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I am not home http://iamnothome.net Travel blogger. Photographer. Motorcyclist. Wed, 15 Nov 2017 11:38:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9 80247682 The Erotic Garden of Katai Kamminga: Chiang Mai, Thailand (NSFW) http://iamnothome.net/2017/11/erotic-garden-teahouse-mae-rim-chiang-mai/ http://iamnothome.net/2017/11/erotic-garden-teahouse-mae-rim-chiang-mai/#respond Wed, 15 Nov 2017 08:05:26 +0000 http://iamnothome.net/?p=8732 Katai Kamminga sat opposite to me while sipping her bluish iced tea, which tasted delicious. When I asked her what the tea was made from, she mischievously retorted with a wink. “From my flower. Now you know what it tastes like”.   It was one of the many witty puns that I would hear from […]

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Katai Kamminga sat opposite to me while sipping her bluish iced tea, which tasted delicious. When I asked her what the tea was made from, she mischievously retorted with a wink.

From my flower. Now you know what it tastes like”.

 

It was one of the many witty puns that I would hear from the brilliantly sharp mind of Katai Kamminga over the next hour. Turns out the tea was made from a non-orchid pea flower quite common in Thailand, named the Butterfly pea.

 

And it’s scientific name was ‘Clitoria Ternatae’.

Butterfly pea flowered tea

The butterfly pea flowered tea, with a clitoria added on top for embellishment.



The erotic garden and teahouse of Mae Rim


The nation once called me a penis lady. I like that name

‘The nation’ here referred to Thailand’s most read newspaper. The slim and elegantly dressed Katai Kamminga had already proved to me that she was no ordinary lady. She has been the subject of quite intense scrutiny ever since she opened out her backyard garden in Mae Rim, just a 30 minute scooter ride from Chiang Mai.

 

It was quite a task to get here from my hostel in Chiang Mai on my worn-down 125 CC Honda scooter that I had rented for 200 baht per day. But the scooter held up for the 20 KM ride, along the highway between Chiang Mai and Mae Rim. I simply had to followed the google maps direction, as the location was perfect.



Chiang Mai Tip: You can mix this trip with a visit to the Huay Tung Tao Reservoir, which is along the way. It makes for a nice scenic pitstop for lunch or watching the sunset.


Huay tung tao reservoir

The Huay Tung Tao Reservoir makes for a good pitstop on the way, or back, to the erotic garden.

Erotic garden mae rim

The entrance gate to the Erotic Garden and Tea house.

 

I knew I was on the right path, thanks mostly to the signboards along the way giving directions. From the outside, the Erotic garden and teahouse was a normal house built by a talented artist and gardener, with her archaeologist husband. (Johan Kamminga is a prominent Australian archaeologist). But once inside the compound, the first sight that greeted me was the innocent-looking fish pond.

Wait, were those..??

Erotic garden mae rim

Yep. Those were penises.

Erotic garden thailand

Welcome to the Erotic Garden of Chiang Mai

 

And then there was the sight of Ms. Katai herself, clad in a hat, embracing the Thai sun.

“Welcome to the Erotic garden!”



Katai Kamminga’s vision


There is no word in Thai for ‘erotic’. So, the mention of ‘erotic garden’ brought a lot of different ideas to the heads of different people. To the point that I was raided just a couple of months after opening this place. People thought I was doing something immoral here. So, the Thai police came over – with media along with them – and scanned the whole place. And what did they find?”, Katai Kamminga looked at me quizzingly with her well-threaded eyebrows.

 

“Just nature and statues. We have so much eroticism happening in nature, but we do not notice it. I did, and I designed a garden around it. The Thai police and media went back, all happy yet pleasantly surprised”

 

“Come. You should see my flowers now. And I will show you my dream”, she had the mischievous smile again. I simply followed.

Erotic Garden pathway

The pathway in the Erotic Garden, filled with… well, you see.

Katai kamminga chiang mai

Katai Kamminga had a sundial built into her garden. No guesses what the dials were shaped as.



Defining Erotic


“How do you like my little boy?”, she asked, giving me a little flower to hold in my hand.

erotic garden thailand

The little boy here, was definitely shaped like a penis.

 

I was in Katai Kamminga’s garden now, surrounded by phallic shapes of all kinds and sizes. They were erected in wood (pun unintended) and I had already passed through a bunch of them. Even a sundial made from phalluses.

 

But the flower bud that I held in my hand was different. I had seen it before, but did not know it’s name. But now when I held it, in this little garden in Mae Rim, it resembled a penis.

 

Nature is erotic. But people often don’t see it that way. You need to have an open mind to see a regular natural flower and see the symbolism”, she said. Well, I now knew that I did have a very open mind as almost every other flower I saw in the garden started reminding me of human genitalia.

Genital shaped flower

How open is your mind? What does this remind you of?

Erotic garden chiang mai

Was that just a plant-holder?

 

Even the small mounds in the garden were suggestive. One was shaped like a human butt, another like the breasts with 2 prominent nipples on top of them. Of course, being surrounded by penises helped to identify the relation with human anatomy.

Erotic garden chiang mai 2

Notice the mound of hills at the back of the statue.

breast mound

Or this mound.

golden penis

Or take a seat below a giant golden penis

There was a sprinkling of artistic nude sculptures around the garden. But more interesting were the sculptures of the vegetables. There were onions, and even plums. “Plums are sexy. I don’t think you looked at them that way until now”, Katai said.

 

I hadn’t. And when she said that, I started seeing onions and plums in a completely new light. Their curves were so reminiscent of a female butt. Was I weird for imagining it that way? Maybe I was. Or maybe nature itself is weird.

Erotic garden chiang mai

The vegetable statues of the Erotic garden

 

When the police came to raid me, they asked me about that statue. What was it called.”, Katai pointed to a human-sized statue of a girl embracing a 5 foot penis. “I told them it is called the dream. It is the dream of every woman. What is your dream, Abhi?

 

I looked at the genitalia-shaped flowers around me. I didn’t reply.

 

The dream

The Dream.



Practical Information


 

The Erotic Garden and teahouse is located at the below address: (it is easily findable on google maps by just searching ‘erotic garden chiang mai’)

Soi 5, Huay Sai, Mae Rim, Chiang Mai 50180

 

Phone: 083-318-4855

Email: chiangmaieroticgarden@gmail.com

Opening Hours: 10:00am – 4:00pm. Closed on Monday and Tuesday.

Entry Fee: 300 baht per person. Includes a free drink the teahouse, and a personalized tour with Katai Kamminga, if she is available.

