couple of hot chocolates and considered what would have made the weekend any more Canadian. The only thing we could come up with was to cap it off with a poutine, but we were exhausted from our days activities and craving something a bit healthier. We went for butternut squash soup and ham sandwiches. Next time eh?

 

Thailand: Part 3

Hi Everyone!

I will pick up where I left off: our journey from Koh Phi Phi to Khao Sok National Park. We had to catch an early morning ferry from Koh Phi Phi back to Krabi Town, where we were picked up by a mini-van and driven to a tour agency. We waited around for half an hour before piling into another mini-van and beginning our several hour drive to the National Park. My biggest tip for these mini-van journeys? Resist the urge to be Canadian. Do not be polite and let everyone else board the mini-van first as you will be stuck in the very back seat where the air-con doesn’t reach, with absolutely no leg room whatsoever, leaving you glued to the person packed in beside you for hours on end. Board the mini-van immediately, scope out the best seat, and snag it. You won’t regret it.

We made it to Khao Sok late in the afternoon and checked into our adorable (and rather luxurious for our standards) bungalows, chatted with the owner about possible excursions, and immediately headed to the park to do a bit of a walk. As it was late in the day our walk was more similar to a jog, but the trail was lined with bamboo trees and made for a beautiful walk despite the pace. We attempted to visit a waterfall but realized quickly that the Thai version of waterfall and the Canadian version of waterfall are quite different; what they call a waterfall, we would call a brook. It was nonetheless entertaining and felt very good to be moving having atrophied our leg muscles with so many days spent lazing on the beach.

We splurged and went to a restaurant that served pizza as one of the guys had heard from a fellow traveller that the pizza was outstanding. The restaurant was run by an adorable family, with the two daughters who were both under the age of 8 being integrally involved in the family business. It was placed on the bank of the river that intersects the town, making for a lovely ambiance. The pizza was indeed outstanding, real wood-oven style and we were all very content after our meal. We headed to our soft-beds full, happy, and ready for our big excursion the following day.

We were picked up via mini-van bright and early the following morning and laughed as we boarded the van as the people we had met the previous day on the journey to Khao Sok were also partaking in the excursion (we drew the short end of the stick and were stuck in the back for this ride, which they teased us about relentlessly). Our guide for the day was an absolute nut and had us laughing the entire time, starting on the drive with his “rules” for the day. While we were stopped at a local market I saw yet another person wearing a, “Bike for Dad” t-shirt and was able to get to the bottom of what this campaign was all about. Ever since arriving in SE Asia we had seen signs, parades, t-shirts, etc with this slogan on it and had been confused about who “Dad” was. It turns out the people of SE Asia call the King of Thailand, “Dad” and the event was in celebration of his birthday. I was overjoyed to finally get to the bottom of the slogan!

Khao Sok National Park is a man-made lake created in 1982 by blocking off the Klong Saeng River with a dam. The dam provides electricity to much of the South of the country, and the resulting lake has become a major tourist attraction. Unfortunately, the stagnant water killed numerous fish and plant species, as well as necessitated the removal of many indigenous people living in the area. The people are paid a monthly stipend for relocating out of the area. The dramatic limestone karats that rise from the lake are the major draw for tourists.

We boarded a long-tail boat and after a sputtering start, took off at full-steam ahead with a boy of no more than 15 at the helm. Our tour guide cracked us all up as he sat on the bottom of the boat with a life-jacket used as a canopy to protect himself from the sun. We were rendered speechless as we made our way further into the lake, the scenery was out of this world. We snapped dozens of photos, none of which can come close to capturing the beauty of the park. We stopped the boat at one spot that is said to resemble both Ha Long Bay in Vietnam as well as a famous lake in China. Our tour guide had us all pose in hilarious positions while he commentated, and then we proceeded to the floating bungalow village for lunch.

image

image

image

image

image

The pictures of the bungalows advertised, and what we actually visited, were entirely different. As with the rest of Thailand, the high demand for tourism resulted in dodgy bungalows that looked like they were about to capsize at any minute. The floor in the restaurant area was rotting, meaning you had to be very careful where you stepped or you could easily end up in the water. In fact, at the end of the day, that exact thing happened to one of the girls in our group. Luckily she had wanted to go swimming anyway, and didn’t have anything of any value in her hands at the time of falling in.

