Yoga in Sri Lanka – 7 Amazing Places to Practice

Yoga in Sri Lanka – 8 Great Places to Practice

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It’s taken me a while to get around to shortlisting places to do yoga in Sri Lanka. Hell, it’s taken me a while to get around to writing anything about Sri Lanka. I’ve found this becomes customary when you become preoccupied with having an incredible time somewhere and forget to keep track of any ‘work-related’ obligations you may have set for yourself… Sri Lanka definitely had this effect on me!

While Bali has become notorious for yogis the world around, much thanks to Julia Roberts’ ‘Eat Pray Love’ and also due to just being damn beautiful, I visited several places in Sri Lanka during my travels there which made me wonder that it hasn’t been overwhelmed with tourists and travellers of the spiritual-seeking variety yet (touches wood).
It may be that it’s only on the brink of being discovered as the ideal yoga/retreat destination, and if so, this list of places to do yoga in Sri Lanka might be of use to you!

Surf ‘n Yoga

As it’s no secret that the waves here are some of the best in the world, most recently the trend of ‘surf and yoga’ businesses has exploded around the coastlines of Sri Lanka. It’s with this in mind that one might wonder if yoga in Sri Lanka is on it’s way to becoming the next Bali, nestled comfortably in between the crazy, incessant localised chaos of India and the tourist-ridden beaches of Kuta and Seminyak. I found it to be a nice balance between the two extremes. And isn’t that what yoga is all about? Either way, here’s 7 places you can do yoga in Sri Lanka without blowing the budget during your travels here.

 

7 Places to do Yoga in Sri Lanka:

  1. Sri Yoga Shala, Unawatuna

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    Savasana at Sri Yoga Shala (pic: www.retreatnetwork.com)

    This beautiful shala is situated away from the main road just outside Unawatuna and specialises in catering for retreats and teacher trainings. They also have a daily class schedule, hold regular workshops and courses too, and are situated in stunningly peaceful jungle surroundings covered in greenery! Eva and her husband who run it also own the restaurant down on Wijaya beach just opposite the turn for Sri Yoga Shala, and are planning to open a ‘Garden Kafé’ at the shala soon – they’re also some of the nicest people I’ve ever met! The only fault (if you can call it that) I could find with Sri Yoga Shala is that they don’t offer accommodation, but there are plenty of home stays and guesthouses on the road leading down to the shala where guests can organise lodging at a good price!
    Email: info@sriyogashala.com

    Website/Facebook/Instagram

     

  2. Hangtime Hostel, Weligama

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    I couldn’t possibly write about yoga in Sri Lanka and not include something about the time I spent here. About 30 minutes tuk tuk/scooter ride up the road from Unawatuna you’ll find Weligama and it’s famous surf beach, which stretches as far as the eye can see past the tens of colourful fishing boats docked further up the shore. Backtrack to the centre of the beautiful beach however and you can’t miss Hangtime Hostel, which overlooks many of the local surf-schools and provides comfortable, clean and laid back accommodation for those looking to meet cool people while they break from the surf and – you guessed it – do some yoga. The entire third floor of the hostel has been given to an open air yoga studio where classes take place twice a day overlooking the beach. Couple this with a great rooftop restaurant, group activities and a whole bunch of amazing people to check out the nightlife in Mirissa with (10 mins in a tuk tuk) and you might not want to ever leave either…I know I didn’t!

    Website/Facebook/Instagram/TripAdvisor

     

  3. Yoga at the Hilltop Temple with Rukshan Yoga, Mirissa

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    Hilltop Temple, Mirissa

    This is a bit of an alternative yoga experience, more akin to the random classes along the mountainsides in the Indian Himalayas I attended in McLeodGanj and Dharamkot than the lush shala surroundings of Bali. After locating a hidden stairway along the street in Mirissa and climbing up the (seemingly neverending) steep stone steps to the hilltop temple overlooking the bay, you’ll be greeted by a friendly family and shown into a stone-floored room about 100 metres from a beautiful temple. Here Rukshan will guide you through a short seated meditation, followed by a walking barefoot meditation out and all around the temple. You’ll participate in Buddhist puja blessings in silence, and slowly guide yourself back to the hall for some asana practice which focuses mainly on how to correctly align oneself and others into the poses, rather than just flowing through them. An interesting experience lasting longer than your average drop-in class (1hr 30mins), and great views to boot!

    Maps:
    Website/Facebook/Tripadvisor

     

  4. Hideaway,  Arugam Bay

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    Arugam Bay is one of the most popular hubs for surfing and yoga in Sri Lanka. During high season here it resembles the bustling, tourist surf resorts of Bali and it’s easy to forget sometimes that road signs come with warnings of elephants crossing and that pumpkin curry is readily available along the street (YUM). Hideaway is a boutique hotel that was above my backpacking budget to stay in, yet luckily offers drop-in yoga classes daily for anyone every day in their outdoor shala. The amazing healthy café (with an actual table up in a treehouse) serves up a variety of yummy breakfast and lunch options with an emphasis on healthy vegetarian/vegan noms too, and the funky surroundings and decor of the place really just added to the whole experience…I spent several days just going to yoga here and chilling drinking coconut milk coffees in hammocks. Bliss.

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    Website/Facebook/Tripadvisor

     

  5. Talalla Surf n’ Yoga Retreat, Talalla

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    Yoga at Tallala (pic: Bookyogaretreats.com)

    While this place unfortunately came in well over my backpacking budget for Sri Lanka to stay in, I did make several good friends and spoke to many people during my travels who had stayed here too. Fortunately they also provide drop-in classes daily so you can check it out for yourself and see the beautiful shala surroundings! Reviews of the retreats also seemed extremely positive and if the website is anything to go by I’m definitely going to have to stay here whenever I find myself in Sri Lanka again. They offer a few different options for retreats, classes, treatments, and packages for both surfing and yoga, and you don’t have to be a pro or seasoned practitioner to partake – anyone can go!

    Website/Facebook/Instagram/TripAdvisor

    6. Bay Vista Arugam, Arugam Bay

     

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    Another boutique hotel in the Arugam Bay area which offers daily yoga classes, this time on the rooftop. Drop-ins make up most of the clientel and the classes vary from some pilates-based exercises to vinyasa flow classes with a stunning view of the beach and coastline (‘Bay Vista’…). Bay Vista is directly across the road from Hideaway and to be honest I went just as often to this place for yoga as I went to Hideaway, depending on what times suited best – both places will have signs out on the road with their class times and they are always just slightly different . This worked out extremely well and you get to try some different styles and teachers – one of the main things I love about travelling with yoga in Sri Lanka (and elsewhere)!
    Website/ Facebook/ TripAdvisor

     

    7. Camp Poe, Ahangama

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    Another hidden gem off the beaten track, Camp Poe is a secluded retreat centre/campsite offering boutique camping surf and yoga experiences in Ahangama on the road to Unawatuna. Camp Poe places an emphasis on cultivating creativity and drawing its guests together to share experiences. Just away from the private tents there is a delightfully bright and colourful hangout area with bookshelves, beanbags, hammocks, and peaceful nooks and crannies for reading, writing, singing, or just chilling out. Yoga takes places twice a day and is also available for drop in classes, not just to those partaking in the retreat. As the camp is situated a little away from the shoreline, a scooter or tuk tuk is necesssary to get to the beach/into town, but this actually adds to the tranquility and ensures you ultimate space to let your creativity flourish.

    Website/Facebook/Tripadvisor

     

What Solo Travel (and Yoga) Has Taught Me

What Solo Travel (and Yoga) Has Taught Me

To thrive. To flourish.

To take all that I am, and everything I’ve encountered, and to blend them into something new. To use what I’ve been given, and to nourish it so it reaches its highest and furthest potential.
This is what I’m taking away from my current travel experiences coming to a brief hiatus as I return home slightly earlier than planned for Christmas.

‘We are the sum of all of our past experiences“, they say and so, I am a unique blend of everything and everywhere I have been. Everyone I’ve encountered. And all that currently surrounds me.

These past 5 months have been an incredible journey. A journey through some of the most beautifully stunning and culturally rich places I’ve ever been. A journey through some of the most difficult emotions and mental limitations I’ve grown accustomed to placing on myself. A journey out of my comfort zone, out of my perception of comfort zones…
A journey with myself, by myself, to myself.

