Is it Railay Love?

A travel love story – part II

This is part 2 of my travel love story, or how the guy I met casually on a ferry crossed a whole country to spend 2 more days with me in Railay Beach. It is the beginning of the rest of our love story. This is also the continuation of a corny soap opera, written by a latin drama queen, so heads-up for inappropriate language to those who are romance-intolerant.

Flying from Malaysia to Thailand

I was at the boarding gate in Kuala Lumpur, ready to fly back to Thailand and explore the west coast, which has some of the most iconic, picture-perfect beaches in the country, including Krabi, Railay Beach, the Phi Phi Islands and Maya Bay.

Railay Beach
Railay Beach – one of the prettiest and most iconic beaches in Thailand, with its dramatic cliffs, dense jungles and transparent water

Greg, the nice Kiwi guy I had met in Ko Samui (if you missed that story, you better read it first here), was going to continue living there, on the other side of the country, and we wouldn’t have anything to do with each other ever again (latin-drama-queen emphasis).

I was fine with it. I mean, I had met the love of my life and spent a couple of days with him. That’s better then never meeting him at all, isn’t it? That was exactly my philosophy during those days! Or at least what I was trying to convince myself of…

Railay Peninsula
Railay Peninsula – fairytale limestone formations

Just before boarding we started texting and I told him jokingly that he should join me in Krabi, to which he replied:

“OK I will”

Obviously, I didn’t believe it. It could only be a joke! A bad joke, by the way! But then he said:

“I’m being serious. I f*cking loved spending time with you and I am going to Krabi tomorrow to be with you”.

Railay cliffs
Railay beaches surrounded by cliffs

“OMG OMG OMG OMG”

That’s exactly what I wrote on my journal. And then this:

“I almost died!

I wanted to burst with joy!”

This guy changed his original plans of staying in Ko Samui, where he had settled in a nice apartment, or of moving to the neighbor island of Ko Phagnan, which he said he planned to do at some point. Instead, he bought a ticket for the next morning to cross to the other side of the country to spend a couple of days with me!!! How unbelievable is that? Is he freaking nuts?

En route to Railay Beach
En route to Railay Beach on a typical Thai Longtail boat

Please readjust your levels of acceptance of cheesiness

I drew little clouds in my journal and wrote inside:

“I am stupidly in love! It is him, I know it. And it doesn’t matter until when”.

“I wasn’t  looking for anyone, and then I found him”.

Blah! Ugh! Ew! Sorry… I’ll stop it now!

Accidentally in love
Accidentally in love: corny text, corny photo, corny legend – one’s gotta be consistent! =P

So powerful and yet so vulnerable

My flight from Kuala Lumpur lasted a couple of hours and I arrived in Aonang in the afternoon. Greg would only come the next day, so I stayed the night at a backpackers’, sharing a big dorm with around 10 other people. After settling in, I decided to go out explore the place and find something to eat. The little town turned out to be very lively, with hundreds of hotels, bars and restaurants.

Exploring Aonang
Exploring Aonang on my own: lively town with beautiful landscape

However, I didn’t feel very motivated to spend a big night out (mainly after all that had happened the day before in Kuala Lumpur), so I came back early to the hostel. In my room I met a nice American guy from San Louis Obispo. He gave me his business card, which said “Filmmaker and World Traveler” – and that was his first world trip. Quite optimistic, huh?

The next morning I went for breakfast with my world traveler friend and after that I went for a walk on the beach by myself. Greg would only arrive in the afternoon, so I had a few hours to kill in Aonang. I walked many miles, until I reached a neighbor fisherman’s village. The beaches were of an unimaginable beauty, with white sand, crystal clear water, high cliffs, and idyllic islands as far as the eye could see.

Aonang
The island I swam to in Aonang (on the left)

I found a quiet, beautiful beach and went for a swim alone until one of the islands. That gave me an incredible feeling of freedom and power. But also some butterflies in my stomach. It’s funny to feel at the same time so powerful and so vulnerable!

Rendezvous

Then I took a tuk-tuk to (new tongue-twister!) get back to the hostel, as I was already a bit late. Getting there, I quickly grabbed my backpack and left for the pier to wait for Greg.

We had agreed to meet at 14:30. I arrived a little early and lied down at a bench by the pier to wait for him. He was late and I started to get a little anxious. But there was not much I could do. I didn’t even have a Thai phone card! All I could do at that time was patiently wait for him.

:)
Longtail boats, cliffs, jungle and beach

And then he arrived (the driver had taken him to a different port!)

I could barely believe it! We kissed and hugged as if we were one of those desperate couples meeting again after the war 😀 I remember thinking that he was even more handsome than two days before! 🙂

Faux Pas

Greg in Railay Beach
Greg in Railay Beach

The boat ride was short, but absolutely stunning! When we got to Railay and I was getting off the boat, I fell back on the water (with my huge backpack on!!) and got completely wet. I almost died of laughter and shame! But it was good: this way Greg would get to know the real, clumsy Ana.

He had booked a room for one day in an amazing resort in Hat Railay West. It was probably the most exclusive hotel I had ever stayed (even though he claims it was much cheaper then any hotel in New Zealand). The resort had a big swimming pool and bar in front of this paradisiac beach, which was one of the most beautiful I had ever seen in my life (remember, I come from Brazil, which is famous for its beaches!). The beach was surrounded by huge cliffs and vibrant green nature. The sea water was warm and of a green and turquoise color. I couldn’t have conceived a prettier landscape in my wildest dreams!

Monkeys seen from our window
Monkeys seen from our window

Our apartment was a lodge in the middle of nature, with dozens of monkeys playing in the branches of the trees outside our balcony. This gave the whole experience a greater sense of adventure and exoticism.

In search of glow

We left to explore the village and have dinner. After a few Shingas (Thai beer) and piña coladas, we decided to look for a beach which supposedly had bioluminescent planktons. I had never heard about it, but Greg had read they were an off-the-beaten-track but somewhat famous attraction in Railay, so we decided to check it out.

Christchurch connection
Christchurch connection

Just outside our hotel we randomly met an English tourist, who took us to the east part of Railay Beach, which we didn’t even know existed. It happened to be a very pleasant surprise, with many cool bars and restaurants. On the way, we found a nice funky-looking bar and decided to stop for a beer. The barman was from Christchurch (Greg’s city) and there was a Filipino guy who loved Brazil and could sing many Brazilian songs in perfect Portuguese (particularly Garota de Ipanema and Mas Que Nada).

After a few beers, we decided to resume our search for the luminescent beach. Following the barman’s instructions, we eventually found the beach, which was completely deserted. The moon was full, which would’ve been perfect in any other occasion, just not when you want to see the minuscule luminescent planktons!

In search of the scintillant beach
Walking in Railay, in search of the scintillant beach

Still, they were there! We could see them! And they were an amazing spectacle! We stepped into the shallow part of the water and as we moved our feet, we could see many tiny little bright blue dots.

Sparkling happy

Because I was feeling like an adventurous, fearless girl, I decided shallow was not enough for me and just dove completely into the see. I know, I was probably disturbing the blue scintillating spectacle, but in that moment I just wanted to merge with nature. I felt like the luckiest person alive! The planktons, the warm water, the deserted beach, the full moon and, above all, the company!

Strangers on a honeymoon
Strangers on a honeymoon

I could feel Greg was a little bit reluctant to enter the water in the middle of the night. But he faced his fears and followed me. I dare say that was probably the most special night of my life (who was missing cheesiness here?).

I added those incredible moments to my “favorite memories ever” mental folder. We got back to the hotel after 5 am, happy and in love, like strangers on a honeymoon.

Let it go, let it go

Breakfast with a view
Breakfast with a view

Next day we had an unbelievably hearty breakfast and relaxed for a couple of hours by the swimming pool. While we were there, Greg got a notification on his phone from a girl who had just matched him on Tinder!

I thought “well, I better get used to the idea that we’re both free spirits and that in a couple of days I’ll be in India and he might be seeing her”. So I decided not to worry about it and instead just enjoy every moment we had together. (Carpe Diem, huh?)

Adventurous diving-hiking woman

Stalactites and monkeys
Stalactites, sea snakes and monkeys

We decided to quickly jump in the sea before checking out from the hotel. I spotted a little cave in the middle of a huge cliff. Obviously, I decided that for some obscure reason it would be a great idea to swim to the cave. So I dragged poor Greg for many hundred meters until we reached it. He was honestly freaking out a bit and watching out for sea snakes or whatever other threatening sea creatures.

I was so excited that I just rushed into the cave without even considering any risk. We swam under stalactites and tunnels, until we rose on the other side, where we sat on top of a rock for a few minutes, just to appreciate how spectacular and full of surprises life is.

Adventurous mountain woman hiking to the viewpoint
Adventurous mountain woman hiking to the viewpoint in Railay

To finish off our stay in Railay, we went to the famous viewpoint. To get there, we needed to climb a very steep mountain, and had to use ropes and climbing gear. I picked up the momentum and rushed up in no time. Until today, Greg still calls me “adventurous mountain woman” because of that day 🙂

The view from above was absolutely breathtaking! We could see the whole peninsula, with beaches on both sides, the cliffs, and the vast green forest.

Farewell Railay, you’re really gorgeous

Breathtaking view
Breathtaking view

We quickly came down, because we had to catch the last boat going back to Aonang. Railay was magnificent.

I saved this beach in my memory’s folder “most beautiful places on Earth”, thanked for all the infinite blessings I had in my life and said goodbye.

Time was short and many more adventures awaited: Phi Phi Islands and Maya Bay, piña coladas and curries, love and exploration, all in a couple of days before we had to part forever.

Farewell
Farewell Railay

To be continued…

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Prejudiced or naive? A cultural and religious clash in Kuala Lumpur

Welcome to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia!

I wasn’t planning on visiting Kuala Lumpur at all! After Ko Samui, I intended to go to Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao, two paradisiac islands, famous for beach parties and scuba diving. But I changed my plans to attend an event with Prem Rawat, which would take place exactly that weekend in Kuala Lumpur. I realized I was so close (just a 2-hour flight!) and it’d be a shame to miss the chance to see him. So I changed my plans and sacrificed a couple of islands in Thailand to attend his event. And visit a new country, of course 😉

petronas twin towers kuala lumpur
Petronas Twin Towers

Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia and its main cultural and financial hub. It is a very diverse city, with gleaming skyscrapers contrasting with minarets and colonial architecture. But the skyline is dominated by the 451m-tall Petronas Twin Towers. With 88 floors, they are the tallest twin towers in the world and a landmark of modern Islamic architecture.

 

So close and yet so time consuming

Aljazeera Headquarters
View from my window of the Al Jazeera Headquarters in KL

I took the ferry from Ko Samui to Surat Thani (if you didn’t read about how I met the love of my life in Ko Samui, here’s the link to that story), and from there a 2-hour transfer to the tiny airport, from where I flew to Kuala Lumpur.

After spending pretty much all day traveling, I arrived in Kuala Lumpur at 8pm. A friend of mine who was based there picked me up from the airport and brought me to my hotel. It was in the heart of the business district, right in front of the massive and impressive Al Jazeera tower. I was so tired that I went straight to bed.

Too hazy to explore

sunshine_september_without_sun
Sunshine September. Wait, but where’s the sun?

The event would be on the afternoon of the next day, so I had a few hours in the morning to explore the city on my own (my friend had to work).

I left the hotel early in the morning and was flabbergasted by a gray, thick haze that covered the entire city. Locals told me it came from Jakarta, from the burning of forests and plantations in Indonesia. And they said that it was very “normal” at this time of the year.

HOW CAN SOMETHING LIKE THAT BE NORMAL? I couldn’t see the sky. I couldn’t see the sun! Not even the top of the famous Petronas Twin Towers! What a disaster for my pictures! Jokes apart, for me that was really an environmental tragedy!

petronas_towers_ana
Petronas Twin Towers – hard to see the top with all this haze!