After lunch we boarded the boat and were taken slightly upstream and dropped at the edge of a piece of land jutting into the lake. We then began our “jungle walk” to the soundtrack of the Lion King theme song being belted by our tour guide. We arrived at a point in the trail where our guide informed us was the point of no return; we either had to wait there while the group carried on to the cave, or go to the cave and walk through the entire cave. You were not able to back out of the cave walk once we reached the cave as we did not exit the same way we entered. I am not a super fan of caves, but I knew I would regret not going so I forged on.

We entered the cave and turned on our “flashlights” that we were provided by our guesthouse. The lights were capable of illuminating no more than a pencil thin stream of light that just barely sufficed in allowing us to see where we were stepping. Out guide wasted no time pointing out the massive huntsmen spiders scattered amongst the rocks we were stepping on, cautioning us to watch where we stepped. Easier said than done with our ridiculously underpowered lights. The further in to the cave we went, the higher the concentration of bats hanging dangerously low on the roof. I have an intense fear of bats owing to their status of the animal that carries the highest risk of rabies, and my unrealistic fear that one will swoop down and become entangled in my hair. I was quietly dealing with being stricken with fear and panic over the bats when we came to our first section requiring us to wade through water. My fears were immediately surpassed by Rilla’s all encompassing fear of being in water in which she cannot see the bottom. I went into survival mode and focused all of my intention on getting her through the water as there was no other option at this point. We gingerly made our way through this cave in the same fashion as the last cave we had tackled together; holding hands. It felt like a lifetime passed as we slowly traversed the caves obstacle course, having a near miss when Rilla thought a stick was an eel and had us all in hysterics. We exited the cave with a massive sigh of relief, thankful to be back in the light and on solid ground.

A quick stop at the bungalows to gather our belongings before boarding our boat one again to head back to the mainland. The drive out was just as, if not more, beautiful than the ride in. I mused to myself how entirely different the park felt compared to Koh Phi Phi; if you told me it was part of a different country I would have believed you.

image

image

image

We had one final supper together that night at the pizza restaurant. The next day Rilla was leaving to meet up with her friends, the guys were heading to Koh Phangan for the infamous full moon party, and I was staying at the national park. We had some very fun and interesting conversation over our pizza, discussing our life plans over the next five years. We joked we would have to have a reunion in 5 years to see how accurate our predictions were.

The following day everyone departed and I was left alone in my beautiful bungalow. I opted not to go to the full moon party as I wanted time to relax and unwind at the end of such a massive trip- the last thing I was looking for was a party with approximately ten thousand (literally) 18-22 year olds. I spent my day planning how to get from Khao Sok to Koh Tao, and finding a place to stay on Koh Tao.

The following day had be rising ridiculously early and with 2 bus transfers, 1 boat transfer and 8 hours later I arrived to Koh Tao. I had booked a room at a small hotel nestled in the hills overlooking one of the islands bays. I was picked up at the pier by one of the workers on his scooter-and experienced a thrilling ride uphill to the hotel. When I arrived I was overjoyed with my room as it had floor to ceiling windows overlooking the bay, as well as a deck to sit and relax on. I spent the afternoon Journaling and taking in the view before spoiling myself at the onsite restaurant with a delightful steak dinner.

The next day I was dropped in town by the free shuttle service from hotel on which I met two Canadian guys who were going to grab a quick bite and invited me to tag along. They had been laid off from their mining jobs back in Canada and decided to use the opportunity to travel, the ultimate lemons into lemonade story. We had a lovely lunch together before parting ways, they to their diving course and me to my thai massage. I decided to spoil myself with one final massage before leaving Thailand, and it turned out to be the best yet. I was one happy girl!

I then walked the beach back to town where I was once again picked up by the hotel. It was an early night for me in my king sized bed.

The next day had Chris join me at my luxury hotel while the guys opted to stay in the town for more of an atmosphere. Chris and I had a lovely sunset dinner at our hotel before sitting on the deck and filling each other in on our 3 days apart. That may sound ridiculous, but having spent every waking moment together for over a year meant 3 days felt like a month.

The next day we had a lazy start to the day before heading into town to check out the Canadian poutine restaurant called (I kid you not), ‘The Moose Knuckle.’ The poutine was mouthwatering, we had no regrets about our decision. We then headed to the guys hotel where we had a few social beverages before heading to a beer pong bar. We had fun playing a few social games before heading back to our oasis in the hills.