To Open Up

Everyone I’ve encountered along the way has shaped me somehow, just as I have (however minutely) impacted their journey. I’ve opened up in ways I was barely even aware was possible – I’ve learnt that remaining open is to become malleable to new experiences. My journey with yoga has allowed me to open. Open up the channels of energy I had allowed anxiety to close. Engage in open communication. Open and honest interactions, softly allowing the essence of myself I lost somewhere along the way between puberty and the end of my college years to return, frightened as it was of what others would think, what they would see….
I now know how little any of that matters. I not only know it, but I live it.
Because here’s the thing.

Travelling can be difficult, but it’s even more fucking difficult if you hate yourself.

Nobody wants to talk to the frowning weirdo in the corner who glances at herself in the reflection of every shiny surface and glares jealously at the big groups of new travel-friends all having fun at the bar. Sure, they might have issues, but nobody on a trip is going to want to be bogged down with some stranger’s lack of self-esteem, lack of balance and life lived in fear of the world around them.
We’re all here to see as much as we can, mate, it’s up to you to hold yourself together long enough to get there.

To Be Steady

And what is travelling, when you do it right, but living your life and moving, discovering, remaining and being yourself somewhere other than in your own home? Changing surroundings beg the need for a constant and steady spirit to successfully move through them, and so I’ve found a kind of satisfactory balance here somewhere in the midst of all this movement.

To Take Things Less Seriously

Taking yourself too seriously is not an option when every unknown turn in a new city could lead you into anxiety-inducing situations. Trusting yourself becomes the number one priority, and your own judgement becomes the only thing that really leads the way when you leave home with no particular direction or plan – you learn to just go with it. Taking things less seriously, but ensuring you remain steady within it. Humbly balancing out what we have, moving through it with grace and ease, going where we can and taking our bodies and minds on a modest journey through the bigger picture.

Because the bigger picture will always be the bigger picture, and we will always be just one little pixel in that grand tapestry that creates our perception of the images around us.

Our job is simply to ensure that our pixel shines as bright, as clear and as strong as it possibly can be. That’s all we can ever hope to achieve. In surrendering to the powerlessness and lack of control, we ironically gain it for ourselves.

That Comfort Zones Don’t Exist

Allowing that little dot to thrive and really believing in its’ worth is vital if we want to progress anywhere in life. For some people, this comes naturally to them. For others, we must assert ourselves and realign with these beliefs time and time again, repeatedly acknowledging our sense of worth and maintaining a persistent awareness of the things that put this balance at risk. Travelling through uncertain areas, with unknown associates and changeable destinations requires a certain sense of self and strength that I never ever believed possible for me, and yet here I am. I’ve met some incredible people, seen beautiful places, experienced lifestyles and norms so contrasting to my own comfort zone and everyday life that I’ve come to realise ‘comfort zone’ is just a label we put on ourselves to justify staying still.

Through yoga, through solo travel, and through combining them both, I have come to see movement as the one key aspect of life that helps us maintain a balanced and healthy mindset, and I’m excited to see how I will progress forwards with this newfound understanding. Moving on, moving away from damaging behaviours, moving ever onwards and avoiding stagnancy at all costs – this journey has really only begun.

Solo in Sri Lanka; Kandy to Dambulla

So after just over a week of taking in the cultural sights and ‘must-see’ landscaped treasures of Sri Lanka, paying altogether a hell of a lot more money for absolutely everything than I have been for the past month in India, I have arrived in Arugam Bay (aka probably the hottest and most touristic place I’ve ever been). Even in Uganda, I don’t remember it being this sweltering, although admittedly the lifestyle and everyday activities differed quite a bit, yoga and surfing being the order of the day here coupled with a sickening amount of loved up couples and families intent on spending every moment browsing for elephant pants and drinking cocktails on the beach. Not a bad life, in fairness. But far more expensive than what I’ve become accustomed to.

After a night at First Hostel in Negombo, I travelled East to Kandy in the hopes of witnessing the infamous Esala Perahera festival – a yearly occurrence which as a happy accident fell during my stay in Sri Lanka this year. I was excited, to say the least, with the promise of a traditional Buddhist elephantine ceremonial festival, the kind with lights and music and costumes the likes of which I’ve only ever seen on tv (and let’s face it, Instagram too)!

I won’t go into it too much, but suffice it to say that as a spectacle the Perahera amazes and does what you’d hope it to after crowds beginning to gather along the streets from 2 in the afternoon to wait hours in their spot until sunset. It’s fascinating and mesmerizing to watch the never-ending troupes of dancers, drummers and fire acrobats proceed up the street interspersed with extravangently dressed and decorated elephants. The feet of these elephants are chained so tightly they can only take tiny steps of about one foot a time, while their eyes somehow see out through slits in heavy, embroidered material draped over them from trunk to toe and making them resemble giant blundering tea cosies. Very beautiful giant blundering tea cosies. But let’s not forget that these are extremely intelligent, graceful, and powerful animals. Moreso than humans, when in their natural habitat.

How would you feel being forced to wear a tea cosy draped with Christmas lights and made walk up and down streets to be photographed night after night??
This, combined with the inherent whipping of the ground which signalled the beginning of the procession and more than likely served as a means of terrifying the elephants into complying, was distressing to witness and I instantly disconnected from the whole experience, festival atmosphere dwindling as each depressed and gloomy looking elephant blindly lumbered past. As I said, the spectacle of the parade was great, and the lights and costumes enough to warrant the fame and draw of the Perahera. I just couldn’t see past the chains.

From Kandy I took a public bus to Dambulla for only 100 Sri Lankan Rupees (less than a euro) which was fine considering the trip was only 3 hours long and I actually managed to get a seat. The journey back was a different story. More on that later.
Robert’s Inn in Dambulla proved a welcoming and entertaining guesthouse stay, with tours and excursions to the surrounding area available at the mere mention of a temple (Robert is very enthusiastic), and a very hospitable family in general. The town of Dambulla itself is fairly downbeat and local, but there are hundreds of tiny guesthouses and homestays tucked away down dust roads such as the one I stayed, nearly all of which offer independent guided tours and jeep excursions to the things to see in the area, which are all quite spread out and make jeep and tuk-tuk rides an unfortunate necessity. They’re not all that bad though, and considering I saw some wild elephants and climbed a pretty cool rock I wasn’t altogether bothered to have to fork out some extra rupees on transport.

This brings me on to my next point – Sigiriya Rock. Don’t do it. Several travellers I met in India had warned me about it and the expenses of Sri Lankan tourist attractions as a whole, but like anything else, the full extent and expense of the place was lost on me until I had spent a few days here and experienced it for myself. Sigiriya Rock is one of the most recognised attractions in Sri Lanka, and is part of the ‘cultural triangle’, of which I only completed one acute angle, as expenses convinced me otherwise. Because of this (as is the case with a lot of India) the entrance fees and add-on taxes for foreign guests have become extortionate in recent years. In order to dodge this in Dambulla, myself and some friendly Slovenians opted to climb Pidurangala Rock – directly opposite Sigiriya and substantially less swamped with slow-paced tourists with deep pockets and thoroughly unsuitable footwear.
This thirty-minute climb – steep steps for the first ten, and thereafter a curious toddler’s dream on hands and knees up through rocks and crevices in an unclear direction,is ultimately completely worth the uncertainty as soon as the peak is reached, the rocks disperse, and all of a sudden you can see across the plains to Sigiriya Rock and beyond to the ends of the earth (or so it seems). I couldn’t help but be awestruck. Smugness materialized then as my eyes adjusted and I spotted clearly the winding line of tourists meandering the way to the summit of the overcrowded sister rock to the one I’d just conquered. The handful of likeminded climbers who had also chosen Pidurangala took turns holding each others cameras and attempting to capture the beauty and isolating freedom of the place – which proved difficult!
The descent was much quicker, and we were back down on the dust track road by 11am.

 That afternoon our host also took us out (for a fee, of course) to Minneriya National Park, a great place to spot elephants in their natural habitat, no chains or silly costumes or lights attached and a terrain that reminded me of Jurassic Park from the get-go. We were lucky to catch huge groups of them grazing peacefully and cutting across the dust paths ahead of our open-topped jeep, in search of more grass and pretty much doing whatever the hell they liked. In the wild!