Later that day I experienced for the first time induced rain. At that time, I didn’t know it was a common practice, so I got absolutely astonished to find out that they sent planes to disperse substances into the air to suppress the haze! I thought it was some kind of “Black Mirror Conspiracy”. But no, it is common practice… Talking to some locals, I found out that they could clearly distinguish the rain that was induced by such planes from “real rain”. According to them, the induced rain had much thicker drops.

Uncomfortable in my own skin

I must say that I didn’t feel very comfortable walking around in Kuala Lumpur. I felt like I was being stared at all the time, by both men and women, like I’ve never felt anywhere else in the world. And I wasn’t even wearing super appealing, short or tight clothes!

A public pool in kl
A public pool in KL with kids and veiled women bathing

In Kuala Lumpur the majority of the population is muslim and most of the women I saw were either completely or half covered. So maybe this is why when they saw a western tourist showing a bit of flesh, they made a big commotion..? Maybe it was just in my head, but somehow, I felt like they were eating me with their eyes.

Please, don’t get me wrong! I have many muslim friends and I have been to several muslim countries. I deeply respect their culture and religion. But in Kuala Lumpur I just felt like I was being observed and judged by everyone, all the time.

Words of Peace in KL

I went back to the hotel at lunch time and set off to the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center for the event with Prem Rawat. There, I met many acquaintances and people I had met around the world in previous events. Some of them spend all their lives (and money) traveling around the world to see him and listen to his message of peace.

modern_historical
KL – a mix of modern and historical architecture

The event was really beautiful and inspiring. His words made every penny spent and mile traveled worth it. As usual. (You can get to know more about it on the recently launched website and app TimelessToday!)

Batu Caves

Batu Caves Kuala Lumpur
A bit blurry, but that’s me in front of the magnificent entrance of the Batu Caves

On the following day I left the hotel early to visit the Batu Caves, a series of caves and cave temples in Gombak, a city near Kuala Lumpur. They are one of the main tourist attractions in Malaysia and house several Hindu shrines.

They were absolutely mesmerizing! Apart from being huge (in some parts more than 100-m high), they were richly adorned, with fascinating murals of mythic Hindu scenes gleaming behind stalactites. In addition to that, you’ll see hundreds of bats inside and hundreds of monkeys outside, which are an attraction apart.

Sightseeing with a stranger

Monkeys in the Batu Caves
Monkeys in the Batu Caves

When I was still in the hotel, I met a man in the elevator, who was a chemistry teacher at the University of Malaysia. His name was Ali and he came from Afghanistan. He had the day off and offered to accompany me in my visit to the caves.

I was a little suspicious, but he showed me his business card and I thought “why not?” Visiting the place with a local was (almost) always better than alone! Besides, this man wouldn’t be willing to harm his reputation as a university scholar…

Magnificent entrance of the Batu Caves
Magnificent entrance of the Batu Caves, Hindu deities and stalactites

In the beginning everything was really nice. We visited the caves, which were amazing, and had a really good time together. He insisted on paying for my train tickets and even my food. This was when my emergency alarm started to go off…

It is such a tricky question! On the one hand, I want to be able to trust people and believe that there are still good, altruistic people in the world. On the other hand, I should stay alert and safe, mainly being a solo female traveler! Where do you draw the line? Especially such a fine line!

Jamek Mosque Kuala Lumpur
Jamek Mosque

After visiting the caves, he took me to the main central market and then to the Jamek Mosque, one of the main mosques in Kuala Lumpur. There, he took the opportunity to say his prayers, so he stayed inside for about half an hour, while I waited outside. Because I was wearing singlets, I had to get a cloak to be able to stay inside the temple grounds.

Insistence and suspicion

Baby monkey with its mom in the entrance of the Batu Caves
Baby monkey with its mom in the entrance of the Batu Caves

So far, so good. But after that, he wanted to go back to the hotel and get his car, to show me more of the city. I tried to dodge him, but he began to be strangely insistent. Again, where do you draw the line? Was he just being nice or did he want something else? All the way through, he was respectful and courteous, so why was I resisting. Was I being naive or unfairly suspicious? Should I be aware not to fall into a trap or just relax and enjoy a free guided tour?

KL Tower, Kuala Lumpur
KL Tower

By this time, I was agitated and in two minds. I wanted to be able to trust him, but I also wanted to be safe. He hadn’t done anything weird, but that was no guarantee that he wouldn’t. I tried to listen to my intuition, but it didn’t tell me anything. I took the decision to trust him and accept the invitation.

He took me in his car to the KL tower, the 7th tallest telecommunications tower in the world. The tower stands at 421m and has a revolving restaurant with scenic, panoramic views of the whole city (or as much as the haze allows you to see).

While I was there, my friend called saying that we were going out for dinner and that I should stay wherever I was, because he’d come to pick me up on the way. However, Ali said he wouldn’t just leave me anywhere and insisted on taking me back to the hotel.

Suddenly, I had two men, one of whom I knew for a couple of weeks and the other for a couple of hours, trying to over-protect me, possess me and patronize me. That DEEPLY annoyed me.

Annoyance and frustration

batu_cave_inside
Inside the Batu Caves

There was a lot of traffic jam on the way back to the hotel and we were stuck for more than one hour! That car felt like a pressure pot! Ali grew stranger and more possessive. He just couldn’t accept the fact that I had spent all day long with him and wouldn’t have dinner or go out with him at night.

To make matters worse, he started to say repeatedly that I should convert to Islam, because it was the oldest religion in the world and the only one that could save me. That deeply annoyed me! (I’m not discriminating the religion here. It just annoys me when people try to convert me).

Monkey snooping around in the entrance of the Batu Caves
Monkey snooping around in the entrance of the Batu Caves

That car suddenly became suffocating. I felt like I was going to explode! I just couldn’t wait to get to the hotel and be safe there! But we were completely stuck in traffic!

After what seemed like forever we finally got to the hotel. I exited the car and felt immediately an immense relief! The two men met in the hotel lobby and there was kind of an awkward handover, after which I left with my friend. I couldn’t even enjoy dinner. The events of the day were clouding my head just like the thick haze from Jakarta.

A cultural clash?

opening_ceiling
An opening in the ceiling of the Batu Caves

I felt bad for “abandoning” Ali like that. But deep inside I felt a huge relief. My guts were saying that it wouldn’t have ended up well. At the same time, however, I was asking myself whether I wasn’t being unfair and judgemental.

I told my friend about my day and he started instructing me on how I shouldn’t talk to strangers or trust men like that. That deeply irritated me too! Why was everyone trying to patronize me?

monkey_baby
Baby monkey with mom (or dad?)

I wanted to be able to trust people! But I also understood that I couldn’t get into the car with any stranger I met in the street. Sometimes I could be lucky taking risks and find the love of my life (like what happened in Ko Samui). Other times, I could end up getting into real trouble (like what happened in Agra, India). I had to watch out and take care of myself, without losing faith in humanity. I think this was the first cultural misunderstanding of my trip – the first of many I had, mainly in India.

Time to leave – already!

impressive entrance of the Batu Temple
Another one from the impressive entrance of the Batu Caves

On the next day I had a quick breakfast and took the train to the airport, which is like a massive, modern shopping mall from where you can occasionally catch a plane. I would have liked to stay longer and explore other places in Malaysia. Rushing like this from city to city is not really my kind of tourism. But as I said, visiting Kuala Lumpur wasn’t even in my plans! So I added Malaysian beaches and islands to my extensive need-to-visit-before-I-die list and hopped on the plane.

I was going back to Thailand! But this time to the other side of the country! It was time to visit Krabi and the famous Maya Bay and Phi Phi Islands, probably the most iconic Thai postcards.

An (un)expected reconnection!

When I was already at the boarding gate, I managed to talk to Greg, the Kiwi guy I had met on the ferry to Ko Samui and with whom I had had my amazing travel love story.

He said he was leaving Ko Samui that weekend and moving to Ko Pha Ngan. He wrote I should go there with him, instead of going to Krabi. I answered I had planned that trip a long time ago and that HE should go to Krabi instead and spend three more days with me.

He answered, “OK, I will”

!!!

To be continued…

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Cheeky and Cheesy: Not Just Another Travel Love Story

!Attention!

This post contains corny and cheesy content about a “travel love story”. If you’re allergic to any of that, do not read it. Just stop reading now. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…


This is my travel love story or the story of how I met Greg

It could be just another travel love story. But this is a different one and you’ll soon understand why!

Without further ado, let me start my story. As I said before, those allergic to romance can leave this page right now, otherwise you might be infected by the virus of latin-drama-queen-cancerian-hyper-sentimental-corny Ana.

Greg and Ana's first picture in Ko Samui
Greg and Ana’s first picture together – Ko Samui, September 2015

Long journey to Ko Samui

I had an amazing time on my own in Chiang Mai, exploring the jungle, bathing elephants and feeling like a powerful woman (if you didn’t read about it, here‘s the link to that story). After 5 days in Chiang Mai, I took a 2-hour plane to Surat Thani, and from there a 2-hour bus to the Raja Ferry Port in Lipa Noi, where I boarded the ferry to Ko Samui.

Ko Samui is Thailand’s second largest island. I had read it was not so beautiful, so my initial plan was to spend only a couple of days there and use it as a base to explore Koh Pha Ngan and Ko Tao.

ana smiling
Did I look happy?

I was the first person to enter the ferry and I chose a seat on the first row, left side. I threw my big backpack on the seat, happily thinking I had made a great choice, because I’d have the whole panoramic view right in front of me (I was proved wrong, as you will shortly see).

First Interactions

Just behind me sat a guy, who was also carrying a huge backpack. He was wearing an orange hippie-ish T-shirt with a tree pattern, shorts and a very charming Panama hat. I left my backpack saving the seat and went to the ferry bar, to buy a package of chips and a lychee juice. I noticed he came behind me and bought a can of Fanta. When he paid, he said a “Kop khun kap” (thank you for men in Thai) that I thought sounded really convincing. “He must have been here for a while”, I thought.

beach Ko Samui
It is not recommended to swim on the beaches in Ko Samui. Still, they are very beautiful

We went back to our seats and he said “Hey, how’s it going?”. (Note: Kiwis are strangely friendly people and believe it or not they still communicate with the person sitting next to them on public transport!)  I said I was fine and we started a conversation. I asked if he was Australian, to which he vehemently denied and said he came from New Zealand. He tried to guess where I came from and his first shot was Argentina (how funny, exactly our respective arch-enemies!)

I told him a bit about me: you know, environmental engineer, traveling around Thailand on my own, before going to India to do a yoga teacher training… He told me he worked online and had been living in Ko Samui for 2 months, “for a change of environment” (those bloody digital nomads!) We talked about our projects and passions, such as traveling, sustainability, yoga, and I thought, “wow, we share a lot of interests!”.

First Impressions

ferry_ana
Greg’s photo of me

No more than 10 minutes on board, I realized he had gotten the absolute best seat, because even though he was on the second row, he was sitting just by the window and could get some sea breeze, while I was melting beside a glass that magnified the heat like a greenhouse. So I stood up and stayed by his side, enjoying the nice warm breeze with him.

At some point, he took off his sunglasses and I remember thinking he had the longest eyelashes I had ever seen! Something about it reminded me of “A Clockwork Orange” (even though now when I see the movie cover I can’t imagine what could have possibly possessed me to think that). I thought he was really cute. I wrote on my journal: “huge blue eyes, huge eyelashes, beautiful smile, beautiful face” (yes, I’m very descriptive on my memoirs).

ferry_greg
Photo that I took of Greg on the exact same spot!

The sun started to go down and I suggested going up to the deck to watch the sunset and take some photos. We took our Nikons (another shared interest!) and went upstairs. The views were stunning! The sun was setting between idyllic islands, creating dramatic drawings with the clouds at dusk. While we were up there, I realized he had one leg shorter than the other. For some reason, that profoundly captivated me.