 

 


This post is part of my Thailand travel stories. Click here to check out other amazing travel stores from Thailand



Follow my travels on Facebook and on instagram, for more updates and travel photography.
 
Unless mentioned otherwise, all pictures are taken by the blog admin. If you would like to use them for any commercial or non-commercial purposes, please contact for approval

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A little bit of France in Africa: Saint Pierre, Reunion Island http://iamnothome.net/2017/11/reunion-island-france-saint-pierre/ http://iamnothome.net/2017/11/reunion-island-france-saint-pierre/#respond Tue, 14 Nov 2017 12:02:16 +0000 http://iamnothome.net/?p=8726 “I am on a trip around the world studying different types of coffee”, The backpacker I met in my bijou hostel in Saint Pierre explained, as he measured out the grams of coffee beans he was going to make his coffee from. He had all the apparatus required for it, and apparently all the patience […]

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“I am on a trip around the world studying different types of coffee”,

The backpacker I met in my bijou hostel in Saint Pierre explained, as he measured out the grams of coffee beans he was going to make his coffee from. He had all the apparatus required for it, and apparently all the patience to boot.

 

“I started in Brazil, went through different parts of South America. Then I came to Africa. First to Ethiopia, then Kenya. And then I decided to try some European coffee made in African soil of the Indian Ocean”, and he gave the most mysterious smile.

 

The last sentence he uttered, may have sounded like utter nonsense to anybody who reads this. But it made perfect sense given where we were. We were in a European territory, but in the Indian Ocean, part of the African continent. A territory where French, African and Indian cultures had gotten into a mesmerising ménage-a-trois, and created something very unique.

 

No wonder, this place is named Reunion.

reunion island france

Welcome to Reunion! That’s me playing Uncle Sam, asking you to get over here.



To read: If you are interested in a similar country where Indian, African and French cultures collided, click here to read about my roadtrip through Mauritius.



Visa to Reunion Island for Indians


 

When I was planning my trip to Mauritius, I knew that 2 weeks was quite long for Mauritius. I wanted to take a few days somewhere close by. There were quite a few names in my head, like Seychelles, Madagascar and Comoros. But none of them fell through, due to various reasons like cost, not enough time etc.

 

But that is when I came across 2 overseas regions of France in the Indian Ocean, to the east of the African mainland. Reunion and Mayotte. Overseas regions are basically French territories which have not yet been decolonized, and continue to remain a part of France as a part of the French Republic. France had 5 of them around the world (the others being French Guiana in South America, and Guadalupe and Martinique in the Caribbean). After looking at the flights, I settled for Reunion over Mayotte because the cost of flying there was much cheaper from Mauritius. The flight time was just about 45 minutes or so.


But how to get a visa for Reunion? Reunion may be a French territory, but it does not fall under the Schengen area. So, one could not visit Reunion with a Schengen visa. So, was there something like a Reunion visa?



Note: Indians DO NOT need a visa for Reunion, but only if they are travelling with an approved travel agency for a stay not longer than 14 days. But this exemption did not apply to me, since I was backpacking and was not travelling with any travel agency.


Turns out, there was indeed a separate French overseas visa. I had to apply one at the French embassy in Singapore directly (unlike Schengen visas, which are applied through VFS and not the embassy), and specifically state which overseas territory I wanted to visit. The visa itself looked exactly like a Schengen visa, but stated clearly that it was for the overseas territory of Reunion.

reunion island visa

Ignore my stupid face, but that is what a visa for Reunion looks like.



Too many saints in Reunion.

 


 

After roadtripping through Mauritius island, me and my friends took a flight to Saint Denis in Reunion. If one needed any further proof of how French this place is, look no further than the name of the Airport. If you are a fan of the French open, you might find yourself delighted to land at the Roland Garros international airport!

 

The thing about place names in Reunion is that they can be quite confusing. You see, almost all the main cities in Reunion begin with Saint! We landed in Saint Denis, and took a bus to get to our hostel in Saint Pierre, about 80 KM away. On the way, we passed through Saint-Paul, Saint-Giles, Saint-Leu and Saint-Louis. On almost all of those stops, I almost got down from the bus, before checking my hostel address and reassuring myself that I would be getting down at the wrong ‘saint city’ if I did. And mind you, this was all along the west side of the island. On the east side, there was also Saint-Suzanne, Saint-Andre, Saint-Rose, Saint-Philippe and Saint-Joseph. And these are just the big communes!

 

Luckily for me, one of my friends spoke French which made it quite easy to get to our hostel. Although the locals mostly spoke in Reunion Creole, French was still the official language and understood by everyone.

 

Le Toit D’Imany (whatever that means in French), was a laidback and snug place, run by a guy from Martinique – another overseas territory of France – and his wife. We settled in quickly, got cozy with his dogs, and started exploring the neighbourhood.

saint pierre temple

There was no mistaking the Indian influences in the neighbourhood. Especially with small temples around the island.



Getting around Saint-Pierre


Our original plan involved hiring a car in St. Denis and driving around Reunion. Only glitch in the plan was, none of us could drive a manual. The whole world knows that I am much better on a motorbike than a 4-wheeler. And my 2 friends were not comfortable with a manual drive either. So, we had decided to take public transport (bus) from St. Denis airport to St. Pierre. Which was also our plan for the rest of the island: to take public buses.


Note: St. Pierre does have an international airport – the Pierrefonds airport – which has direct flights from Mauritius and were pretty much the same price as flying to St. Denis. However, we did not fly here because transit from the airport to the city was quite difficult. There were no buses, and a taxi would have easily cost us 100 Euros.



But figuring out the bus system WITHIN St. Pierre, turned out to be much more difficult than we thought. Even with our French friend, we had no luck in that department. Eventually, we settled for the most basic way to see the city: We started walking.

walk to port de plaisance

Turns out, the walk wasn’t so bad after all

 

But it was quite a nice walk. Once we got closer to the waterfront, we could see the streets and buildings become more charming and picturesque. There were elements of graffiti on the street, and a generally laid back French vibe. The walk led us to the Town hall, which had a small garden adjacent to it. I don’t know why it was called the Hotel De Ville, but this definitely was the Townhall!

Graffiti along saint pierre

Graffiti along Saint pierre

saint pierre town hall garden

Gardens – or Jardins, as the french say – next to the town hall

Saint Pierre town hall

I know it says ‘hotel’, but this was actually the town hall.

 

A further walk from the town hall, beyond the Rue du Four A Chaux (which was, surprisingly, named Rue Mahatma Gandhi a few blocks down), was the tourism office of St. Pierre. The Office de tourisme is quite hard to miss. It cuts a very visible figure against the Port De Plaisance, being situated just at the tip of it. A helipad-like roof (maybe it really is a helipad!) on the top, gave it a crown that could be viewed from anywhere on the street.

