The moment I ‘weally’ knew

When I think about it, I know I should have done it sooner. It was always meant to be but something I shied away from for a long time. Reason for this is I always thought I would never be any good at it, with my past experience leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. I believed that I would not be able to make any difference, however small.

At 20, I made my escape from the UK to the smog filled Beijing. I was running not from home but mostly myself, not wise enough to realise that wherever you go there you are. I was riddled with loneliness and culture shock that gradually became worse with each day that passed. My days were filled with DVD’s in a bid to escape my reality and I slowly but surely lost my mind. I was also a terrible teacher. So completely absorbed in my own pain and misery that I could barely fathom a smile, never mind provide entertainment at a school that relished an all singing and dancing foreign English teacher. The grey sky and the sun – which was barely traceable through the polluted air – added to my constant state of melancholy. I tried desperately to ‘stick it out’. Ashamed to admit defeat and have family view me as some sort of disappointment, I continued to go through the motions, teaching a few short hours a day and rushing back home to climb back into an unmade bed. As one of the only foreigners in the entire area, having any social interaction was difficult and as the days went by, the urge to meet people diminished. I finally cracked and went back to the UK – tail between my legs – promising myself that I would never go into teaching again as I was awful and no student should have to suffer having a teacher like me.

Fast forward eight years and I am sitting in the ‘farangs’ Temple living room area. The table we sit at is made of solid wood, carved with various elephant figures wandering the Thai jungle. The seats that we sit on are so heavy to move that usually I don’t bother, and merely slide myself between the table and chair. They are solid and are also carved into elephant heads, each detail finely perfected. It is bitterly cold and we are both wrapped up in our scarves and woolly hats. I – with my great suitcase planning and bringing mostly summer wear – am wearing every layer, including my pyjamas under my 8 precept whites. Nursing my coffee to counteract the cold we begin our lesson. It’s all about grammar and today is all about the should, shouldn’t and couldn’t. I had managed to scrape together some sort of lesson from the paperwork I had lugged from Bangkok to Fang. Using this we sat, starting with general conversation before getting into the nitty-gritty.

My lovely student – a 41-year-old Chinese woman who has lived in Fang all her life – is able to hold a conversation at elementary level and has no idea how to use these words – should, shouldn’t and couldn’t – in a sentence, never mind their meaning. We get to work, with this being the opportune time to put my CELTA training to work. We sit side by side in the cold. Two Temple dogs sit, nibbling their flees at our feet and looking up at us expectantly with their big brown eyes. I hear the other ‘farangs’ chatting away under hushed breath. The sweeping of the hand-made broom echoes through corridor into the meeting area. With each completed task my student looks up at me, needing reassurance. I tell her that she is indeed correct. ‘Weally?’ she asks, eyes widening in disbelief and a glimmer of hope. ‘Yes. Really’. And in that moment something happens. I begin to fill with a warmth that starts from my head and runs right through my toes. I have never felt so good. Better than any night on the town with the promise of more alcohol. Not the dancing or flirting with random guys. Not the belly aching laughter of a night with friends. Not grabbing the last ‘must have’ item in the sale. No, nothing compared to this feeling of knowing that my student was ‘getting it’. Feeling her hopeful energy that lingered in the air. We both looked at each other – glowing – and in that moment I knew that this was what I was meant to do. I am meant to teach.

Off to a bang in Luang Prabang

Well, what a great way to greet a brand spanking new year with a rip-roaring hangover. Not even good old noodle soup can cure the skin crawling, stomach churning symptoms, caused by quadruple whisky shots and random cocktails. It also cannot cure the hangover blues. That particularly nasty side effect that they do not pre-warn on the bottle. Eugh, they should state:

Please enjoy this lethal concoction which will immediately increase confidence in ones abilities, particularly anything involving dancing on furniture, singing, trying the splits and generally thinking that you are the best thing since sliced bread. Please be warned that once these few short hours of bliss have passed, you will experience the harsh reality of your life and see all your true faults as they really are. Not only will you look and feel like shit, you will feel completely disillusioned with your place and purpose on the planet and may be subjected to thoughts of ‘what is the point in it all’ before burying yourself under the duvet for hours on end. The only cure for this is to either have another beer (not recommended) or overeat (be prepared for bloating and more self loathing should you choose this option).