Time to say goodbye

After two hours (and a lot of talking), we finally got to Ko Samui. We exchanged phone numbers, but he was living on the opposite side of the island from my hostel. I asked myself if he would call me. I wondered if I should call him instead. “Yeah, maybe I would”. He was really interesting, nice and cute! And I was feeling like an independent, pro-active woman, so why not?

ana yoga
I know, this pose again! Just trying to impress…

The plane tickets included the vans that would take us to our hotels. We went to catch one but there was just one seat left. I suddenly got really upset, because for some reason I would love to keep on talking to this sweet Kiwi guy for a bit longer. Or maybe I was hoping for something more, who knows? (Well, I know, I was).

For a couple of seconds, my heart sank and I prepared to say goodbye. Then they shouted that there were actually two seats left at the back of the van. So I happily hopped on with him.

We kept on talking all the way and having a lot of fun. I was going to sleep in the cheapest, shabbiest hostel in the center (adventurous traveler life). He was living in a nice flat with two rooms, in a nice condominium with swimming pool, sauna and gym (digital nomads’ life).

ana funny face
Why not? (Grimacing on the first date, how seductive, Ana!)

At the eleventh hour

We reached my hostel first. When I was about to get off the van, “at the eleventh hour”, the most (un)expected proposal came (you probably already imagine by now):

“Actually, I have two rooms in my place. You could stay in one of them if you’d like.”

(Thank you, thank you! My prayers have been heard!)

But because Greg is the sweetest boy, he said he genuinely just made that offer to help a poor traveler who deserved a nice shower and a nice bed during her travels in Asia. I believe he actually did. As for me, I can’t say my intentions were as pure (oops).

ana at the temple
Exploring Ko Samui on my own while the digital nomad works

I thought (or pretended to think) for a couple of seconds and said, “why not?“. After all, was it that much different from couchsurfing? And by then, we had talked for almost 3 hours!

So I told the driver I was not getting off at my hostel anymore and was going to his condominium instead (I wonder what he thought about it). His flat was located in Bo Pun, on the north part of Ko Samui.

We arrived feeling so hungry that we decided we wouldn’t take a shower and would go straight find something to eat.

He took me to his favorite roadside restaurant, where I had a delicious Pad Thai (you must think I only eat Pad Thai – and you’re probably right). When we finished, he asked if I’d like to have a couple of drinks before heading back to the apartment. “Yeah, why not?” So he took me to a street full of bars that ended at the beach and we bought a couple of beers and drinks from different bars.

bean_bag_beach
Sitting on the bean bag at the beach, sipping piña colada and watching the fire dancers

Brace for cheesiness

In the end, we reached the beach and went to a bar where there were some fire dancers doing amazing performances. We sat on bean bags on the sand and ordered a couple of piña coladas. Up to today, I don’t think my mind could be so creatively cheeky and cheesy to create such a perfect, romantic first-kiss scenery: on a beach in Thailand, drinking piña colada and watching fire dancers perform in front of the sea, on a warm night of starry sky, tempered with adventure and excitement.  All elements perfectly blended in a timeless moment.

(Could you come up with a cornier description? Well, it gets worse!)

fire_dancer
Fire dancers and their amazing performances

I don’t know how to put it any other way, but it was so perfect that I felt like I was kissing myself (yuck, narcissistic Ana!) I’m sorry if that sounded weird. I just mean it was the most perfect kiss. Ever.

When the spectacle was over, we went back to his apartment, walking through street market stalls and holding hands, as if we were a couple (maybe we were?)

This is the moment where you take the kids from the room!

Jokes apart, I think it’s needless to say that the extra room remained empty…

Exploring Bo Pun

swimming_pool

The next day we woke up and went for a quick swim in his amazing swimming pool (it is said the sea in Ko Samui is not so clean), before going for breakfast at a local restaurant where I ate poached eggs for the first time (yes, I know, sorry, Brazilians don’t really eat poached eggs).

ana temple visit
Visiting the “teeemple” in Bo Pun, Ko Samui

Then I went for a 3-hour walk by the beach while he was working on some urgent assignment (who said being a digital nomad was easy?)

Ko Samui proved to be quite beautiful, even though the sea is a bit polluted and the city a bit chaotic. I visited a temple, walked through the neighborhood and went back to the swimming pool.

Exploring Lamai

I came back, he finished his work and we went out to the explore the other side of the island. He hired a motorcycle and took me to visit two famous rocks, one shaped like a penis and the other like a vulva (how romantic). Then he took me to Lamai, one of the main beaches in Ko Samui, where we had a few drinks before going back to Fisherman’s Village, on “his” side of the island.

first_kiss
I felt like I’d met who I had always looked for, without even knowing I was looking for anyone

Everything we did felt like we had been a couple for years. Riding a motorcycle together, holding hands, taking selfies. It was a connection that I can’t really describe. This might be me being cheesy again, but it didn’t feel like just another “travel love story”. I felt like we were old friends, like it was meant to be, like I had finally met who I wasn’t even looking for.

Let me put it this way: on our first day together, I felt like deep inside I knew exactly who I was looking for (even though I wasn’t really looking for anyone) and that I  had finally met that person.

Corny session closed, let’s move on.

Another register from my journal says, “I had so much fun with him. His accent is very funny. He says teeeen (for 10) and teeemple (for temple). And I love when he says “Kop khun kap”.

But I was so happy by myself!

ana_penis_rock
Observing the penis-shaped rock

As I drank, I grew nostalgic. During that trip I admit I was allowing myself to live without guilt or shame and I was really happy not attaching to anything or anyone. I felt empowered and happy by myself. But at the same time, that guy was really special. His ideas, his words, his style, his body… everything matched, suited, fit me. And I was leaving the next day! Something had come up and I’d have to go to Kuala Lumpur for 3 days (not Ko Pha Ngan anymore).

Anyway, I had to leave. And he had to stay. That’s how life is. It was just a summer love. Or travel love. I was determined to enjoy every single moment and then let it go without attachments. Just take the beautiful memories with me and keep on traveling.

Farewell stranger. See you one day. Maybe.

The next day we woke up early and he took me to the ferry on his rented motorcycle. However, we arrived right on time to see the ferry leaving the port! Luckily, I had a time buffer, so we went for breakfast on the other side of the pier and I left one hour later, on the next ferry.

The farewell was quick. A short kiss. I thanked and said I’d had a great time. He agreed. And I said, “maybe we’ll meet again one day”. He said, “yes”.

ana romantic night
Hard to leave without looking back

He left. I boarded the ferry still smiling.

 

To be continued…

 

 

 

Have you ever fallen in love while traveling? What happened next? I’d love to hear your travel love stories! Please leave your comment below!


 

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Chiang Mai: city, jungle, elephants and feeling empowered

bathing the elephants
Chiang Mai is one of Thailand’s main tourist destinations
Another temple in Chiang Mai
Wat Phra Singh – Chiang Mai’s most revered temple

It was in Chiang Mai that I bathed an elephant for the first time, almost drowned in the river, felt like a powerful woman and decided to create this blog.

Located in the mountainous northern region, Chiang Mai was founded in 1296 as the capital of the independent Lanna Kingdom. For centuries it was a cultural and religious center, and to this day the city hosts hundreds of dazzling Buddhist temples.

Chiang Mai is also the starting point of trips and excursions through the jungle, where people can visit elephant sanctuaries, go white or bamboo rafting and visit the “long-necked” tribes (read on for all these adventures!)

I spent 5 days in Chiang Mai: 2 with a CouchSurfing host, 1 in the jungle and 2 in a hostel.

CouchSurfing in Chiang Mai

My Couchsurfing host was a Parisian guy, who opted to switch from the hustle and bustle of Paris to a simple and tranquil life in Thailand. He worked with IT and had 1 client in Paris, who somehow gave him enough funds to live well in Chiang Mai, with the one condition that he goes to France 4 times a year (how tedious!).

typical Chiang Mai
This scene is typical Chiang Mai: Buddhist monks, temples, stands selling Thai pants and tuk-tuks

He talked his head off. I just needed to give him a subject and he’d ramble about it for half an hour. But we had some really interesting discussions, about the most diverse topics: politics, philosophy, culture, UFOs, gender, marijuana and ayahuasca. He was open-minded, politicized and cultured. He lived a bit far from the center, but that isn’t usually a problem for me, because I love to see how people truly live in such touristic places.

Exploring the city of Chiang Mai
Buddha in temple in Chiang Mai
Impressive Buddha images in the temple Wat Suan Dok in Chiang Mai

On the following day I went to the city center to visit the temples, including Wat Phra Singh, the most revered temple in Chiang Mai. In my opinion, the temples here can’t be compared to the magnificent ones in Bangkok, but they are still worth a visit.

After so much temple visiting, I decided to go for my first-ever Thai Massage experience. It was interesting, but in my modest opinion a bit too vigorous, almost brutal, and not at all relaxing. I also went to an agency to book a 2-day tour to the jungle. In Chiang Mai there are agencies everywhere, so it’s easy to get a few pamphlets and compare the offers. There are tours for all tastes and budgets. I opted to do a 2-day-and-1-night tour to the jungle + extras and thought it was a great deal.

The most sacred temple and most delicious food
Doi Sutep
Doi Sutep, one of northern Thailand’s most sacred temples

On the next day I went to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a temple on top of a mountain that overlooks the whole city of Chiang Mai. Established in 1383, it is considered one of northern Thailand’s most sacred temples. The temple was really fascinating, but I went on a really cloudy day, so couldn’t see much of the city from up there.

On the way back, I met 2 German girls, who were studying in Phuket, with whom I spent the entire afternoon. We had lunch together and I had an authentic and cheap pad thai from a food stall in the central market, which was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. The German friends took me for a walk around the city and to some beautiful alleys outside of the city walls.

We decided to go together get a Thai Massage. I thought, why not give it a second try? This time the masseuse used oil, but it wasn’t any better for me. Maybe I’m not the greatest fan of Thai massage in the end. After an amazing afternoon together, we said goodbye and I went back home. My CouchSurfing host had to travel to Paris, so I had to move into a hostel in town.

Man, I feel like a woman!
View from the Doi Sutep Temple
People say you can see the whole city of Chiang Mai from Doi Suthep, but because it was really cloudy and foggy, I couldn’t see much of the city. Still, amazing nature around!

In my room at the hostel I met two other German girls and realized that German is probably Thailand’s second language. There are so many Germans in Thailand!

At night I was tired and decided to stay in and relax. So I just went to the closest supermarket and got myself a cold beer. I felt awesome sipping my beer alone, happy, enjoying amazing days in Thailand by myself (if only I knew those were to be my last days alone!). I remember on that night I felt really empowered and happy by myself. The mere fact of buying a beer in a foreign country and drinking it alone turned into a special moment of recognition of my power and strength!

On the following day I departed on an adventure of 2 days and 1 night to the jungle!

Jungle, Elephants, White and Bamboo Rafting and Life Realizations
Orchides in the Butterfly Garden
First stop: hundreds of different species of orchids and butterflies

Our guide, a short, toothless man, came to pick me up at my hostel at 9:30. His name was Chat and he was the sweetest man I’ve ever known. He came on a precarious tuk-tuk and this turned out to be our transport for the whole trip. In my opinion, much nicer and more authentic than any A/C van!

My tour mates were Ed and Pip from Australia, Sergio from Spain, Pancho, Kat and Thomas from England, Sandra, Ly and Patrick from France, Priscilla from Switzerland and Coen from the Netherlands. A really nice, lovely and diverse group!