We also saw herds of wild buffalo, deer, and hundreds of different species of colourful birds and dragonflies, which flitted through the open sides and top of the jeep as we trailed home through the dust. It was pretty magical!
After a night spent fulfilling necessary maintanence work like washing my clothes and budgeting for the unexpected new expenses I’d encountered, I mentally prepared myself for the inevitable day of uncomfortable cross-country travel that lay ahead….

 

What a Month in India Taught Me About Yoga

What a Month in India Taught me About Yoga
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Before I begin I want to make clear that the views expressed here are purely objective and that I’m only going on what I experienced, not an in-depth study or survey.

‘What are the differences between practicing yoga in the West and practicing in India?’

This is a question I’ve been asked quite regularly in recent weeks, having embarked on a solo trip with no definitive end on the basis of exploring the ancient practice and contrasting attitudes towards the study of yoga around the world (well in Asia, anyway).
To be honest, I came to India expecting (or maybe hoping) to experience some sort of revelation when it came to my yoga practice, the stories I’ve heard having inspired me to explore the places most attributed with the origins of yoga and somehow find or realise something I haven’t before by immersing myself completely in a strange country and alternative habits, values, and climates. I wanted to really push my boundaries and experience yoga as a lifestyle properly for a little while, embracing new aspects and styles with unfamiliar surroundings and people – places you don’t see on Instagram or enticing Google adverts boasting a luxury yoga retreat and 5-star accommodation. In a way, that’s kind of what happened.
In another way, it’s not. At all.

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It sounds obvious to me now, but the biggest thing I’ve realised since coming to India is that it really doesn’t matter where, when, why, or how you practice – yoga is both universal and intensely personal. Yoga is as unique to each practitioner as their individual height, weight, hair colour, daily nutritional requirements and sleeping patterns. Each person’s practice is their own, no matter where you do it, for how long, or at what intensity.

Or at least it should be.
Strangely, one of the things that brought me to this realisation was attending classes that seemed very impersonal, and I was surprised to find that some of the guided classes I attended in McLeodGanj (Dharamsala, North Indian province of Himachal Pradesh) in particular lacked in creativity. Disappointingly they felt like going through the motions of a standard fitness class in the gym back home. At the same time, I understood the reasons behind these elements of the practice.
After speaking with several yoga-instructor friends and enthusiasts alike, I came to understand that some of the more established Indian yogis (I won’t name names for obvious reasons) have been doing the same ‘routine’ sequence and practice every day for over 40 years. Because of this, it has become almost mechanical in its routine progression, and one could almost argue that anyone who’s attended enough of the classes to learn the routine by heart could in theory also ‘teach’ a class themselves.
I want to be careful how I vocalise this, but the truth is I found that this sameness has both positive & negative aspects.

On the positive side, the benefits of 40 years of consistent Ashtanga practice are blatantly apparent in the physique and steady, controlled way these yogis speak.
It’s also inspiring to see that the practice itself has become a sort of constant for them, in the way that prayer or religious devotion has for the many Buddhist monks and nuns inhabiting the Northern Himachal Pradesh Himalayas. It’s ritualistic, which can be a valuable thing in a modern world that otherwise lacks rituals.

On the negative side, the lack of creative exploration & facilitation for the fluctuations of the body from day to day during these routines flies in the face of one of my own beliefs about the practice of yoga – that it is a way of accepting and appreciating change with ease and grace, being open to and moving with it, instead of resisting.

I cannot help but marvel at the depth, widespread popularity, and general understanding and acceptance of the entire practice of yoga in India. I have already learned to open up and trust myself and those around me more thoroughly than I thought possible.
For me, this is what yoga is all about – opening up (both physically and mentally) and accepting what is. Trusting what you have and that which is constantly in flux around you, instead of creating unnecessary anxiety worrying about things outside of your control. A feeling of harmony in body and mind. Harmony within your place in the world.
This includes change.

Change and evolution are part of who we are, the only two constant reliable elements of life that we can depend on outside of our own minds. Being able to tolerate and adapt to natural and environmental changes is crucial for so many reasons, and it confused me to see some of the yogis upholding a practice that seemed quite stagnant and repetitive, unbending even. Maybe I’m just too used to attending creative classes that adapt and cater for the elements and our bodies – a rainy day class at home in Yogahub Dublin once focused on shoulder and chest-opening poses in response to the week of horrible weather we’d just experienced, hunched over and hurried pacing a necessity with disregard to posture or discomfort.
But it seemed to me that the whole ‘oh she’s gone to do yoga in India’ myth and expectation of self-understanding and epiphany-gaining experience is exactly that – a myth.

This is what I mean by having an evolving practice. India as a country is still evolving; it is a land of extremes. Colours, tastes, wealth, poverty, heat, rain…you name it, India has an extreme to meet it.

Avoiding extremes and finding balance has been part of my own yogic journey, and I found the almost extreme lifestyle and all-or-nothing vibe of several of the yoga studios and gurus I attended to be somewhat overwhelming and contradictory in their message. That being said, there were several teachers that were more supple in their ideologies and achieved a more rational balance between the unchanging ritual & the realities of a living daily practise, so I can’t be too generalistic here either.

My point in writing this was to express what I’ve learnt, and to disprove the theory that yoga can only be learned correctly or experienced fully by travelling to India. I’m guilty of harbouring beliefs such as this, although deep down I sort of knew the truth for what it is – that yoga is accessible anywhere, to anyone, and in whatever capacity you have to experience it and your own body. Even on a balcony in a tiny hostel in Sri Lanka where the cleaning lady tries to sweep crumbs and dust from within an inch of the mat around you. I’m still practicing. I’m still moving. Evolving, changing. And that’s ok too.

 

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The Importance of Establishing Trust Whilst Travelling

The Importance of Establishing Trust Whilst Travelling

 

 ‘If fear is holding you back just remember that in general, places are safer and people are kinder than you may expect. Discovering this is one of the beautiful benefits of travelling’ – Justin Alexander

“Be careful. Mind yourself. Take care. Be safe.”
Anyone who’s embarked on a journey further than the corner shop or into town for the day has heard the warnings.
What if you get robbed? Knocked down? Attacked? What if you don’t understand what they’re saying?

Travelling places you directly in the firing line to be stifled and stagnated by these often irrational fears – yet also to conquer them. To experience humanity in all it’s confusing and miscommunicative glory, and for once, to let go and trust it.

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Finding and attending sunrise yoga sessions overlooking the Himalayas, meditating on the mountaintop at Tushita, jamming with local and Israeli musicians at Jolly’s and in tiny cafés and bars hidden away down windy paths in the mountains, and some of the best and cheapest monk-made vegetarian food at Tibetan and Indian restaurants where nobody actually speaks any English….2 years ago these things would have seemed impossible and terrifying for me.

I’ve experienced the anxieties, and I’ve now learned to surrender to the language barriers and embrace my fellow humans as the kindred souls they are. As a solo female traveller in particular, the warnings I received about India were enough to make me doubt my decision the entire flight over here. While an element of common sense is required in navigating unfamiliar soil and encountering cultures and people unaccustomed to communicating with pale-skinned, ginger women, in general, my experience here has been altogether more comfortable than the warnings had led me to expect – something which has left me ashamed of my paranoid actions (or lack thereof) on more than one occasion.

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Building bridges

Having become so used to this typically Irish paranoia, self-consciousness, and disinclination to trust ourselves or others we have come to adopt as the norm, I only realise now how much I was limiting myself in denying the natural inclination and need all humans possess to communicate and be open with one another. Given that communication leads to understanding, and understanding lies at the root of any harmonious relationship – be it mind and body, our relationship with ourselves, with friends, family, food – every aspect of our lives, it follows that the initial first step to reach out and interact with another human is often the most daunting, yet rewarding action we can take.
In the travelling/backpacking scene (in Asia, anyway) it may seem easier to speak to and make new acquaintances as everyone seems in the same boat – all secretly sipping beers or coffees in the underlying hope that the attractive guy across the bar will make the first move and ask you to accompany him to see the temple tomorrow (*swoon*).
We need to stop assuming.
We need to take action for ourselves, be more assertive and attentive to our own needs in the moment, and trust whatever natural direction we receive, be it from the kind stranger who just returned a 10 rupee note you dropped by accident, or the vague gestures of locals towards a forest path with not a word of English to accompany their directions. 9 times out of ten you will find their intentions to be genuine and heartfelt, even if their initial scowls or frowny faces may suggest otherwise. Some cultural differences will never change. It’s a shame that I still sometimes feel the apprehension before trusting the directions or unprovoked aid of a local on the street, but I’ve learned finally to open up and trust their lack of agenda for what it is – honesty.