I chose both as I have no self-discipline, especially in the hung-over state that I’m in. Welcome 2014, and nice to meet you Luang Prabang.

Oh Luang Prabang. What can I say? We didn’t get off to a good start and to be fair I was fairly critical of you. My first impression was just ‘touristy’. I was surprised at the amount of tourists that filled the streets and could forget for a moment that I was in Asia and instead have stumbled upon a small European town. Bags, scarves of every colour imaginable, jewellery, genie pants, throws, cushion covers and coffee/shake bars galore. I must say that I instantly wanted to leave, feeling strangely unwelcome. The locals smiles were few and far between but I’m sure (and after researching Luang Prabang further) it is simply the exhaustion of dealing with the ‘Farangs’, who could be extremely obnoxious and rude. Not all, of course. Most foreigners are completely respectful of the local culture and customs.

Although it was a rough start, I have slowly succumbed to your charm. Move away from the tourist markets and you can wander the streets and smile with the locals, without having to weave through the hoards of people in the main market area. Although not as cheap as Thailand it is certainly a hell of a lot cheaper than the UK, giving opportunity to splurge on the delicious foods and in particular the coconut shakes, with pretty much taste like liquid Bounty filling. Although Luang Prabang would not automatically pop to ones mind when deciding where to celebrate the arrival of 2014, we were not disappointed. The Khammany Inn where we stayed prepared a great party with whisky on tap. We drank, nibbled on various appetisers and danced until 9pm before making our way to the infamous Utopia, where we continued to drink cocktails. Come the countdown, we went outside to the courtyard area where hoards of fellow travellers sat around a massive bonfire. Sand between the toes, Chinese lanterns were set off into the star infested sky with hopes and wishes for the new year. Countdown complete, Edwin and I stumbled through the streets, stopping to devour noddle soup from one of the street stalls. The bars continued to play out their tunes, well into the early hours of the morning with the 12am curfew being lifted for the special occasion. Walking back towards our hostel, a  group of locals welcomed us to drink with them and celebrate, which was a perfect way to end the evening.

Yes, I have certainly warmed to you Luang Prabang. Your laid back, quiet way of life certainly grown on me. You are a place where one can go to relax, catch up on reading, walk and see beautiful historical buildings, people watch and contemplate love, life and the universe. You can eat great food, grab a cold beer and procrastinate in the many coffee shops, bars and restaurants. No, this is not a party town so don’t expect to be parting until the early hours of the morning (New years being the exception). This is ‘quiet’ time, where you can lose yourself in the traditional Lao architecture with hints of the European influence, which add to its charm. Take a book and lay down on the cushions in Utopia with an ice cold Lao beer and just be.

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Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang

Laos scenery by bus

After searching frantically for where to go next after such an amazing stay at the Temple in Fang, Edwin and I decided on Luang Prabang. My plan was Bali, with visions of peaceful bliss, sitting on a deck chair sipping on cocktails. Instead we decided to see what Laos has to offer, with promises from fellow travellers of gorgeous Temples, amazing scenery and even better food.

We scoped out travel information on how to get there with our options being;

  •  Fly – which would take 1 hour and cost £100,
  •  Bus and slow boat – which would take a few days, time that we didn’t have seen as I had already booked the hotel
  • Bus – which would take 22 hours, give or take.

We went for the bus option. Mainly because not only was it cheaper at 1,500 baht but also allowed us to take in the views of Laos as we travelled through.