Our first stop was a butterfly and orchid garden. It was very pretty, but I just couldn’t wait to see the elephants! We then had lunch and departed on a 3-hour trekking through the jungle. I was amazed with how much it looks like Brazil! Same trees, same landscape, same microclimate… same same but different! Conversely, for most of the my European tour mates, it was the very first time that they saw a “real jungle” and they were fascinated.

Elephants, a dream coming true!

We finally arrived at the Elephant Camping! They told us the elephants had been rescued and now lived in nice and fair conditions. A local family look after them and only allowed them to “work” for up to 2 hours per day. They didn’t use chairs or saddles to ride the elephants, just a mat over their backs, as this was more “ethic”.

bathing the elephants
I can’t describe how special this day was for me. Being so close to the elephants was just magic!

I must admit: I rode an elephant, because I was convinced it was fine. Afterwards, I talked to some people who said that even in those conditions the elephants are still explored, that they’re not supposed to work for human entertainment, that they get stressed and that carrying humans injure their necks. If all this is true, I truly apologize! I did it because I thought it was fine but all the way I questioned myself whether it really was.

 

I always loved elephants and saw them as mythical, wise, mysterious and beautiful creatures. And I was always fond of Lord Ganesh, the Hindu God with an elephant head (as you can see on my shirt). The elephant I rode was called Mumba and she was gorgeous! We went up and down a hill and into the jungle for around 30 minutes. Then we stopped and let them eat, before taking them for a bath.

They took the elephants to a little lake, where we could give them a bath. They apparently love it and I simply can’t describe how I adored it! We enter into the lake and throw water at them with a little bucket and rub their backs with a big brush. They have a blast and spout water up with their trunks. Unforgettable!

When strangers become your best mates

We took a shower, prepared dinner and spent the night talking and singing. Chat, our guide, was the superstar of the night. He hadn’t gone to school and had learned all his English from tourists. Despite that, not only could he speak well, but  also truly entertain us with his stories and songs. Thomas had taken a guitar, which was perfectly convenient for the occasion: 12 strangers reunited for a couple of days in the jungle in Thailand. Late that night we went to sleep in a little hut with thin mattresses on the floor side by side.

traveling on top of the car
Never felt so free (and unsafe!)
Highly secure Rafting around Chiang Mai

On the following day we left after breakfast to our white water and bamboo rafting adventure. I had been rafting, canoeing and paddling before and was waiting for the safety instructions. But nothing came. They simply got us into the boats and shouted “forward go!” and “stop!”

I went on a boat with Priscilla, Pancho and Kat. Pancho and Kat had just gotten married and were doing a honeymoon trip around the world (doesn’t it sound like a great idea?) Obviously, our boat was the only one to capsize in the rapids! It was a bit scary because we had to swim with the flow for quite a while before being rescued back onboard, but it gave more gas to our adventure. We then got off the boat and went on a bamboo raft. All of us on one bamboo raft! Clumsy, wet, mesmerized tourists! Nothing better than that to unite a group of strangers!

We had lunch at a local bar and then headed to a waterfall. I decided to go on top of the car with the guides (safety measures, what for?) and it was one of the most liberating and adventurous feelings I’ve ever had!!

Waterfall
We had a nice swim at this beautiful waterfall on our second day in the jungle

To reach the waterfall we had to walk quite a bit through the rainforest, but it was worth it, because the waterfall was amazing for both looking and swimming!

And the penny drops

On the way to the waterfall I talked to Thomas about life and work and he told me he had managed to make an income from his passion (music) even when he was away. He had created an online community for learning music and got all his money from there, which allowed him to travel the world. I think he was one of the first persons who truly motivated me to start pursuing the dream of being a travel writer or digital nomad. Of course I had met people who worked online while traveling before, but he was the one who convinced me it was absolutely doable and, although not easy, definitely rewarding. I “just” needed to create a community of followers around my passion and make an income from that! How? I’m still figuring out that part! (Let me know if you know!)

Visiting the people with the longest necks in the world
Long-neck tribe
They start using the rings at a very early age and have to wear them until they die

After the waterfall, we went to visit the Long Neck Tribe. You’ve probably seen it somewhere, that tribe of women who wear golden rings to lengthen their necks. We visited their community and walked through a market where they sell handicrafts. Some of the women were absolutely unbelievable, with half-meter-long necks! No one really knew the origin of that tradition. Some believed it was to make them more attractive; others said it was supposed to make them less attractive, so that men from other tribes wouldn’t mess around with them. In all cases, they look spine-chilling (bad pun alert).

Visiting the long-neck tribe
How many golden rings can you count? If they remove it at this age, they’ll possibly die, because their neck muscles can’t sustain the head anymore
Paper made out of what?
Elephant poo
Elephant poop – rich in fibers, great for making paper!

In the last part of our tour we went to visit PooPooPaper, a factory that produces paper from elephant poop fiber! Such a clever and sustainable idea! We went on a tour to follow through the whole manufacture process and in the end each of us got a customizable elephant-poop-fiber-notebook! Great! Didn’t have to look for a new journal to write my adventures!

Hard to say goodbye
Elephant Poo Paper Drying
Elephant Poop Paper Drying

We came back to Chiang Mai in the afternoon. It was hard saying goodbye to the group, even though we had only been together for a couple of days. So we decided to go out for dinner at night at the food market.

We visited the Night Bazaar, had the spiciest green papaya salad ever and had a few beers. In the end we headed to my hostel and played “never have I ever” until late at night. How absurd, this game at this age!

I went to bed feeling very happy and grateful for the nice friends I had met and great adventures I had lived in and around this dazzling city!

Elephant PooPooPaper Park
Elephant PooPooPaper Park

Next stop: Koh Samui – the hopeless island where I found love.

–//–

During this amazing trip, I had the most revealing insights in my life, and realized what I love doing the most. I wrote a book about finding love, happiness, self-knowledge and empowerment. You can read more about it here: 

http://yourlotuslife.com/

Follow my Instagram for pictures of the current places I’m exploring:

Click on the Instagram item on the sidebar or search for @worldbyterra

Thanks for liking, commenting and sharing!

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How Traveling Was Like 10 Years Ago

using a map

It’s not so long ago, but travelling was completely different in the years 2000. Whether you’ve been there or not, I’m sure you’ll laugh at the way we used to travel 10 years ago. How many of these situations did you also go through?

Technology has revolutionized the way we travel.

Nowadays we have thousands of websites and apps to help us in every step of our trips. From buying the cheapest flight, to choosing the best hotel and restaurant. Apps tell us the places to visit, and even the clothes to wear. It’s really unbelievable the amount of things we can get to know and organize even before leaving home.

We can now jump on $5-flights, be hosted by people we never met before and meticulously plan our itineraries to the last detail.

Maps, visa, cash
Maps, visa, cash… do you still take all of that?

Smartphones, tablets, and notebooks are obvious items in any trip. A place where the internet doesn’t work is unacceptable. Taking hundreds of photos per day is the norm and not sharing them with the whole world is weird.

We know beforehand the best place to stay, eat, drink, buy, play, and dance. It feels like it’s always been like this. But it really hasn’t. You don’t need to go too far back in time to have a completely different scenario.

Do you remember how it was like to travel 10 years ago?

Do you remember how it was like to travel without a smartphone? If not, let me refresh your mind!

Before Low-Cost

Low Cost
What was the cheapest flight you ever caught? Mine was €9,90…

First of all, we need an air ticket. 10 years ago I’d go to a travel agency and let my agent check a few options in his complex systems. I’d trust him, pay him a commission and buy the ticket. If I had any problem during my trip, I’d have to contact him to deal with it, but of course he’d be in a different timezone and I’d have to wait half a day to get things solved.

Sometimes I also did it myself. I’d search for flights online up to 1 year in advance. I’d find a pretty amazing deal. But then the connection would fail, and I’d just miss it! There were the last-minute tickets: companies wanted to fulfill the empty seats and would offer the last ones for a much cheaper price. Some people even went to the airports to buy them just a few hours prior to the flight. Do people still do it?

Nowadays we buy flights that cost less than $10. We can plan trips just a few hours in advance. There are uncountable apps that claim to find the best possible deal, sometimes with accommodation, rental cars and tours included. They compare hundreds of airlines and send us notifications when a good deal is found. Basically, we can search within seconds, buy within minutes and fly within hours.

Accommodation

Sleeping in the couch - CouchSurfing
Did you ever sleep in someone’s couch? I lost count of how many times I did it…

How was it before booking.com? It’s even hard to remember! I’d get recommendations from people who had been there. Or I would buy travel guides and magazines, and get the latest hotel reviews. I had to call the place to book a bunk bed or in some cases it was already possible to book online. Many times, I just found a room once I got to my destination.

Nowadays, we book places from our smartphones. We can know everything about them beforehand. We read their pages, check their photos and have access to reviews from hundreds of other people who have stayed there.

Not to mention CouchSurfing and AirBnb (just to mention the main ones), which allow us to stay in people’s houses! People that we don’t know at all, but reading their profile and references gives us a vague idea that they might be trustworthy enough. I’ve found CourchSurfing hosts just hours before reaching some cities and in the end they turned into close friends.

Where to go

Tourits
When you first get to a city, do you still go to the tourist information center?

Once at your destination, where to go? Back then, obviously to the hotel reception or the information center, to get some maps and professional advice about the place. I’d sit down and try to understand the map. With luck, it’d already show the main touristic attractions, so I’d circulate them and create my own walking tours and fit them into my days. I’d carry that map with me until the edges broke completely (because I’d fold them in a way that was logical for me, according to the part of the city I was visiting).

I’d search for advice with the local people and try to visit the off-the-beaten-track places. I got lost so many times! Once in Florence I decided to wander through some streets and got completely lost. It started to rain and got dark. I was soaked and started crying out of desperation. I was finally offered a ride by some policemen who happened to be patrolling the area and were compassionate enough to bring me back to the city center!

Today it’s so easy!  We can find out anything about any place, from anywhere, whenever we want.

Taking pictures

Analogic Camera
Did you ever run out of photographic film while traveling with an analogic camera? I certainly did…

Some places were so beautiful and photogenic! I’d get my analogic camera, find the best spot, best light, focus, click… damn it! Film is over! And I didn’t bring another one!

I’d have to find a supermarket or store and get a new one, with 12, 24 or 36 new photo opportunities. I got my first digital camera in 2006. A small 5mp Sony. Before that, all I had was a small analogic camera and I didn’t even think such a thing as a digital camera was possible!

When I read what I just wrote, it sounds like a century ago! Nowadays, I can take thousands of pictures per day on my iPhone and post them immediately on social media, where everyone can check where I am and what I’m up to.

 

Internet

I’d go back to the hostel and want to write my family and friends.

Cellphone and Pager
Was the little snake game a pastime time for you?

Maybe read some news or traveling tips about places to visit. Well, I’d have to wait in line to use one of the few computers in the hostel. Usually there were 3 or 4. Some places only had 1.

Internet was slow and each guest could only use it for half an hour. Still, I’d write kilometer-long emails to my parents, telling them all about my adventures. Unfortunately, I couldn’t send any pictures!

More modern places already offered Wifi, but it was only available in the reception, so everyone who had a phone with access to the Internet (I got my first one in 2009!!) would gather there to connect to their loved ones.

I still remember my first backpacking trip in Europe, back in 2009. Most places I stayed didn’t have Wifi, so I had to bring my book to the computer area and be patient, sometimes wait for more than one hour to be able to use one of the old, wrecked machines.

girl-with-smart-phoneAnd then I got to one place where they already had WiFi IN THE ROOMS! And I had a smartphone (it was primordial, with buttons, so not that smart at all). I still remember how happy I was to be able to connect and talk to everyone from my bed in a hostel! Unbelievable!

Nowadays and I can write and call them from anywhere! Whenever I go to a country where I stay longer than a week, I buy a local sim card with 3G data. Now I can check anything, about anywhere, anytime: what places to go, how to get, how much, the best time to visit and so much more!