 

We hopped inside. There was not much English-speaking tourism officials around, but they were quite friendly and still nice. They gave us brochures – in English – of what to see around Reunion, and how to get there. The second part was the most important, as we definitely needed help on how to get to different parts of Reunion, using public transport.

More of that in another post, from this exotic Indian ocean island.

Tourism office saint pierre

The tourism office of Saint Pierre

Port de plaisance

And that is the view from the tourism office, of the Port de Plaisance

 


This post is part of my East Africa travel stories. Click here to check out other amazing travel stores from East Africa



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Unless mentioned otherwise, all pictures are taken by the blog admin. If you would like to use them for any commercial or non-commercial purposes, please contact for approval

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A Sonnet to Palau http://iamnothome.net/2017/11/a-sonnet-to-palau/ http://iamnothome.net/2017/11/a-sonnet-to-palau/#respond Sun, 12 Nov 2017 12:26:38 +0000 http://iamnothome.net/?p=8708 This is part of a series called ‘A sonnet to the world’, which I have been working on. You can read about the project here. The idea is to write a 14-line Shakespearean Sonnet for every country I visit (and hopefully and eventually, the whole world). And this one is for Palau. I hopped across […]

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This is part of a series called ‘A sonnet to the world’, which I have been working on. You can read about the project here. The idea is to write a 14-line Shakespearean Sonnet for every country I visit (and hopefully and eventually, the whole world). And this one is for Palau.


I hopped across the ocean, from one island to another.

Found out what hidden legs were, on my way to a hidden shore.

In search of a mysterious land, of which what I now remember

Is an unseen jellyfish lake and tropical rains galore.

 

Who goes all the way across to Palau, surrounded by the azure,

And doesn’t even get to touch the beautiful oceans that surround?

This unlucky poet, whose wanderlust has found no cure.

Even the jellyfish knew of it. They clearly didn’t stay around.

 

Koror tried it’s charming best, to keep me occupied.

And so did the rains. I braved through them and ventured, but not too far.

Across the bridge between Koror and Malakal, I sighed.

And the lonely Nagardmau and Ngarachamayong found out that I too, was at par.

 

For no fault of Palau, my trip there had flirted with disappointment.

Well, not all travels are magnificent tales of human resolve and excitement.





Poet’s notes

  1. Palau was one of the most disastrous trips I had ever taken, but because of no fault of the country itself. It was a beautiful country, and I only have myself to blame for choosing the wrong time to go there, and found having planned only 3 days there.
  2. I had taken 4 flights to get there, from Singapore to Manila to Yap to Koror, and found out during the process that there is something called ‘hidden legs’ in aviation.
  3. My only plan was to visit the famous Jellyfish lake of Palau, but due to the strong El Nino effects of 2016, most of the Jellyfish in the jellyfish lake were dead. Further, rains came down in a torrential downpour. And my Palau trip was reduced to staying indoors and drinking the local beers.
  4. Malakal is a separate island of Palau, which is connected to the Koror island by a small bridge. The Ngarachamayong cultural center is an attraction in the middle of Koror. The Ngardmau waterfall was a small waterfall, about 30 minutes from Koror. Which I didn’t get to, because of the rains.


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Mixed emotions at the Loy Krathong Lantern festival: Chiang Mai, Thailand http://iamnothome.net/2017/11/loy-krathong-festival-chiang-mai/ http://iamnothome.net/2017/11/loy-krathong-festival-chiang-mai/#respond Thu, 09 Nov 2017 01:55:00 +0000 http://iamnothome.net/?p=8676 It was a bittersweet culmination of a dream I had harboured for many years. To see the Loy Krathong festival. Or, as hippie instagrammers often called it, the lantern festival.   Bittersweet, because it was everything I had expected. And much more. But we will come to the ‘much more’, later in this post. Thanking […]

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It was a bittersweet culmination of a dream I had harboured for many years. To see the Loy Krathong festival. Or, as hippie instagrammers often called it, the lantern festival.

 

Bittersweet, because it was everything I had expected. And much more. But we will come to the ‘much more’, later in this post.



Thanking the Lannas

 


It had been a long road from Phuket to Bangkok. Thanks to some seasonal floods that were happening in central Thailand, my long, arduous 21 hour bus ride from Phuket to Chiang Mai, had become a long, arduous 27 hour bus ride from Phuket to Bangkok, and Bangkok to Chiang Mai. But I didn’t care. I knew it was not an easy trip, but the prospect of being at Chiang Mai – the only major city in Thailand where it is legal to fly sky lanterns during Loy Krathong – was too tempting for me. So, I ignored my knees and gritted my teeth all the way through the bus ride.

bangkok to chiang mai bus

To the point that I sometimes decided to sit on the floor of the bus, just so i can stretch my legs a little bit.



To read: This wasn’t my first festival in Chiang Mai. Click to read about the time I celebrated the Thai new year, Songkran, in Chiang Mai.



Loy Krathong was a traditional Thai farmers festival which happened on the 12th moon of the lunar calendar. The date keeps changing each year, in accordance with the lunar calendar. In 2015, it was on November 25th. In 2016, on November 24th.

 

In 2017, it was on November 3rd. And I was going to be in Chiang Mai to celebrate it, by releasing a sky lantern into the Thai sky.

 

I had to thank the Lannas for this opportunity. Loy Krathong is celebrated across Thailand by floating a basket (that’s what Loy Krathong translates to: ‘floating a basket’). The baskets are made of buoyant materials, and decorated in bright colours, with some food materials and a coin placed inside it and a candle stuck on top of it. The candle is then lit, and the krathong is released into the river or the sea as the person who releases it makes a silent wish. Kind of like what I do when I see that rare shooting star in the sky.

krathongs in chiang mai

A boy sells Krathongs in Chiang Mai

 

But the Lannas included a twist into this ceremony in the Chiang Mai region. The Lanna kingdom was once a historically important kingdom in the North of Thailand. The kingdom may have disintegrated over time, but the Lannas became one of the most culturally important populace of the Northern Thailand region. And Loy Krathong happened to coincide with the Lanna festival of Yi Peng. Yi meant ‘two’, and Peng meant ‘full moon day’, signifying that the festival will be celebrated on the full moon day of the second month of the Lanna Lunar calendar. And since the second month of the Lanna lunar calendar happens to be the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar, Yi Peng and Loy Krathong became one in Chiang mai, like a heavenly unification that was supposed to happen.