The following day was a long travel day from Koh Tao, to the mainland where we caught a flight back to Bangkok. We spent one night in Bangkok, did a bit of last minute shopping the next day, and then headed to the airport to catch our flight back to Canada.

Just like that, 380 days on the road came to an end. It felt as abrupt and rushed as the tone of this post; time morphed into warp-speed and before we could process what was happening we were on our flirst flight home. We had a 5 hour layover in Shanghai, in an airport terminal with no insulation or heating in sub-zero weather. However, there was a Starbucks. We proceeded to Toronto where we had a very short layover, during which I fulfilled a life long dream of being driven through an airport in the airport golf carts (Home Alone style) before arriving to Stanfield International Airport a mere 27 hours later. In my minds eye, it was the fastest 27 hours of my life.

All at once, it was back to business as usual. Life rushed at us from all angles and we quickly had to adjust to keep up. I will cover in much more detail what it has been like being back in Canada in my next post.

Cheers everyone, to the journey of a lifetime. Thank you for joining us every step of the way. I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed writing the blog, and how very happy I am that people other than my loving parents have read it. I hope to continue writing (forewarning: much more bland content) as a hobby. Who knows, maybe one day I will even follow my dream of publishing a book.

Thailand: Part 2

Hi Everyone!

As many of you know, Chris and I made it back safe and sound to Canada a week ago, concluding our 380 day around the world trip. My next post will be the final post on our time in Thailand and I will then try to convey in a conclusory post what we learned during our 380 days visiting 35 countries on all but one continent. I will also share the varying degrees of reverse culture shock I am experiencing on a day to day basis being back in the great white north.

Picking up where my last post left off: Our gaggle of a group made our way to the DMK airport in Bangkok via the extrodinary metro system to catch our very cheap domestic flight to the South of the country. Had it been just Chris and I we would have opted to take the 12 hour overnight bus, but where our companions only had a limited amount of time we decided it was in their best interest to fly. We caught a quick van transfer from the airport to the nearby pier, where we hopped into a long-tail boat that transported us from the pier to Railay Beach. We arrived on Railay Beach and quickly got lost trying to find our way to our accommodation, somewhat of an achievement considering the island takes 10 minutes to walk around. We finally made it to where we intended to stay, a recommendation from Lonely Planet as one of the only budget options in the area. Chris, Rilla and I were to share a three person bamboo hut, which we had a look at and agreed that for the price ($9 CAD each a night), it would be sufficient. The other two guys had one look at their hut and quickly bee-lined for the door. They felt it was more than just basic, and were rather shocked by the lack of toilet seat on the toilet. They were also put off by the number of chickens running around the property, and affectionately named the place, ‘The chicken coop.’ Alas, for being on a 3 week trip they were going for comfort over a true backpacker experience, for which we couldn’t fault them. They found a lovely resort down the hill with air-conditioned cabins and a pool.

Having ditched our bags we changed into our swim gear and headed for the beach. The beach was absolutely stunning, being surrounded on both sides by the spectacular karst limestone cliffs. These rock faces are extremely popular for rock climbers and allow for free climbing as if one falls it is into the ocean below. The beach was very picturesque but had very little in way of shade. It was a scorching hot day so we spent the majority of our time in the shallow water trying to keep cool. After the beach we hung out at the guys pool, and then splurged on some Changs.

image

image

image

The next day was another beach bumming day, and it was an even hotter day than the previous. By mid-afternoon we all had to call it quits and find a respite from the heat. Rilla had a thai massage in an air-conditioned spa, the guys hung out at the pool, and I took a nap in our hut. That evening we watched the incredible sunset from the beach before heading to bed early, the combination of the heat and the humidity overwhelming us into an early slumber.

image

image

The next day we explored the island, starting first with the two caves that you can enter (I would rate both as a miss), and then scrambling our way up a very steep hill to one of the viewpoints. This was a major workout and had us all breathing heavier than anticipated, but afforded some beautiful views of the peninsula. After the viewpoint we began to make our way down to the lagoon, which I gave up on half way down as I had worn my sandals that lacked any semblance of treads, and it was becoming exceedingly difficult and dangerous on the slippery rock face. The rest of the crew continued to the lagoon, hooting and hollering along the way, and reported it was a very tough climb down and back up.

image

image

Having worked up a sweat we went for a swim before heading back to town for lunch. We stopped at a great restaurant where the food was authentic and cheap. We spotted a western restaurant close to where we had lunch that was serving a mean looking chicken strip and fries platter and collectively decided to return for dinner.

