so long SE Asia…hello New Zealand

Out of the three islands, we chose Gili Air where it wasn’t too quiet like Meno, but wasn’t all party like Trawangan. Our first evening, there was a guest DJ and Holo and I got our dance on till the wee hours of the morning. Off to a nice start! 🙂

The island life is simple: Sleep, swim and eat. Repeat. We found a great little guest house complete with breakfast. Every day we passed around the Sudoku puzzle book, read our books while lounging in hammocks, and took turns with our snorkel gear. One afternoon, Holo and I decided to go out for a snorkel and even spotted a turtle! Evenings were spent walking the beach-side restaurants to see who had the best deal on the freshest seafood we could get. By the end of our week there, we knew the locals and ordered the usual sea food platter for a cheap $10-12 for all of us. We also found a yoga studio and joined a class, as well as had our own personal training session with Holo, who based a lot of it off of our Hawaii work-outs with professional personal trainer Boe Trosset – god I miss that guy and those days! I was in my best shape ever… Towards the end of our stay, the guys decided they wanted to do some diving, before we moved south to Lombok.

After a short boat crossing, we got our personal van to the southern tip of Lombok and beach town of Kuta. A popular part of the island for surfing, it also had the most magical beaches and sunsets. And soon we were to find out that it was also the popular spot to meet the local kids, who want to sell you their hand-made bracelets.  It was a cold harsh reality that these kids were waking up every morning to go to school from 7am-12pm and then selling bracelets from 1pm-9pm. They are just kids! And though our answer for them was often ‘No, thank-you’ (for the millionth time!), we instead took the time to engage with the kids, play cards and get to know them. A couple of times, we even bought the kids some snacks, and some dinner one night. They were all smiles as they slurped up their ramen soup, giggling, pointing at the tourists. It was nice to see them forget they were selling bracelets and just be kids.

We rented motor bikes and went from beach to beach. Holo got his surf on, and unfortunately had a spill on the bike, but was better in no time. We shared many beautiful talks while digging our toes in the sand, and even a couple of singing sessions, like back during our Kahumana days. Before we knew it, our Lombok adventures came to an end and we took the ferry back to Bali. This time, we spent a couple of days in the party and surf capital of Indonesia: Kuta, Bali. In secret, I was excited to see all things Hindu again…ah, gets me every time!

Our S.E. Asia tour was coming to an end and it was hard to believe it. We tried to take in as much as we could of our last days, visiting the holy island temple of Tanah Lot and the amazing temple of Uluwatu. The guys got their surf fix. It was Blake’s first time, but he was a natural. All the while, I was trying to drink up as many coconut’s as possible.  We poked through the cheap shops and made sure there wasn’t anything imperative for our next destination. After a couple of days debating, I finally bought a ‘Made In Indonesia’, Yamaha guitar (finally!) and she’s a beaut. I have yet to name her but it will come…

This journey has been so amazing thanks to my Beelake and his incredible support (& itinerary- making abilities!) It’s safe to say, this traveling thing is addictive… and though our families would have preferred us home by now, looking at the map and seeing the short distance as well as getting cheap flights, we just couldn’t pass it up. And on to NEW ZEALAND they went… follow us here: http://thirtyeightbelow.wordpress.com

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balinese bliss

It was a long day of travel before we made to Bali, but it was well worth it. Ten minutes after getting off the ferry, Blake turned to me and asked me if we had arrived back in India:) Bali really feels like India. I guess you could say it was the Hindu temples and sculptures every few kilometers. And another beautiful thing, was when our bus driver stopped to let his co-pilot (the man who collects the tickets from passengers on the bus) step off and get blessed at a roadside temple. He walked over and gave his offerings. Hands in prayer, he bowed his head and received a flower behind his right ear. The woman was dressed in traditional Balinese cotton white sarong and embroidered white top, sleeves three-quarter length, the bottom of the shirt laced like huge flower petals hugging her stomach and hips. After she blessed him, she came over and threw holy water onto the windshield of our bus and away we went. I loved this. And it just kept coming.