 

The lannas – to celebrate Yi Peng – came up with the idea of releasing sky lanterns into the sky. Called Khom loi, these lanterns are made with rice paper, and a candle is attached in the center of it. The hot air trapped inside the lanterns after lighting up the candle, caused the lantern to lift and fly off.

 

It was a simple, yet ingenious creation.

khom loi sky lanterns chiang mai

The khom loi, with a candle underneath them. The air is trapped inside the lantern, and will slowly make it lift.



To read: If you are looking for other colourful festivals in South East Asia, I strongly recommend the Masskara festival of Bacolod, Philippines.


 

The Lanna folk artists of Chiang Mai


 

So, I started my Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai by first visiting the Lannas. The Loy Krathong festival itself is kicked off with traditional Lanna folk dances, ceremonies and cultural performances happening everywhere in Chiang Mai.

 

In Tha Phae gate – that epicenter of everything that happens in Chiang Mai – the ceremonies kicked off with Lanna folk artists doing a drums performance. And in Wat Mahawan – on the way from Tha Phae Gate to Nawarat Bridge – another group of Lanna artists were playing music with instruments that I have never even seen of before.

lanna folk artists

Lanna folk artists at Tha Phae Gate

Performance at Wat Mahawan

Performance at Wat Mahawan



The lanterns are flying



I could see them by this time. Lanterns up in the sky. Thousands of them!

khom loi sky lanterns

The Khom loi were beginning to go up in the air.

 

I knew where they originated from. The Nawarat bridge. As per the official communication, people were allowed to release lanterns at the Nawarat bridge. And the tourists were allowed to release between 7 PM to 1 AM.

 

I walked from the Wat Mahawan to the Nawarat bridge. The crowds were crazy. I wasn’t new to crowds in Chiang Mai, as I had been here for Songkran before. But there was something different about the crowds during Songkran and Loy Krathong. During the Songkran, most of the people I met in Chiang Mai were locals, as the farangs and foreigners partied more in Bangkok. But for Loy KRathong, almost everyone in the crowd was a foreigner. There were people of all countries, and almost everyone carried one or all of 3 things: a colourful krathong, a sky lantern to be released later, or a camera. It was an ocean of tourists here!

people loy krathong chiang mai

It was an ocean of people at Chiang Mai for the Loy Krathong.

 
 

 


 

Mixed emotions in Chiang Mai


 

It was when I finally reached Nawarat bridge that I felt a little raw about the whole thing. I had come all the way to Chiang Mai, hoping to watch the locals engage in the lantern-flying act. And maybe float one myself. But on reaching the Nawarat bridge, I found that majority of the people were actually foreigners. I could count the number of Thais releasing lanterns on my fingers. Sure, they were everywhere around, but they focused on selling Krathong and Khom Loi to the foreigners.

nawarat bridge chiang mai

Nawarat bridge looked like this on Loy Krathong night.

releasing khom loi

Tourists were releasing the khom loi everywhere.

 

The other thing that bothered me was the slightly unorganized nature of the event itself. All the travel guides that I had read – online and offline – had told me that the lanterns are supposed to be released only at the Nawarat bridge. The sky lanterns – as beautiful as they look – can be quite dangerous. Apart from the fact that they can bring down aircrafts – which was why Chiang mai had to cancel air travels for 2 nights in a row – they often need a little patience to be able to float correctly. The candle has to burn long enough for the lantern to get filled with hot air. Otherwise, you release the lantern into the sky and it will go sideways and strike something else. Which was why the officials kept repeating to light lanterns on the bridge, so that any failed lanterns will fall into the river.

 

But there were tourists lighting lanterns everywhere! I saw some as early as the Chiang Mai moat, which was surrounded by a lot of buildings, electricity lines, and everything else that shouldn’t come to contact with fire. And at Nawarat bridge – since it was packed with people – many choose to go to the perpendicular roads next to it, and release it there. Only problem: there was a night market happening right next to it, and the food stalls had cloth roofs! Every once in a while, a stray lantern would make its way to the food stalls, and the owners would panic to get it out of contact with any cloth. It was a disaster that didn’t happen, but could have easily happened.

Lantern festival chiang mai

To make it a little bit more fun, there were vehicles on the road too.

 

To give due credit to Chiang Mai city administration, there was a fire truck positioned very close to the bridge, available for any emergencies. That sight relieved me a little bit, so I headed to the river itself. To see the Krathongs. And it was a much more beautiful sight than watching the lanterns. The Krathongs – the colourful baskets which are released into the river.



A note for responsible travel: If you are buying a krathong, check if they are made of bread or Styrofoam. Bread will become food for the fish soon, but Styrofoam take years to decompose, and will pollute the river.


 

Releasing the krathong into the Ping river, turned out to be a much less stressful activity for me than watching thousands of people play with fire lanterns. It was still crowded, but I did notice that there were more Thais here releasing their krathongs along the river than foreigners.

Krathong baskets chiang mai

Lighting up Krathongs in Chiang Mai

krathong release ping river

The krathong release along ping river

 


 

Note: 

One of the festivities during Loy Krathong, is the one at the Mae Jo University. I didn’t go for that, but I met a lot of friends during Loy Krathong who went for it. I do have some reservations about the event. If you are planning to go there, I recommend you to read this link first, beautifully compiled by Thaizer.

 


 

The Loy Krathong Grand Procession

 


 

The schedule for the Loy Krathong festival, had something called a ‘grand procession’ on Day 2, i.e, 4th November. I didn’t know what to expect, but I decided to get a vantage point early to ensure that I had the best view.

 

The procession started from Tha Phae gate and ended at the chiang mai municipality office. And if one thing that going to various festivals have taught me, it is that the crowds are mostly on the starting and the beginning. It tends to be less crowded at the middle.

 

So, I took up a spot in the middle, on the walk-bridge near Warorot Market.

 

It was quite an interesting procession, from a political viewpoint. The construct was simple. There was a contingent of people who walked in some traditional costume, followed by a float. The floats were mostly made by embassies and consulate-generals of different countries in Chiang Mai, and some companies like Airasia.

 

What was surprising, was the order. The procession began with the local Thai float as expected. But following it, was a float from China. And China did showcase their achievements as well as they could – which included a float shaped like a bullet train! And after China, came the United States. Followed by Japan.

 

If you needed more proof that the pecking order of the world – or atleast South East Asia – has changed, look no further.

loy krathong street procession

The grand procession at Loy Krathong kicks off.

china float loy krathong

China’s float at the procession

 

US float loy krathong

The US float, which followed after.