So, if you wish to take a bus here is what you do. You can’t book your seat online, so you will need to go to the main bus station in Chiang Mai. There, ask the information desk and they will point you to the Luang Prabang booth. There you will choose your seat (depending on what seats are left of course) and provide your passport information. You are advised to be at the bus station for 7.30am with the intention to leave around 8am. Remember this is Thailand and everything is on Thai time. After taking our seats on the single-decker bus, the driver then gave out blankets, water, iced coffee and snacks which meant that we left at 8.45am. The toilet at the rear of the bus is kept clean by the bus attendant. You will be given snacks here and there and are provided with lunch from 7-11. Mine was chilli prawns and rice which was actually very tasty. There were 3 stops along the way so you can stretch your legs, with the last stop being somewhere remote in Laos where you can buy dinner from one of the many restaurants. This stop was around 7pm, so be prepared to wait a long time in the journey to have a proper dinner, especially as the 7-11 dinner is a small. If you have a big appetite, you will get hungry. If this is the case, bring your own snacks to keep hunger at bay.

For your visa

Most of us on board did not have a visa for Laos. I had read somewhere through my research beforehand, that the bus does not wait for people to get their visa. With this in mind, unnecessary panic came over us when we arrived at immigration, making us practically run off the bus to get our visa in fear of being left behind in no-mans land. Do not worry. When you get to the Thai boarder you will go with the many other travellers to have your passport stamped as leaving Thailand. You then board the bus to be taken a few minutes along the road to Laos immigration. There you will fill in a form, provide one passport photo (have a few photos handy as on the form they state 3 copies are needed but they only took one) and pay $35. It is a fairly quick process, depending of course on the number of travellers there. The bus drivers will wait for you and as always with the wonderful world of bus travel in Thailand, they will do a final count before they continue on the journey, just to ensure no one gets left behind. You will be given a one month visa, which is very pretty in your passport and deserves a photo opportunity.

Once aboard, be prepared for the next stretch of the journey. Not only will the scenery take your breath away but you will also be just a little shit scared at the drops that plummet on either side of the narrow road. Of course, research shows that these are dangerous roads, so if you can knock yourself out on a sleeping tablet then all the better. The great thing about this journey is you sleep through the night, arriving at 6.30am so ‘jet’ lag is kept to a minimum.

The journey is incredibly bumpy and uncomfortable, especially though the night from around 12am to 6am, where I felt myself being lifted from my seat with every bump in the road. It is by no means a comfortable journey but it is cheap and you do get to see the amazing scenery and I especially loved the drive past the village homes, where our driver threw chocolate bars and sweets out to the children.

Laos village on route to Luang Prabang

You get to see the great rivers, misty mountains and vast jungle on your long journey before arriving in Luang Prabang. There be prepared to pay 100 baht to the tuk-tuk who will take you to your final destination, which for us was the khammany Inn, where we could recoup from the journey.

Mind games

Mindfulness. The definition is as follows;

Mindfulness refers to a psychological quality that involves
bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-t0-
moment basis,

or involves
paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally,

or involves
a kind of non elaborative, non-judgmental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Personally I believe mindfulness is realising how much of a time wasting idiot you’ve been for the last God knows how many years. Take for example my recent outing on alms with two monks from the temple. We walked towards the nearest town and as it was 6am, it was fairly quiet, except for the temple dogs, snapping at each other and the market being set up for the morning. The sky was still dark and the air was bitterly cold. We walked in single file, giving a generous amount of space between us. There is of course no conversation, with the main focus on each step and the rising and falling of the breath. My mind, on the other hand, had other ideas and instead of silent, thoughtful action, I had at least 3 imaginary arguments in my mind with various people. Some I do not even speak to on monthly, let alone daily basis.

I became aware of my mind then wandering down the ‘who will make the coffee when we get back’. I actually went through the whole scenario. I really don’t want to make the coffee. If I make one coffee, I have to make 6. Then certain people will be indecisive and then it will take longer for me to have the coffee. Why can’t people make their own coffee. I’m sick of making coffee’. On and on this went while we silently walked the street. Finally, I became aware of these thoughts and realised that all the actions involved in making a coffee are neither good nor bad. Getting the cups from the dryer is neutral. Putting a teaspoon full of coffee in each cup is again neutral. Adding milk, neutral. Adding water and stirring are again all neutral, so why the hell was my mind making this into a chore of mammoth proportion. I took a combination of actions that are neither good nor bad and labelled then as something horribly inconvenient.