No matter where we were, temples and Hindu statues peeked around every corner and offerings were being brought to the front sidewalk of a business or home for prosperity and abundance. The offerings are made of palm leaves typically weaved into 6-inch square baskets, though some were weaved to look like flowers or other decorative objects.  The small baskets held flowers of all kind and color and food such as fruit, cookies and rice. It seemed no matter where we were a woman was about to set down 1-3 of these precious offerings. Then she would light a stick of incense to burn over top the offering, followed by throwing a glass of holy water with a rose petal in it. She bowed her head in prayer. A beautiful daily ritual, every day. Hindu services were performed in and near temple grounds, at home near a shrine and on the beach.

Our first couple of nights we spent in Sanur, a more posh part of the island to celebrate my birthday. Soon though, we caught a bus to the opposite side of the island Lovina, another beach town, to stay for a week. We rented a motor bike and visited a temple (which seemed like the monkey’s owned), Air Banjar (a natural hot springs with beautiful dragon sculptures), Air Senih (a fresh water spring that meets the ocean), and finally walked a vanilla and clove field to the Git Git waterfall. On our last day in Lovina, we decided to take a tour at sunrise to see the dolphins. I’ve never seen dolphins in the wild and didn’t know what to expect, but soon we joined 30 other small boats and began the chase.  At first it was really exciting to see 15-30 dolphins swimming in a pod, but soon it seemed like we were cutting them off and just polluting their water. I guess if the dolphins didn’t like it, they could easily move on through their vast underwater world…

Moving inland, we made it to the amazing and very touristy Ubud. We found a small and quiet guest house amongst a courtyard of temples where local families sat and prepared offerings daily. Every morning I would spend some time looking over our balcony and breathing in the sacred space. We spent time walking the small streets and poking our heads into the many shops: sculptures, paintings, yoga clothes, silk stores, health food stores and many yoga studios. We located ‘The Radiantly Alive’ yoga studio, where many guest speakers come from all around the world and I even took course and learnt more about the beautiful yogic practice for the day. I just read recently that my old teacher from Montreal, where I had my training, will be a guest speaker there this month – wish I could fly there and surprise him!

Blake and I only had a couple of days before our dear friend Holo (Ben) was to join us on our adventures. We met at Kahumana Farm in Hawaii over a year ago, and were happy to hear he decided to spend his holiday with us. We still hadn’t had a concrete plan for how we were going to spend our 2 weeks together. Once he arrived, we decided to get our Bali fix in a couple of days and move on east to relax on the Gili islands.

In our two days, we did a bit of catching up on a hillside and terraced rice field walk, the second day we rented motorbikes and explored the east side of the island, taking in the mountains, lake and the oldest temple in Bali, Besakih. A local man offered walking us through a private Hindu service which we agreed to. Just as we were finishing up, large groups of families poured in, in traditional Balinese dress.The rest of the time we walked the shops, ate delicious meals and got a couple of massages. One evening we even went to a traditional Hindu ballet and gamelan performance. The costumes were so intricate and beautiful complete with all sorts of accessories and the facial expressions! I loved it and wanted to go to another, but it was off to the Gilis…no cars, no traffic, just us and the sea…

oh java java, java java

As soon as we landed in Jakarta we left on a long bus journey to the small and quiet town of Cianjur. We were craving a local experience and booked a home-stay for three days. There, we were graciously welcomed to delicious home-cooked meals, a comfortable bed and many activities for us to choose from.  An option that wasn’t on the list, but mentioned in passing, was to volunteer at a local primary school. Before we knew it, Blake and I were riding on motor bikes with a couple who were school teachers to help them for a day. They work six days per week and teach at three village schools each day. Upon arriving to the first school, it was like we were celebrities with all the stares and laughter. Children, about 10 yrs old, and school teachers alike reached into their pockets for their cellphones and snapped away.

picture time!

