Category Archives: South East Asia

Ode to SE Asia

I spent a few days jotting down everything I could remember about yoga training. Every body, mind, and spiritual ‘a-hah’ moment…then I pressed save and called it a day. If you really must know, ask me…but ultimately yoga training is such a personal experience, I almost didn’t feel like sharing it would do it justice, and as well…a bit selfish perhaps, I don’t really want to give away all the answers to the work I did…and they are relevant to me, and me only. I’m sure things will come up again as themes, as I hope that I continue to live in a lifestyle influenced by yogic philosophy, but I’m not going to post my 9000 word document on ‘what I learned’.

That being said, sorry for the terribly sporadic posting …or lack there of more specifically. To be honest nothing much has really happened. I’m in India now, Kolkata to be exact (well now I’m in Jaipur…lack of wifi!), however I’ve been sick since the day I left Yoga Training. I started getting achy on the ferry back to Surat Thani and was basically unmovable by the time our 12 person minibus started karting 14 of us to Bangkok when the ‘VIP’ bus broke down. As I got to Khao San Rd I booked it straight to Mama’s Guesthouse on Rambuttri, my fave hidden 100 baht per night joint and laid down. I slept for about 4 days, with all details of a flu before catching my flight to Kolkata.

A word on Mama’s…my favourite! 150 for a single room (5 bucks), 100 for a dorm, or 300 for a double. If you’re walking on Rambuttri away from Soi Rambuttri go past the Green House (which you will for sure see) take your first right and you will see it  . One night when I was sick they brought me congee and water and also checked up on my regularly during my stay. My wifi didn’t work and they fixed it instantly as opposed to most shitty hostels that say ‘oh well’ . I bought my bus ticket to the airport there, and even though it was 5b more I did my laundry there too.

Ah! Also I found the AEON near Khao San…that is the FEE FREE ATM. Walking perpendicular to KSR go past Rambuttri, past the next street then on your right there’s a department store (right after the corner with tons of fruit juice). Go in there, there are 2 atms by the door. The grey slightly unmarked one is AEON. Google where they are through Thailand to save your 150 baht each withdrawal. They are often in Big C or Tesco Lotus locations.

On that note, here is my ‘Ode’ –if you will—to SE Asia

For starters, SEA was the subcontinent I first left home excited to see. My thirst for its culture was what had me high tail out of Aus/NZ after only 4.5 months (when I meant to spend a year)… And it has been an adventure for sure…

Cheers to Nyepi, the Balinese New Year…the day of silence police, Bali Belly, and higher alert than usual for the lizards scurrying in my roof.

Love to Radiantly Alive, Soma, and Alyssa & Banchitta for making Ubud spectacular…magical if you would…so much so that I was inspired to do my Yoga Teacher Training only months later after the yogi life of bliss we created.

To my Singapore roommates who made me remember a 3 day pit stop, and the amazing food courts…bless that city, I had no idea it would be my last taste of 1st world cleanliness until I head home in a couple months from now…6 months later.

Kua & the ‘JB Train station crew’, my favourite Malaysians to date…tough call between them and the brilliant men running the Fast Lane Indian ‘restaurant’. But KL, control your men…they’re making a bad name for you. Also, go take some foot massage lessons in Thailand, my feet should not hurt too much to walk after a massage.

I will always have a sweet (and savory) spot for the food of Penang. I might go as far as saying skipping it, you haven’t completed SEA…and that, if you are only going to India for the food, save yourself the hassle and pop in to Penang, go run the 5km hill with the Aussie army brats too if you want.

Thailand. I tried to hate you because everyone loves you, but I only fell harder and faster. You actually had the best people (ok, maybe not better than the Balinese), you were the easiest to travel (guest house, restaurant, tour booking, tattoo and beauty parlour in one), your beaches are instantly home in paradise, Chiang Mai captures your heart (and stomach), while Bangkok…oh Bangkok. The city with dirt cheapies, highest class, fake Louis and passports side by side, the best Thai balm, creepy palm readers, and everything in between…You and Sydney will always instantly feel just a little more special every time I get to see you, like those old friends you lose touch with but nothing ever changes.

Angkor, you taught me in 5 minutes why people rise for the sun; the killing fields, you have broken my heart, but in some odd way only Cambodians can manage, you’ve put it back together all the same. Bodia, whatta month, Stace-thanks for killing it with me!

The National Borey Orphanage, my second volunteer abroad experience but perhaps even a little more gut wrenching than the first. A special needs orphanage, especially one in a 2/3rd world country will make you appreciate your health and your own country, all the while well you have a glimmer of hope that you can make things there better even for one child, even just for a minute. Nothing is so humbling as to know that even with all our time, our money, and our hearts, the children won’t be saved, not really.

