Our trip to northern Thailand with the family was wonderful. It was hot though, upper 30s, which was challenging, having come from such a cold winter here in Guernsey. Still we were lucky as we were staying in a wonderful villa up in the hills, a 45 minute drive from Chiang Mai, with this wonderful outdoor pool. So we spent much of our time in and out of the pool from 8.30am to 8pm.
There was also this wonderful Yoga Shala on a hill a short walk from the villa itself. It offered views of the mountains in the distance and a gentle breeze so that it made for a wonderful asana practice surrounded as you were by nature in all its beauty and with all its sounds and indeed smells.
How wonderful to see my brother Ross again and also to meet his daughter Willow, who has grown quite a bit in the year since I last saw her. Now 15 months she is rather active, in fact she doesn't stop. Apparently her Mum and I were like that when we were babies so I guess she has it in her genes. This made for an active time for the grandparents who helped to follow her around the garden and play with her in the swimming pool. What a joy.
We were blessed with such kind hearted staff who work in the villa, preparing meals for us and making sure that we didn't want for anything. This was quite a challenge on our part as we still found ourselves helping to clear up etc but they were quick to usher us away. In the end we had too accept that this was their job and us helping was actually not helping them at all.
We did venture out a few times. I went to a lovely yoga class at Wild Rose Yoga in the old town of Chiang Mai. This is a wonderful little studio hidden away. It was quite a challenge to find, which made it all the more enjoyable when we did. I also went to a class with Star, my brother's girlfriend, at Yoga Tree, just outside of the old city and was delighted to find that Esther was teaching, this is a lady I met a few years ago on a retreat in Bali. Strange how small the world is sometimes, but I guess it was inevitable as I had been thinking of her for days before she manifested there in front of my eyes.
One day E and I ventured out with the folks and Star's parents to join Alex, a local British guide, on a trip into a national park where we paddled in a refreshing river before going on a 2 hour walk up the highest mountain in Thailand. I forget the altitude but I was a little breathless, so amazing however to get up into cooler airs and walk through jungle and see this wonderful "cloud mountain" ecology and environment.
We went to the night bazaar in Chiang Mai a few times, now this is fun, bartering for all the wares, needless to say we ended up with far more than we actually needed but that is the nature of these things! We chanced upon a local coffee grower one day too, this went down a treat with the coffee drinkers who invested in the inexpensive and yet quality coffee that apparently tastes as good back in Guernsey as it did out there.
E and I went for a walk one day towards a local village and got picked up by a local couple. We couldn't communicate beyond our names but we smiled to one another and there was the mention of football - they love Manchester United out here, amazing the universal language these days! We wandered around the local market in the hot sun and then walked all the way back to the villa, typical of E to drag me along in such a manner, it was so hot! Still we got to enjoy the landscape and also the wonderful teak trees, they are beautiful. One day we ventured out on the bikes, I wasn't really that keen and thankfully the bikes were so useless that we went back and lay beside the pool instead!
It has been years since I last went to Thailand and since then I have travelled extensively in Asia so it was as if I was seeing Thailand through fresh eyes. It seemed to me such a peaceful and clean country, at least up in the north, we didn't venture down to Bangkok or the Islands in the East. Developed too, so much more than Nepal, which was calling to me throughout my time in Asia again. Thankfully, and unlike Nepal, we were left alone most of the time, no one harassing us to buy anything from them, well aside from the hill ladies in the night bazaar in Chiang Mai who remind me of the Tibetan ladies who walk up and down Lakeside in Pokhara constantly harassing you to buy their wares.
We watched the full moon rise from the Yoga shala one night, now that was special. So too the wonderful sunsets from the villa. We saw geckos and the most incredible dragonflies and the largest butterflies I have ever seen. I'd say it was a fairly grounded, back to nature and simplicity of life experience!
E and I spent our last night in Chiang Mai, upgraded to a wonderful suite in our hotel, with fabulous views of this extensive city. We went for afternoon tea at this wonderful tea house by the river, E enjoyed the typical British feast of tea and scones while I enjoyed a wonderful smoothie, they certainly know how to make their smoothies in Chiang Mai. I could spend hours, days even, pottering around the streets of Chiang Mai, if only it had been cooler it would not have been such a struggle but the 40 degree heat, the air heavy with the need to thunder was relentless at times!
The journey back was hard going as these things tend to be, it is funny how as we get older - well for me in any event - long haul travel has lost its appeal. Still it is a means to an end and what a joy to get to Asia and be reminded of the bigger picture again. It is so easy to get caught up in the trivialities of life back home, to get sucked into the illusion of the material world. Stepping out of it and experiencing the simplicity of the Asian culture, mixing with local people rather than maintaining that separateness, really helps to remind one of the beauty and joy in the simplicity of life.