The amount of times I do this uncountable. I realise I have no idea where I am or where I’ve been in my mind, most of the time. I am neither here nor there, existing in the no-mans land of the mind. I watch a beautiful sunrise, but I’m not there. I am already thinking ‘That’s a beautiful sunrise, I must get my camera…Oh I could post it on Facebook. Haven’t posted a sunrise before. I wonder what effect I can create with Photoshop. I bet my sister would love a picture’. It is exhausting. I have no idea how we are even functioning anymore as the majority of us are not even ‘here’. I spent that walk – what is a moving and humbling experience – in my own world. I also not only thought about the coffee situation but had imaginary heated arguments with multiple colleagues, who I no longer work with and will probably never see again.

I know there are multiple books on being present and in the ‘now’. These books are certainly helpful and incredibly inspirational. Although its one thing to read about it and another to experience it. No wonder I sleep so much. My mind is exhausted with the constant imaginary arguments, wanting, needing, criticising and judging.

I want my ego to leave. As far as I’m concerned it has been a horrendous ‘flat mate’, causing so much drama and confusion. It constantly lies and makes imaginary situations up, just to stress me out and make me miserable. Plus being on a silent retreat makes you really aware of how loud and unruly it really is. The problem is, is that it’s really comfortable where it is and it’s going to take a lot of work to be free from this ‘self’ that was created many, many years ago. No one wants to leave somewhere so cosy and accommodating but I’m afraid there is just no room for the both of us. The eviction process continues….

The good path

Following the 8 precepts.

1. Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.

I have lost count of the times I have swatted flies, smacked mosquitos and squashed ants. When I was younger I was given a potato gun which brought immense joy. Every kid on the street had one and hours were spent finding potato’s, digging out the flesh with the gun and firing at everyone and everything. This included – in particular flies, in which I would practice shooting at them whilst they were still and completely unaware, delighting in my increasingly accurate aim.

It seems to be an unconscious reaction. When a mosquito lands on your arm, you immediately swat it. You know that their bite will itch and possibly hurt. Plus there are the diseases that they carry. You are certainly not going the welcome that mosquito with love, sending out thoughtful welcoming vibes ‘what’s mine is yours little fella’. So how did I fare on the first precept? Pretty damn good, if I may say so myself. Swatting was replaced by either waving them away or blowing them away. Ants, I would side step and if any were squished it was completely accidental. A few days into the meditation retreat I saw a beast of a mosquito in my room. My first reaction was to kill it. Then this changed to how I could get it out of my room harmlessly, whilst mentally congratulating myself at becoming much more mindful. I got some tissue and grabbed it, opened the door and was ready to let it go before realising I had accidently squished it. Oh the guilt!!! Never would I have thought I would be so guilty over a mosquito. I silently hoped it was just in shock and would magically come back to life. It didn’t and I felt terrible.

2. Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given. 

You may automatically think of stealing. Yes this is PART of it but it is also means taking ANYTHING that is not yours. For example, you see a gorgeous, red juicy apple in the fruit bowl. Its not yours but you reason that there are plenty of other apples in the bowl and what the hell, its just an apple! Ah no, its still not yours. This goes for helping yourself to someone’s coffee, sugar, milk. Even borrowing. You may be borrowing for just a minute but the owner of the item could well have needed it in that minute and therefor you have caused the other person ‘dukkha’ however small and seemingly unimportant the item is. I certainly became aware that I ‘borrowed’ quite a bit, or if there was a pack of biscuits, I reasoned that there were plenty of biscuits in the pack, so I would help myself. Although it was not difficult to follow, it really made me aware of my past actions. Guess that’s the whole point, becoming mindful of each action.

3. Abrahmacariya veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual activity.

Oh this was so easy that there is no need to me to so into great length. You’re at a temple, surrounding by monks. You are not going to get any action so refraining really is an easy task. Outside of the temple would be a different story of course.

4. Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.

