Thursday, 31 May 2012

A chance to take stock during travels in South East Asia

It's just 8.30am on registration day at the International Dhamma Hermitage of Wat Suan Mokkh, in Chaiya, Thailand, and I've already cheated the system and myself. Several camping / yoga mats were piled up in the dorm's kit room, so I snaffled one. The mere chance that one of the wafer-thin cushions could lead to a more luxurious snooze on the concrete cell bed brought out my rebellious side. In my opinion a good night's sleep has to be conducive to attaining a higher state of consciousness.  I'll still be trying the wooden pillow for size, no fear.

Mat-nabbing wasn't a great start to the strict 10-day Buddhist meditation retreat I'd just signed up for, where the rules of engagement forbid speaking, sunbathing, jogging, hanging around by the dorm of the opposite sex, wearing see-through clothes, smoking, drinking alcohol, taking a bath in your swimsuit and soaking in the hot springs for more than ten minutes. My chores for the duration of the retreat will be laying the candles beside the reflection pool, and learning a regimented approach to everything, including washing my breakfast bowl in a string of wash basins, in strict order of succession.

I wound up at the Hermitage of Wat Suan Mokkh after a thought-provoking stay on the island of Koh Lanta led me to seek out a yoga class or maybe a meditation introduction elsewhere in Thailand. My compass was set for Koh Phanang, where I planned to mix soul-searching with scuba diving and some Full Moon Party decadence.

Danielle (28) from New Orleans was seated on the transfer bus from Koh Lanta and we exchanged the normal information - how long have you stayed on Koh Lanta? Where are you headed now? A hazy plan for Koh Phanang from me, but a Buddhist meditation retreat for her. And the seed was sown.

 Female living quarters Hermitage Wat Suan Mokkh, Thailand
Ten minutes later, Swedish Annette (52), climbed in with a dive bag and a yoga mat and the glow of disciplined, meditative living.(Turns out that this is her third year at Wat Suan and she runs a meditation retreat on Koh Lanta, where she has lived for seven years.)

My next move in Thailand was a fated one, but I let the idea of the retreat settle inside for the next two hours as we took the car ferry back to the mainland and I nodded off en route to Surat Thani. As our bus pulled up I asked Annette if the retreat was pre-booked or drop in. Just drop in. Registration was tomorrow and anyone interested could spend the night for free at Wat Suan Mokkh temple across the road from the retreat centre.
Meditation hall, at Hermitage Wat Suan Mokkh, Thailand

Was there yoga?, I asked. For sure the reply. It costs 2,000 baht including two meals a day.

Koh Phanang was put on hold for another time and I headed off with Danielle and Annette towards days of silence in an unknown setting. When the retreat comes to an end, or I break loose in the meantime, I'll explain all.

Right now the schedule dictates that I eat at 12.30 and await a greeting from the abbot at 4pm sat in my chosen space in the sandy meditation hall.



wish me luck.

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Sunday, 5 February 2012

Bali scuba trip - I've that sinking feeling about this dream travel plan

MY wonderfully well-crafted dream of floating below the swooping wing of a manta ray was certainly curtailed today... even though I've a credit card gagging to shoulder the booking.

This trip, which would have kicked off in Bali in the first week of April, has been brewing for around two or three weeks, fueled by a couple of like-minded scuba diving friends (who have booked flight tickets), a boyfriend who's understandably tempted to turn 30 years old sipping a Bintang on the other side of the world, and my summer-baby's need to get the hell out of England until at least early June.

Just a month, perhaps two away. Some time to temple-tiptoe and practice yoga posing on my tod, followed by jaw-dropping dives with my scuba buddies - that's all I've ever wanted. Manta Point, perhaps the Gilis and Komodo National Park, a wreck or two, just one sunfish, several sharks and ten turtles.

But I've a hunch this one just ain't going to be...

Which is the first time I've let travel reality slap me down. I've never been rich (far, far from it) but I'm the queen of the travel 'f**k it', with the 'f**k it and fly' magazine column drafted. Pay it off later. Live life while you can. See the world not sense....

But this trip, this one would ruin me. Curled in a ball on the sofa as it snowed outside in suburban Peterborough today, I broke the news to my fella and to myself. It aint happening....unless, unless something.

Singapore Airlines have amazing return flights from London into Denpasar up in lights, from April onwards. £545-ish if you're interested in living this dream for me and clinking beers with my dive buddies.

They're they are...

It was an amazing idea, and the reason I ditched my travel publishing job to be a freelancer was the freedom to flit off. If only...if only I hadn't spent so much time and money training myself as a proper Journalist (all shorthandy and legally sound) there'd be money in the bank to live the dream... but that's my terrible reality, and a million hearts must surely bleed.

Back to pitching travel feature ideas and crossing my fingers those seats are still available once a miracle has happened.

Or, should I just be F**king it all as usual?

Bali beach shot by michis0806

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