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New friends and good food…

Travelling has helped me see that people aren’t so bad, really.
Discovering the kindness and hospitality of the Indian and Tibetan people I’ve encountered during my short time here has been fulfilling and heartwarming, and part of the reason I’m so reluctant to leave. While I have been careful not to walk too far alone at night or to concern myself with any ‘dodgy’ looking characters, I’ve found it’s the times when I’ve opened my mouth and made the first greeting, comment, or question to a fellow traveller or local that I have been rewarded with a flicker or flame or warmth and friendship – sometimes lasting no longer than a cup of chai, sometimes a whole week of meeting up for yoga classes, activities, or meals. Climbing mountains with new acquaintances and not being afraid to show your true self or embrace your lack of umbrella in a downpour at the Taj Mahal during monsoon season is about as freeing and grounding an experience as any I can hope to ever have again.

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An Irish & an Indian climb a mountain…

After all, aren’t we all just doing our best to keep going? Keep meeting, discovering, and moving onwards to the next destination, even if it’s just down the road? In my experience you are 10 times more likely to encounter kindness than nasty or dangerous behaviour whilst on the road, and discovering the importance of trust and my capacity to remain calm in these situations has already led me to several places and friendships with people and places I never would have experienced had I remained in my ‘safe’ bubble of a hostel room. While an element of self-awareness and common sense is also necessary, the key is to find a balance between overly-analysing the outcome of potential interactions and ultimately ruining them for yourself before they ever happen, and just going with them without thinking. I’ve come to a peaceful middleground where both sides are now available to me, and now just appreciate that I have the opportunity to experience it all.

 

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Bhagsu Waterfall, Dharamsala

 

 

 

10 Times Delhi Made Me Go “Wow”

’10 Times Delhi Made Me Go “Wow”‘

Wonder is a great thing.
When you embark upon a journey into the wild, or on a safari, you expect to encounter wild and wonderous things and places. You choose to dabble in the unknown. Untameable, charming, ferocious, unstoppable, beautiful, completely alien in nature, enchanting in their distance and in the depth of our misunderstanding – it’s more than just language barriers. It’s communicative, instinctual, historical, habitual, and societal contrasts ingrained deep within the very cracks of the higgledy piggledy streets and contents of the stunning architecture, pungent sewers and aromatic street food stalls alike which tumble together and simmer to the surface to serve up unique experiences and interactions and form the somehow multifunctional city of New Delhi.

 This ‘safari’, for want of a better word, has been the most daring expedition I’ve embarked on yet. People coming to ‘find themselves’ by getting unfathomably lost in an unfamiliar and almost unsettlingly diverse country as a concept in itself has led me to consider the entirety of India in terms of a wild animal that I have yet to wrap my head around and tame by establishing a firm enough grasp on it. Even just in my head. There’s just so much to it.

In an effort to portray simply the ins and outs of just how intense and incredibly humbling my first encounter with India has been so far, I’ve compiled a short list of the things which most impacted me and made me literally say ‘Wow’ (in both the good and bad ways!) as I took that first tentative step into a city more vast and untameable than even my frizzy hair after a week of camping in a field in the West of Ireland.

1. Lodi Gardens

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Talk about finding calm in the chaos. Easily the most peaceful and least crowded place I visited in Delhi, these natural gardens contrast the chaos directly outside their perimeter by boasting spotlessly clean, quiet, organised and expertly maintained pathways and flowerbeds. Seemingly a popular hangout spot for young locals and couples alike, Lodi Gardens contain some of the most beautiful plantlife and temples unspoiled by litter or the everyday madness and pollution in Delhi. Bonus points for free entry and hosting outdoor yoga sessions every Saturday and Sunday morning! #Zen

2. Cables
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Cables. Cables. Everywhere. I stopped wondering why the wifi seems to disappear whenever it rains even a little bit. Everywhere you go there are crossing wires and open sockets and fuses boasting naked electrical goods that are really just crying out for a little bit of DIY to hide their modesty! It’s the kind of thing you have to just turn a blind eye to and ignore the instinctual discomfort ingrained by years of Irish paranoia that leaving the immersion on will see you meet your end. It won’t. I promise.

3. Market Madness

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It wouldn’t be a visit to Asia without a trip to the market, and Delhi’s markets don’t disappoint! Sarojini Nagar and the Spice market were favourite of mine, but you name it, you can buy it, most likely at a hilariously injust ‘special tourist price’ that newbies regularly fall victim to – haggling is key here! Start 1/3 of the price lower and don’t be afraid to say no and walk away – 80% of the time you will be called back with a lower price!

4. Hauz Khas Village

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Central to the ‘party’ scene of modern New Delhi, this hip section of bars, cafés, and nightclubs is the place to go after dark, if you can brave the whirlwind of a tuk tuk ride there and back. Our international group of ‘mixed vegetables’ as the driver labelled us from the Madpackers’ Hostel had a brilliant night here and pushed even Indian drivers’ boundaries by piling 7 into one tuktuk on the way back ! Despite my own reservations I actually did feel able to let go and have fun – maintaining awareness in late-night situations is key though, especially for girls (has to be said!), and our ‘numbers-system’ proved effective in ensuring we stuck together at all times!

 5. I Grew it Myself

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I won’t lie here. I’ve finally realised that I can’t go to any tourist attraction in India without becoming one myself. Red hair, pale skin and freckles seem to be on the checklist of all Indian visitors to their capital city and main ‘must-see’ sights, and they are certainly not shy when it comes to asking for pictures. Besides paying the substantially lower fee for Indian visitors into all these attractions, they also get to satisfy their curiosity for pale skin and hair…I now know what it feels like to be an animal in a zoo. Funny the first few times. Gets very uncomfortable after a crowd gathers and children cry when you say no.

6. Awky Momos

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Momos are great. Everyone should try them. These ones are even vegan.

 7. Bus Station

New Delhi Bus Station at night is a raving, romping, shouting, beeping, hollering, and chaotic melting pot of humanity, the contents of which departs sporadically every 5-10 minutes for destinations all over the massive, massive country and gets replaced moments later by a new influx of bodies. The heated atmosphere added to my already heightened anxiety ahead of a 12-hour bus journey, but thankfully things cooled down as we pulled away from the hub of disgruntled passengers of all shapes and sizes clamouring to be heard over the continuos din of the incomprehensible intercom announcments. Phew. I was stressed even writing that. No picture. No time for pictures here.

8. Humayan’s Tomb and the Red Fort 

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I’ve grouped the Red Fort and Humayun’s Tomb together as they’re fairly standard stops to tick off on the tourist checklist. The Tomb is like a mini Taj Mahal, which is good for those who aren’t prepared to take the day trip to Agra, but fairly repetitive for those who’ve already been. Steep entry fee for tourists also put me off!

9. Taj Mahal

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This may possibly seem like an obvious one and is technically not actually in Delhi, so I thought I’d leave it til further down in the list. The Taj Mahal does what it says on the tin. Even standing a few hundred feet from it, I found it difficult to believe it wasn’t photoshopped into my line of vision and wondered how on earth such a solid piece of beauty and representation of love could actually be real. The rain didn’t help, but it made for a funny day of singing in the rain with some new friends from Madpackers (see #10), who organised a day-trip for us to Agra and back.

10. Madpackers Hostel
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I can’t possibly write about Delhi without mentioning the Madpackers Hostel! Pranav, Mayank, and the rest of the team were honestly the most welcoming and hospitable hosts for the few days I stayed there, ready to help with any queries or struggle any of their guests had in a chilled and friendly manner. Met some amazing people and it really was a brilliant start to my time in India. Best hostel I’ve stayed at in a long time! Namasté!

 

 

Art, Language, and Yoga as Forms of Personal Expression

 

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They say that art calms the mind, and soothes the senses.

As someone who is regularly plagued by bouts of extreme and intense anxiety, coupled with irrational responses to everyday occurrences, I have truly found solace in writing; in expressing my thoughts and worries elsewhere before they get the opportunity to take over my life.

Writing especially I have found to benefit me extremely in this sense, yet also other art forms too – singing, practicing yoga, translating, doodling, creating anything…aside from the obvious enjoyment and productivity associated with these acts themselves, it’s comforting to realise that regular practice and engagement with them have massive health benefits too.