Hmmm, now this was difficult for some of us. Incorrect speech not only includes lying, but also gossiping or exaggerating even slightly. Although I refrained somewhat from incorrect speech, my mind could not be controlled. When you are living with people 24/7 certain traits begin to grate on ones nerves. This is inevitable and it really is a test of patience. Sitting at dinner and hearing the scraping sound of the spoon against the teeth drove me to the brink of insanity, mentally cursing the person responsible for creating such a grating sound. Of course I never spoke the words of frustration but I thought it, causing myself ‘dukkha’. It is difficult, especially in the real world. My friend would start the ‘incorrect’ speech with the comment ‘its not incorrect speech if its true’ to which I would reply ‘If you think they would be upset if they heard you, don’t say it’. To which he was complain in frustration as he really wanted to say what he felt he needed to say. Yes its hard to follow, especially in the ‘real’ world but there comes a time where you realise that not only is it a waste of energy but it makes you feel like crap too. Gossip, however harmless is waste of time. Plus, haven’t you got anything better to do with your time? Is you life that dull that you need to obsess about other peoples lives and actions?

5. Suramerayamajja pamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness

Again, same as precept number 3. You are in the middle of nowhere, with limited night life and drinking opportunities. Again, in the ‘real’ world it is more difficult. For me its not the drugs but the drink. Can I say that I will never drink a glass or red again? No, definitely not and I know that for sure. It is something that I enjoy in moderation. I know this is seen as attachment and that is probably true, and I’m ok with that. I know that I can go for weeks without alcohol but I only know that now. Two months ago, I was drinking everyday. Wine mostly but also brandy. I also know I was drinking more than I would like to admit, using it to chase the unhappiness away. At least I know I can live without it peacefully but I am not ready to give up a glass of wine with dinner.

6. Vikalabhojana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from eating at the forbidden time (i.e., after noon).

This was the most difficult for all 3 of us following the 8 precepts and the one that I had the most difficulty following. I realised that by following this particular precept that food really does have a huge hold on me. It caused me the most ‘dukkha’ throughout the stay. My mind revolves around food. If we were running late and I knew that I was not going to get to eat until 11.50 (giving me 10 minutes to stuff myself) my anger would reach boiling point. If people were indecisive with their order, I would become furious. Stuffing myself, because I knew I would not get to eat until the next day made me furious. I started to enjoy food less as it became a countdown. The amount we would eat, just to pack as much in as possible was disgusting. Yes, I must admit, I felt better for not eating after 12pm but the amount of stress, especially if time was running out to have the last meal of the day, became overwhelming irritating. Also, breaking the precept, for example Christmas day, just brought guilt and eliminated all enjoyment.

7. Nacca-gita-vadita-visukkadassana mala-gandha-vilepana-dharana-mandana-vibhusanathana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from dancing, singing, music, going to see entertainments, wearing garlands, using perfumes, and beautifying the body with cosmetics.

Difficult to say the least. I certainly became mindful of how much I sing. Even humming which can be automatic, especially when we were completing chores. My friend and I began singing the chanting out of desperation, which worked surprising well. Not wearing make-up made me realise my attachment to beautification. Putting on my ‘face’ is an everyday ritual and I felt particularly vulnerable without it. I did use deodorant so I guess I broke this precept but I was not prepared to stink up my clothes and ruin other peoples experience with my nasty body odour.

8. Uccasayana-mahasayana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from lying on a high or luxurious sleeping place.

Easy to follow as the beds were hard and getting your own fluffy mattress was certainly not going to happen. After a while, you become used to it. Apparently it does wonders for your back as you are completely straight when you lie down. Also with 4.30 am starts on some days, your so knackered you will sleep anywhere.

Following the precepts certainly made me much more aware of my thoughts and actions.  Causing me to think more carefully, questioning my thoughts and becoming mindful with each pause.