Khmer new year gave me the joy of knowing what it feels like to have menthol baby powder smeared in my eyes…and no, this ‘ladeeeeee’ doesn’t want a tuk tuk or ray bans today, tomorrow, or the next day. If I don’t buy the bracelet you won’t starve. And I am not a ‘bitch’ for not wanting your said tuk tuk to walk 5 feet. Also, Phnom Penh: Asians are supposed to be good with numbers, sort those street numbers, cheers.

Thank you: to the lady who wiped me off my bike on the way to work. Now that I am in fact fine, I appreciate that I got to see so many clinics…And more importantly, you showed me how much I’d grown in how I handled the situation comparatively to my knee incident only months before in Australia.

‘Nam. Something different…finally. No, I didn’t like being grabbed or having my phone stolen, but I liked how I was ‘miss’ instead of ‘lady’, and I will never be sick of banh mi. Your coast of repeating tourists reminded me of the glory days in Oz when nothing really mattered but boys and a good tan, but with way better buses. Skol! To the too many Danish I met at Halong bay, and to every person I met that had been to India for pushing me past the tipping point. And Why Not bar, I will be forever indebted to you for the quantity of free beverages you provided for me pre or post fres beer smash sessions.

Laos, you bastard…you rained on my parade. Thank god for you, the waterfalls in Luang Prabang may have been the prettiest natural beauty I’ve seen in Asia….yes, even more so than Phranang beach on the Railay peninsula…and IT had hundreds of willy statues.

Koh Phangan. A month of yoga teacher training, Namaste to all of you…you people who all taught me something, some taught me many things, some taught me useless things, others taught me things they don’t know they taught me…but you have confirmed for me that the best learning requires no tuition, and have restored my faith in small groups of committed people, as Margaret Mead might elude…to change the world, even if it’s only mine.
–And to the full moon, thank you for NOT stealing my money, drugging my bucket, or getting me arrested for refusing to put my pants back on after peeing in the ocean…without walking far enough into the ocean. And a special mention to the long tail boat that let me nap while I waited for my half price fare back to the wrong beach.

My love hate affair with your nuances ends here SEA…as I lay full of street curry in my Ashram in Delhi sipping chai by the 2oz Dixie cup. A month of volunteering, a month of teacher training, puking on buses, concussions, attempted and successful robbery, huge nights out, hilarious days in watching monsoon rains, 2 new years, and food to surprise even my taste buds….and all in all 4 amazing, unforgettable months. Ciao to the never—ending scam that is South East Asia. I like to think I escaped many of your same same tricks, I am at peace with the ones I know couldn’t be avoided, and I challenge you to give me a run for my money next time (figuratively…you did the literal bit this time), because I know I’ll be back.

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‘Home’

It’s weird being away from ‘home’ for so long. Yes, only 7 months…but its a bit different to be travelling for such a period versus living abroad. When you’re living somewhere for even a week never mind months you establish relationships, favourite places, find good deals, and your favourite smoothie lady.

When I think of Canada it’s hard to think of what home I miss…obviously I miss my family and friends, but as far as the environment I don’t really miss much. I lived away for uni, so Calgary where I spent 18 years growing up doesn’t even seem familiar…I’m just that ‘old’ lady who remembers each club by what they were called 5 years ago when I had my fake ID. As for Edmonton, my life was greatly influenced by school but moreso by my workplace…with both of those relationships being done it’s hard to know what life would be like anyway.

As I wait for 12 hours in Bangkok to catch my second consecutive night bus, I feel ‘home’. I don’t know anyone here…I do have a fave smoothie lady though…but somehow Khao San Road and the live music cafes on Rambuttri are same same but different. The pad thais are selling for 5 baht more than my adventures in Bangkok a short 2 months ago, but the wifi passwords are still the same, and Backstreet boys is still the most played band (along with an asian cover of wonderwall–obviously).

It has reminded me what home is like …in the environmental sense…the sense of knowing where things are, how much they should cost, and most satisfyingly not being convinced into taking a taxi from the independence monument to Khao san (2 minute walk). Its a bit depressing in a way, as I’ve realized I probably ‘know’ Bangkok better than any city in Canada.

I will say though, that its almost a little victory of travelling…to return to somewhere you ‘know’. Helping fresh faced backpackers just arriving in Asia. Not price comparing fruit shakes. Just being comfortable…being able to walk somewhere and know that I’m going to get where I’m going, how long it will take, that it actually exists, and is open is a luxury I haven’t had in quite some time.

It was a bit familiar when returning back to Phnom Penh multiple times while taking side trips in Cambodia, but I haven’t had this sense of belonging and attachment to a place since my lay over in Sydney over 3 months ago. It makes you feel a bit accomplished, though…and it reminds me of one of they future joys of travel. As much change as I can observe from the last 2 months…imagine the evolution in years. I can’t wait to come back to these places and see what they become, and be able to say “I was in SE Asia when there were different visas and currencies” just as my mom can say the same about Europe. In such developing nations change is happening tenfold to what we experience in the West. It is a gift to be able to see all of these places and then to be able to come back and celebrate the advancements from the price of fake ray bans to road rules.