 

Chiang mai procession lantern festival

Other scenes from the procession

 

 


This post is part of my Thailand travel stories. Click here to check out other amazing travel stores from Thailand



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Meet the Brazilian skating around the world – Marcelo Silva http://iamnothome.net/2017/11/marcelo-silva-brazilian-skating-world/ http://iamnothome.net/2017/11/marcelo-silva-brazilian-skating-world/#respond Wed, 08 Nov 2017 14:49:53 +0000 http://iamnothome.net/?p=8664 It was not just the weird-looking contraption that caught my fleeting attention. It was also what was written on it. “Ja Houve de Balao, Aviao, Barco, Carro, Moto e Bicicleta … Maz de skate e a 1 vez!!!” I knew a little Portuguese, thanks to 2 weeks in Brazil, and I kind of figured out […]

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It was not just the weird-looking contraption that caught my fleeting attention. It was also what was written on it.

Ja Houve de Balao, Aviao, Barco, Carro, Moto e Bicicleta … Maz de skate e a 1 vez!!!” I knew a little Portuguese, thanks to 2 weeks in Brazil, and I kind of figured out the translation. It went something like, “There has been balloon, plane, boat, car, motorcycle and bicycle. But first time on a skateboard

 

I sat in the arrivals section of the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata, sipping a lukewarm sugary drink that the coffee shop outside had labeled ‘Capuccino’. I didn’t care. I just wanted to wake up after a long bus-trip from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, and a flight from Bangkok to Kolkata. Anything with Caffeine would do at this hour. Which was 2 AM in Kolkata.

 

Across me, in a corner of the arrival section, a balding yet healthy-looking man, had set down on the floor. He was unpacking a large carton which was labeled ‘sam song’ – the infamous Thai alcohol. Clearly, he had flown in from Bangkok with me. From the carton, he took out a weird mix of things. First was a skateboard. Well, not exactly ‘a’ skateboard, but a few pieces of the skateboard, which he started assembling. Ok, it was a customised board, I could tell. And from the carton, he pulled out 2 more units, which looked like containers. One was a square in shape, and the other was a pyramid. He attached them to the front and the back respectively.

 

That’s when I knew that I was seeing a Genius at work here.

marcelo silva skateboard

Marcelo began assembling his skateboard

MArcelo silva brazilian skateboarder

His 2 containers. He designed and built them himself.



Marcelo Silva the Brazilian



Tudo Bem?”, I came and stood across Marcelo as he was still bolting his containers onto the skateboard. I had figured out he was Brazilian. I didn’t need to know how to Portuguese to figure out his nationality. He had made it easy by laying a Brazilian flag on the floor of the Kolkata airport, from where he was slowly unpacking and sorting his pile of stuff.

 

Si. Obrigado. Fala Portugues?”,(Yes. Thank you. You speak Portuguese?). He looked clearly surprised that he was hearing Portuguese in India.

 

Just a little bit”, I continued in English. I knew the extent of my Portuguese.

 

 

I asked him where he was from. He was from Rio. And then I asked him where in Rio. He looked up, clearly confused that I knew Rio well. I told him I had been to Rio already for the carnival. His eyes went as wide as the sugarloaf mountains of Rio.

 

Copacabana! Copacabana, my friend!”. Well, we had become friends now.



Le Tour Du Monde en Skate. To Russia


 

I started asking him about his trip. And from that point on, my mouth was agape. This man had left home in 2009! That was 8 years ago! And he has been skating around the world since then, and sharing updates of it on Brazilian channels. First in the Americas, then in Africa. And now, in Asia, where he was skating around Myanmar for the last 1 or 2 months, before taking a flight from Bangkok to Kolkata. The below video will give you a glimpse of what this crazy guy has been up to.

 

And after Kolkata? What is your plan?

 

Kolkata to Gaya and Patna. I think it will take me about a month. And hopefully, by next month, I should be in Nepal. After Nepal, I have to figure out how to get to Russia for the world cup in June. I don’t think I can go through Pakistan and Afghanistan. I will find a way to get to Kazakhstan around March or April, since I don’t need a visa there”, he giggled.

 

In an age where people take a quick flight to get to Kazakhstan or Russia, he was planning to get there in the next 4 to 6 months, by skating all the way. And what was in Russia?

 

The world cup, my friend. I am Brazilian, how can I miss it?!”, he had that mischievous Brazilian smile which I knew way too well. Marcelo was not joking. He was indeed going to Russia.

Marcelo silva skating to the world cup.

In fact, his skateboard said it very prominently in Portuguese: “skating around the world to Russia for the world cup”



Welcome to India, Marcelo!



Listen, Abhi. My friend, I need your help. Can you teach me some quick things to say in Indian, for every time I meet some on the road?

 

My turn to talk now. I had to explain to Marcelo that there was no language called ‘Indian’. We were in Kolkata now, where people spoke Bengali. Even I didn’t know it. I told him that he can either talk in one of the 2 official languages: Hindi or English. I thought him a few phrases in Hindi, like Dhanyawaad (thank you).

 

People here speak English?!!”, he looked at me incredulously. I nodded and told him it was one of our official languages. He wasn’t convinced and turned to the guy from the coffee shop who had been curiously watching both of us for the last 1 hour. “Really? You speak English?

 

Little, little”, the guy at the coffee shop giggled.


I told Marcelo that he could get by with some slow English in most parts of the country. And then, gave him a few tips about road safety in India. Especially, the part of skating in the highways of Bengal. And I did warn him: the Bengal highways are quite risky and dangerous. Trust me, I know.



The parting shots


 

We had to part ways now. Marcelo had booked himself at the Gala Time hostel near Patuli, and I told him I will help him to get there with directions. And I was headed to Howrah junction, for a train connection to Guwahati in Assam. We both knew we were travellers and our paths had crossed just momentarily.

 

You know, I made this flag of India myself.”, Marcelo exclaimed. And followed it up with another exclamation. “Yessss. I still cant believe I am in India. So happy, my friend!” He had a smile from cheek to cheek, and it was genuine.

marcelo silva in indiaq

Marcelo with the flags that he made himself.

 

Marcelo, this is India, my friend. That flag is too small. You need a picture with a bigger flag”, I smiled, because I had to let him know that we Indians can bring that mischievous smile too. And then took out the massive India flag which I had in my own backpack. (I had kept one for my upcoming K2K2K motorcycle trip)

 

This is sooo big! We should take a picture with both India and Brazilian flag together”. And then he removed all the stuff from his container, to take out a big Brazilian flag which he had already packed inside. And then, he assembled the 2 flags on 2 airport trolleys.

 

This man was just 3 hours in India, and he had already learnt the Indian Jugaad!