In each school we sat in on their English class, interacting and speaking to them with our American and Canadian accents, which their teacher regarded as very important to hear. They were so excited just to have us in their classroom, that when we spoke the squeals immediately ensued. The teachers took us for lunch and tea in return for our time. They kept expressing their gratitude and let us know how much it meant to the children that we came. For a lot of them, it was the first time that they had even seen a Westerner, being from such a small town. It felt amazing that our time alone (one day!), offered so much to their community. The experience nurtured such a special place for us and the kids alike. I can’t wait to offer that again in the future.

posing with the kids

Our second local activity was with a family that hosts an educational and training facility to promote the use of organic rice farming. After a short in-class lesson, we hit the fields to experience the hard work for ourselves.

rice planting

We learnt that rice is harvested 5 times in 2 years. The organic methods for pesticides were made with diced and boiled potatoes that are then filtered into spray, ready for use. And natural fertilizers were made from:

1-      Stem vegetable with roots, including sweet potato or morning glory, which targets the health of the root system of the rice

2-      Using those which grow in groups (banana trees, bamboo) promotes consistency with the crop

3-      Use of Ferments (young mango, snails, cassava) to keep away pests

4-      Use of Inhibitor (didn’t say exactly what this was, an unidentified bottle) help to inhibit the growth of other crops that could harm the production of said rice

organic fertilizers

Again, it meant so much to the family that we came to learn about a crop so dear to their culture. As lunch was nearing, one of the sons who is a teacher at the University asked if we would be interested in visiting and speaking with the students at the Faculty of Agriculture. After our experience with the kids the day before, we happily agreed. Before meeting the students they offered us a delicious lunch as a thank you. Another nice crowd, this time we sat in two circles as Blake and I mingled with older students and shared about ourselves, and our culture back home. Again, it felt so good to give back. Something so incredibly easy for us, to offer our time and energy was hugely rewarding, I don’t know how we weren’t doing this every step of the way…

As we said good-bye to our students in Cianjur, we headed for the cultural capital of Yogyakarta. It was a great stop for us to take care of some business like our visa extension and some shopping for New Zealand. We spent a week there and took in some sites.  We visited Borobudur which is the world’s largest Buddhist monument. It was absolutely stunning in the morning light. Definitely a very spiritual place.

borobudur
buddha, borobudur

Later, we learned about traditional Batik painting, which is the use of candle and/or paraffin wax, natural inks/dyes and fabric, typically cotton and silk. The artist sketches the drawing onto the fabric and uses the waxes as a way to block out color starting from white to colorand then sometimes black. They have these small wax dispensers of various sizes, almost like a ball-point pen where they scoop up the wax into the small dispenser and use the fine tip to cover in the drawing. Some were intricate and others simple and abstract, but they were amazing. I didn’t quite get to partake in a lesson, but I purchased some tools to send and experiment back home.

batik painting

One site we went to that fed the inner artist and changed up some of the very traditional sight-seeing was the Affandi Museum. It was an exceptional museum in that it acted not only as a gallery and functional workspace for the artist Affandi, but it was also his home and grave site where he was buried alongside his wife. With the help of national funding the building was completed after his death. However, the artist himself not only designed the organic structure made to resemble buildings in the shape of banana leaves, but he also helped to build it. His inspiration of the specific shape stems from his earlier use of banana leaves to protect his wet paintings from the sun and rain. Later it is said that translated to the protection of himself and his family when they moved into the living quarters. In the first two galleries displayed Affandi’s pencil sketches, pastel, watercolor and oil paintings, in addition to a few of his clay and cement sculptures.

affandi museum

From an artistic perspective, his work was quite appealing in that it was highly expressionist with vivid colors. Anyone who knows my work knows my love for bold, expressionist, almost loud colors. Love it! In all of my hundreds of hours of learning art history, I had never heard of this great artist, but I’m glad to have seen his unique compound and artwork.

gallery in affandi museum

affandi

Next, we booked what was going to be an intense three days/two nights of hiking two volcanoes back to back. The first was Mount Bromo, which was a 7-hour drive from Yogyakarta, and then another 5 hours away was Kawah Ijen. Two totally different, but equally amazing, these two treks required very early morning starts to catch an unforgettable sunrise. For Bromo, we jumped into a Jeep at 4am and shared the dusty trail up to the viewpoint with those on horse-back. It was a rather surreal experience to be in the darkness of morning, and then welcoming the sun and seeing the enormity of the volcano and clouds blanketing the vast and desolate terrain. It felt like being on another planet.