I feel more comfortable looking right-left-right for traffic, sabadee-kaa comes out of my mouth without processing, and even though its equally as hot here as Chiang Mai I feel more acclimatized even to the weather. I trust people (maybe with naive lenses) and am at ease. I’ve calmed down. It is amazing what not having to be on your toes for even 12 hours can do for mental health. Even the bus ride, I slept for 10 full hours because I had no stresses about where I was going. So, Thank you Bangkok for being a little different but mostly same same…I needed it.

Visas & Border Crossings in South East Asia

This isn’t ALL the info…this is info for Flying in to DPS, Bali then to Singapore, then overland to Malaysia-Thailand-Cambodia-Vietnam-Laos-Thailand on a Canadian passport in 2013.

Vietnam Visa: 60 dollars, get it in advance, there is also an e-visa system for air arrivals, 45 in advance, 15 on arrival. Extentions in country, overstay is 5 per day. Its like 15 minutes to get done in sihanoukville in person but it’s a bit out of the way solid 45 min walk from water) so most places charge 10 bucks to get it processed…use your judgement on what’s good for you.

Cambodia Visa: 20 on arrival…anything from Thailand by land will charge you more, the airport, Laos, and Vietnam borders are well regulated. Extention is 40, overstay is 5usd per day ***Cambodia is the only SE Asia country with atms that dispense in USD….get all the USD you need for Visas here, you will get ripped off on exchange elsewhere ***

Thailand: 30 by air arrival, 15 by land, 60 day tourist visa extendable to 90 once in Thailand is 1000 baht but needs to be done before hand…it is 40USD in Hanoi, 110 MYR in Penang, and 1000 baht in Vientiane. Double that for a dual entry. Malaysia is the only visa run country that doesn’t have a visa charge itself. You can do a visa run to Myanmar for a 10 dollar fee at the border crossing closest to Phuket. Getting a 60 day is cheaper than extending or paying the overstay 500 baht pd. If you get a double entry visa it means you can enter for 60 days, renew for 30 additional (90 total) then leave and do it again so 6 months total…but once you’ve left, the first ‘90’ days is done, and you start your second entry at day 1 of your second 60/90. If you’re getting your visa in Vientiane there is a massively long line and wait, so beware…also people out front to scam you saying they’ll process for a fee…there ARE application forms inside! Also you will need photocopies of your passport, Laos Visa, and Laos stamp page which you can do for 1000 kip at the consulate. There are like 20 tuk tuks and mini buses to the border at 2-4 pm daily after pick up.

Laos: 42 for Canadians, 35 for UK, USA, lots of the EU (some only 30). You will pay 1USD to ‘stamp’, and 2 more if it is after 4:30, a weekend, or a holiday.
Indonesia: 25 on arrival, 150,000 IDR departure tax paid only in IDR and the atm at DPS airport only dispenses in 100’s, you can extend in country.

Myanmar: 20-30USD in advance Border runs to Myanmar charge at $10 stamping fee in/out of Myanmar

Malaysia, Singapore: free.

Bonus….India: cheapest in Vietnam by about 10USD….it is 63 for everyone but Japanese (74) and Americans (83) but takes a full 5 days to process…time it well. Hanoi is great because you can go to Halong Bay and Sapa while waiting but get copies of your passport…Vietnam is sticky about it for hotel stays. Nicest embassy I’ve visited for sure.

Overland border crossings
Singapore-Malaysia…hectic because people do it for work daily, but simple and efficient.
Malaysia-Thailand (hat yai) also simple, any mini bus pretty much holds your hand…however make sure you’ve filled out your arrival card fully, the thai border officials aren’t known for their friendliness.

Thailand-Cambodia(poipet)…basically any border in this direction is a mess, poipet is the worst. Not unsafe, just a scam. There’s about 3 fake border offices, do NOT pay in baht, and you do not ever NEED to pay an extra processing fee….follow signs for ‘pre-arranged’ visas to take you to the real boreder!

Cambodia-HCMC: Because the viet visas are pre done it’s quick and easy. The 8 dollar bus from pp to hcmc will arrange it all and get the passports stamped as a group. No fee.

Vietnam-laos (Vientiane): you will pay 1 dollar to stamp leaving Vietnam (or 20000vnd), then as mentioned 1 dollar stamping at laos, plus 2 more on weekends holidays and after hours.

Laos-Thailand (Huay Xai-Gibbon): Super easy. Any package bus deal will include your bus across the river, if not I think it was less than 100 baht. Out bus dropped us off by the night market (LP-CM) so we didn’t have to pay for the sorongatheu from Arcade station which was nice. buses leave the Thai border town at 6 and 10 am. Paid no stamping fees on either side.

Fire me a message if you have any questions.