The rest of the afternoon was spent on wifi, and playing with the lovely cats and kittens at the guys resort. One little kitty captured all of our hearts and we lovingly referred to him as Stevie French (from the Trailer Park Boys).

That evening we returned to the restaurant we had scoped out and all ordered the chicken fingers and fries. They were as delicious as they looked, and despite being approximately 5 times more expensive than a thai dish, they were worth it. After dinner had us head to a bar to watch a live Muay Thai fight. The fight promoters were going around and trying to entice foreigners to sign up to fight, regardless of ability, for a free bucket of booze. I kid you not, they serve alcohol by the bucketful in Thailand. Picture a bucket a toddler would take to the beach to make sandcastles with, but instead filled to the brim with alcohol and ice that certainly isn’t made with filtered water. In Bangkok the hostel we stayed at had warnings about these buckets, stating most establishments use homemade booze to fill them as it is cheaper, but it is often so potent it burns peoples stomach linings and they end up vomiting like they have never vomited before. There is also absolutely no way to protect your wide brimmed bucket from someone slipping something in your drink which made me very concerned for the hoards of young girls I observed sloshing their buckets around everywhere we went in Thailand. I personally obstained from the buckets, but having a few sips of the guys lead me to the final conclusion that buckets in Thailand are just an overall disastrous idea.

Muay Thai is the traditional form of fighting found in Thailand and is one of the most exciting forms of martial arts you could ever watch. After a few drinks and much banter, Chris and Brad coerced Tanner to accept a fight with a fellow foreigner. Both Tanner and his opponent were very large lads, and luckily neither had ever had training or been in a fight (even just for fun) before. There were provided with all necessary protective gear and were thrown in the ring to go toe-to-toe for three, two minute rounds. They were both very good sports about the whole thing, and Tanner ended up winning the fight by a landslide. It was a very entertaining 6 minutes and the people in attendance cheered as Tanner was declared the winner. He was treated to not one, but two, free buckets for winning the fight. After the amateur fight the pros took to the cage and we witnessed one of the craziest, most extreme and exciting fights of all time. One guy got knocked down in the first round and it seemed like he was all but finished, then he came back and knocked the other guy down in the second round and that guy seemed like he was finished, and then he came back for a very exciting third round but ultimately lost by KO from a crazy kick that remains one of the best finishes of a fight any of us have seen live or on TV. The guys were jacked up on adrenaline from both Tanners fight and then the pro fight, and were content going over blow-by-blow both fights on repeat. Rilla and I decided that was our cue to head to bed.

The next day we caught the early morning ferry from Railay Beach to Koh Lanta. I personally wanted a low key island as it was coming to the end of our trip and I wanted to relax, reflect and unwind before heading back to Canada. Koh Lanta seemed like the perfect place to do this. We spent our first day at the five mile beach, a spectacular stretch of white sand and turquoise water that is the stuff postcards are made of. That evening Rilla and I had dinner at a local restaurant across the street from our hostel, while the guys went further down the road in search of a burger for Brad. With the burger came a heavy dose of food poisoning for each of the guys that had them up all night and decomissioned the entire next day. Rilla and I had booked a snorkelling excursion for the day and were unaware of the strife of the boys until we arrived back at the hostel in the evening. We had a lovely day on the long tail boat, and while the snorkelling was a bust, we explored a cave and a secret lagoon that made up for it.

We left Koh Lanta the following day destined for Koh Phi Phi. If all things were equal, I would have skipped Phi Phi for Koh Lipe. However, Phi Phi is a major stop on the tourist trail, made famous by the film “The Beach” staring Leonardo DeCaprio and draws thousands of visitors every day.  We arrived to Phi Phi after a few hour boat ride, and walked the 10 minutes along the beach to our hostel. We checked in and then headed to the beach to catch a few rays of late afternoon sunshine.