 

International Calls

Public Phone Booth
Have you ever used a public phone booth to call your family back home?

I remember buying endless cards to make international calls. In 2004 I spent 2 months in the US. At the time I called my home country pretty much every day (excuse me, but I was only 15) with those cards. Each card had a long serial number (maybe 16 digits?) and I memorized all of them because I used it so often. We had to call a central place, listen to a recorded message, dial specific numbers according to the country we were trying to reach, and finally insert the numbers from the card. Each card had some minutes worth of calls and the price varied according to that.

Nowadays we have several apps to make video calls from anywhere to anywhere in the world. You can be at the top of the Eiffel Tour in France and call a friend who’s in the middle a jungle in Thailand. It’s just so easy and fast that we take it for granted.

 

Staying in Touch

When you travel you meet a lot of people from all over the world. How do you stay in touch?

Postcards
Did you send postcards and letters while traveling?

When I used to travel 10 years ago I still didn’t have a Facebook account (I created mine 8 years ago). So my way to stay in touch with all those people was… per E-mail! Sounds so old school, I know. Postcards were also a great way to show people that you remember them (and that you’re traveling while they’re not). And in some rare cases, I’d still send letters. Yes, handwritten, pen and paper.

Today we “add” and “follow” each other within a matter of seconds. This, in turn, makes me have almost 2000 friends, many of whom I just met for one day. But if you’ve ever traveled alone, I’m sure you’ve been there. You find that person who’s going to the same place as you are, you spend some amazing hours together, you exchange contacts, add each other and promise they’ll have a guaranteed couch if they ever visit you. Most of the times, that never really happens. But sometimes it actually does!

When I went backpacking in Europe in 2009, I met several people and made many of those one-day-best-travelling-buddies. We stayed in touch and years later, I was hosted in Wellington, NZ, by a guy I met in Rome. I had lunch in Bangkok with a friend I made in Florence. And the list goes on and on.

And although some might say it’s useless keeping people in your list that you never talk to, I still think it’s worth it keeping most of those traveling friends. Who knows where the world will take us? If we had an awesome time shopping together in NYC, what prevents us from having a great time surfing in Bali?

Security

Emergency phone
Did you ever have an emergency while traveling?

10 years ago, if I got lost in a city, the only way to find my way was using a (paper) map and asking people for directions. When I took a cab, I didn’t have any idea whether the driver was taking me in the right direction. I didn’t have much access to reviews and references of the places I stayed and if something happened, probably the best defense was to scream.

Today you guide yourself using GPS and multiple options of maps and routes. You can check if the driver is taking you in the right direction (something I did in rickshaws in India, for example). You can read hundreds of references about the places you stay, eat and visit. And if anything happens, there are also several ways of reporting an emergency. You can use your phone to call the local police or you can write people you know. There are apps where you can activate an emergency button to report peril.

So much technology, has it spoiled the way we travel?

travel 10 years ago
Sometimes technology will let you down…

Some people might say so much technology may have taken the mystery and the awe of traveling. But I think traveling itself is always going to be a surprising thing. And if it’s not because it rained and the map broke into pieces, it’ll be because the connection failed or you lost your phone.

 

I think travels will keep on presenting us with unexpected events and unpredictable challenges. For me, traveling is a way of staying alive and alert. It’s a way of seeing new things with new eyes. It’s a way of challenging yourself, getting amused, excited, and feeling alive! And no matter the amount of information you can get previously from such apps, the experience of travelling and exploring new places will never be spoiled. You can know everything about a place, but being there and experiencing it is a whole new thing. Traveling always makes my eyes shine and my heart beat faster with excitement, regardless of how much technology is involved.

–//–

During my amazing trips, I had the most revealing insights in my life, and realized what I love doing the most. I wrote a book about finding love, happiness, self-knowledge and empowerment. You can read more about it here: 

http://yourlotuslife.com/

Follow my Instagram for pictures of the current places I’m exploring:

Click on the Instagram item on the sidebar or search for @worldbyterra

Thanks for liking, commenting and sharing!

 

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Sukhothai: the Kingdom of the Rising Happiness

Sukhothai ruins

The first Thai Kingdom

The ancient city of Sukhothai is home to some of the most impressive temple ruins in Thailand. Located 400 km north of Bangkok, Sukhothai was the first capital of the Siam Kingdom. It marked the golden age of Thai civilization, back in the 13th century. Established around the year 1238 by the King Ramkhamhaeng, Sukhothai literally means “the rising happiness”.

sukhothai ruins
The breathtaking ruins of the Kingdom of the Rising Happiness

A UNESCO World Heritage

Likewise Ayutthaya, ancient Sukhothai became a National Historical Park, with numerous sites of historical interest. Its ruins and monuments are particularly remarkable and the province was designated a UNESCO World Heritage.

buddha images in Sukhothai
Hundreds of Buddha images spread in the Sukhothai National Historical Park

Reaching and visiting the Sukhothai National Historical Park

The National Historical Park lies 12km from the center. The best way to reach it from the new part of the city is by tuk-tuk. Once there, you can rent bikes to better explore the ruins (the site covers an area of 70 km). Another possibility is to hire a guide and explore the area by tuk-tuk.

You can rent bikes at the shops opposite to the entrance of the Historical Park. It is also possible to explore the park on foot, but you probably wouldn’t be able to see as much.

tuk-tuk Old Sukhothai
Tuk-tuk with which you can explore Old Sukhothai
tuk-tuk to Old Sukhothai
This is the tuk-tuk I took from New Sukhothai to the National Historical Park

Sukhothai National Historical Park

The park has 5 geographical zones, each of which has its entry fee (100 Baht in 2015). You can get free maps to visit the places at the ticket offices.

The Park includes the remains of 21 historical sites within the old walls. You can find an additional of 70 other sites within a 5km radius. The central zone is the main one and contains 11 temple ruins, amongst lakes, small islands, bridges and moats. It was an amazing experience to bike through the highly preserved temples and fascinating landscapes while imagining the Kings who dwelled there some 800 years ago.

temple in sukhothai
One of the most photogenic places I’ve been!

One of the most spectacular temples is Wat Mahathat, with a large Buddha sitting amongst huge pillars. The temple also has a central chedi flanked by two standing Buddha figures. The north zone is also definitely worth a visit, with remains of temples, buildings and gigantic Buddha images.

Because there are so many different temples in the area, it’s not worth mentioning and recommending each separately. For me, the best way to experience the area is to rent a bike and allow yourself to get lost exploring the seemingly endless extension of gardens, columns, Buddha figures, lakes and towers.

chedi in Sukhothai
One of hundreds of chedis in Old Sukhothai – each one singularly amazing!

New Sukhothai

New Sukhothai is not a particularly interesting town per se, but it’s a pleasant base from which to explore the National Park. With a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, the town offers excellent-value accommodation and good transport links. I stayed in an awesome little guesthouse, in a large private room with bathroom and double bed and breakfast included for U$ 13!

ruins of Sukhothai
Alluring and preserved, the ruins of Sukhothai are a must-see

Getting there and around

You can reach Sukhothai by train and bus. The trip takes around 7 hours from Bangkok and 4 hours from Chiang Mai.

When I arrived from Ayutthaya, I got really angry at the tuk-tuk drivers in the bus station. They were offering rides 5 times more expensive than what they should cost! Be aware, it is always good to know more or less how much a trip would cost, to avoid being so easily fooled! (Unfortunately I don’t have that information anymore, but I had checked on my guide and they were really overcharging).

pilars in sukhothai
A thousand pillars will make you feel small in Sukhothai

Ayutthaya or Sukhothai?

Can’t decide between Ayutthaya and Sukhothai? The same doubt tormented me and in the end decided to visit both in 4 days. If you have the time, I’d definitely recommend doing it, as they are different places. Even though Ayutthaya has a more interesting historical narrative, Sukhothai’s ancient city is better preserved and architecturally more alluring. If you have the time, visit both!

Buddha figure Sukhothai
Giant Buddhas everywhere

–//–

During this amazing trip, I had the most revealing insights in my life, and realized what I love doing the most. I wrote a book about finding love, happiness, self-knowledge and empowerment. You can read more about it here: 

http://yourlotuslife.com/

Follow my Instagram for pictures of the current places I’m exploring:

Click on the Instagram item on the sidebar or search for @worldbyterra

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Ayutthaya is worth a visit

Ayutthaya is worth it

Without doubt, Ayutthaya is worth a visit. The fabled and fallen city of Ayutthaya was the capital of the Kingdom of Siam. It was a prosperous and important trading port since 1350, until the Burmese sacked it in 1767. This forced the Thais to flee Ayutthaya and re-establish in what is today’s Bangkok. They left behind dozens of temples of great historical and architectural importance, which have become a UNESCO World Heritage Centre – the Ayutthaya Historical Park.

The city declared a historical park

The modern Ayutthaya is a rather unexciting provincial town. But the remnants of the old empire contain some of the most astonishing temples and ruins in Thailand. Ayutthaya’s ruins spread throughout the city center and along the surrounding rivers.

Ruins Ayutthaya
Ruins of what was once the capital of the Kingdom of Siam

Bikes and boats, the best way to get around Ayutthaya

The best way to visit the ruins on the island is by bike and to visit the ones alongside the rivers is by boat. Most guesthouses organize both bikes and boat tours.

I stayed at a neat hostel by the side of the river, whose owner was probably the sweetest Thai woman alive. She did everything to make our stay comfortable and enjoyable, from organizing bikes and boats to suggesting the best meals and deals in town.

Monks riding elephants in Ayutthaya
Buddhist monks riding elephants near the floating market in Ayutthaya

Making travel buddies

I got to the hostel at the same time as Julia, a German girl. She was 20 years old and had just started to study industrial engineering in Karlsruhe. She was also traveling alone and we decided to explore the city together.

We were sharing our room with a guy from India, who was a programmer and worked from anywhere in the world where he could find internet connection. He travelled around with his laptop, working from hostels and cafes and exploring new places on his free time. He couldn’t join us on our exploration because he had an important project due.

There I had my first light-bulb moment of ‘this is what I want to do in my life!’ I just needed to find a job like that, (without having to program)! 😀

Floating Market in Ayutthaya

Warrior Performance in the floating market
Warrior Performance in the floating market

Julia and I rented bikes and went together to the floating market. I loved it (despite the fact that it was not the same as the images you get if you Google ‘floating markets’). There weren’t so many boats selling stuff, but actually the whole structure of the market was built on water. There you could find everything, from spices to clothes, to sculptures, to food. Suddenly, a group of warrior-dressed men began to perform some kind of theatre on boats on the lake. They even had fire-works! But then it began to rain and they had to stop it. Welcome to Thailand during the rainy season!

Boat tour to visit the temples in Ayutthaya

Wat Phanan Choeng
Temple Wat Phanan Choeng, with it’s 19m-high golden Buddha

We rode back to the hostel in the rain and went on a boat tour around the center to visit 3 majestic temples. Two other girls from the guesthouse joined us: one from Canada and the other from the Netherlands.

The first temple we visited was Wat Phanan Choeng, with an impressive 19-m high golden Buddha. Unlike most of the temples in Ayutthaya, this one is an active and busy place of worship and ceremonies for the local population.

 

 

Wat Chai Wattanaram
Majestic Temple Wat Chai Wattanaram seen from the river

The next stop was at the ruins of Wat Chai Wattanaram. It has an impressive main prang (tall tower found in temples, usually richly carved) surrounded by many other smaller prangs and towers. It was built in 1630 and is believed to host relics of the Buddha.

 

Wat Phra Si Sanphet
Temple Wat Phra Si Sanphet – the three chedis are believed to keep the ashes of three kings.

We then visited Wat Phra Si Sanphet, with its three chedis that are the most iconic image of the Ayutthaya Historical Park. People say the chedis store the ashes of three former Siam kings.

