Ah life is good in Chiang Mai! I have migrated north since Conor left and now find myself in a small charming city one overnight bus trip away from Bangkok. Since I last posted, Conor and I spent a couple more days on Ko Lanta before arriving back in Bangkok on friday. We opted at the last minute to stay in the comfort of the funky fish and just do a day trip to the much talked about island of Phi Phi. This turned out to be a good call, as an hour on Phi Phi was more than enough for us. This is island is one of the most beautiful in Thailand and the big secret is out- ALL the tourists know this. It has unfortunately been destroyed by commercialism and trash and I was almost legitimately afraid I was going to spontaneously sink into the Andaman Sea with the whole island. It’s also gotten quite a reputation as an island that never sleeps. Don’t get me wrong, we all know I like a good party, but this was just not the kind of island vibe we were looking for. In the end, we had SO much fun on Lanta and both kind of wished we could trade places with the retired swedish man who had been looking for an adventure and had stumbled upon a beachfront Ko Lanta bar in need of a new owner. Lucky guy. Our last day in Bangkok was brief, and Saturday I was returning Conor to the airport far too soon. The couple days after he left was the first time I’ve had even a twinge of homesickness. But the adventure must go on and the next best thing a lonely girl can do, is keep herself busy!The next night I took an overnight bus to Chiang Mai. I had survived the train so I figured this was the next challenge in travel. I’m a light sleeper and a cranky tired girl so I was nervous. We left at 9pm and pulled into Chiang Mai at 5am. Too bad my hostel didn’t open til 7. What to do with 2 hours. Anyway, the bus wasn’t bad we got a boxed dinner and apparently a breakfast that I confused for dessert. Oops. Didn’t want to eat at 5am anyways. So, a couple hours later I was in love with Chiang Mai. I was here looking for calm and peace after a couple of crazy weeks and this is exactly what I have found! My first morning was spent wandering aimlessly in an old city that was (mostly) pollution free and actually had space to breathe! In the afternoon I took a vegetarian cooking class that was connected to a restaurant I had frequented in Bangkok. I am absolutely no good at cooking so I was imagining it would likely be a huge waste of my time. While I definitely didn’t win the class award for best peanut sauce, the class was so good and I had a lot of fun. I might even be able to successfully through a thai styled dinner party! Don’t worry friends, I’ll practice on Conor first. The school was called Morning Glory Cooking Classes, I highly recommend it! Even got to take home leftovers. Win. In the evening, I found out I was lucky enough have showed up in Chiang Mai for the annual lantern festival which was beautiful. Giant floating paper lanterns are released into the sky by the hundreds and it’s really quite a sight. There was also a parade of Thai culture.The next day I woke early for yoga at this great little place down the rode from my hostel called Wild Rose. It’s an antique wooden building that has so much air and natural light running through it. A really beautiful space to practice in and the class was an hour and a half for $7. Can’t beat that. A few hours later (I was not being zen at all) I was running down the streets of Chiang Mai to make it nearly on time to Wat Suan Dok (temple) where my meditation retreat would start. It was much further away by foot than I had anticipated and I was not sure how highly monks regard timeliness. I made it,just 3 minutes late and all was forgiven. There were about 30 students in total for the 2 day retreat. All ages and from all over the world. We were an eager and anxious group of novices with little to no meditation experience between us. The retreat is run through an outreach organization called ‘Monk Chat’, aimed at teaching those interested more about the practice of Buddhism. The course started with an intro to buddhism, during which we were introduced to the basic principles of the belief system. Per our monk leader, buddhism is not a actually a religion but rather a way of life. It was very interesting and I really think there is a little bit of buddhist in all of us. Essentially it is a path of precepts that equate to living a good life of kindness, caring, confidence, and selflessness. We each practice this in our own way and at various levels. Next, we were taken by pickup truck (again, the blog on public transport in Asia…) to the Internaltional Meditation Center located outside of the city. This is where we would be learning and practicing mindfulness for the next 2 days. I have only ever meditated within the discipline of yoga and on my own by way of “meditation for beginners” books. I had previously enjoyed what I’d experienced and was excited to really get a crash course with some pros. Like most, I struggle with the concept of “shutting off my mind”. It doesn’t come easy for anyone, it’s not just you that can’t