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

     

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!

 

 

Elephants, Eco-tourism, and the Express Bus from Hell

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Jungle Overview…

“If we were meant to stay in one place, we’d have roots instead of feet” – Rachel Wolechin

Modes of transport vary from country to country, city to city, year to year and even day to day if you’re lucky enough to live in a place that offers them all at a low cost. Buses, trains, cars, trams, taxis, motorbikes, tuk-tuks, rickshaws, bicycles, and not to mention the good old reliable two feet attached to our own bodies, it seems we have built industries and businesses surrounding the very nature of human kind to move about from place to place.
It’s ironic that as I write this in an illegible scrawl on pages of a notebook containing my budget for the next week I am actually en route to Ho Chi Minh city, having decided not to renew my Cambodian visa and instead use the remaining time I have in Asia to do just that – move about and see as much as I can see. This particular bus is honestly the most comfortable and luxurious form on transport I’ve taken since being here – it’s a new service with Virak-Buntham Travel which connects Siem Reap in Cambodia directly to Ho Chi Minh city, bypassing the MarioKart streets and crazy traffic of Phnom Penh completely. The discovery of this route was a godsend, especially after our fairly dodgy experiences organising buses so far- our journey to and from Sen Monorem in the East proved a particularly painful (physically too!) stretch of 13 hours in total, with necessary stops in Phnom Penh leaving us feeling we maybe should have reconsidered our route. This was the only service available at such a price, however, and the prospect of meeting the elephants of Mondulkiri at the side of the cramped, uncomfortable and downright dangerous journey was enough to make me suck it up and convince myself the distinct pong of urine combined with ageing fried food and unwashed feet was actually a cultural delicacy that I was privelged to be experiencing.

We were crammed into a rickety piece of metal alongside our bags, several packages with Khmer addresses scrawled across them, sacks of potatoes under each chair and a dubious looking plastic bag containing a mystery kind of gooey substance, the level of English of our fellow passengers ranging from awkward nod to expressionless blinking and complete silence.
Think of the elephants”, I found myself chanting along in time to the din of Cambodian wailing coming from the phones of the teenage girls behind us, who had spent a good 15 minutes staring at my skin before proceeding to provide a DJ service (free of charge!) for the entire bus.

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Tree Lodge Guesthouse

‘Mr.Tree’ from the Mondulkiri Elephant Sanctuary and affiliated Tree Lodge Guesthouse picked us up from the station in Sen Monorem, darkness having beaten us there and prevented us from grasping a good bearing in the directions from town. I’ve never been a fan of arriving places at night time purely for this reason, but I think we were just so relieved to be removed from our foetal positions aboard the death wagon of appalling aromas that it didn’t really matter what time it was.
The family-run Tree Lodge Guesthouse provides treetop accomodation just outside Sen Monorem town and overlooking the mountainous forests of Mondulkiri. Childhood fantasies come true, sleeping in treehouses with hammocks and access via ladders and steep wooden steps was made all the more exciting with the prospect of trekking with elephants the following morning – even the giant bugs and flies who shared our dinner and room for the evening couldn’t dampen our spirits at have made it this far. A local menu including avocado and fresh fruit shakes cheered us up immensely too.

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Trekking in the Forest

Next morning we woke to a cockerel crowing, bugs and birds chorusing a new day in the forest. Humidity and Monica Gellar hairstyles aside, I was pleased to note a significant drop in temperature as we’d ascended the mountain, and the cool breeze which billowed out my clothy overshirt was refreshing as we sat in the back of Mr. Tree’s open-top jeep on our way into the jungle.

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Have you guessed I love elephants?!

The brilliant thing about the Mondulkiri Elephant Project is that it has been set up as a means of providing care and rehabilitation for abused and mistreated elephants. As Mr. Tree explained in perfect English during an extremely passionate introduction to the project, it remains one of only two organisations in the whole of Cambodia which does not exploit their elephants in any way or use them against their will as modes of transport, one-trick circus animals, or decorative additions to a money-making tourist scam. This is eco-tourism at it’s finest. 100% of the funds generated by the Mondulkiri Elephant Sanctuary is pumped straight back into the care and maintenance of the elephants, their highly skilled mahoots, and the upkeep and security of the 123 acre forest itself in which they reside. Mr. Tree stressed the importance of the forest to his tribespeople, and explained how they managed to push a decree through in October 2014 prohibiting any intrusive, destructive, or building work within the existing perimeters of the forest, something he firmly believes would not have been possible without the success of the Elephant Sanctuary Project. In a symbiosis which has worked thus far maintaining peace and balance within the forest, it seems they have slowly but surely gained the trust of their 4 previously abused and tortured elephants in a similar manner.