In addition to these temples, we saw many others from the water. It rained all the way through the tour, which made it difficult to take decent photos. So my best pictures of Ayutthaya are actually stored on my memory’s photographic film, and not on my memory card.

Adventurous women

wat chai wattanaram women
We the women exploring the temple Wat Chai Wattanaram in the rain

After the boat tour, the 4 of us went out for dinner together and 2 other girls joined later on. It just struck me that all of us were girls traveling alone! There we were, 6 girls from all over the world, traveling through Southeast Asia on our own, telling stories and sharing experiences, while having dinner on a cheap Thai restaurant in Ayutthaya! How cool is that?

Inland temples

head-buddha-ayutthaya
Buddha’s head carved in the tree

On the next day Julia and I went to visit the ruins and temples in the city center. They were absolutely mesmerizing. Most of them are located either inside or in the surroundings of the beautiful Rama Public Park.

We first visited Wat Mahathat , which is the symbolic center where the Buddha’s relics were enshrined. The temple also houses the famous Buddha head in a tree trunk. Wandering around, we also visited the impressive ruins of Wat Langkhadum and Wat Sangkhapat.

Wat Langkhadum Ayutthaya
The temple Wat Langkhadum in the beautiful Rama Public Park in Ayutthaya

Later, we visited Wat Ratchaburana, which has a very impressive big hall and prang. History tells that two brothers fought to decide who would inherit the vacant throne of Ayutthaya, but both ended up dying. So the younger brother became the King (King Borom Ratchathirat II) and built this temple on the place where his brothers fought and died.

reclining-buddha-ayutthaya
Reclining Buddha (and dog) in the Temple Wat Lokkayasutharam

We finished our ruin-exploration tour visiting the largest reclining Buddha in Ayutthaya, located in the ruins of Wat Lokayasutharam. The Buddha is 37m long and 8m high and has his head reclined on a lotus flower. Behind the image, there are also remains of ancient temples, but honestly not as impressive as the ones in Rama Park.

Is it really worth it?

Definitely, Ayutthaya is worth visiting. The temples and ruins are alluring, accommodation is cheap and it’s pretty easy to get around, as well as to and from there. I’d say two days are ideal to visit the main temples and ruins, but there are also day trips from Bangkok.

To get to Ayutthaya you can catch a minivan from the Victory Monument in Bangkok or a bus from the North bus station. Both last about 1 ½ hr and cost around 60B. You can also choose to catch a train, which also takes 1 ½ hr and costs from 15 to 350B.

–//–

During this amazing trip, I had the most revealing insights in my life, and realized what I love doing the most. I wrote a book about finding love, happiness, self-knowledge and empowerment. You can read more about it here: 

http://yourlotuslife.com/

Follow my Instagram for pictures of the current places I’m exploring:

Click on the Instagram item on the sidebar or search for @worldbyterra

Thanks for liking, commenting and sharing!

To follow, like and share:

What to Know Before Going and What to do in Bangkok

What do to in Bangkok Buddha Golden Temple

Bangkok was my very first Southeast-Asian experience and I was very excited about it. It represented a completely different world to all that I had known and the fulfillment of a dream of many years. Unfortunately I could only spend 4 days in this extraordinary city, so I had to select very well what to do in Bangkok in that short period of time.

But beyond travel guides, knowing a few locals was what provided me with the most remarkable experiences there. So here I’m sharing the highlights of my stay and a definitive list of what to do in Bangkok if you want to experience it fully but are also short on time!

Bangkok night
View of Bangkok at night time

Sawasdee kha!

Bangkok is the exciting, fast-paced capital of Thailand. It’s a city of contrasts: you will see cutting-edge skyscrapers shadowing shantytowns on the banks of the river. You can go to frenetic markets selling typical Thai products at a bargain price just out of colossal commercial centers selling the world’s biggest brands. You can go to sublime, peaceful temples after spending a frantic night in some of the craziest nightclubs in Southeast Asia.

Shanty Town Bangkok
Shanty town alongside the River Chao Phraya in Bangkok

I spent 4 days in the city, and for me that was just enough. Bangkok has a lot to offer and one year wouldn’t be enough to visit all its hidden gems. But 4 days are definitely sufficient to visit the major sites and experience a bit of this vibrant and hectic city. Plus, it leaves you time to see some of the lesser known places too.

Thai Food

Bangkok is home to true culinary delights and some of the best cheap-eats in the world. From fine dining restaurants to street food stalls, Bangkok caters to almost every taste. You can find some of the best dishes in the city in the most unexpected and unpretentious stalls.

My CouchSurfing host took me to a street stall with plastic chairs on the sidewalk, which was his favorite restaurant in Bangkok! (Sorry, I don’t remember the name!) There I had my very first, delicious, authentic, cheap, locally recommended street Thai food. I had a Pad Thai, which is still my favorite Thai dish and for dessert we had mango sticky rice. Yum!

On another occasion, I met a Thai friend whom I had first met in Venice and we traveled together to Pisa in 2009. She took me to a restaurant near Siam Square. It was packed with locals (always a good sign) and she ordered so much food that it just didn’t fit on the table! Needless to say, everything was delicious!

Thai Food Local
My Thai friend and I at the restaurant in Siam Square

And to top it off, on my last day I went to the 7th best restaurant in town at the time. If you’re thinking it was some luxurious and expensive place, you’re flat wrong. It was nothing more than, once again, a stall and some plastic chairs and tables on the street. But what came out of that stall was simply out of this world.

Street food ban

Surprisingly, the current military government is willing to ban all street food from Bangkok, in the interests of ‘cleanliness, safety and order’. Local authorities announced that Chinatown and the backpacker area of Khao San Road are the next to face the street-food ban. After that, one would only find typical Thai food in covered malls, duly sterile and well-ordered for the tourists ‘comfort’.

This sounds absolutely absurd to me for many reasons. Street food is one of the richness of the country. Not only tourists consume it but also (and mainly) Thai people, who rely on it daily. This also means that many vendors would lose their jobs. I don’t really know whether there is anything we can do to avoid it. But I strongly believe this is an immeasurable loss for the country. Banning street food in Bangkok is banning much of it’s essence and character. It would mean a tremendous cultural, economic and social loss. For me it is as bad as banning people from going to the beach in Rio.

Funny fact: Thais eat ‘real food’ for breakfast, such as rice, meat and noodles!

Hot hint (actually cold!): to cope with the hot weather, get yourself a Chanomyen or Thai Iced Tea, made of Black Tea, milk and sugar. Superb!

Couchsurfing in Thailand

I found it impossible to find Thai hosts on CourchSurfing. It seems that the population is not really used to this network. I could only use CS in Thailand’s biggest cities, Bangkok and Chiang Mai. And even then I only got to stay with foreign hosts. I’d say if you are lucky to find a local host, read the profile and references thoroughly. This is just as to avoid any complication, since CS doesn’t seem to be much used in the country.

In Bangkok, I did CouchSurfing on the first 2 nights. My host was a Canadian guy who was working as a Maths and Psychology teacher in Bangkok. He was really nice and gave me a lot of tips and valuable information about what to do in Bangkok (as a good CS host).

Thai Mythical Creatures
Statues of Thai Mythical Creatures in Wat Pho

The rest of the time I stayed with a university friend, who had moved to Bangkok and opened a gym there. His main reasons were security and the living costs. It really surprised me when he said ‘security’. I just assumed Bangkok would be particularly dangerous, being this hectic, developing mega-city. But he said the crime rate is very low and the city is in general a very safe place. One just needs the same kind of care and attention they’d have in any other big city. This made me relax and stop walking around feeling so paranoid at every tuk-tuk driver that reached me.

Khao San Road

On the first evening my CS host took me on his scooter to Khao San Road. This is Bangkok’s shopping-bar-backpackers paradise. You’ll see lots of beautifully tanned tourists walking in shorts and flip-flops, amid stalls with bizarre barbecued insects and stacks of backpacker’s fashions, such as elephant print t-shirts. I almost lost control, because I go crazy about elephants and Ganesh-inspired themes.

Khao San Road offers multiple guesthouses, but even if you’re staying somewhere else (like I was), the area is definitely worth a visit at night time, being a great place to go party and meet other travelers.

Alternatively, you could also head to a rooftop bar for some drinks with one of the most magnificent views you can imagine. Bangkok has many rooftop bars, such as the Moon Bar or the Sukhumvit Thonglor.

Ratanakosin

On the next morning (my first actual day in the city) I took a ferry to visit the area of Ratanakosin, the royal island. Here is where you’ll find the city’s most important sights. The island was artificially created by the construction of defensive channels after the sacking of the old capital, Ayutthaya. The island hosts the Grand Palace, the National Museum and Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.

All main tourist attractions are within a walking distance from each other. But it’s best to get an early start, as most of them close at 15:30.

Wat Phra Kaew or the Grand Palace

The central and most important construction is the Grand Palace and contiguous royal temple Wat Phra Kaew. Also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, it is considered the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand. The Grand Palace officially opened in 1785 and marked the founding of the new capital and the rebirth of the Thai nation after the Burmese invasion.

Golden Temple Bangkok
Golden stupa at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, considered the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand.

Right after you enter, through the Gates of Glorious Victory, you have an enticing view of the temple’s glittering spires on the left. The inside of the temple is as hypnotizing as the outside: pay attention to the details everywhere, from the flagstones to the roof, and the walls with murals from the Ramayana. The grounds contain more than 100 buildings, so leave at least 2 hours to visit the Grand Palace and explore the other minor (but not less interesting) buildings, statues, murals and gardens.  It is definitely one of the most unbelievable set of constructions I’ve ever seen.

Visitors should dress smartly: women should wear pants or skirts below the knees and men should wear trousers. Because such garments are not so compatible with the local climate, you can easily rent skirts and pants from the office to the right just inside the entrance gate. They are free, but you have to leave a deposit of B200.

Wat Pho or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha

Wat Pho is located directly south of the Grand Palace. It hosts a 46m-long reclining Buddha and the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand. Being the oldest temple in Bangkok, it is also considered the birthplace of Thai massage, the earliest center for public education in Thailand and a school of Thai medicine.

Reclining Buddha
Gigantic 46m-long and 15m-high reclining Buddha

To get into the temple you have to take off your shoes and stand in a long line, but it’s worth the wait. The reclining Buddha is fascinating and it gave me a sense of humbleness and veneration. The Buddha, depicted entering Nirvana, is almost as big as the chapel, not leaving enough room for a photo with good perspective. You’ll have to chose between a close-up view of his 15m high head and the 4.5 m-long feet, which depict 108 auspicious symbols that distinguish a true Buddha.

If you hear coins chinking, don’t be surprised: there are 108 bowls along one side of the statue and it’s said that putting a coin on each of them will bring you luck!

Even though the main attraction at Wat Pho is the gigantic reclining Buddha, the temples, stupas and statues that surround it are also mesmerizing and for a few seconds I wondered if I was already on the grounds of the Grand Palace.

The River Chao Phraya

River Chao Phraya Temples
Temples viewed from the ferry on the River Chao Phraya

When in Bangkok, don’t miss a boat ride along the Chao Phraya River. Bangkok’s cross river ferries are not only the main means of transportation for locals, but also a unique experience for tourists. You’ll get to see the skyline of business buildings, punctuated by beautiful temples, slums, markets, cargo boats and much more. You can take the Public River Ferry from the Central Pier and go up and down the river for less than U$ 1!

Shopping in Bangkok

shopping mall Bangkok
Visiting one of the magnificent Shopping Malls in Bangkok

Bangkok is the ultimate shopping paradise. Even though this was not my main focus, I went to some of the biggest shopping centers just to have a look. If you’re looking for posh fashion and brands, go to the Siam region, where you’ll find huge shopping centers such as Central World, Siam Paragon, Emporium, Siam Center and Siam Discovery.