get all those crazy thought to chill out for a few minutes. When I first discussed this idea of “shutting off your mind” with my very knowledgeable and well balanced friend Melissa, she shared an interesting concept. That it is not so much about ‘not thinking’, it is more the filtering and release of all these consuming thoughts. When meditating, you realize how much trash we carry around in our heads all day long. Through meditation, you are processing through these thoughts and letting them escape you rather than just trying to stop them. Brilliant woman! And so I stopped trying shut off my mind, and just let it rid itself of all the self created pollution trapped inside. My monk guide advised the same- consciously trying to stop your thoughts is actually in itself creating another thought. Just stay focused and your mind will eventually quiet itself.The 2 days consisted of learning various meditation techniques. These techniques include- standing, sitting, walking (which itself has 4 techniques), and laying (2 techniques). The monks walked us through it the first few times and then we were on our own. The conclusion of day 1 consisted of an hour long meditation for us to really try out our new found skills. We did however have the option to change positions every 10 minutes so it wasn’t quite as daunting as it sounds. So- here I am, all excited and ready to go explore my mind and savor the silence and find out what this is all about. It was a good hour, I really felt connected and disconnected all at the same time. It was a difficult, but enjoyable process. Until it was time for a bathroom break and I discovered that the sensation of disconnect had actually been coming from pants. I now have something in common with Janet Jackson. Although I think mine was more embarrassing, just saying. Anyways, I go to the bathroom and go to untie my pants from the back when instead of grabbing fabric I grab nothing and just feel my cold butt cheek. I turn around, in terror, and sure enough there is the whole big white left side of my bum just exposing itself to the world. I instantly do some laps around the room trying to test out the theory that, no of course I would have felt a breeze and my pants have not been like this for an hour. No breeze. I adjust the cloth trying to see if it really wasn’t as bad as I thought. It’s pretty bad. I realize when I was busy learning how to bow to Buddha the fabric must have come out from under the one measly piece of string that was tying it around my waist. The pants are about size 10 XL and are wrapped around you before being secured (or not secured) by the string. Ok well now I’m humiliated. I realized now that one nice American dude had tried to give me a heads up with a quick pinch on the arm and a quiet “hey”… but I thought he was just being friendly so I waved and kept walking! Conveniently I had spent the last 30 minutes in walking meditation, doing laps around the room just to ensure that all 30 students, 2 monks, and a giant buddha had the privilege of seeing my bum. At least it’s a good bum! Sorry monks, I hope you aren’t having too many nightmares. And to my meditation friends that saw my moon- did you give up at “intending to clothes my eyes” (in an asian robot voice)… your eyes were NOT supposed to be open!And so concluded day 1!Day 2 was more of the same, with slowly increasing lengths of meditation time until we were at 2 hours of silence with 20 minute intervals. The whole experience was so wonderful. I felt light and happy and grounded at the end of the day. The best part was my evening yoga class where I totally kicked ass and got into some pretty intense poses I didn’t even know I was capable of. Connected to the meditation or not, I don’t know, but it was a sweet surprise that made me want more. After yoga I went and found some equilibrium in the form of a big bowl of noodles and a cold Singha (local beer) to balance out my abundance of healthy practices. It’s all about the yin and yang right? Too much of one thing is never good! 😉 I met with some of my fellow meditators and got talked into a weekend trip to a small mountain town called Pai. This town is touted as a little hippy paradise away from all of life’s troubles. However, I haven’t stayed at hostel yet where everyones not chatting about the magic of Pai (most haven’t been yet) and so I can only imagine it is has begun to succomb to the fate of Ko Phi Phi. For this reason, I had no intention of going. But, here I am on a bus going to Pai. I will spend the weekend with these new friends and find out what Pai is all about. I am sad to leave Chiang Mai, I really love this city and could spend a long time here I think. There is an amazing community of expats and the city is just so alive.
Okay well guilty of not posting this before arriving in Pai… blogging takes commitment people! But I will post now and share my Pai experiences in a few days. Today I am returning to Chiang Mai and having round 2 on the night bus to Bangkok! Bye!
Also- my photo upload does not appear to want to work today (#bloggingproblems), pictures coming soon!