Rilla and I headed to a Thai restaurant for dinner without the guys as they were quite turned off anything but bland food due to the recent food poisoning. As we made our way through the small town I couldn’t help feeling a sense of guilt about what I was observing. To accommodate the throngs of tourist that assault its shores every year the island seems to have a plethora of shadily constructed guesthouses, hotels and hostels. The town seems to be sagging under the pressure of accommodating so many people and this is visible everywhere you look. All you have to do is inhale and you were overwhelmed with the stink of raw sewage due to improper waste management facilities. The number of massage parlours, tattoo shops, bars/pubs, and restaurants were a further testament to the driving force of the tourism industry. And that is only what is above ground. The damage the mass tourism industry is having on the coral reefs and water is devastating. What was most devastating to me however, is the effect the mass tourism is having on the Thai people. Before travelling to Thailand I had been told time and time again how kind, warm and friendly the people of Thailand are. We certainly experienced this in the North of the country. However, in the South, the demeanour of the Thai people is the complete opposite. The disdain they have for the tourists oozes from their very beings. You can sense how jaded the booming tourism industry is making them, and rightfully so. It is absolutely shameful how the majority of tourists conduct themselves in Thailand, and how they treat the Thai people. I felt incredibly saddened by this as one of the best parts of traveling is interacting with the local people and learning about their lives. I am not saying all Thai people feel this way, but the overwhelming number of experiences we had in which I  came away with this impression outweighs the handful of positive experiences I had. Simply by being there I was contributing to this destructive cycle, making it difficult to shake the nagging feeling of unhappiness and guilt of my choice to travel the region.

Back to dinner: Rilla and I had a romantic candlelit dinner at a restaurant before meeting back up with the guys to check out the infamous beach party of Phi Phi. The tide had come in and the water came right up to the stages that had been set up for the parties, making it hard to navigate without getting wet. Each bar had deafening levels of music playing and various forms of games where rewards of shots or buckets were promised. Alarmingly, most of these games involved fire in some shape or form. Such as fire limbo (Free Shot!), fire skipping rope (More Free Shots! Free bucket if a lady did it topless or man sans clothes), etc. The people participating were fuelled with liquid courage, an intensely dangerous combination. After walking through town and taking in the destructive nature of the unsustainable tourism, I looked at things from the perspective of the locals and the impact we as tourists were having. The end result was a scathing view of these activites (as I am sure you can detect in the tone of this post) and I retired to bed by 10:30 pm.

The following day was lazily spent by the pool at our hostel, with little ambition to do much else. That evening we headed to a rooftop restaurant to catch the sunset and indulge in Mexican food. The food was delicious, but the sunset was definitely the star of the show. We then checked out a small pub with live music before heading to bed in anticipation of our travel day.
image

image

image

image

The next day was a long travel day to Khao Sok National Park, where I will pick up in my next post!

**Most of the pictures were taken by our fellow travellers- I cannot take credit for them 🙂

Thailand: Part 1

Hello Everyone!

We planned to visit Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand as our first stop in the country based on the incredible number of people we met (and read about online) who raved about the city. It is a very popular city for digital nomads to live and work in and as such there is a thriving expat community, and more importantly for us, reliable internet.

We made it to Chiang Mai from Laos without any issues and grabbed a shared minivan to our accomodation, A Little Bird Guesthouse 2. We checked in and were pleased with our choice of guesthouse for the week. We got the run down on things in the vicinity of the guesthouse and headed out to grab dinner and make our way to the famous Saturday Night Market.

Each evening a local food market set up around the corner from the guesthouse and we stopped on the way to the night market for our first introduction to thai cusine. I opted for a soup as I had thoroughly enjoyed the soups in Cambodia and Laos. It was the wrong decision and a rather poor first dish in Thailand. Chris’s dish was much better, albeit more of an appetizer than a full meal. We continued our walk to the Saturday night market, drinking in the beauty of the city. We stopped at several temples along the way where we observed monks lighting lanterns and hanging them in trees. The combination of the lanterns and the temples lit up in the night made for a beautiful and peaceful scene.

image

image

image

image

We arrived to the market area where there was an insane number of food stalls wafting incredible smells through the street. We grabbed some dumplings for the walk and fell into step with the mass of people entering the market walking street. The Saturday and Sunday night markets are renowned to be the best in Asia, and are popular with tourists and Thai people alike. This means there are an obscene number of people at the market, and you are forced to shuffle along rather than walk due to the sheer number of bodies in the confined space. If you wanted to stop and look at a vendor you had to break step and dance sideways through the crowd until you could find a small space to pause for a moment. Despite this we still had a lovely time, and went on a total culinary adventure by stuffing our faces with as much food from the food vendors as possible. Highlights were pad thai from a small hole in the wall local stall, and our first (of many) mango sticky rice. The handicrafts and souvenirs were very high quality and I severely regret not buying more, but I was not in battle mode to negotiate prices (and the crowds).