The calmness and ease I feel after writing or praciticing yoga for a short time, or expressing myself in some other way is what I imagine most people (and by most, I mean people who aren’t prone to anxiety or extremes of thought patterns) feel on a ‘good day’. A ‘good day’ being a day where they awake feeling relatively content with their lives; their job; the balance on their latest bank statement; an upcoming night out or short holiday planned to keep them ploughing on through the next workday. A good day is all I want. A mediocre day without stressing over what to eat for breakfast, how I should break up the day ahead, whether or not I’ve had a response from the latest job application I’ve submitted…

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When I was travelling I had many, many of these ‘good days’. So many in fact, that I’ve come to associate the very act of travelling with these feelings of contentment, understanding, and acceptance of the world around me. When I’m travelling, it’s not only MY world I’m accepting – the things and people I see on a day-to-day basis – it’s the ENTIRE world. It’s a level of acceptance and bliss it’s difficult to recall now as I sit alone in my parents’ house, the grey clouds of an Irish ‘Springtime’ taunting the pale skin that has only just begun to lose the thick spatter of freckles Asia provided as a thoughtful departing gift to remember her by.

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Language and Writing

People are quick to comment on SouthEast Asians’ calmness and politeness of character, something I have experienced first-hand and now seek to put into practice myself. Even the various languages and alphabets as they are written- the delegation of equal importance and respect to each line, component, and meaning of each letter in each and every word they speak and write is absolutely fascinating, and humbling in comparison to the almost careless way we seem to throw our words and thoughts around a lot of the time.

In taking the time to sit and write them out, we are treating our own minds with respect, our own thoughts, however frivolous they may be, are being given the time of day they deserve and not hushed away in the back of a wardrobe or the ‘junk drawer’. This can be achieved no matter what language we are writing in.

Yoga For Self-Awareness

 Sitting with a new language and attempting to fully understand new structures, words, functions, and patterns is similar to sitting with our own bodies and listening to our needs. We slowly become more and more in tune with them; understanding the unique functions, strengths, cycles, abilities and limitations, the positive and negative reactions to outside stimuli, the huge spectrum of potential and possibility for this ever-evolving life-form that we’ve been given to power through a ‘lifetime’ here.

I don’t pretend to claim a clear understanding of all things body and mind and language-related and the vague sort of tenacious connection that I am now more certain than ever is in existence between us all – I’m merely enjoying the process of exploring it. I’m not expecting to ever understand it all, because that would defeat the purpose of the journey and of the creative exploration of what we’ve been given to work with. I can only hope to maintain an enjoyment of this journey, to sit with it, associating words and symbols and ideologies with different concepts and ways of life and language; with physical movement and accepting my body through yoga being a medium through which this change can work – a way for me to continue exploring it.

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What Happens in Singapore…Stays in Singapore

….until I blog about it.

There’s something I haven’t yet admitted to anyone ever about my ‘trip’ to Singapore. Something I’ve kind of just neglected to include in the recounting of the time I spent there. It’s nothing bad, nothing you wouldn’t expect from an easily distracted and excitable first-time solo-traveller…but it’s just a little bit embarassing.

To give us context, I’ll make it clear that I visited the city as part of a tour group which left from Changi airport (the most amazing airport known to man) during a ridiculous 20-hour stopover, promising to have us back in time to make each person’s individual connecting flight, regardless of which of the 3 massive and maze-like terminals they were departing from.

Beginning to see any flaws in the plan yet?

I hopped on the bus all the same, excited at the extra stamp in my passport and at the prospect of seeing a city which had not been on my original itinerary at all. I spent most of the traffic jam on the way to the main highway (look at me using fancy words for a big road!) deep in conversation with the mother and daughter of a delightful Chinese family, on holiday from Beijing and, like me, passing time on their stopover as they headed towards Kuala Lumpur.

Singapore’s orderly and functional traffic, rules of the road, basic rights of way and cleanliness were immediately obvious and an absolute blessing to experience after the madness of Cambodia and Vietnam. I gasped in wonder as a line of cars ACTUALLY STOPPED when a traffic light turned red, and flat-out gawped as a traffic warden, no less, was heeded as he stood bravely in the middle of the junction a little further on, hi-vis jacket almost rendered unecessary as the vehicles slotted in forwards and backwards and around him with their Sim-like precision and politness.

In fact, Sim-like is exactly how I’d describe Singapore. Sim-like and HOT. Swelteringly, stiflingly, breath-catching-in-your-throat kind of hot that no degree of near-nakedness can relieve. I’d gone from shivering uncomfortably in my flimsy white kafkan shirt and tiny denim short-shorts through several air-conditioned airports, to continuosly fanning myself and exhaling with puffed-out cheeks like a pregnant or menopausal lady caught mid-contraction or hot-flush – kind of ironic how those two things work in comparison to one another. Either way, one degree away from the equator is not where I’d expected to find myself spending the evening, nevermind in a city so vastly populated with sparkly lights and high-rise buildings shaped like Star Wars battleships.

It’s no wonder I got distracted.

Our enthusiastic guide, another soul native to Beijing who dubbed himself Mr. T., (‘Call me Mista’ T”!), epitomized the practicality and simple cheerful nature of many of the other Chinese, Malaysian and Singaporean people I had met already and was yet to encounter. His efforts to animate the slightly sterile air-conditioned interior of the unecessarily enormous tour bus genuinely made me laugh and added hugely to my enjoyment of the tour, as he randomly exclaimed things like ‘Oho!!!” and ‘Olé Olé Olé!!” after each description of and proud introduction to the locations we visited – completely out of context to the information he was narrating, and at times entirely sporadic.

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This is what I loved about Asia. There were a lot of things I did not understand, and a lot of what I did understand was so randomly unrelated to the actual context of where I was or what I was doing at the time that it would catch me unawares and throw me completely off-course and away from whatever I was actually focusing your attention on. Like right now. Where was I? Oh yes.

Singapore.

Mr. T’s energy reminded me of a cartoon character, and I found myself the only group-member participating in his guessing games as he posed impossible questions about the city to gage our knowledge of it – or possibly just to recite lines he had learned in ‘tour-guide training’ – it was difficult to tell for sure.
‘Who can tell me what percentage of Singaporeans are property owners?! Anybody? Nobody? Going once…olé! Going twice…olé! Goi-…Yes?”
‘65%?!!”
My random contribution was met with an emotionless stare from a French lady sitting opposite me as I looked to her jokingly for support, and an expressionless Dutch-looking guy with a camera behind cleared his throat awkwardly.
‘Oho!!! ‘berry close, ‘berry close! But, another guess?”
At least Mr. T had my back.
‘90%!?”
This time the smiley mother from the Chinese family chirped up, and gave me a slightly robotic yet jolly high-five when Mr T.’s immediate reaction to her answer made us all jump.
‘Olé olé olé!! We have a winna’!!! Hupp’ah!!’

Ignoring the distinct lack of enthusiasm from every other passenger on board, myself and the Chinese lady laughed and clapped along with him, our delight and amusement at our guides’ ‘acting’ skills and excellent English evidently either not shared or completely lost on our fellow passengers. The lady even gestured over to her husband and daughter, who were sat on the opposite sides of the bus to her in their own individual seats, cameras pressed to the glass of the bus as we passed several impressive looking buildings outside. I turned my attention outwards, as the bus lurched around a corner, and stopped rather suddenly in an orderly queue of traffic.
Comedy on pause, Mr. T suddenly became very serious.
‘Please be kind and do not stand up in the bus. I do not wish to stop at hospital.’
The Chinese father sat down after a few seconds as his wife translated solemnly.

The Singaporean adherence to safety measures and rules of the road became evident then as every slight movement was monitored and commented on in an almost joking manner, yet with an element of seriousness behind it. As we passed several other landmarks and more cameras were unfolded from the depths of hand-luggage, Mr. T was forced to repeat his request that we not move from our seats, and ‘please to be careful as in Singapore we have no insurance over who comes on tour and you must pay yourself if something happens.’ That put me in my place.