For centuries the elephants in Cambodia have been used as a means of getting both very heavy and very important things from A to B. one only has to look at the ancient stones which pave the way in the Angkor Wat temples (more on that in the next post!) to see the holes in each where they were fastened using bamboo shoots and rope to elephants who pulled them for miles at a time to reach their destination. In order for these giant and powerful creatures to actually succumb to this work and be controlled by the humans who conscripted their service, they underwent cruel and brutal ‘training’ in their youth, which involved them being chained up for days on end and beaten when they attemped to escape. This is still happening today.

Though the chains are stronger than the young elephants at the time of imprisonment and succeed in keeping them stationary despite their struggling, Mr. Tree described sadly how as the elephants grow to a strength and power easily matched to the bonds of their chains, their struggling and will to escape lessens as they gradually stop trying to push against the chains. They are then seen as trained and fit to serve the owners, whips also being used to ensure their diligence and loyalty.

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Happy

You cannot ride the elephants in Mondulkiri, and the tour description of ‘jungle trek’ is really a glorified explanation of what they actually do here.
Because these elephants are free.
It makes such huge and wonderful sense to simply provide visitors with a glimpse into the lives and natural habitat of the elephants and their mahoots. Instead of forcing a route upon them day after day and camera-clad gawping Westerners stopping at set intervals to take pictures of them, visitors to Mondulkiri go where the elephants go. The mahoots act merely as satellite dishes to keep track of their elephants’ whereabouts in order for a tour group to find them, observe briefly and tempt with bananas, then follow at a distance as soon as the elephants have gotten bored and decided to wander onwards. It’s such a humane and natural system which benefits everyone within the community that I honestly am so so proud and happy to even have had the chance to experience it.

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Gentle Giants

In treating the elephants as the majestic, gentle and highly intelligent creatures that they are, the mahoots and staff of Mondulkiri have earned their respect, and Igot the impression they even enjoyed being fed huge bunches of bananas at a time, and followed to the streams to swim. After observing Lucky, Princess, Sophie and Ginzaag for a time as they filled up on branches and shoots and leaves of the protected forest, we were treated to a lunch of rice, beansprouts, spinach and vegetables in the treetop Jungle Lodge. An hours’ chilling in the hammocks there split the day up nicely, after which we followed the mahoots’ whistles to the riverside to find the elephants bathing. Although we were lucky in that our day for the tour seemed to be a fairly typical day for them, the success and value of the treks here really is at the mercy of the elephants themselves. It just further goes to show how fair treatment, equality and balance lead to a happier and healthier environment for all living things to exist in harmony (forgive me for sounding like a tree hugger here!)

12243634_10153183145423483_167972287_nAfter an exhausting yet exhilarating day at the Elephant Project, it was back to the TreeLodge and our friends Mr. Bathroom frog and Balcony Bat for what was one of the deepest and longest sleeps I’ve had in weeks. We awoke refreshed and ready to power through another 6 hour hurtling Gringotts’-cart shuttle van ride back to Phnom Penh. This time the pictures of our new elephant mates kept us occupied, along with various games of ‘guess the marinated insect’ at the market stalls of the hourly toilet breaks. I wouldn’t dare taste any, but it reminded me of Timone and Pumba’s jungle-introduction for Simba in The Lion King.

I felt somewhat better about taking the bus and putting my life in the hands of someone who doesn’t speak my language knowing that it meant I’d helped ensure that even some of Cambodia’s remaining wild elephants are still free roam where they want, responsible only for the transport of themselves from watering hole to the groups of Westerners they must see as irritating yet reliable banana-vending machines.

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Princess

I’d urge anyone to visit the Mondulkiri project, the tours and information provided is extremely well-delivered and easy to understand, and the accomodation, though you don’t have to stay at the Tree Lodge (not to mention fun!) accomodation. Bug spray is a must, as well as comfortable walking shoes and bum-pad for the bus journey there!!

Useful Links:
Virak- Buntham Travel
Mondulkiri Elephant Sanctuary
Mondulkiri Elephant Sanctuary Facebook
Tree Lodge Guesthouse

 

Bokor Biking and Fireflies – From Connemara to Cambodia

Bokor Biking and Fireflies

As I tentatively tugged the right handlebar of the heavy 2-wheeler towards me, I felt a surge of power and heard the grumble of the engine cut through the silence of the morning like the sudden snores of a drunkard sleeping with his mouth open after a particularly heavy night out. It was a feeling of power within my grasp that I’d never quite encountered before, and as I pulled back further and further on the throttle, gradually releasing more and more power and feeling giddy at the speed I was gaining, I couldn’t help but smile.
I’m free!!!
I took ten to fifteen minutes before leaving to circle the grounds of the yard, just to get to grips with the controls, but by the time it came to leave and follow our guide through the narrow streets of Kampot and up toward the shadow of the lonely Bokor Mountain (I couldn’t help but compare it to ‘The Lonely Mountain’ from The Hobbit!) I was raring to go, and more confident than I’d ever thought would be possible for me on such a vehicle.