mount bromo

mount bromo 02

Kawah Ijen was just as astounding in its own way. All the way back in Sri Lanka, we met a couple who strongly suggested going to see the blue fire which can only be seen at night. So we took a nap and left at 1am to commence the climb. We lucked out and followed another group who had a guide and we made it to see the famous blue fire by 3am. Basically, Ijen is a sulfur mine which constantly burns, but one can only see its blue flames in the dark.

blue fire, ijen

 

Definitely worth the sight, it only got better as the sun rose and as we saw the turquoise Crater Lake and yellow sulfur mine next to one another sharing another colossal volcanic landscape.

kawah Ijen

Another major highlight on this trip, Indonesia is just full of one surprise after another… Now, it’s time for someone to check off having a birthday in Bali off their bucket list!

Welcome to the abundant land of Indonesia

While we were still in Malaysia, Blake and I considered visiting Borneo. Borneo is the island to the east divided between Malaysia and Indonesia (with a little dab of land belonging to oil-rich Brunei—not on our list). We heard a few places were worth visiting on the Malaysian side, but after considering our time and budget, along with the idea that it would be more expensive than peninsular Malaysia, we decided to skip it and spend more time in Indonesia. GREAT DECISION!

We started on the primitive island of Sumatra to try out another jungle trek, but this time we stayed overnight in the rainforest near Bukit Luwang. The goal was to see the endangered Sumatran Orangutan, and we got to observe them in their natural habitat twice! The first time was in a group of 5-6, and the second time was just a mama and her baby. The mama looked so curious she even climbed down to get closer. We also saw two other monkey species (Thomas Leaf and Gibbon) as well as a wild peacock, poisonous snakes and geckos. Another huge highlight for me was learning about the jungle medicine from our guides who were eager to share their knowledge and expertise. As we began the trail, we passed through a small rubber plantation where all the trees had been etched out with a diagonal slash to allow the white gooey liquid to drip down the trunk and into a coconut husk bowl. When the bowls are filled they are taken to the factory to make rubber for export.

Next we stopped at a cacao tree where our guide plucked one for a delicious sample. The sweet, juicy cacao fruit is soft and white fresh out of the shell with a hard, dark center. It’s typically roasted in the sunlight for a few days where it browns and hardens into chunks that are then grinded into a powder used for making chocolate.  Even after our trek, as we traveled through Sumatra, we saw many sheets spread across the ground full of cacao pods roasting in the hot sun.

After our fresh snack we saw coffee, clove, citronella, and tiger balm plants, along with other spices and herbs. There was a tree whose leaves are made into a tea used to treat malaria, another one for male virility, and another to enhance breast milk production. On the second day of our trek one of the guides spotted a HUGE black and orange centipede. They captured it in an empty water bottle to be used for treating asthma back in the village. It’s amazing how nature provides. The guides and their families had used these natural medicines for generations because they can all be found at their fingertips (with a trained eye, of course!). This was the ultimate jungle experience and trumped our terrible leech infested hike back in Malaysia!

Our camp was basic with three covered areas – one for the cooks, one for our group of 8, and the other for the guides and cooks to sleep. Our shower was the waterfall/river just a short walk from camp. The food was consistently amazing (which we would continue to enjoy throughout Indonesia) with rice, curries, lots of fried egg, tofu and finally tempeh! Tempeh is fermented soy beans which is actually more nutrient dense than tofu and personally, a better texture and flavor. After our trek the second day, we paired up on tubes and rode the rapids back to the village, only to realize it was Sunday and nearly everyone in Sumatra was enjoying their day off, splashing in the river, and yelling to us as we arrived. It was quite the entrance, pictures and all!