 It was getting dark as we neared Gardens By The Bay, visible from a distance as a futuristic mini-city of 50-foot high ‘Supertrees’ laden with multicoloured fairy lights and interspersed with connective bridges akin to something from Lorien, or the world of Avatar. Only a few days previously I’d visited the natural beauty of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, and so this dream-like area of man-made ‘forest’ seemed even more alien to observe. Singapore is so organised it has even orchestrated the construction of its own forest! I thought, half in awe and half dubious at how artificial it all seemed. Still, what I could see from the bus was extremely beautiful and I was itching to escape the chilly air-conditioned interior and get exploring for myself.

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 Before we could do so however, Mr. T. laid out some strict rules of thumb.
‘Follow me to the entrance. At the entrance, I will point you in the direction of the gardens. From there, you will have freetime. Freetime will depend on our time of arrival. I will give time to meet back at the information desk and if you are not there at this time we will leave without you.’
Straight up and honest, I thought. I like this place.
‘In Singapore, we are punctual. We stick to time schedule and do not deviate.’
Fair enough, I thought again. I’m not going to pretend it wasn’t a relief to finally have some sort of order and reliable structure after becoming accustomed to the mere arrival of any form of public transport in Vietnam or Cambodia being a luxury – an hour after OR before the ‘expected time’ being almost customary. You just had to go with it.

 Singapore, however, is extremely different. Rigid rules, strict instructions, simple, basic guidelines to follow, and the entire city seems to function simply and effectivly. Mr T.’s description of the eco-friendly power-generating systems and recycling features were refreshing; so futuristic and straightforward that I genuinely did feel like I’d landed in Simville and was now a contributing member of a society so organised that stepping a foot out of line would be punishable by incredulous stares and unabashed Asian mutterings. Which it was.

Gardens by the Bay was incredible. As it was nearing Christmas, we got lucky in that the night we attended the park was the night they turned on the Christmas lights and had a special display for visitors. I entered the maze of towering Supertrees, Christmas lights merely adding to the fantastical display of colours and twinkling around me. The Supertrees were akin to giant versions of the dandelions we used to pick as kids to blow away their seeds. Only the seeds were still there. Each seed contributed to the constellations of multicoloured sparkling taking place above my head, and the low murmur of tourists all gazing skywards was interspersed with the first Christmas music I’d heard all year, along with everyone apologising for stepping on one anothers’ toes as we all gawped at the roof of the ‘forest’ above.

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I was taking pictures without looking at what I took. I was closing my eyes as each new song came on, brought back to a childhood where sparkly lights and Christmas music were enough to cure any kind of bad feelings or negative emotions. I was floating amidst the starry darkness, silently balancing upon the platforms of language barriers existing between the multitudes of tourist nationalities standing and wandering blindly around me, all murmuring incomprehensibly, yet focused upwards as one mass of human energy, in awe of pretty lights and the ironic juxtaposition of nature with our own technological advancment. The lights flashed in time to the music playing, and regardless of the artificiality of it, I was completely under the spell of the beauty of the Supertrees. It was like a movie. It was like a dream, even more so when I considered how not one single person was familiar to me here – I was completely alone, wandering through this sea of people and lights and music and life

 It’s no wonder I lost the group.

 I hadn’t seen them since entering the park, that much I knew for sure.
Not to worry, I thought, still in my blissfull, floaty state of contentment; I just have to find the information desk. There’s still loads of time.
So I wandered some more.
I wandered and took pictures and guessed the languages people were speaking, basking in the independence and strength I felt at having taken myself this far. The park was surprisingly large, and even though the lights were everywhere, it was difficult to identify specific buildings, turns, or pathways.
I went back the way I’d come (or thought I had), turned a few corners around trees I thought were familiar, using the battleship-skyscraper as a landmark; followed other tour groups down turns that seemed they’d lead to an exit of sorts but which actually brought us on to further ‘gardens’ and yet more inviting lights and music.
In short, I ended up completely and utterly lost.
At first it didn’t dawn on me just how alone I was – my larger backpack had gone on to Bali, bypassing Singapore completely. Here I was, one small backpack of hand-luggage and a duty-free bag of Cambodian Christmas tree decorations, wandering completely alone through an unfamiliar city, no physical money to speak of save a couple of thousand Vietnamese Dong which was utterly worthless here, and no knowledge of the language around me – no card or bus number of the tour I’d been with, no actual concrete evidence to place me in Singapore at all save a crappy ‘visitors’ visa’ stamp on my passport and my fellow tour mates’ eyewitness accounts…and they didn’t even know my name.

 I slowly began to panic, my brain irrationally jumping to the worst conclusions; picturing the reports of ‘Irish girl missing in Asia, last-known location in a fictional fantasy-land of flashing lights and trees and purpley-green dandelions…’
A few deep breaths calmed me.
No. Everything would be fine. Just find the information desk.
So I did. Wrong one.
Find the other information desk.

I tried. I really did. I found what I thought was the desk we’d agreed upon. No sign of anyone recognisable. No Mr. T.. No rude Dutch man with his camera larger than my head. No happy Chinese lady with her quiet husband. By now it was five minutes past the time we’d agreed to meet to return to the bus. A whole five minutes.
‘Hey!!!”
A shout came from behind. ‘You! Curly hair!”
It was the rude French lady from the bus. She hurried over to me and grasped my hand, and instead of being relieved to see her, her anxious stance made me actuely aware of how late it was. I could immediately tell she was equally as lost as I had been. She glanced around behind her and I recognised a young Vietnamese girl also from our bus hurriedly following her, looking even more lost than I had just felt and apparantly scared shitless; her English proved just about as advanced as my Vietnamese.
‘She’s lost too.’ Said the French lady in a thick accent. ‘She is very scared. She has never been away from home before’. Not even a ‘Hello! Thank god I found you too!”
Ah God. Okay. Time to sort this.
As I smiled at the girl and asked her name in a friendly manner, her eyes filled with tears as she glanced around the mass of incomprehensible tourists wandering the gardens in the dark. I empathized somewhat, but suddenly the fear of being ‘lost’ was replaced by irritation.
‘We’re only 10 minutes late!” I exclaimed, secretly relieved to no longer be alone, yet really just a bit put out that they’d actually left without us. How could Mr. T. have done this to me!?
‘Maybe we…wait? Maybe they return for us?” the French lady said hopefully.
Even as she said it I raised my eyebrows in disbelief.
“Yeh…yeh maybe.”

So we waited a couple of feet away from the information desk we all agreed was the one we’d separated at.
Ten minutes ticked into fifteen. Twenty. I didn’t want to be the one to point out the obvious, but someone had to.
‘I don’t think they’re coming back for us’.

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I couldn’t help but laugh at the situation, though Vietnamese girl and French lady could not have looked less entertained. How typical of me, I thought. Surprisingly ok with where I found myself, I raised my eyebrows and turned to face the exit.
Sure look, at least I’m not by myself.
‘Have you any money?” I enquired of my two unlikely and mismatched companions, one standing frowning at the world around her, and the other clutching tightly on to a schoolbag laden with badges of the red and yellow Vietnamese flag.
Vietnamese girl smiled awkwardly and shrugged.
‘I’ll take that as a maybe’.
“I have card.”
French lady to the rescue.
“Ok so, I guess we’ll just have to find our way back to the airport. I don’t know what the next stop on the tour was!”

Somehow I found myself the leader of the group, following signs in English out towards the entrance we’d come through only hours previously as part of an ignorant group of tourists. I felt less like a tourist now, and more of a character in a video-game – ‘Find-the-Taxi-rank” being my predominant quest to complete.
The heat was becoming unbearable at this stage, even though night time was well underway. Our proximity to the equator meant that the temperature was not likely to drop below 25 degrees, even in the middle of the night. It was a dead-heat that would be exhausting to experience even in a less-stressful situation. I managed to find a taxi-rank alright, but finding a driver who would take a French bankcard and drop us to three separate airport terminals happily proved another difficult feat.

Eventually after long wait and dealing with a lot of stares at our mismatched group-appeareance, we sat in silence in an organised traffic jam with a Malaysian driver; four completely different nationalies and backgrounds all brought together somehow in this impossible metropolis of lights and bizarrely strict regulations. I actually didn’t mind the French lady too much, who relaxed somewhat as we assured we were safely en route back to the airport and she told me she’d definitely be having a drink on her flight to relieve the tension.
I was merely proud of myself for having resolved the situation without panicking too much, and secretly extremely satisfied when Maria (French lady’s name) refused to take the 5 dollars of expendable currency I had found in my purse from me.
“I’d have been lost without you. Keep it!”
Well, that was nice of her.