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Motorbiking up Bokor Mountain

We rented the motorbikes from The Mad Monkey Kampot’s own rental company who, as we learned the hard way, are NOT great at negotiating group prices and /or tour guides. Eventually, after almost an hour discussing prices and trying to keep ‘cool hearts’, we were sorted with our bikes and two ‘guides’. Terrified as I was of losing my balance on the motorbike and causing a pile-up on the narrow and steep uphill climb to the peak of Bokor Mountain, I persevered and was gladly rewarded with a stable confidence after a few minutes of initial terror. We were informed on the way that we’d have to stop and pay for fuel refills ourselves, which we did begrudgingly, yet also got free rice crackers to keep us going on the way. As we drove further and further out of town towards the countryside and the beckoning heights of Bokor Mountain, I actually grew to really enjoy the biking, and made sure to get use of the 24 hours I’d rented it for by taking short trips to and from the shops and breakfast the next morning! It wasn’t for everyone, however, as the prospects of riding a motorbike in Cambodia after witnessing the madness of Phnom Penh understandably put us off somewhat. We managed to get through the entire trip with no major incidents, a massive downpour of rain drenching us to the bone as we passed through a cloud on the way down the mountain being the worst of it, only to emerge just as suddenly to heat and sunshine on the other side which dried us off almost immediately.

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Even The Buddha needs a bit of work sometimes!

Seeing the giant statue on top of the mountain clearly having some work done made me laugh and ironically made me think of how even The Buddha needs some TLC sometimes! I felt balanced and controlled at the summit, and proud of the fact that I’d made it up so far with only a minor burn from the exhaust pipe on my left leg to show as signs of battle.

In Kampot we ate in local restaurants The Rusty Keyhole, Veronica’s, and of course The Mad Monkey’s own yummy bar area at varying intervals. The Rusty Keyhole proved a popular favourite amongst our party, yet also quite small – they had no room for us at dinner, and so we were forced to make a booking for the following morning for breakfast!

On the final evening we all booked a private boat for a sunset tour up the river in Kampot – The ‘Fireflies’ tour which lived up to it’s name as we stopped at several points along the way to observe and catch the fireflies which lit up the shrubbery along the banks in a Christmas-tree like display of twinkling and shimmering. The old man and his son who steered and moored the boat were amazing guides, pointing out and explaining all points of interest and even giving us basic Khmer lessons – my day was MADE to discover that ‘nom’ in Khmer means ‘cake’! I was so thrilled to discover that literally saying ‘nom nom nom’ means ‘cake cake cake’ in Cambodian that I didn’t stop saying it all night!

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River-cruising in Kampot

The good company and beautiful scenery brought a lazy close to a busy day as the sun set behind the Elephant Mountains, the fireflies providing a trail of fairy lights to lead us home. This tranquility and festive atmosphere kind of made me think of home briefly and how everyone will be gearing up for Christmas in the next few weeks, and my mind was filled both with contentment at the proximity of the holidays on my return, and with a strange emptiness that I am not there to experience the build-up this year – often the best part of any major holiday. It only took a blink or two however and a glance around at my present surroundings to shake these thoughts from my head and focus on the amazing opportunities and experiences that are currently within my reach.

We enjoyed good food in Veronica’s, a glass of wine or two drooping the eyelids of weary travellers’ eyes like the slow ebb of a tide not yet sure if it’s on it’s way in or out to shore. It was expensive enough in comparison to some of the local food places, but it was a nice way to mark the end of a fun weekend. There was a pool party in full swing on our return to The Mad Monkey, but I stayed only for one more before calling it a night, if it could be called that with the music playing late into the night….One thing The Mad Monkey is not is being a place for catching up on lost sleep!

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Waterfall – another stop on the Bokor Mountain trail

Tours to the summit of Bokor Mountain in The Elephany Mountains and motorbike rentals are available at various places throughout the village of Kampot, though ours was organised exclusively through The Mad Monkey’s own operators at reception, which was easier seeing as there was a large group of us. It worked out at $6 each per bike, and a further $3.50 for the Fireflies cruise (group rate for a private boat).