Welcome to india marcelo

Welcome to India, Marcelo!

marcelo and me

A parting shot with the man skating around the world. Till we meet again.

 


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Watching Pope Francis speak on a Sunday noon: Vatican City http://iamnothome.net/2017/11/pope-francis-papal-speech-vatican/ http://iamnothome.net/2017/11/pope-francis-papal-speech-vatican/#comments Sun, 05 Nov 2017 06:45:01 +0000 http://iamnothome.net/?p=8637   An ocean of human beings had engulfed the Piazza of St. Peters. They came from all walks of life, with all kinds of problems and troubles. Some brandished their national flags; others, their cameras lofted atop long selfie sticks. Some looked around; while most had their eyes glued to the second-last of 10 windows […]

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An ocean of human beings had engulfed the Piazza of St. Peters. They came from all walks of life, with all kinds of problems and troubles. Some brandished their national flags; others, their cameras lofted atop long selfie sticks. Some looked around; while most had their eyes glued to the second-last of 10 windows on the top floor of the Apostolic Palace. Eagerly waiting in the glory of the Roman sun, for one man to show up and start speaking.

 

A man named Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who in another life was a chemist, a janitor and a bar bouncer in Buenos Aires, before he started seminary studies that would lead him to become one of the most revered names in the world.

 

Pope Francis. The 266th and current pope of the Catholic church



To read: For the time that I visited Pope John Paul II in Dili, Timor Leste. Ok, actually it was his statue.




The path to the Vatican



It had been a pretty hectic trip in Rome so far. I had done most of the touristy stuff (more on that in another post), and had even went dining in a communist Osteria, hidden away from the tourist hordes. And then, I knew it was time to visit another country. The smallest state in the world, in both size and population. And one that was entirely inside Rome.

 

The ruler of Vatican is the Bishop of Rome. Who, among common folks, is called the Pope. And if there is one absolutely must-do thing to be done in Rome on a Sunday, it is to see the Pope giving his speech.

 

Getting to the Vatican is easy, from anywhere in Rome. The closest Metro stations would be Ottaviano (on the northern side) and Roma San Pietro (on the southern side). Me and my friend were walking around Rome, so walked there from the Parco del Gianicolo, just 1.5 kms away. And as we reached close to the Piazza San Pietro, we saw the security around the landmark square.

 

 

Entrance to piazza st. Peters

Entrance to the Piazza of St. Peters

Vatican security

The vatican security.

It almost looked like I was entering the departure zone of an airport. Well, technically, I was entering an entirely different country, so it kind of made sense. We walked through metal sensors, and my camera bag was scanned and checked. They even took away the almost-empty bottle of deodorant that I had kept in my camera bag. (Don’t judge. Italian summers can be quite humid.)



Behold! The St. Peters Basilica!


But none of that mattered once we entered the St. Peters Piazza. At the center of it all, stood a giant Egyptian obelisk that was 25.5 metres tall, aptly named ‘the witness’, because it is believed to have stood witness to the crucifixion of St. Peter. While the current arrangement of the St. Peter’s piazza was done by the Baroque artist Bernini, he had to work around 2 pieces of art that were already part of the Piazza much before he inherited it. One was ‘the witness’, which incidentally happens to be the second largest standing obelisk in the world. The other was a fountain designed by Maderno behind him.

Egyptian obelisk vatican

The Egyptian obelisk named ‘the witness’ was at the center of the St. Peter’s Piazza.

St. Peter's piazza view

St. Peter’s Piazza, as viewed from the St. Peters Basilica

 

But the star of the show was neither the obelisk nor the fountain. It was the Papal basilica of St. Peter, commonly called St. Peter’s basilica. Having been designed by multiple brilliant artists over the years – with names including Michelangelo, Bramante, Maderno and Bernini – the basilica was a sight to behold. Unlike what many people incorrectly believe, St. Peter’s basilica is neither the mother church of Christianity (that would be the Church of the Holy Sepuchre in Jerusalem) nor the Cathedral church of Rome (that would be the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran). It isn’t even a cathedral as it does not seat any bishop. But St. Peter’s Basilica still holds a very important place in Christianity as the burial site of St. Peter and one of the four churches in the world that hold the rank of Major Basilica.

The façade of the St. Peters basilica was originally designed by Maderno, and pretty much not many changes have been done to it. Giant Corinthian columns rose up from the ground, to meet the tall attic. Above which stood 12 statues: Jesus and all of his apostles. Well, all except the one who was buried here. St. Peter had a separate statue to the left of the stairs, gracing over everybody who stopped to stare at the magnificient church that carried his name.

St. peters basilica facade

The grand face of the st. Peter’s basilica.

 

St. Peters statue vatican

St. Peters has his own statue outside the basilica.

Around the St. Peters Piazza, one could catch a glimpse of the many Pontifical Swiss guards who guarded the entrances to the different buildings. The Swiss guards – the only foreign military service that Switzerland allows – is one of the oldest military units in the world. And definitely one of the most colourful too. There is no mistaking their presence, with the brightly coloured uniform that they sport, which carries a distinctive renaissance appearance.

 

Swiss guards of Vatican

The Swiss guards of Vatican



The Angelus address


 

It was time for the angelus address, and the atmosphere was charged with electricity as everybody looked up to the apostolic palace. Every Sunday, at noon, the pope spoke from his window at the apostolic palace, overlooking the crowds present at St. Peter’s square. It looked almost like there was a festival underway – except that this festival happened every week.

 

Crowds had gathered from every part of the world. Some held out their national flags, to show where they were from. Some tour groups had come with large banners, like a Philharmonic group that was making themselves seen – and heard – before the address. And there were even a group of Venezuelans who had come to ask the Pope for help with the ongoing Venezuelan crisis.

Apostolic palace of pope

The apostolic palace where the pope gives his address.

People at st. peters basilica

People gathered for the angelus address.

venezuelans at vatican

The group of Venezuelans who had come to share their plight with the group.

 

And suddenly, there were screams all around. Pope Francis finally showed up on the window of the apostolic palace! People screamed and cried. I could barely get a clear view of the pope from this distance, but there were a couple of giant TV screens in the Piazza of St. Peter which made it easy to observe him.

 

I don’t speak a single word of Italian. And I did not understand a single thing that Pope Francis said. But the only thing I know, was that this guy has one of the most soothing voices I have ever heard! It was so magical, that I had to record a video of him speaking.

Pope sunday speech

When the Pope finally spoke from his window.



Some more instagram posts from that day.