As we went our separate ways back at Changi airport, each of us having returned in time to make our flights well in advance, I settled down to spend the remainder of my wait safely in the familiarity of a comfortable Starbucks’ armchair. Some things never change.

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Home.

Because perfection comes,
not when you’re watching golden sunsets over
paradise,
But when you have grown,
Unbreakable,
At peace,
Within.’
– from ‘Pathways’, by Leah Fortner

 

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As I sat in my miniscule double room on the 5th floor of a dingy guesthouse situated a stone’s throw from Phnom Penh International airport in Cambodia, completely and utterly alone in a strange country that I can honestly never see myself feeling comfortable in, I breathed an unexpected sigh of relief. At least that’s what I think it was. It might have been something to do with the fact that I’d just cast off the 18kg backpack containing everything I hold dear to me for the first time in a couple of hours, or that the prospect of an actual night’s sleep loomed ahead after several delayed and uncomfortable flights through tropical storms and some dodgy landings. Either way, I was more at ease than I’d been in a while.

I’d finally realised something about myself and about the reasons I’d felt the need to flee my life at home, albeit only briefly. For some reason I thought I, as so many before me have dramatically claimed to be in books and movies, had been ‘searching for something’; some sort of reason or reassurance to keep going and continue. I realised I’d been half expecting to find this something in every new place I stayed and new face I met, each one vaguely seeking a similar confirmation of their own validity or ‘pathway’.

In actual fact, at the risk of sounding awfully conceited and/or like a sappy American rom com (I realise I’m going to sound like it anyway no matter how hard I try), this whole time I have been learning to come to terms with myself; to love myself. It sounds ridiculous. It sounds cheesier than the Vietnamese vegetarian cibatta rolls that contained a single piece of lettuce along with 3 different kinds of rubbery ‘dairy produce’ and a slice of tomato in Hoi An. But there’s a kind of autonomy and respect one learns to have for the person who navigates them safely around unknown territory and through uncertain and somewhat dangerous situations. I realised as I sat alone in Cambodia for the second time around and with a pathetic amount of dollars remaining among the various other currencies in my purse that I’d orchestrated this journey to mean that the only person I had to depend on and to look to for help would be me. I’d forced myself to take care of me, to be the dominant voice of reason and force of reckoning for once, instead of depending on others and placing an unfair responsibility on friends and family who did not ask for it. I sat back and let my inner child be led and guided by the knowledge this world has taught me that I barely knew I had taken on board until it became necessary to utilise it. Led by the mistakes I have already made, and that I have seen others make, I have taught myself how to progress; how to power through; how to hold out for that one minute longer when it feels like you’re lost entirely and will never find your way back to where you want to go. I have fueled my body through lonely and rainy days where it felt like the last thing I wanted to do was get up, eat, and explore – perseverance resulting in enjoyable new experiences and friends, places and photographs that would not have been possible had I not correctly energised and motivated myself enough to be there. I gave myself no option but to recover and escape from whatever demons have held their grasp on me for the past few years, each step and flight taken away from them making them cower that little bit more into the corner at the strength and potential of what I am actually capable of doing in spite of them and without their crutch to lean on. I have practiced ignoring their voices and perservering independently without their help, and I have realised that I am capable of such great things, not only that – but that I am also perfectly worthy of them too.

I have sat with myself and accepted myself. Accepted the fact that I occupy this miniscule space upon the earth and that it is mine to take where I choose, and to do with what I please. Practicing yoga and maintaining balance along the way when it would have been easy to get lost in ‘holiday mode’ and indulge too much has been difficult, but extremely worthwhile. I’m not going to say I haven’t indulged at all, but I’ve done so in a way that has allowed me to also enjoy the moments before and afterwards, instead of focusing merely on the excessive bursts of energy and consumption, and cowering away from anything outside of them. Overall I feel I have learned things that cannot be taught, that some people are born automatically programmed with, but that others must experience and realise for themselves. Extremes of emotions have been dealt with and processed by myself and in a way that has helped me realise I am capable of overcoming them without leaning on anyone for reassurance or aid – something I struggled with hugely in the past.

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The overall emotion I feel at leaving Asia and my first solo travelling experiences behind is one of intense and overwhelming pride. Pride for myself, pride for my strength, contentedness that I have managed to do this and prove the negative thoughts and people wrong who doubted my capabilities. They and my own anxieties were always going to be there, but I feel in a way that I have finally reached a place where I can focus less on their intensity and importance, and embrace more of the autonomy and experience that ‘living in the moment’ can actually bring. It may seem like an extreme way to finally come to terms with oneself and place in the world, but I can’t deny how effective it has been both in allowing me the space to realise all these things, and put them into practice; experience required to actually sit as strong and tall as I do today as I wait to board my final flights home.

I can’t change the fact that I am an anxious person, but I can change how that anxiety manifests itself, and how I process it. It is possible to change the direction it takes just like I can change the direction my feet are taking me. It’s a different kind of energy required to do so, but I’m now aware of it’s presence, and have more of an ability to access it, especially in the midst of chaotic environments and unfamiliar situations.

If nothing else, this is what travel teaches us. That there are other options, other paths, other ways to do things that might not initially appear obvious. There is always another way through, another route to take that will take you where you need to go and away from seemingly inescapable situations and emotions. Following your nose and going where your feet take you without worrying or questioning it too much and ultimately just trusting in yourself will inevitably eventually steer you right.

For now, I’m going to close the book on this particular chapter of my travels, in the knowledge that the next will lead me to even more exciting, mischevious and unplanned destinations, that I will come to terms with and navigate when I get there.

For now, the mischievous emotions and uncontrollable situations have been managed, and I’m ready to go home.

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Ar Thóraíocht Taistil – Ho Chi Minus 1

****LEAGAN BÉARLA FAOI – ENGLISH VERSION BENEATH***

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An chéad rud a rith liom nuair a chuala mé an preabadh ísle, domhain i bfhad uaim is mé ag tógáil céime amach roimh éirí na gréine in Ho Chi Minh, ná go raibh an ‘oíche amach’ aréir nach raibh diúltaithe agam ach cúpla uair a chloig roimhe sin le mo chairde nua ón mbrú fós ar siúl. Bhí mé leath ag siúl go bhfeicfinn ag teacht ar ais iad leath-dallta timpeall an chúinne, nó ag léimt ó chúl ceann de na tacsaithe-moto nach molfainn d’aon turasóirí lena dtaitníonn a gcuid seilbhe luachmhara leo comh luath is a dúisíonn ceantar na mbackpackers in Saigon le titim na hoíche.

Is mé an leanacht liom ar an tslí aitheanta anois don pháirc láirneach, ag trasnú sráid Le Loi nach raibh ach ábhairín níos ciúine ansin ag 4 ar maidin is a bhíonn i rith an lae, bhí muintir na sráide gafa ag ‘glanadh’ deannaigh ó áit go háit ar an tsráid le scuaib fite, is iad ag réiteach le haghaidh trácht na maidine. Thug mé le fios nach cur isteach drochbheasach ón oíche roimh ré agus ‘Happy Hour’ ag leanacht ar aghaidh go ‘All Hours’, a bhí sa cheol leanúnach a chuala mé ag briseadh ‘suaimhneas’ na cathrach, ach a mhalairt san iomlán a bhí i gceist. Bhí orm athbhreathnú a dhéanamh sular thuig mé i gceart a bhí os mo chomhair – grúpa ollmhór d’mhná meanaoiseach Vítneamis i lár spás oscailte sa pháirc, gleasta in leggings agus tléinte ildáite, agus iad uilig ag gluaiseacht le chéile ar nós airm aisteach polyester, in am don chuisle leanúnach nár shíolraigh ó áit ar bith faoi leith go bfhaca mé – ní raibh sé fiú geal faoin am seo. Faoi dheireadh d’airigh mé go raibh cead agam stanadh a thabhairt ar ais do dhaoine a thugann dom iad comh minic sin anseo, mo chraiceann geal agus gruaig rua mar chúis grinn do go leor daoine áitiúla – tuigim go bhfuil mé aisteach, ach ní bhíonn mise ag déanamh aeróibicí sa pháirc ag a 4 ar maidin!!