After several hours we had had enough and slowly made our way back to our hostel where we crashed into bed after a long day.

The next 5 days were dedicated entirely to catching up on all things pharmacy. We knew once our friends arrived on the 4th we wouldn’t be able to get anything done, so we committed ourselves to refreshing before they arrived. We fell into an easy routine of waking early, grabbing mango shakes and iced coffees from a lovely vendor around the corner and hitting the books (so to speak). Lunch was fried chicken for 22 bhat (less than $1 CAD) for the first few days before I discovered a local restaurant across the road famous for the northern dish, Khao Soi, for 40 bhat. After lunch was more learning before the local food market opened around the corner for dinner at 6 pm. As you can most likely gather, food was the centre of our time in Chiang Mai. Chris researched and found a recommendation to seek out a lady in a cowboy hat at this market who serves pork dishes. The pork was absolutely amazing and became our go-to dinner for the rest of the week. We also loved the steamed dinner buns, and sometimes opted for the buns stuffed with custard for dessert.

After dinner we would indulge ourselves by watching shows online as the internet was fast enough to stream! Making a Murderer was all over Facebook, and we were curious what it was all about, and we were hooked after the first episode. We also watched the HBO 6 episode series called Jinx, and for those of you who are done Making a Murderer and craving more reality murder t.v I highly recommend Jinx. The ending is one of the biggest bombshells I have ever experienced!

We took a break from gorging ourselves on tv for one evening to take in a cooking class at Basil Cooking School. We were picked up from our hostel and brought to a food market where our entertaining teacher, Apple, went over the ingredients we would be using that evening. After the market we headed to the school where we quickly set to work creating our dishes. We each were able to choose a dish from 5 different categories, meaning we were all cooking different dishes simultaneously. I really enjoyed this as Chris and I were able to make twice as many dishes! We each had our own prep and cooking stations, and drill sergeant Apple would shout commands to each of us to help us prepare our individual dishes. For having to coordinate 9 people who were cooking different things, the class ran very smoothly. After we prepared the first few dishes we were able to consume them immediately before preparing the additional courses. I loved this as it gave us a break and chance to spread out the eating (Chris and I barely ate all day so were famished) and interact with our group. The group was really fantastic, we got along famously and ended up sending one member to grab a few bottles of wine to share. There was another couple from Winnipeg in the class and we had great fun getting to know them. The food we prepared stands as some of the best and most authentic food we experienced while in Thailand. I would highly recommend this class!

image

image

image

image

We relished in the simplicity of routine for the week, it was a welcomed change after so long without any semblance of mundane normalcy.The days flew by (funnily enough) and before we knew it, it was New Years Eve. We didn’t plan to be in Chiang Mai specifically for NYE, but it turned out that it is one of the best places to experience bringing in the New Year in SE Asia.

Our night began with dinner at an all you could eat fondue place, similar to what we experienced in Laos. We then headed into the old city to check out the festivities. On the walk we could see hundreds of lanterns being released into the sky. It is tradition in Chiang Mai for locals and foreigners alike to write a wish for the New Year on a lantern and release this wish into the sky. I absolutely adored the idea of this, and how incredibly magical the sky looked with the thousands of lanterns illuminating the sky. The closer it got to midnight, the more lanterns were released. The feeling of hope for the New Year was palpable, and all you had to do was look to the sky to see the dreams of those around you for 2016. Chris and I released a balloon together with the wish (or perhaps prediction) for our best year yet. I took about a thousand pictures of the lanterns, we smiled quietly together at midnight, and felt excitement for what is to come. In the past I have lamented how NYE is usually a major let down, but this was the most perfect NYE I have experienced due to the beautiful symbolism in the releasing of the lanterns. It is a tradition I would like to keep for future years.

image

image

image

image

image

The next day we treated ourselves to a 2 hour oil massage at a very interesting spa. The spa is called ‘The womens massage centre for ex-prisoners’ and is staffed by women who were trained in massage therapy during their incarceration in the local womens prison. The prison itself has a massage centre where women serving their sentence can get hands on experience, but the spas for ex-prisoners provides employment opportunities once the women are released. A wonderful initiative that could be employed throughout the world. The massage was devine, and I ended up booking a 2 hour traditional thai massage for the following day! Chris opted out of this as they twist, crack and contort your body and he was worried (rightfully so) about his shoulder. The thai massage focuses on releasing tension from pressure points, and the masseuse uses her body to stretch and crack your body. It was an incredible experience that worked out all the kinks from backpacking that have accumulated throughout the year. I felt like a whole new person after!