 

Instagram Photo

 

Instagram Photo

 


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To the moon and back: Trekking Pinatubo in Philippines http://iamnothome.net/2017/10/pinatubo-lake-crater-trekking-philippines/ http://iamnothome.net/2017/10/pinatubo-lake-crater-trekking-philippines/#respond Mon, 30 Oct 2017 04:56:33 +0000 http://iamnothome.net/?p=8621 “It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy… Let’s go exploring!” — Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes   As always, Calvin knew best. So did I, apparently. And that was when I decided to finally explore the Pinatubo crater lake after years of putting it off.   I had lived in Manila for nearly 5 years. […]

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It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy… Let’s go exploring!” — Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes

 

As always, Calvin knew best. So did I, apparently. And that was when I decided to finally explore the Pinatubo crater lake after years of putting it off.

 

I had lived in Manila for nearly 5 years. But not once during those 5 years had I tried to step beyond the comforts of the city, and venture towards Pinatubo. Venture I did – and plenty of times – to the famous beaches of Zambales, the colourful festivals of Masskara and Panagbenga, former Spanish settlements of Vigan and even the exclusive cordillera mountain ranges of the Luzon province. But Pinatubo itself was never on my agenda for a while.

 

Primarily, because I was under the influence of the most human emotion. Fear.



Mount Pinatubo


The Bundok Pinatubo – as it is called in the Philippines – is an active volcano. One of the first times I had heard the name Pinatubo was when friends referred to the Pinatubo eruption of 1991. The second largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century. 10 times stronger than the St. Helena eruption of 1980. Although all people in a 30Km area were evacuated well in advance – which sadly also led to the indigenous Aeta people being scattered across the Tarlac and Pampanga – nearly a 1000 people died in the neighbourhoods of Angeles city and Clark, simply because their roofs collapsed from the weight of volcanic residue which was distributed much more widely thanks to a Typhoon that was happening at the same time. Ash covered places as far away as the US Naval base in Subic bay and the US military base in Clark. To the point that Clark Air base was completely abandoned by the United States.

Aeta kids pinatubo

The Aeta kids, who I would meet later while trekking to the Pinatubo crater



A lesson in irony: Much earlier than the Pinatubo eruption, former Philippines President Ramon Magsaysay – who gave his name to the Magsaysay awards – had named his presidential airplane as ‘Mt. Pinatubo’. He died when ‘Mt. Pinatubo’ crashed in Cebu in 1957. Although, not as ironic as Ninoy Aquino who died in an airport that would be named after him. 



Since 2009, the Aetas started returning, and the government started giving them ancestral land ownership rights. The caldera at the volcano had soon started filling itself with rains from the monsoon. The Aetas started organizing tourism activities in the area, and since then, trekking in the Mt. Pinatubo area towards the Pinatubo crater lake, has been an extreme travel activity for some die-hard adventurers.

 

Was I a die-hard adventurer? Well, yes and no. I don’t mind taking risks during travel and going to offbeat sites. But natural disaster sights do give me a little fright sometimes. I mean, Pinatubo was still active. Granted, there are sufficient warning systems if there is going to be any volcanic activity. But what if there is an unexpected volcanic eruption that no one is aware of? Such was my train of thought.

 

And the thing about trekking long distances is another story. The last time I tried trekking in India and Nepal, I had almost lost my legs. Maybe, I did exaggerate there. But yeah, trekking is not one of my favourite activities.

 

So, I kept off Pinatubo for a long while. Until September 2017. I finally gave in, and decided to see this beautiful, sulfur-filled lake and caldera, for myself.

 

Note: Not the best month that I could have chosen, as the rains were sporadic. I was hit by pretty hard torrential rain when returning from the crater lake.



The route to Pinatubo.



I had thought that the trekking was going to be hard. But getting to the crater site itself, could be labeled the same way: hard!

 

A friend of mine in Manila connected me to a local company in Tarlac that worked with local Aeta tourguides. I recommend these guys for the Pinatubo trip, as they were very professional till the end.

 

There is no way for one to do a solo trek to the Pinatubo crater lake, as it is quite dangerous. The company sent me detailed instructions on how to get to the jump-off point, which is where the trail to Mt Pinatubo actually begins. Me and 2 friends took a victory liner bus from Pasay heading towards Baguio. AT 3 AM. Yeah, at 3 AM! We had to be at the starting point by 6 am, as it was a long way ahead of us.

 

The bus ride was roughly 2.5 hours and we got off at Capas, Tarlac. Right next to a McDonalds. After the customary carb-loading that people usually call breakfast, we hailed one of those tricycles that are omnipresent in the Philippines. The 30-minute tricycle– with my butt feeling sorry throughout, while sitting behind the drive – took us to a Barangay (village) called Santa Juliana which was the starting point for Trekking to Mt. Pinatubo crater lake.



To read: If you enjoy tricycles and street life in the Philippines, click here to check out my pictures of the streets of Ermita in Manila.


 

Here, we met our tour organizer. Sonia Bognot was a delightful woman and also the president of the Mount Pinatubo Tourism organizers Association.

 

She quickly completed the formalities before the journey. This involved leading us to the local tourism office and signing off the waiver form. Of course, I did not read much in the waiver since I already knew what the waiver would state. That I am responsible for any accidents, and that the trip could be cancelled if the weather was not in favour.



Author’s note (rant): Some of the negative reviews for Mt. Pinatubo on Tripadvisor, had me laughing and fuming at the same time. One was unhappy because the tour was cancelled due to bad weather. Another was pissed because he couldn’t ride a motorcycle alone to the Pinatubo lake. And yet another was angry because they reached the jump-off point late and were stopped going further at mid-day, because they may not be able to make it back in time before dark. Please don’t be that schmuck. This is a very delicate natural disaster site, and is genuinely difficult to get to. The crater walls break sometimes during the rain – and they have in the past – leading to drowning of both locals and foreigners. And a man famously ignored all warnings and went swimming the crater lake, only to end up dying from Asphyxiation. . Follow your tour guide and their instructions carefully, so that you will live to see another grand sight.

End of rant.



After the signing of the waivers, we were assigned to a 4WD and our guide. I was asked if I needed an English-speaking guide. I didn’t, as I was travelling with 2 local friends. After wasting some time again (we had to get into proper ‘trekking gear’) we kicked off the 4WD ride around 7 AM at Sta. Juliana.