Next we ventured south to Lake Toba, which is a volcanic island in the middle of a melted glacier lake in central Sumatra. We set up home at Mr.Moon’s traditional Batik accommodation and prepared to stay for a while. During our 6 days here we bumped into kids who traveled from Medan (4hrs away) to practice their English. We were interviewed countless times and of course expected the paparazzi picture and video taking! We walked to enjoy the views around the lake and rented a motorbike to take a dip in natural hot springs. On the way, school kids held out their hands for a high-five as we drove passed. We even stopped just to watch a family of pot-bellied pigs scurry back to a village. Piglets are adorable! And we stumbled upon a vegan (!) restaurant with home-made ice cream worthy of a quick stop.

The best thing about staying at Mr. Moon’s was not only Mr. MoonJ and his extremely hospitable nature, but also the other travelers from around the world. Many thought they would only stay 2-3 days, but kept extending it to enjoy the relaxed environment (like us). We were one big family at Mr. Moon’s, especially with his impressive crew of two sons and two nephews working the kitchen to prepare our tasty meals. We all found our cozy spot in the house and enjoyed great food while exchanging stories with our new friends.

Though we could have explored more of this primitive island, the rains were upon us and it was time to head east to the island of Java…

 

For my Babcia,

Exactly a month ago, my grandmother left her physical body on our earthly plane. Fortunately though, her strong spirit wanders. In ways, I feel closer to her than ever.

Since my grandparents live in Poland, the first time I met them was when I was 13 on a trip to Europe with my parents. After that, I saw them a handful of times and would learn a little more about my dad and my roots. I already felt a little more connected to my grandmother since everyone said I resembled her in her earlier years, and that likely I would age like her. She was short, with big eyes, had a head full of white curls, offered the best dramatic facial expressions, and wore the best outfits. I thought she was sweet, beautiful, and funny, so why not age like her?!

My babcia (grandmother) Krysia, told me the funniest stories about my grandpa bringing home stray animals (cats, dogs) off the streets and having to adopt all of them. She offered her albums to look through from her childhood and my fathers. She told me stories of the war and of her brother whom she loved so much. I learnt that she was an amazing seamstress and made all her clothes – matching skirts, blazers and all! I remember her amazing cooking; she could make every soup on the planet alongside traditional meat, potatoes, and salad. She complained my grandpa ate too much, watched too much TV, and slept all the time. But he was also a good helper in the kitchen and peeled potatoes while calling her “zabka”, his little froggy.

On one occasion we were alone and she asked me to wait a minute. She came back with a little blue box and asked me to have what was inside: a pair of pearl earrings. I thanked her immediately but told her I didn’t have my ears pierced (I was 25 at the time), and she said “Well, it’s about time!”

As the years passed, she was always so happy to see us, let alone to receive a phone call. My dad called his parents a few times a month, and though I didn’t always know what to say, I would talk to them. When I moved to Montreal, I still made a point of calling her just to check in and say I was thinking of her. She didn’t speak any English, so it was also the perfect opportunity to practice my Polish. While we were traveling, I had what was to be my last conversation with her, and she said she hoped to see me again. I told her of course I would. I’m so sad that that won’t happen again. What if you knew when the last time you would be able to see and be with someone before they pass? Would you act or say things differently?

I guess life passes so quickly that I thought we had plenty of time. Sadly not.

My mother, sister, and niece flew to Poland in September to celebrate her 88th birthday and spoiled her with holistic skincare facial, manicure, pedicure, and sent to get her hair done, while they cleaned her house. It was also my niece, Kayah’s, first time to Poland and she got to meet her great-grandmother. How special is that!?