While one could say we didn’t “do” much during our week long stay in Chiang Mai, we accomplished a lot in this week and thoroughly enjoyed our stay in the city. Chiang Mai has an incredible feel to it, and is a major hub for digital nomad workers for very good reasons. The week was culinary heaven for us, and we had some lovely interactions with the local thai people. I have to say it is one of my favorite cities that we have visited. Writing this blog retrospectively means I have experienced a lot more of Thailand since our time in Chiang Mai and I can honestly say it was my favorite part of Thailand and I wish we spent more time in the North as it is almost an entirely different country from the rest of Thailand (more on that to come).

We took an overnight bus from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, arriving to Bangkok very early in the morning. We grabbed an over-priced tuktuk to our hostel in Sukhumvit where we crashed in the lounge until being able to check-in. Once checked in we grabbed showers and hopped on the metro to check out the famous Chatuchak weekend market for the day. The metro was a fabulous way to take in the city and was a worthwhile experience in itself. The market was absolutely ginormous, over 35 acres, and we only saw one tiny corner of it before we had to head back to the hostel. I managed to snag a few new dresses that I sorely needed for the hot weather, and most of my clothes being pretty sad condition at this point.

We got back to the hostel and eagerly awaited the arrival of Tanner, one of Chris’s best friends from pharmacy. Tanner had a friend joining us as well and they were meant to be on the same flight, but there was a problem with their ticket and had to reschedule for the following day.

Tanner arrived without incident and we hit the town running to grab food and take in the sights and sounds. Bangkok is infamous due to the movie ‘ The Hangover 2’, as well as its reputation for sex tourism. The later was evident everywhere you looked, from the ladies sitting outside the “massage” parlors hooting and hollering at the guys, the ladyboys winking and whispering explicit things to the guys in passing, the scantily dressed girls with numbers pinned on their outfits outside the many questionable establishments, and my least favorite of all; the old, overweight white men with extremely young looking thai women on their arms wherever you looked. Unfortunately, it is a big business and is thriving on foreign money. It is incredibly depressing to me and I had to practice serious restraint not to voice my opinion in certain situations. We nevertheless had a fun night people watching and taking it all in.

The next day we got up early, grabbed a copy of the hostels DIY walking tour, and set out for the day. We made our way to the canals and waited for a taxi boat to take us to our first stop, The Golden Mount temple. The boat ripped in to the pier at an alarming speed, and we boarded hurriedly. The boat took off again at an even more alarming speed, displacing the canal water at a rate that had it crashing against the walls and back at us with enough force to cause the locals to pull the “splash guards” on the sides of the boat into place. As we raced down the canal Tanner pointed to the water where there was numerous dead fish floating on the surface, a clear indication of the quality of the water. The trip cost 11 bhat each, required switching boats once, and is a trip I won’t soon forget. We managed to get where we wanted and walked the short distance to the golden mount.

Before entering the temple site the boys grabbed another pad thai, while I went with an iced coffee. We then made our way up the many steps to the top of the Golden Mount for a spectacular view of Bangkok.

image

image

image

image

image

image

We then made our way to the temple of 37 spires, before all admitting our crushing fatigue due to our big night out and the insane humidity of Bangkok. We headed back to the hostel for a snooze and a shower before Chris headed to the airport to meet both his childhood friend Rilla, and Tanners friend (who happened to end up on the same flight) and escort them back to the hostel. While he was out Tanner and I had headed to dinner with one of my brother Patricks closest friends, Mel, for dinner. It was such a pleasure to be able to meet up and she gave us some great advice on what to see and do in Thailand, as well as keep us endlessly entertained with her stories.

image

After dinner we met up with the newest members of our now 5 member traveling gang and headed out to experience Bangkok for the second night. It was much the same as the first, and I was very happy to be leaving the city the next day.

I will chronicle our time in the South of Thailand in my next post!