To get there, I flew from Chiang Mai to Koh Samui (the nearest island with an airport), stayed overnight in an awesome resort and took a fast boat to Koh Phangan the next day.
Day 0 – Sunday
Weather: Gorgeous Yoga: Met the yoga teacher, Olivier (yay, I can speak French!). Got a briefing about the schedule:
- 9-11am Hatha Yoga + Pranayama (breathing techniques)
- 11:30am-noon Lecture
- 4-6pm Ashtanga Yoga Other activity:
- Rent scooter for the 10 days stay… take it for a spin to the beach, get oriented.
- Call Justin with my feet in the warm sea water.
Haad Salad was the nearest beach to the retreat. So lovely!
- FUNNY story: I broke my room’s sink! Yep, the sink. Let me explain. I brush my teeth in the bathroom and it turns out it’s one of those sinks that just evacuates water onto the bathroom floor to then be directed to the main drain. So lots of water was just stagnating around my toilet with a bunch of toothpaste foam. Yuk. So I thought I’d clean it up by using the shower nozzle to push the water into the drain. I put a hand on the sink and reach for the nozzle when I hear BABAAAAMMMM! This is what I see:
Oopsie! I look down and double check I have all 10 toes. They’re all there, phew! Everyone went to bed already so once I could get my heartbeat to calm down, I decided to let it be and deal with it the next morning.
- Pre breaking the sink, all I could think of was: SWEET!
- Post breaking the sink, all I could think of was: “Hello, my name is Stephanie. We just met… you won’t believe me but I broke your sink!” Great way to make a first impression. Ok, now go to sleep!
While I was going to be at my yoga retreat in Koh Phangan (Thailand), Justin would be volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. Well gosh darn it, I wanted to see the elephants too! So I decided to take a day trip, alone, to the Elephant Nature Park and get- if only briefly- up close to these beautiful and gentle giants.
The park, founded in the early 1990s by Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, is a sanctuary for domestic Asian elephants that have been rescued from logging and trekking operations, street begging, and performing. Many of the elephants have serious physical and mental handicaps, due to mistreatment, malnourishment, and/or the hardship of the labor they endured.
We got to feed the elephants (here I’m giving her a piece of watermelon). These things can eat! 200-300kg of food per day – yikes!
Trunks are such great tools… I want one.
Their skin is said to be an inch thick!
Tail and butt skin: thick but pliable.
The funnest part of the day was to bathe the elephants. It consisted of going in the river with buckets and splashing them with water.
When a whole group did it together, it made for an awesome elephant shower!
It was a deeply moving and humbling day. I realized how much we have no idea how badly animals are treated to generate money off of tourists (elephant rides). If you are visiting Thailand or any other country offering elephant-rides, show-casing elephants as circus animals, painters, etc… please verify that the company’s training techniques aren’t harmful. In doubt, don’t partake.
*Very gunky* Elephant kiss. Mmmwwwaaahhh!
You can read Justin’s week-long experience and how the park founder, Lek, sang an elephant to sleephere and more pictures here.
It was a little overwhelming at first, but I got the hang of it after a while.
This was my view: the first few rows, the million strings everywhere, the shuttle, my feet on the bamboo pedals.
Making the first motif was really challenging. The logic was not evident at first. Thank goodness the whole time my teacher was watching with attentive eyes.
Then came the very long stretch… 80 cm of purple.
Finally, the last motif. By then I was a little more confident.
Here is the action for 2 motif rows (of course I’m at snail speed compared to the pros and don’t know the lingo):
1: Take motif string up (white vertical strings), separate the white strings well, to make the specific row we need
2: Insert the wooden separator in between the black strings by lifting the front white strings on both sides
3: Flip the separator vertical
4: Pass the shuttle with the red silk through, align well
5: Flip separator horizontal and tap in sharply
6: Press the right pedal down
7: Pass the shuttle with the purple silk through, align
8: Release pedal and tap in sharply
9: Repeat 3 – 8 the opposite way
My teacher and I with the final product: a 120cm raw silk scarf with a traditional Lao motif. This is probably the best class I’ve ever taken.
In Luang Prabang, I found a weaving class, which I’ve never seen anywhere else we’ve been. I just *had* to take it. I chose a 2-day course at the Ock Pop Tok textile gallery and weaving center, which included natural dyeing techniques and the weaving of a full silk scarf with a traditional motif.
First, we picked the Annatto off the tree, which was going to make the “monk-orange” color. We had to open the pod and collect the little balls into a mortar.
Donatta and I worked hard at extracting those little suckers.
After crushing them with a pestle, the bright red powder was ready.
The powder was then added to boiling water and bubbled for a few minutes. You could see the color of the foam turn orange.
Once boiled enough, we dipped some white silk into the hot dyeing pot and left it there for half an hour or so.
After being dried in the sun, this is what they looked like finished: Annatto made Orange, the heart wood of the sappan tree mixed with metal made Purple and mixed with a limestone paste made Red.
It turns out I’m not really feeling like blogging about the rest of our stay in Vietnam. Justin covered our clothes-making marathon in Hoi An and beautiful Halong Bay.
When we arrived in Luang Prabang (Laos), it felt like such a blessing after annoying Hanoi. There, I said it, Hanoi annoyed me to the bones. Ugh. It was loud, the weather was yucky and cold, it took so much effort to do simple things like going out to lunch. I took zero pictures of the place.
We saw these guys near the Angkor Wat temple near Siem Reap, of which I could post a million pictures. Sure, the temples were breath-taking, but what I will always remember from our relatively short stay in Cambodia, is the warm, happy, smiley people who live there. Sure, not everyone rides in a pickup truck, but we found smiles at every street corner, in rice paddies, in temples, at the market.
On our last day in Siem Reap, we were asked, as per the usual, “Tuk tuk? Go see temples?” a million times in 50 yards. To this one guy, instead of our normal “no, thank you”, we responded “sorry, we’re flying today”. The guy leaped out of his tuk-tuk with excitement and a huge smile saying “My tuk-tuk has wings! Look!” as he unrolls the plastic flaps of his tuk-tuk and waves them like the wings of a flying bird. We all had a pretty good laugh. We were sad to leave.