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Bhí trácht cloiste agam ar an nós seo sa Chambóid, ach ní raibh sé feicthe agam ag tarlu go dtí seo, agus bhí sé deacair an gáire a sheachaint nuair a chonaic mé cúpla bean a bhí tar éis achar a chuir eatarthu fhéin agus an cuid eile sa lár, le casadh agus lubadh leo fhéin ar nós Sims ar an gcosán. Le firinne bhí mé ag iarraidh damhsa leo! Chuir sé an Hokey cokey i gcuimhne dom ón scoil sa Chambóid, ach amháin gur na céadta mná Vítneamis a bhí ann ag bogadh leo féin le púis orthu is iad i mbun cleachtadh coirpe na maidine seo roimh éirí na gréine agus an teas meanlae, seachas grúpa páistí. Is dóigh go dtugann na gluaiseachtaí rialta seo cead dóibh an bia friochta agus oiliúil sin a ithe gan mórán iarmhairtí freisin..
Aisteach.

Is dóigh gur mar gheall nach raibh mé ag súil leis is mé fós leath i mo choladh ag iompar chuile rud gur liom ar domhain faoi láthair a tháinig an oiread sin ionadh orm iad a fheiceáil ann, ach seans mhaith freisin gur mar gheall nach raibh mé tar éis an cathair a shiúl comh luath seo riamh, agus toisc gur ‘early riser’ mé fhéin ar aon chaoi, ghlac mé nár tharla aon rud sular éirigh mise – cé comh mícheart is a bhí mé!

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Thaitin Ho Chi Minh i bfhad níos fearr liom an uair seo, ach amháin an dorm le 18 duine eile sa mbrú buiséadach – ach ar $3 in aghaidh na hoíche, cé atá le gearán faoi? Cé nár éirí ro-mhaith liom roimhe sin mo bhealach a dhéanamh ann, an uair seo go tobann bhí mé go breá in ann na sráideanna a loingsiú go héasca le níos mó muiníne agus píosa cleachtadh taobh thiar dom. Thaitin an ‘World Food Festival’ liom a bhí ar siúl sa pháirc don deireadh seachtaine áirithe seo, thug sé neart deiseanna dom níos mó bia aisteach a thriail agus freisin tuilleadh nósanna aisteacha fheiceáil nach bhfuil mé cinnte a bheadh riamh in ann teacht i bhfeidhm anseo!12351388_10153218838373483_843405117_o

 

D’éirigh liom cúpla bronntanas Nollag Víteamise deirineach a fháil ( níl pictiúirí agam, mar….bronntanais!) le seisiúin crua ag stangaireacht in Aonach Ben Thien sa lár, agus d’fhág mé le tuilleadh ábhair ná mar a bhí ceannaithe agam riamh ar bheagáin airgid. Táim ag dul i dtaithí ar seo!

12348755_10153218958898483_772053028_nSílim freisin go bhfuil mé ag dul i dtaithí ar na nósanna bóithre atá acu…tá feabhas tagtha orm ag transú na bóithre gnóthacha leis na sruthanna gluaisrothair agus gluastáin beaga nach stopann le teada – nílim ag iarraidh ‘jinxáil’ a dhéanamh ar seo, ach tá feicthe agam go n-éiríonn níos fearr leat do chuid spáis fhéin a léiriú le beagán muiníne, seachas a bheith ag braith ar chomhghlacaithe nó turasóir eile an bealach a dhéanamh duit. Chuir mé le líne tráchta is mé fós mar lucht siúl – ag seasamh le gluaisrothar ar gach taobh díom, bhí orm fanacht go dtí gur chas na soilse glas chun leanacht ar aghaidh – chuile fhear (nó bean) dóibh fhéin a bhí ann, agus bhí orm léimt ar thaobh chuig an gcosán comh luath is a lean mo réamhthachta ar aghaidh.

Is mé ag scríobh anois táim i mo shuí in aerfort Changi, Singapore, go héasca an t-aerfort is fearr le cúpla uair a chloig (nó 28) a chaitheamh ar domhan. Táim ag súil leis an gcathair a fheiceáil anois i gceann píosa tar éis an cupáin caife Starbucks seo (an chéad ceann le beagnach 2 mhí!!), agus mar sin fágfaidh mé é seo anois go dtí go bhfaighim áit an ceallaire a luchtú!! Vietnamasté!

 

 

***********LEAGAN BÉARLA – ENGLISH VERSION ********* 

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My initial reaction to hearing a distant, low thumping beat as I stepped out into the 5am pre-dawn of Ho Chi Minh’s ever-chattering streets, was that the ‘night out’ with my new dorm-friends I had reluctantly declined merely hours beforehand had still not come to an end. Early-morning flight-jitters aside, I half expected to meet them stumbling in around the corner, or jumping off the back of otherwise ill-advised moto-taxis that prey on tipsy tourists once the nocturnal backpacker district of Saigon awakens with the dusk.

As I continued on the now familiar route to the central park-area and traversed the only slightly less chaotic dimly-lit Le Loi street as its’ occupants swept dust from one place to another with wicker brushes and geared up for another rush hour, it became clear that the music I was hearing was not in fact an intrusive occupation of an otherwise peaceful morning by the extension of a nightclubs’ ‘happy hour’ to All Hours, but frankly quite the opposite. I had to look twice before I could comprehend the abnormally large gathering of middle-aged Vietnamese women in a central clearing of the park, all dressed in leggings and coloured polyester tshirts and moving robotically in sync to a monotonous and crackling throbbing ‘beat’ that was coming from nowhere within my available line of vision – it was barely even beginning to get bright at this stage. I finally felt a sort of justification and permission to return the stares I am so regularly subjected to over here, my pale skin and ginger hair proving a source of great hilarity to many locals – I know I’m weird, but I don’t do aerobics in the park at 4.30am!!!12351274_10153217909993483_2020078173_n

I’d heard of such practices in Cambodia, but had yet to witness it actually occurring, and I found it hard to hide my amusement as I passed several women who had distanced themselves from the main congregation to thrust and wiggle by themselves to the ‘music’ in a Sim-like manner along the sidelines. I’m not going to lie – I kind of wanted to join in! It reminded me of doing the Hokey Cokey with the kids in the school in Cambodia, only this time it was hundreds of anonymous early-morning Saigonese women shaking and gesturing with frowned and scrunched up faces in what I can only assume is a regular exercise regime that both avoids the midday heat of the sun and also helps to burn off excess calories supplied by the inclusion of oil and grease to every single dish and meal.Bizarre.
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I think the fact that it appeared out of nowhere as I blearily trudged to the bus station with all my worldly possessions (or at least, everything I currently carry with me) was probably the main source of surprise, yet it may also have been due to the fact that this was the earliest I’ve ever roamed the streets of the city, and being accustomed to my name as an early riser had pretty much just assumed that nothing much happened before the hours I found myself outside. How very wrong I was!

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Ho Chi Minh this time around was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, despite the rather dodgy 18-person dorm room in the budget hostel – but for 3 dollars a night, who’s going to argue?! Previous navigation having not proven so beneficial, I all of a sudden found on my return that I knew where to go and had the confidence to somehow find the things I needed, and the timely occurrence of a World Food Festival in the central park during the day and evenings was a fantastic find when it came to securing cheap eats and yet more bizarre interactions with customs and trends that I’m really not sure will ever properly reach our side of the world…!

12348755_10153218958898483_772053028_nI managed to secure some final Vietnamese Christmas presents (no pictures, coz , yknow, PRESENTS) in my most intense haggling-session to date in the Ben Thian Market, and proudly left with more plunder for my money than I have ever before! I’m getting used to this!

I also think that since being alone I’ve become more accustomed to and adept at crossing the roads and incessant torrential flow of motorbikes and vehicles that do not stop or cater for pedestrians whatsoever in their narrow span of vision – I don’t want to jinx this, but I’ve found that in literally just asserting your space and striding with a bit of confidence instead of looking to a companion or fellow tourist to pave the way for you, I’ve had more success crossing the roads and have even found myself adding to a line of traffic as a pedestrian – locked in on four sides by motorbikes, I literally had to wait for the lights to go green before I could walk in any direction – it was literally every man (or woman) for themselves, and I quickly had to leap to one side as soon as my predecessors revved forwards.

 

As I write now I’m sitting in Singapore airport – easily the coolest place I’ve ever had to kill a few hours. Hopefully I’ll get to see a bit of the city as my flight onwards doesn’t leave until the early hours of tomorrow, so I’ll write a post on that as soon as I find a free plug socket….! Vietnamasté!!!