Temple christmas

Its 6am and I am up, tip toeing along the creaky floor boards to get my morning caffeine fix. I see Edwin in the corridor and we wish each other a Merry Christmas under hushed breath, giggling at how surreal it is to be having Christmas here, in the temple. We wander to the market – wrapped in multiple layers – for our daily dose of banana and coconut sticky rice and fried bread (sort of like friend donuts but not sweet).

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At 7am we take our places in the parlour for morning chanting with the lay people. As the chanting comes to an end we stand in rows and place sticky rice in the alms bowls of each monk, before taking our seats to chant and meditate together. The air is bitterly cold and I watch my breath as it exhales into the winter air, whilst listening to the hypnotic voices that echo through the parlour. At 8am its time for breakfast and grabbing our bowls we go to join the monks in the dinner area. Graham warns us that there will not be much food and both Edwin and I are happy about that, having filled up on donuts and sticky rice. We are also preparing for the Christmas feast so we’re trying to refrain from over stuffing ourselves. I picked up just coconut rice wrapped in a banana leaf which satisfied my sweet tooth. This minimal breakfast did not go unnoticed by one of the novice monks who was obviously checking to see that we would eat enough, as after breakfast he hands over a bag of food to Graham. ‘For Amy, she didn’t have much to eat’. That right there made my Christmas. Just how thoughtful and kind that one would be so aware of other at such a young age. Graham didn’t have the heart to tell him the real reason and that the communal kitchen was stuffed with alms food from the generosity of the people.

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At 10am we mad our way to Graham’s house, where his wife Mew had cooked up a feast. Barbeque chicken, noodles, coconut curry, rice, and greens were laid out for us. It was the best chicken I have ever eaten. Mew had decorated to the entire place with balloons and tinsel. As soon as we had made ourselves comfortable,  Mew  got out hard-boiled eggs for where each of us (including the monks) had to draw a picture. ‘Isn’t this an Easter activity?’ we asked, to which Graham explained that she had seen it somewhere and had now adopted it for every celebration. Not that we were complaining, as all attention was on the task. Edwin got really into drawing Christmas holly, with multiple coloured pencils, while I went for a ‘spring day’ image. After the art competition, it was Secret Santa time where each of us picked a number and claimed our gift. I received a massive teddy which was later given to one of the young novice monks who had his eye on it for while.

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Sitting around the BBQ, we began making the Papaya salad, grinding the garlic and chilli’s together with the tiny shrimp and crab. We chopped up the Mango into this strips to toss together. We then made the salad again, this time with cucumber strips. Still delicious but the mango one was certainly the winner. To finish the feast, hot-pot was served, where we all grilled our pork strips and scooped out the soup, which was brimming with noodles, cabbage, garlic and spice. Needless to say we completely broke our precept of ‘no food after 12pm’ but we did get a free pass from Graham, being Christmas and all. Bellies bursting with fullness, we wandered back to the temple for evening chanting and meditation before having our evening cup of Milo to warm us up.

If you had told me 3 months ago that I would be spending Christmas at a temple with the most generous, loving and kind people one could possible meet, I would never have believed it for a second. From office boredom to Temple Christmas, in just 2 months goes to show you how quickly your life can change, if you let it.

Hill tribe of smiles – Doi Ang Khang

Four of us sat at the back of the Ute. Hat, scarf, multiple layers which included pyjamas (don’t judge, I didn’t expect to head to the north of Thailand!) and we’re off. The air is misty and damp from the recent rain fall. We are all incredibly excited screaming ‘road trip’ from the top of our lungs. I am back to being 14 and on a school trip, all packed and ready for an adventure of the unknown. We are off to stay in the mountains.

From Fang it takes around 45 minute of incessant climbing to get to our destination. We climb further and further until the clouds are literally below us. The air is so fresh and clean, it hurts my lungs. It is also unbearably cold, with my knuckles turning white as I cling on to the bars, holding myself up with the wind blowing directly into my face. However it does not dampen the mood and merely adds to the anticipation of each bend in the road and the feeling of pure freedom that emanates from each of us. We comment in awe at the vast forest and intimidating mountains that seem to be endless in the distance. One, behind another, all different sizes creates such a breath-taking image.