The Giant Ibis Bus company to/from Phnom Penh worked out the most affordable form of transport, and worked out at $8 one –way for all passengers. (Most Cambodian bus companies charge extra for ‘foreigners’, but Giant Ibis have regularized all fees, hurrahh for equality!!) Buses leave

Phnom Penh – Kampot: 8:00 a.m, 2:45 p.m.
Kampot – Phnom Penh: 8:30 a.m., 2:45 p.m.

Useful Links:

Mad Monkey Website
Mad Monkey Kampot Facebook
Rusty Keyhole
Veronica’s
Bokor Mountain Tours (With Mad Monkey Kampot)
Fireflies Tour Kampot
Giant Ibis Transport

‘Cool Heart’, Fresh Start – From Connemara to Cambodia

‘Cool Heart’, Fresh Start – School in Cambodia

Waiting to do things you are unsure of for people who are unsure what they want you to do or why you’re even there to do them has got to be one of the most unsettling feelings in the world.
I’ve neglected to write until now because of the massively, massively contrasting feelings and rollercoaster of emotions that we have experienced this first week. School in Cambodia is tough.

It was our first week of experiencing life as intern teachers at the schools, and while I can’t speak for anyone save the three girls that I am living with, I know myself personally that I was completely and overwhelmingly under-prepared for the lack of organisation and gaping holes left in the planning on all sides of the programme.
Neither the school we were due to stay at, the TEFL organisation we have booked through, nor the school myself and Cathy have been placed at seemed to have been able to inform us of anything, be it what time the school day started and finished, information regarding timetables, free time, transport to and from the school (we have to get a tuk-tuk there and back everyday), or much else really about what was expected of us. All we kept hearing was ‘I will call someone and find out’, and ‘I will check this out for you’. These may be considered minor issues at home in Ireland or the UK where a little bit of messiness would be balanced out by the fact that our surroundings would be in some way familiar, but when you’re left standing watching 4 grown adults babbling away about you in a different language and clearly debating what to tell you to do in a foreign school where nobody speaks the language and the kids run around eating battered fish and squid-flavoured crisps for ten minutes every hour, it’s difficult not to get a bit frustrated. It was all just so alien to us, and I feel this culture-shock element of the transition wasn’t really taken into consideration by anyone.

I don’t know if it’s just in the Khmer culture to under-inform and not properly plan or allow room for questions, but as we were disorderly shipped from one location to the next and directed towards different members of staff to pose the same questions, the answers to which nobody seemed to have or make any effort to find out, we couldn’t help but get a bit distraught and begin to doubt the decision to ever come on this trip.

 That was the negative side.
The positives were equally as strong – the kids are adorable, so willing to learn, and absolutely fascinated with us. Their chanting in unison as you step foot inside the classroom, and respectful bow of welcome every time they set eyes on us gets me everytime, and although even many of the teachers’ pronunciation and language accuracy is dodgy at the best of times, there is no denying the will to learn and dedication to progress that underlies everything. While I find language barriers to be one of the most frustrating social constrictions of all time, the fact that this is in a school-setting where the focus is actually on trying to reduce the extremity of such a barrier really helps and serves as a constant reminder that steps are actually being taken to help improve the communication between staff, students, and new clueless and naïve intern-teachers.

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To be fair I don’t think the blame came could have been placed on any one party or individual in particular, the problem instead being a general lack of organisation and failure to supply some basic and obvious information within the first few days and hours of becoming interns.

-All of this is what was going through our heads for the first few days this week, and until I managed to sort a few things out and take a step back from the initial problems and look at them rationally, I didn’t want to write anything too judgemental or harsh. I’m used to dealing with and working in a chaotic environment – it’s just that this paticular one is also exremely foreign, operates through a language derived from Sanskrit and with an entirely different alphabet, and is in a continent where I have never step foot before– I feel it was quite understandable that I got a bit flustered!

As the week progressed it has improved slightly, with an introductory meeting eventually being scheduled at the end of the third day, and a few classes spent sitting in silence at the back of the room as neither the teacher nor we knew exactly what we should be doing.

I get the impression that Khmer people are just too nice! They come across too timid to make any definite assertions of decisions regarding us or any other visitors, yet it’s difficult to feel comfortable and accepted in a strange situation and country if nobody takes the reigns and makes some definite moves or plans. If I weren’t so wary of offending the culture and their way of going about these kind of assimilation periods (which I get the impression they don’t do often), I would have had no trouble taking the bull by the horns and re-structuring the entire system but, as you can guess, that’s not exactly an option.

