One reason I was so keen to return to Chiang Mai is the vegan food.
What’s so great about Chiang Mai vegan food is the selection on offer. There are vegan and vegetarian restaurants elsewhere in Thailand, but they generally are your standard “Jay” (a Buddhist form of veganism) lunch buffet and are not always amazing. Sometimes they are. But I didn’t visit any of those whilst in Chiang Mai, because they can be found everywhere else. Instead I went for the organic farm to table, Japanese macrobiotic, healthy salad bar concepts and all the different and original options in-between, because they truly are what make Vegan Chiang Mai so special.
Koh Phangan swallowed me whole yet again with its beautiful vistas, beaches, yoga, food and everything that comes with it. This was my fourth time on the island and it was as good as ever. You can read the story of how I fell in love with the place here. For now though, let’s talk vegan Koh Phangan! (And right this way if you want to read about the best beaches of Koh Phangan).
I knew Ashtanga was going to be a challenge. I knew because I had already tried and failed not that long ago, at a time where I wasn’t mentally prepared. One thing you may not know about me, if you aren’t so close to me or haven’t been a reader of many years, is that the last three years were the most difficult of my life. A heartbreak lead me first to great heights, with a powerful adrenaline rush that propelled me from Kuala Lumpur to Berlin by bicycle on almost a single breath. But arriving in Berlin was an entirely different story. I fell from high up into the depth of a depression, something I hadn’t before experienced and that I have been a little shy of discussing here.
Siem Reap could rub you the wrong way if you tackle it from a certain angle. Much like Khao San Road in Bangkok, it’s easy to wound up exactly in the wrong place of the city (let’s hypothetically call this place Pub Street) and wonder what could have possibly gone wrong in such a quaint, culturally-rich, and spiritual part of the world. I did it, several people have done it, has Lonely Planet told us to do it? We’ve all got our reasons as to why we ended up in the most touristy and dare I say backpacker-damaged part of Cambodia whilst on the hunt for vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Siem Reap.
There is a lot I have missed about Southeast Asia since I was last here – sunshine, fruit that tastes like sunshine, a focus on space as opposed to time, tuk-tuks, negotiable prices, … There is less I currently miss about Berlin – except for one thing. My recycling bin. Traveling as a vegan is becoming a relatively straightforward thing to do, but integrating all my conscious habits from back home is a different story. Especially in Southeast Asia, where they really really REALLY love their plastic packaging, and recycling facilities are currently as mythical as unicorns… So when I rocked up at luxury boutique hotel and ethical resort Jaya House Siem Reap, I was excited not just at the anticipation of a comfy beds, access to the best temples in Siem Reap, and good coffee (fine, I miss these a little bit too), but to find out what a hotel with the ambition to be 100% plastic free is like.
I’m such a fan of yoga for boosting the mind-body balance and helping me achieve way more in life, that I hardly know where to start describing my experience and continuing journey. One place I do know where to begin is with my yoga teacher training in India, where a whole new world of knowledge, understanding and compassion opened up to me. I learned to spread my wings in a way that has altered my outlook on the world and has changed me forever.
Spending time in KL after backpacking through the rest of South East Asia is comparatively expensive. Of course, nothing compares to Singapore, but food, accommodation and entertainment in the Malaysian capital are likely to leave a dent in your wallet if you are not careful. That is precisely what started to happen to me. I intended to spend only a few days in KL with a friend to try some vegan restaurants before moving on – but life had different plans for me and I found myself stranded in Kuala Lumpur for nearly three weeks with a rather empty bank account. I had to be crafty and come up with ways to make my stay cheaper. Turns out, it’s absolutely doable to stay in KL on the cheap! And turns out also, there’s a vibrant gay scene in Kuala Lumpur! Here are a few things I discovered.
First there was the idea that I was perhaps going to hate India. Then there was the planning to cram as much of the best places to visit in India into ten days to decide whether or not I liked it. Following that was the realization that, if I was going to decide if I liked India, a manic 10 day tour of Varanasi, Delhi, the whole of Rajasthan and Mumbai was possibly not going to be the thing to convince me. And finally there was the cancellation of all flights or plans to do any form of adventure activities in Goa and the sitting down in the Goan sand with the smug look of an expert procrastinator.
I randomly met a friend in Chiang Mai who told me about this yoga teacher training she’d signed up for in India in February. “I’d love to go to India to do yoga”, I sighed absentmindedly. I’d been practising yoga most days since leaving Canada in January 2014, but it never occurred to me that my practice was strong enough to consider a teacher training, and this was not part of my plan anyway (in hindsight I realize that I did not actually have a plan – and I still don’t), so my words didn’t really mean much.
There are many places in South East Asia that have become synonymous with the ‘digital nomad’ lifestyle – ditching the regular nine-to-five to work remotely or bootstrap a new business from a warmer climate, with a much lower cost of living and even better quality of life. We visited Chiang Mai last year and loved the city for its culture and easy way of life, and it always stayed in the back of our minds that if there was one place in Asia we’d be happy to put down some roots and live, this was the it.