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We arrive at the local village, Doi Angkhang, fairly fresh-faced from the open air journey. Taking in my surroundings and popping my ears from the pressure of being so high in the mountains, I take a deep breath.

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There is a small mud road, with shacks that line either side. I spot roosters and chickens that are chasing each other through the mud, clucking wildly. Pigs run and squeal beside us and the dog’s eye us suspiciously, their fur matted with the mud that has become slippery and thick with the recent torrential rain fall. The families watch us, watch them. Any eye contact brings massive smiles that fill their faces and radiates such warmth that is makes my heart ache. It makes me think of how important a smile is and that it’s just the best universal ‘language’. It’s easy to do, doesn’t cost a thing and can make such a difference to other people’s day, as well as your own. I thought that if I were to smile at anyone like that in the UK, they would either quickly divert their eyes, embarrassed by such a brazen act, or move away from you immediately, positive that you are obviously unstable. I am free to smile here, and I take advantage of this, smiling at everything.

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We are welcomed into our host’s home. Taking off our shoes (always in Thailand when stepping into someone’s home) we walk into what will be our place to stay for the next few nights. The floor is decorated with a few rugs here and there and I note there is a TV in the corner. Other than that it is completely bare. The host’s mother is sat on the floor smiling and taking in the sight of the new Farangs. We place our things into the corner before setting off to explore the village. We pass many locals in their traditional tribal dress. There is a small shop that sells various meats and vegetables. Children are running everywhere, eyeing us with curiosity and shyness. Their clothes are thick with mud as they jump into the puddles. I look at a group that are playing with marbles on the wooden porch, laughing and giggling, absorbed in the game. I am taken back to being a child again and how hours can be lost, just playing with figurines, cards or even Pogs(remember Pogs?) Why is it when you get older you just seem to lose that ‘fun’? Responsibly, that’s what you may think but that’s rubbish. I can’t say I have a lot of responsibility now, but I could not sit on the floor with figurines and play ‘school’ (what I used to do when I was a kid) for hours on end. I did try it and after 5 minutes though ‘what a ridiculous waste of time’ and quickly placed the toys back in their box to gather dust.

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I watch as three children around 5 years of age, have a cardboard box, split it into three, makes holes in the top and put them on so they are worn on the their hips. With sticks they then start drumming. Your very own self-made band. Amazing. We continue walking 5 minutes and arrive at the Burma border. Two soldiers guard the road and my friend squeals in delight at how handsome they are, running over for a photo opportunity. I also get involved as it would be rude not too! (Any excuse) Childishly I then couldn’t help putting one foot in and one foot out. ‘Burma, Thailand, Burma, Thailand’. All four of us proceed to do this little dance, not once ashamed of our childishness.

Around 6pm we make our way back to our hosts home where we eat dinner, crossed legged on the floor. The food is out of this world delicious. All home cooked by the hosts sister-in-law. There is a home-made chilli, lime and coriander sauce, chicken soup with big chunks of chicken, spicy pork which had been cooked in bamboo and roasted on the fire, various vegetables, fried with tasty secret recipe sauces and plenty of rice. It was a feast. After dinner it was straight to bed. All four of us sleeping on mattresses on the floor, listening to the rain outside.

The next day we crossed the border into Burma for the small market. I could not control myself, coming away with heaps of handmade scarfs made by the village people. Fisherman’s pants, bags, scarfs, jewellery, honey and other suspicious potions and animal heads were there to buy.

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After throwing baht left right and centre, we made our way to another local village for lunch. After filling our stomachs with glass noodles, rice and chicken we make our way to the flower garden. 50 baht entry and we were in to explore the fields of poppies, rows of roses and many other exotic, breath-taking plants that stood to attention. After we were satisfied with taking in so many colours and natural beauty we made our way back to our host’s home to again eat home-made food and drink rice wine that had us deep in philosophical conversations around the bonfire.

Next day after waiting for 4 hours for the torrential rain to subside we made our way back to the temple. Hearts full of the warmth of the hill tribe people and the kindness we experienced.