Sometimes it’s hard to accept that while we are venturing about this beautiful world, life back “home” continues. I wish I could have just hugged my dad when he told me my babcia had passed. I had to find the strength to say “goodbye” in my own way. On one of our last days in Bali, we visited the beautiful temple of Uluwatu. Perched on a cliff-side overlooking the vast blue ocean, I sat for a few minutes of silence. When I was ready, I took the beautiful plumeria flower out from behind my ear, walked to the edge, and let it go. With tears streaming down my face, I felt a weight lift. I let her go and it was beautiful. Though my babcia is not physically with us anymore, I feel closer to her spirit more than ever. Now I take her, and those I love, wherever I go…

Moja Babcia

Krystyna Kowalska

Sept 19, 1924 – Nov 19, 2012

SINGA-POOR-A

Before we fell into the blanket of Indonesia, it was a quick pit stop to a place which felt like an expensive version of home, Singapore.  It still remains peculiar that nestled among a cluster of so many cheap countries, all of a sudden your wallet and bank statements start to look, well, substandard. I was always excited to visit an ATM in Vietnam, where the currency is approximately 20,000 dong to $1USD, and I couldn’t wait to get my receipt and see all those denominations. Unfortunately, Singapore had me feeling a little less like a millionaire. Despite the comfort of familiar grocery stores and cafes from home, we only stayed two days due to the simultaneous shock of high prices and mediocrity of a developed nation. It was just enough time to visit the city, getting in some shopping and stop by the port to see the sky line; an impressive display of architecture where every second building was a bank. Go figure! As a major import/export hub, it only made sense that we were seeing the crème de la crème as we traversed about. It felt like the kind of city one would enjoy with deep pockets…maybe a little later in life. 🙂


skyline

theater/entertainment centre

off the harbour

what a lovely quote!




monkeying around malaysia

Blake and I were pretty excited about Malaysia and allotted at least 3-4 weeks to explore the country. Though, it soon became apparent that with the combination of higher prices and lower quality for just about everything, that our tour would be shortened significantly (to only 14 days). The transport was costly, the accommodation bad, and unfortunately the people were not all that friendly. However, one big highlight was having great Indian food again! Oh poppadums, come to mama:)

We started off in the capital, Kuala Lampur, to take in some sites. A change from everywhere else we’ve been, Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country, so we awoke to chants at 4:30AM and they followed a few times daily. In our two-day tour, we stopped by Little India, The National Museum (which I really enjoyed), the famous Petronas Towers as well as the K.L. Tower which looks similar to the CN Tower in Toronto.

petronas tower diorama

petronas towers

K.L. Tower

After K.L., we hopped on a winding road up to Cameron Highlands, where the air was fresher and strawberry patches turned up as frequently as rice paddies in Thailand. We participated in a day-tour to visit some look-out points from Tea estates, the Mossy Forest, Strawberry farm, as well as stop at the Tea Factory to enjoy a freshly brewed cup. On the way back, we asked to be dropped near a nature walk trail and took the scenic road home. We did get a little lost, but making another pit stop to a strawberry farm for some fresh ice cream was well worth it!

tea estates

strawberries!

jungle walkin'

After the highlands we put on our adventure boots and headed for the rain forest of Taman Negara. I regretted not having those adventure boots made of rubber, since the next day we took on a 13km trail full of leeches! Don’t even get me started. Luckily, Blake borrowed some rubber shoes from the guesthouse, so he was mostly fine. But they didn’t have my size so I resorted to looking down at my feet the entire trek in paranoia. Ick. I was a leech magnet. At one point there was a leech lodged so far up my leg I thought it was there to stay! It was a blessing our trek mates brought a huge bag of salt because that became my new best friend. (It was also on this trek that I learnt leeches are nothing to be too afraid of; it’s more of a mind game as the sight of them digging their way in your skin can make you go crazy! They are actually used in traditional Chinese medicine.) Needless to say, I had leech nightmares for days to come…

taman negara 02

taman negara

Anxious to get as far away from the rain forest as possible, we headed for some beach time on the Perhentian Islands. On the way, the sight of palm trees in a perfect line for hundreds of kilometers in all directions, as the sun shone through them and onto the cows scattered, feeding on the grass was something beautiful. Soon I realized what it really offered was a first-hand look into the palm oil industry; a depressing reality of deforestation and extinction of many species, specifically the Orangutan monkey. Malaysia is the biggest producer of palm oil, which is being exported worldwide. Have a look at some of your food/skincare labels at home and you might be surprised by the amount of palm oil…

perhentian kecilAs we approached the wharf, we boarded a boat and buckled up for a bumpy ride. We stayed at the smaller of the two islands, Kecil (which translates to ‘small’) and settled into relax mode for the next few days. We explored the island and went on a snorkel trip which included a swim with turtles AND reef sharks – what a rush! One evening we dined BBQ-style on the beach and even tried some shark and sting ray.