Bangkok is home to one of the biggest street markets in the world: the Chatuchak Weekend Market. With some 15 thousand stalls, it has everything you might ever (or never) need. You can also visit the awesome floating markets around the city for a real Thai experience, such as the Khlong Lat Mayom and Thaling Chan.

Chinatown

The Chinatown in Bangkok is the country’s largest Chinese district. It has an extension of narrow railways with temples and shops, many of which selling gold and jewelry, but also teas and random Chinese parafernalia. During the day it is a shopping area and at night it turns into a street food paradise.

Traffic Jam and Air Quality

Bangkok has 4/5 of the country’s automobiles and traffic is a major problem in the city. Despite the Skytrain and subway lines, it is still difficult to get around the city, mainly during rush hours. One solution was the implementation of side-street motorbike taxis, which are pretty helpful if you’re traveling alone. Tuk-tuks are also a practical means of transportation through the city for a bargain.

tuk tuk Bangkok
Tuk-tuk and motorbike taxis – some of the best ways of getting around in Bangkok

Moreover, Bangkok suffers largely with pollution: the city has the lowest rate of green area per inhabitant in the world. While London has 30.4 square meters of public parkland per person, Bangkok has only 0.4. As a result of this, the air quality decreases and the rate of respiratory diseases increases.

If the choking fumes get too bad, you can choose to take a break and visit Lumpini Park. It’s a haven of fresh air, shade and tranquility in Bangkok. My CouchSurfing host lived just a few blocks from the park and it was great to have this place of peacefulness to rest after a hot, noisy and hectic day in Bangkok.

Climate and when to go

Bangkok is always hot. When I was there I ran out of energy every day at around 3pm, just because it was so hot and chaotic. The best time to visit is from November to January, when it’s humid but still comfortable. The rainy season spans from May to November and brings afternoon showers after warm and humid days. The least ideal time to visit is between March and May, because that’s when the temperatures are the highest.

How to dress in Bangkok

When I got to Thailand, I thought it would be much more conservative regarding clothes (like in India). I got a taxi from the airport and the amount of people wearing tiny shorts and skirts startled me.

Monks Golden Temple
Watch out for the dress code when visiting a Thai Temple

In Thailand it’s common and socially accepted to wear short clothes that are fresher and expose more of your body. However, remember that to enter most temples you are expected to wear respectful clothes. That means shirts with sleeves, long pants of skirts and shoes. If you’re wearing sandals, make sure to take socks, because some temples don’t allow bare feet. Most of the times, you can rent or borrow some proper garment at the entrance or from street vendors, who wisely seize the opportunity of having tourists melting of heat in their city.

All in all

You can call it hectic, crowded, noisy, but Bangkok is still a must-see. It is one of the leading economies in Southeast Asia and one of the fastest growing cities in the world. It has breathtaking temples, amazing nightlife, mouthwatering and cheap food everywhere and it’s a great place for shopping. I hope you enjoyed this post with recommendations of what to do in Bangkok!

–//–

During this amazing trip, I had the most revealing insights in my life, and realized what I love doing the most. I wrote a book about finding love, happiness, self-knowledge and empowerment. You can read more about it here: 

http://yourlotuslife.com/

Follow my Instagram for pictures of the current places I’m exploring:

Click on the Instagram item on the sidebar or search for @worldbyterra

Thanks for liking, commenting and sharing!

To follow, like and share:

12 things you need to know when planning a trip to India

Traveling to India?

Here are a few vital things to know when planning a trip to India.

India is a mesmerizing country. Its history, culture, people, landscape and traditions make it a fascinating must-see.

It’s not the easiest place to travel, but it’s so worth the effort!

There are a few things I wish I had been told before I embarked on my journey, a few vital things to be aware of.

I remember when I decided to travel India alone, people said I was crazy, that I didn’t know what I was doing. They said I was going to be kidnapped, raped or some other horrible thing would happen to me.

But I just replied, “C’mon! I come from Brazil! Do you really think I can be that easily scared?” Besides, I had a lot of friends who had already been to India (including my mom 3 times) and who had told me about their experiences, so I really believed I knew everything I needed to know about it.

Wishful thinking. All the psychological preparation I thought I had was not enough. India surprised me in many ways. Most of the times positively, as a fascinating, colorful, culturally rich country. But unfortunately sometimes negatively too.

So here are 10 things I wish people had told me about India.

1 – Indian Food

Meat

India is mostly a vegetarian country. The cow is considered sacred to Hindus and should not be eaten. In fact, in some states people who are found to have eaten beef can face death penalties, which obviously causes big friction with the followers of other religions, such as muslims.

Cow Sacred India
A cow decided to join our picture in Jaisalmer – they are considered sacred in India

If you like eating meat and can’t live without it, you can find chicken in most restaurants, as well as fish in the south. Pork might be a bit harder, but you can find it too.

If you’re a vegetarian, welcome to paradise! I am and I just loved having 90% of all menus fit for me. There were so many delicious options! Each region has their typical dishes and specialties. Indian food can be pretty oily and spicy, but in many places you can also savor some delicious natural or Ayurvedic dishes, with lots of sprouts and legumes.

If you’re a vegan, you might find it a little bit hard to eat in India, since much of its cuisine is based on milk and dairy products. But it shouldn’t be harder than in any other western country.

Another thing worth mentioning is that most indians eat with their hands. They use a chapati  (flat bread) to kind of scoop the food, which is usually liquid. If you don’t feel comfortable eating with your hands, most places also provide cutlery. I found it an interesting experience, which made me more aware of what and how I was eating.

Drinking Alcohol and Coffee in India

Hindus generally don’t drink alcohol and it’s rare to see them drinking coffee.

I must have had a coffee or beer twice during the whole period I was in India. I didn’t really miss it, because my aim was to study Yoga and kind of ‘detox’, so I was happy enough to replace it with a traditional, delicious chai. But if you’re the kind of person who needs a caffeine fix or a beer, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding it.

India Food
Dining at a restaurant in Pune – In India you eat with your hands

Food Poisoning and Avoiding Delhi Belly

I’ve heard some horror stories of people who had really bad food poisoning in India. One friend of mine even had to leave the country due to serious dehydration. I had also heard about the ashram runs (do I need to explain the term?) and was a bit concerned about it. But I didn’t have anything at all in the whole period I stayed in India.

It was probably a combination of luck and caution from my part. I only ate street food from places that were personally recommended. Maybe my tummy was already used to weird foreign food too (from Brazil, Morocco, Bolivia and so on). But always take some activated charcoal and other preventative medicine just in case.

2 – How to Dress in India

Sari India
Sari is a long cloth that is wrapped around the body

In India, the old saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is particularly important when it comes to dress code. Mainly for women, I’d recommend wearing indian-looking clothes. Not necessarily a sari (that long cloth that they wrap around themselves), but a Salwar Kameez, which consists of a tunic top and loose trousers narrow at the ankle, or just normal legging pants.

It’s not only better for your own safety (you’ll be less noticed and will expose less of your body), but they also appreciate it very much. Many people thanked me for respecting their culture and dressing like an Indian in their country.

Yes, it is warm and you’ll feel like going out in singlets and shorts. And I saw some girls walking like that in Delhi and Mumbai. Although I’d love to be in their clothes, I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes (by the looks and whistles they were getting).

Salwar Kameez
Wearing a Salwar Kameez in Ranakpur, composed by a tunic and legging pants

3 – Languages in India

According to the last census, India has 122 major languages and 1600 other minor ones. The most spoken language by far is Hindi, with about half the population using it as their first language. English is up until now very much used and is for many Indians their first language. Many schools and most universities teach in English.

Then you have many languages which are spoken in the different states as the first language. It’s not hard to meet an Indian whose first language is their state language (for example Marathi in the state of Maharashtra), followed by Hindi, English and maybe even a fourth language.

You’ll be able to get around India speaking English, but I always think it’s nice to learn some basic words of the native language.

Useful words in Hindi

  • Hi – Namaste
  • Bye – Phir Milenge or simply bye
  • Yes – Haan
  • No – Nahi
  • Please – Kripya
  • Thank you – Dhanyavad
  • Sorry – Kshama or Maaf kijiye

4 – Gender Roles in India

There is still a big gender inequity in India, with many men believing they have a greater say than their partner in important decisions, forcing their partners to have sex, as well as determining what they can wear and do. Men are also considered closer to attaining spiritual liberation than women.

Gender Roles India
Some women work really hard in India; others are discouraged to work. Picture Courtesy: @majuvicentin

I talked to many men who just couldn’t understand why western women wanted to work and have financial independence. They believed the man is supposed to provide for the family and the woman should be respectful and grateful for that and stay at home raising the family. (I don’t have anything against a stay-at-home mom, if that’s what she wants to do. I just don’t agree with forcing the woman to stay at home and forbidding her from having a job). Some guys talked about it in a sweet way though. They could barely wait to have a wife and be able to pamper her and do everything for her. As you may have noticed, gender equality is another controversial topic.

However, I also met girls who studied and had jobs and were in a happy relationship with their partners. So there is some change happening too, towards decreasing the gender gap.

Sexual Orientation

It is common to see men holding hands in the street, but not so often to see women doing it. Men do it as a sign of friendly affection rather than loving. As a matter of fact, homossexuality is still a major taboo and not so many people come out publicly. I didn’t see any homossexual public display of affection and I’ve heard that most homossexuals remain undercover even after they got married (to someone of the other sex).

One thing worth mentioning is the Hijras or transgender women (originally born men). They are considered by some as good luck and by others as a curse. You may see them asking for money in trains and often in weddings, in exchange for blessings.

5 – Arranged Marriage in India

This is another very controversial topic. I was surprised to see that in India there are still a lot of arranged marriages and that  in many cases the young people agree with it. I assumed they would rebel and refuse to get married to someone chosen by their parents. But I talked to many young people who told me “who can be better than our parents, who have known us all our lives, to choose the best person for us?” Apart from that, the arranged marriages are based on caste, astrology and other family business in some cases.

Some arranged marriages work

Arranged marriage India
Woman and kids in the desert in Rajasthan – arranged marriages are still very present in India. Picture Courtesy: @majuvicentin

I met a girl who lived in Delhi, went to University and wore modern, western clothes, which just made me believe she would be against it. Surprisingly, she invited me to her wedding, which had been arranged by her family and was supposed to happen a few months from then. She had met the groom once and was really excited about it. Recently, I’ve seen photos of them online and saw that they just had a baby. They seem to be really happy and in love. Many times it does work out.

 

Sometimes it doesn’t work at all

However, I met another Indian girl in Mumbai who had run away from her husband because he cloistered and hit her. She told me that after she left him she decided to become an air hostess and on her free time she traveled around the world. She also told me that her ex-husband said that if he sees her again he might kill her.

There are love marriages too

I also met people who looked much more traditional (at least in the way they dressed and behaved), but they had had a love-marriage, which was accepted by their families.

And secret weddings

Last but not least, I met young people who had partners but still hadn’t told their parents, because they knew they wouldn’t accept it. I met this guy in Mumbai who was together with a swiss girl and they were planning to get married in Switzerland. He told me he’d only tell his family after the wedding.

Relationships

Unless you’re in a beach in Goa, you don’t really see explicit public demonstrations of affection in India, like people kissing or hooking up in public. So if you go with your partner, I’d say it’s okay to walk holding hands and quickly kiss, but leave the long, wet kisses for the hotel room.

I didn’t see many dating couples either and met many people my age who had never kissed or had sex.

6 – Dirtiness

Dirtiness India
India can be a really dirty country. Picture Courtesy: @majuvicentin

Unfortunately most of the big cities in India are very dirty. There is waste in the street, everywhere. I got tired of seeing people finishing their snacks on the train and just throwing the package out of the window. And when everyone does that, it is hard to enforce the contrary.