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As it stands it was a relief to reach the end of the week, and we were finally provided with a full itinerary and timetable to begin the following Monday. Indeed, a lot of our concerns about correct teaching attire and how satisfied the principal was with our progress were deemed irrelevant as an ‘important meeting’ he called with all staff at the end of the week was spent planning a Halloween party for next week!

Things can only go up from here, and I feel with the right attitude, a bit more patience, and keeping a ‘cool heart’ as the Khmer people say, we will settle in a bit more this week.

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Travel Checklist – One Week to Go

I’ve always been early off the bat to prepare for trips away- when I was younger I’d often pack my bags two or three weeks in advance of my family leaving for a 2-week holiday, out of pure eagerness and impatience for it. I’ve managed by now to learn to stifle some of the excitement that comes with anticipating a trip abroad, yet still find myself indulging in the odd splurge into my savings to buy something that I’ll ‘definitely use’ whilst travelling – even if I end up completely forgetting to pack it and only realising when I get home that it’s been sitting on my desk the entire time I’ve been away (Captain Hindsight is a killer).

With a week to go until a short break in Europe, I thought I’d start some of this travel-blogging craic early and share my checklist for the next week with regards to packing, saving, and preparing myself both mentally and physically for a trip away. In order to do this successfully I’ve broken the list down into various important aspects of travel that I feel should be taken into account when trying to plan and pack for a spell abroad.

Time Managment:

Given that I’m working everyday until Friday, today (Sunday) might be the only chance I’m going to get to head into town and pick up any necessities before flying on Saturday morning. If I hadn’t considered this and taken my potential free time into account I would most likely be left rushing about on Friday evening trying to source everything in time before shops close – taking the risk of forgetting something vital. I know I will have access to a computer and printer during the week, and so will have the opportunity to print off tickets, boarding passes, and other necessary travel documents well ahead of schedule.

Holiday Type:

I’m attending a music festival in Budapest for a week, and so packing light yet intuitively is going to be key. In order to save money I’ve already sourced a backpack that I can borrow for the week, and although I own a small and portable tent, the research I’ve done on the festival has told me that there are ‘camping packs’ available for 20-30 euro on the festival grounds. These contain a tent and other necessary items that would be awkward and cumbersome for campers to travel with, many festival attendees (like ourselves) opting to fly into the city and spending a night or two in hostels before roughing it in the campsite.

Health and Diet:

This is a big one for me, as I’ve always felt that the way I’ve been treating my body and mind in the lead up to an important event, date, or period of time always has a direct correlation to the successes or failures of it. In other words – if I’ve been eating and drinking like crap a few days before I have to undertake something as substantial as an entire day spent travelling, I’m not going to feel my best and will be more likely to make silly mistakes and forget to do things that would hinder the smooth flow of the journey, and ultimately impact the enjoyment of travel negatively. It might seem like a no-brainer, but if we consciously eat well and maintain a balanced mindset in the lead-up to as unpredictable a life event as travel can be, we will at the very least possess the ability to know ourselves and trust our own intuition to maintain calm in the midst of chaos should a crisis occur.
Not to mention the importance of being correctly fueled and energised to navigate busy airports, train stations, and strange cities without burning out and ending up sitting alone, lost and emotional in a bar in Rome (I wish I wasn’t speaking from experience).

Budgeting:

Yet another aspect of travel where I have previously failed miserably, budgeting for even the shortest trip away is so key when your available funds fluctuate regularly between a healthy and comforting 3-4 digit number, to a minus figure that should only be used to describe the depths of Winter in Antarctica. At the beginning of this month I wrote down exactly what funds were available to me at the time, how much I was guaranteed to earn by the time the trip came around, and also took into account the minimum amount of money I could allow myself to get by on day-to day until my departure. If I felt I ever exceeded this amount, or if something came up that I hadn’t expected to need money for, I kept a mental tally of this until I got the opportunity to write it down so I wouldn’t forget. This is the first time I actually feel like I’ve been on top of my spending habits and in control enough to maintain such a balance – the only thing I regret slightly is depending that my latest paycheck will come through before Friday, but it’s never been late before!

Research:

As well as researching the available facilities at the festival itself, we’ve also arranged to fly into a neighbouring city instead of directly to the nearest airport, as we found we saved money that way. It’s worth looking these things up in advance and researching the options for reaching your destination, as quite often (especially in Europe) it can prove cheaper to fly into somewhere else and get a train to where you want to go – an added bonus to this is that you get to see a whole other country on your travels!

I’ll probably think of more things that I should have written here in a while, but for now I’ll leave it at that and head off to find some insect repellent…

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