snorkeling

swimming with turtle

swimming with reef sharks 01

swimming with reef sharks 02

Overall, it could be that with our already well traversed path that we were getting use to a certain standard, maybe even getting a little spoiled, but Malaysia just wasn’t cutting it. And it’s a good thing we didn’t stay too long, because after a quick stop to Singapore, we were about to experience saving the best for last, Indonesia.

coral beach sunset

south thailand bliss

Well friends, let me tell you that the South of Thailand is just delightful. If you haven’t been, put it at the top of your list – trust me! It was the first time that we felt Hawaii had a true contender. We have been talking about and comparing everything to Hawaii – somehow it just made an amazing impression on us, but South Thailand is incredible too.

We started on the small island of Koh Tao where we stayed 5 nights. We rented a motor bike and saw everything in one day. This was definitely the place to get your snorkel on. The underwater geography was vast and the crystal clear blue water and plethora of fish were enough to get us hooked for hours.

The beaches were all beautiful and the look-out points breathtaking, especially at sunset. Another big highlight here was that it was the first time I came across a raw juice bar, which was a true godsend! At home I make and drink fresh, raw juices daily so I knew it was the place to get my fix after so many months without. They were a bit expensive for our daily budget, but I still managed to treat myself to more than one good cup of health!

Next was Koh Phangan. Not that it’s our thing anyway, but there was no full-moon party while we were there. I think there was a dark moon party (any excuse to party eh!?), but the entrances fees are expensive, and I guess I’m just not 18 anymore. We still managed to find a nice quiet spot to relax for a few days, and of course did the usual cruising around the island on motorbike. We saw some incredible views and waterfalls. But the next stop was definitely the highlight for our South Thailand tour: Railay.

We had heard tons about this place from the beginning of our travels so we knew we couldn’t skip this one. And I’m sure glad we didn’t. Railay is on peninsular Krabi, but you can only get there by boat so it feels like an island. The ride offers a gorgeous panoramic view of South Thailand’s signature lush limestone cliffs and beautiful blue water. In just 20 minutes we arrived to the small and still developing Railay. That being said, it was nice that it’s still a rather quiet haven to enjoy. With sky scraping limestone cliffs and enormous white sandy beaches, treks through caves and to look-out points through the muddy jungle, Railey is also at the top of the list for international rock climbers. No doubt a popular spot with unbeatable porous volcanic rock, offering easy holds. The climbs are still challenging, but no doubt worthwhile with rewarding views. There is nothing more frustrating than to climb on rock that is too slick with few holds. And though the indoor wall is great for training, climbing on real rock just doesn’t get better than this.

My first time climbing on real rock was with my good friends Joanna and Lloyd (on their honeymoon!) in Sicily, Italy, so I was anxious to put Railay on the list. On the flip side, it was Blake’s first time but he was a natural. We completed six climbs at various levels, but the most challenging was level 6A (intermediate). Since I had told our guides I had climbed in Sicily (regardless of the fact that this was years ago) they put my initial climb at 30 meters, no warm up or anything! With a bit of struggle at the last 5 meters of vertical rock with fewer holds, I managed to stretch my limbs as if they were clay and reached the summit where the views were astounding. I shuffled into an indent in the rock with stalagmites protruding my view of the gorgeous green-blue water and palm-tree peninsula. If the rock climbing didn’t win me over, then the three consecutive sunsets were about to. Honestly, it may have been that there were three in a row, but I suppose the views and awesome experience climbing made it the best three I have ever seen in my life. No joke – the photos speak for themselves!

Raillay was a definitely a major highlight on this trip and a nice send off to Malaysia. That is, until we got to the airport and were charged for staying one day over our visa. 🙂