I also saw people defecating alongside the train tracks and dead animals being eaten up by vultures on the sidewalk. I think the situation is slowly changing for the better, but if you’re planning a trip to India, it’s better to be prepared for some filthiness.

7 – Traffic in India

If there are really 330 million gods in India, I’m pretty sure one of them takes care of the traffic.

Traffic India
An elephant crosses my way on a road in Rajasthan

Traffic in India is insane. Nothing in this world could have prepared me for that. When I first arrived at the Mumbai International Airport and got on a rickshaw, I thought I was going to die every 20 seconds. Literally.

After 2 months, that rate had lowered to once every 2 minutes. I don’t know how they can do it, but they do it. They manage to drive in narrow streets and share the lanes with thousands of rickshaws, cars, motorcycles, bikes and of course animals. Mostly cows, which are not to be disturbed, even if they are obstructing the road. But I also saw elephants, camels, goats, pigs, monkeys, dogs, and chicken.

Traffic jams

Traffic jams are a major problem in big cities. I had the chance to experience staying stuck for 4 hours (you read that right, FOUR hours) on the same street in Delhi. That made my 2-hour-stuck-in-traffic-in-Sao-Paulo experiences seem like a piece of cake.

Public Transport in India

Public Transport India
Train arriving at the station in Mumbai

I should also mention that the public transportation in big cities can be a mission during rush hours. It’s almost impossible to understand how those hundreds of people waiting in the station will manage to hop on a train that is already packed. But they do. Thankfully they also have women-only wagons and I felt much safer being squeezed by them rather than by men. I know that women-only wagons are a mere palliative measure and that people should focus on changing the way women are treated in society. But until that happens, I was really thankful for the pink wagons.

8 – Being different in India

People-staring

Be prepared to have a lot of people staring at you. In most of the cases it happens just because you’re different and it shouldn’t be a reason for getting concerned. I traveled in trains and had men and women staring at me for hours, literally nonstop. Sometimes I really got distressed but there was not much I could do. I realized that if I yelled at them, I’d probably get a bigger crowd of spectators. So I just tried to focus on my book and forget that they were there.

People asking for photos

Many people will ask to take a picture with you. The more different from them you look like (physically and also the way you dress), the more they’ll ask. You decide how often you will want to do that and with whom. If it was a group of guys, I generally didn’t accept (sometimes they took a picture of me anyway). If it was a woman with her kids, I generally did.

On one occasion, a boy (probably aged around 12) asked my friend and I to take a picture with him. We agreed and in the middle of the selfie he tried to touch our breasts. We told him to get the hell out of there and laughed about the situation. But it could have been worse (imagine a bigger group of older men).

Anyway, if you want to avoid any risk, I’d say the best thing to do is to smile nicely and say “I’m sorry but no”.

9 – Religion in India

Hinduism

The most predominant religion in India is Hinduism, with around 80% of the population. Nevertheless when you talk to Hindus they claim it is not their religion but rather their way of living.

Puja
Puja ceremony on the banks of the Ganges river in Haridwar

Whether they have 33 or 330 million gods, is rather a philosophical question. But the basic philosophy of Hinduism advocates that rivers, rocks, animals and humans are ultimately all divine.

You’ll probably see lots of hindu temples across the country destined for the different gods. Many people also have a god of their preference, who is sometimes the patron of the family. It is also common (and very interesting) to see the performance of pujas (worshiping rituals). I had the chance to experience them individually in a family home, in a temple or together with other millions of people in the Ganges river in Rishikesh for example.

Islam

The second most common religion in India is Islam. Muslims can be found mainly in the far north (close to the Pakistani border), and northeastern states. Hindus and Muslims cohabit mostly in peace with few exceptions, like when it comes to eating beef.

Religion India
This is me, my friend and her mother with two indian best friends: one is a brahmin and the other a muslim

Christianity and other religions

There is a 2.3% share of Christians in India but I didn’t meet a single indian Christian during my trip. 0.7% of the population are Buddhists and they can be found mostly close to Nepal. India is also the home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile. They live in Dharamsala, a city marked by Tibetan Buddhism. India also has 0.4% of its population declared as Jainists. They can be found mostly in the northwestern part of the country.

Dharamsala
Tibetan Bells in Dharamsala, the city of the Dalai Lama in India

Sikhism

Some 1.7% of the Indian population are Sikhs and they are predominant in the state of Punjab. That’s where they have their holiest place of worship: the Golden Temple, in Amritsar.

Sikhs Golden Temple
Sikhs waiting in the line to enter the golden temple – it is required to cover the head to enter the temple

Sikhism is based on the spiritual teachings of Guru Nanak, which are found in the sacred scripture Guru Granth Sahib. The book is nowadays regarded as their final, sovereign and eternal living guru and is worshiped in the temples. The original one is kept in the Golden Temple and is taken care of as a person, being cleaned and ‘put to sleep’ daily.

One remarkable sign of Sikhs is the turban. For many people it’s their dearest item. My couchsurfing host in Chandigarh had dozens of them, on all different colours and fabrics.

Turban Sikh
Me and my couchsurfing hosts with a Sikh turban in Chandigarh – it takes them one hour to put it correctly

He took great care of them and spent 1 hour every day putting it on his head, meticulously turning that long cloth around his hair and adjusting the folds correctly. A decent-looking turban is very well regarded socially! Many of them have never cut their hair or beards as a symbol of respect for the perfection of God’s creation.

10 – Castes

Caste is a form of social stratification and is still very present in Indian society. It is characterized as the hereditary transmission of a lifestyle, distinguished by relative degrees of social status and ritual purity or pollution.

The system is very intricate and hard to understand for a foreigner. Even though it is becoming less relevant, I still met many guys who told me really proudly that they were Brahmins, or the top of the caste system. Conversely, I read about several cases of Dalits (the lowest level of the Hindu caste system) who had gone as far as phd degrees and then killed themselves. They were not able to bear the daily prejudice and segregation.

11 – Climate in India

I guess most of us think India is always hot and humid, but that’s not true.

Alright, Mumbai was the muggiest experience of my life, where I barely stepped out in the street and instantly the sweat started dripping.

But India can be really cold too. If you’re planning to visit the North (like the Ladakh region) in the winter, prepare for cold and snow. There are several winter holiday destinations in the Himalayan area and some of the access roads can get blocked after heavy snowfalls.

Climate India
Desert dunes in Rajasthan, a big contrast to the backwaters of Kerala or the snowy mountains of Kashmir

The South is known for having more mild temperatures, with humid tropical regions supporting rainforests in the southwest and drier tropical weather in the southeast. The west part of the country (mostly Rajasthan) is characterized by arid desert.

The monsoons happen from June to September and slowly sweep across the country, bringing heavy precipitation mainly in the central region. It’s not advisable to visit India during the monsoon, unless you’re willing to visit everywhere under heavy summer storms.

12 – Shopping

Shopping is really cheap in India and you can find pretty much anything – clothes, jewelry and precious stones, fabrics and shawls, tapestry, silver, religious stuff and so much more. I have some friends who paid their whole trips to India by selling things back at home. It’s something to consider.

Bargaining India
Bargaining in Jodhpur, Rajasthan

Always bargain. They’ll always tell you a much higher price and will lower it down according to your bargaining power, appearance and background. That’s right. I think in many occasions being a Brazilian brunette, dressed as an Indian helped me get a better price than say a blond German dressed in western clothes.

The currency in India is the rupee and it orbits around 0.014 and 0.02 of a dollar. You can get a lot with little money and the luxury you want to have in your travels depends on how much you’re willing to invest. I did couchsurfing in many places, stayed in relatively cheap ashrams and ate from simple restaurants. But you can also indulge in beautiful resorts and fine dining restaurants, go on organized tours and travel with a lot more luxury. India offers endless possibilities, for all tastes and budgets.

Indian boy
India is full of surprises. Picture Courtesy: @majuvicentin

This list is not intended to be taken as a general rule, because India is such a diverse, ever-changing, dynamic country. But those were some points that I think are worth taking into consideration before traveling to this incredible country.

Hope they will help with planning your trip to India and make your travels easier and more enjoyable!

–//–

During this amazing trip, I had the most revealing insights in my life, and realized what I love doing the most. I wrote a book about finding love, happiness, self-knowledge and empowerment. You can read more about it here: 

http://yourlotuslife.com/

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Click on the Instagram item on the sidebar or search for @worldbyterra

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Breaking Up, Breaking Down, Breaking Free

Breaking Free

Breaking Free

August 10, 2015. Two years ago today I was leaving for the greatest adventure of my life. That day marked my breaking free from abuse and heavy-heartedness into a meaningful, joyful, wholehearted life!

It was a beautiful winter day and my mom and dad brought me to the Sao Paulo International Airport. I remember my mom crying and saying she was worried. I asked ‘why’, since this was not the first time I was leaving.

She said, “yes, but this time you’re traveling much further, you’re going to India alone! And I don’t even know if you’re really coming back in 4 months like you say”.

She was right. It was the furthest, craziest adventure I had ever been on and as a matter of fact, I didn’t come back after 4 months. Actually, it’s been two years and I’m still on the road.

But when I left on the 10th of August 2015, my plan was to travel around New Zealand, go to a meditation event in Australia, visit Thailand, and realize my biggest dream of traveling around and studying Yoga in India!

I knew 4 months was too short for traveling to so many places, but it was what my budget allowed me to do.

Honestly, I just wanted to leave, explore, and experience something new. I needed a break from what I had lived and who I had been. In fact, I wanted to find out who I truly was and who I wanted to be.

Because I suddenly found myself completely lost.

Exuberant nature and the friendliest people: New Zealand is absolutely astonishing! It was the best choice for the first stop of my journey!

Breaking Down

I think most of the big adventures people go on start as an attempt to escape from some uncomfortable, painful situation. Fair enough, I can’t think of a better remedy than traveling!

In my case, I was facing a break-up from a long-term, turbulent relationship. And I suddenly found myself single, unemployed and with no future plans. F**king scary.

But it was also the best opportunity to go on this big expedition and visit those places that had always been on my bucket list (and that sometimes I thought I wouldn’t have the chance to visit, because I was so stuck in my relationship).

It was a really hard breakup process. I remember really harsh things being said to me. With my heart torn into pieces, I felt weak, humiliated, furious, sad and lonely. I cried a lot, for days.

Australia
3 weeks in Australia was definitely too short, but the best remedy for a broken heart: astounding views, inspiring events and amazing people!

Breaking Up

One day I decided to leave. And after I took that decision, I just felt like I was being guided by some external force, much stronger than me. It wasn’t hard to grab the few most important things that could fit in one bag. I felt this overwhelming force inside of me almost dragging me out of that place.

I felt like the Universe had heard my call and was telling me, “keep calm and follow your heart. It will take you in the right direction. I have your back. Now go, gorgeous! Your best life is about to begin!”

I went to the front gate and took no key with me. The door banged behind me and I knew I was never coming back.

Two months later I was hopping on a plane to Auckland, New Zealand, the first stop of my big adventure.

When I hopped on that plane, I felt completely empty. But I trusted that this trip would fulfill that emptiness with memorable experiences like never before. I believed with all my heart it would be an amazing, healing, and empowering process. So I was not afraid.

In Thailand I felt strong, beautiful and in control of my life. It was also in Thailand that I fell in love.

Breaking Away

I went to New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, India, then back to Australia and New Zealand. Indeed, I never came back from that trip.

I went back to my parents house to visit them for a couple of months, with my partner, that I met during my travels. We visited family and friends, traveled around a bit and left again for our next adventures around the world. Back to New Zealand, then to Spain, and now we live in Germany.

This journey changed my life completely. It brought me uncountable blessings in the form of inspiring ideas, strength and love. It gave a chance to start again.

On the road I found out who Ana Terra was and I fell in love with her for the first time.

Taj Mahal India
By the time I got to India, I was a different person. I had fallen in love with life again!
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