 

The tarred road lasted for just a few minutes, as we veered into off-road terrains. It started as ash and lahar-filled dusty roads, in the middle of a small canyon, as the 4WD rode through them pretty quickly. Slowly, the rocks became bigger, and there were small streams of water. This was the crow valley, which had vast lahar deposits caused by the 1991 eruption. It became obvious why we needed a 4WD for this stretch, as crossing this piece of terrain would be a near-impossible task for someone who is not a local. The terrain was beautiful and it made for the times when the 4WD would run over a small rivulet, splashing water all over us. We stopped every once in a while, to take a picture against the lunar-like environment.

pinatubo crater trekking

The view enroute to Pinatubo trekking

Instagram Photo

By 9 AM, we had reached a point which was as far as the 4WD would take us. The 4WD stopped, and we got down to finally start ‘trekking’. 7 KMs of lahar-filled tracks lay ahead of us, and a scalding Luzon sun above us.

 

It wasn’t so bad actually. It was indeed hot and sunny, but I had deliberately worn a very light t-shirt, so didn’t feel the heat much. And here is the tip from a guy like me who hates trekking. There are patches of both soft lahar and rocks on this trail. If you don’t want to get tired soon, walk on the rocks instead of the lahar. That will keep you going longer.

 

You can thank me later.

Instagram Photo

 

Along the way we passed by Aeta people; those who had returned here since the eruption. Nowadays, they mostly live off the tourism in this region. There was one small shop mid-way through the hike, where we bought some water and a couple of souvenirs. Apart from that, we would randomly keep bumping into Aeta kids, who somehow turned up in the middle of an emptry trekking trail.

aeta children pinatubo crater valley

I have no idea where these kids stay, but they were playing pretty much in the middle of nowhere.

Instagram Photo

 

The last 30 minutes of the trek were probably harder than the beginning. The ascent was a little steep, and we had to step through rivulets and streams along a narrow path, covered by green trees. (note to self: pack extra socks the next time). We knew we were close, when we finally started seeing steps. We had to climb the steps to the top of the crater.

path to pinatubo crater lake

The path to the top of the crater.



From the moon to the verdant earth


What greeted us was completely different from the dark and dusty roads that we had just walked through. A completely green open layout, with a lush scattering of trees around. A few shaded areas where families gathered for lunch or just to chill. A solitary drinks-seller who sold some cold drinks, which were super expensive but the price makes sense since he had to carry them all the way here. And in the middle of it all, the view opened out for one of the most beautiful sights that I have come across. Soaked in a rich shade of green, the Pinatubo crater lake was as beautiful as anything that I had come across.

 

I could die right now. And I know that my life was somewhat complete.

picnic area at pinatubo crater lake

The open picnic area at the Pinatubo crater lake sight

lake pinatubo philippines

I feel like a small speck in the universe watching this magnificient lake.

Instagram Photo

Practical information:


Itenarary and Time-lines:

3.00 AM: Departure from Pasay, Manila to Capas Tarlac

5.30 AM: Tricycle ride from Capas Tarlac to Sta. Juliana (blame the McDonalds for the nearly 30 minute stop

6 AM: Arrival at Sta. Juliana. Register at tourism office.

7 AM: 4X4 ride to jump-off point. Should have left at 6.30. The delay was caused by us, as we were busy changing ‘gears’.

9 AM: Start trek to crater (this is late. The organizers recommend starting trek by 8 am. But we made a few stops along the way to make photos.)

1PM: Arrived at crater lake. Super late, but we were not in the best of Trekking shape.

1.30 PM: Rush back to the 4WD.

3.30 PM: Reach 4WD. Thankfully, the walk back was much easier, despite the rains.

5 PM: Back at St. Juliana, and departure towards Capas and Manila.

 

We eventually reached back in Manila at 11 PM! Well, it was entirely our fault, as we made many delays along the way for food, etc.


Cost Details

Number of Persons :  3

Tour Package : Pinatubo Public tour with no van transport from Manila

Total Tour Package Booked : Php 6,210 for 3 pax (does not include the bus and tricycle transfers between Manila and Sta. Juliana.

Inclusions:

  1. 4×4 jeep
  2. Local Tour Guide
  3. All Tourism Fees- entrance,registration,conservation,permit to trek-LGU CAPAS AND LGU BOTOLAN
  4. Tour Arrangement/services/Inbound tour coordinator on site to ensure that you are properly assisted BEFORE departure.

 


This post is part of my Philippines travelogues. Click here to check out other amazing travel stories from the Philippines.



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Places to visit in Kerala that you’ve never heard of: Vayalada and Kakkayam Dam http://iamnothome.net/2017/10/places-visit-kerala-vayalada-kakkayam-dam-kariyathan-para/ http://iamnothome.net/2017/10/places-visit-kerala-vayalada-kakkayam-dam-kariyathan-para/#comments Sat, 28 Oct 2017 04:58:02 +0000 http://iamnothome.net/?p=8590 My back was beginning to ache.   I had expected the 70 KM ride from Mahe to Vayalada to be relatively easy, given that I am used to much longer rides. And it was indeed easy, up until Balussery in Kozhikode district. But nobody warned me about the uphill and rocky climb to reach Vayalada. […]

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My back was beginning to ache.

 

I had expected the 70 KM ride from Mahe to Vayalada to be relatively easy, given that I am used to much longer rides. And it was indeed easy, up until Balussery in Kozhikode district. But nobody warned me about the uphill and rocky climb to reach Vayalada. From Balussery, the road gradually kept winding upwards. A few kilometres before the Vayalada point, the paved roads gave way to potholed roads. As I got even closer to Vayalada, the potholed roads gave away to rocky strips. With rocks not for the faint hearted.



Vayalada



There was a point where I did see some cars parked at a makeshift parking lot by a turn on the steep road. I should have taken the cue and parked my motorbike there and walked the remaining 1.5 km. But I didn’t. The stupid me chose to keep riding on a narrow piece of strip that was surrounded on both sides by shrubs and a moderately dense forest, going through bumps from a million small rocks.

 

Soon, my bike came to a halt at a small gate, accompanied by a little sign-board, that I actually missed the first time. ‘Vayalada Islands View Mullanpara’, it said, leading to a narrow cleared path along the forest. At this point, I finally dismounted from the bike and started walking along the clearing. It was rainy season, so I had to ensure that I don’t stop anywhere long, as the chances of getting a wayward leech to climb up your pants, was quite high.



To read: The other time when I had to deal with leeches, at Top slip in Pollachi.



vayalada viewpoint kozhikode

The little signboard that signals the entrance to the walkway leading to the vayalada viewpoint

walking path to vayalada viewpoint

The narrow pathway leading to the viewpoint

 

The path went on for a while, presenting some rocky steps that I had to navigate tactfully. Note that these steps are quite slippery during the rainy season, so it would be useful if you have the right shoes. I didnt. So, I walked very carefully.

 

After 5 to 10 minutes of walking, the forest finally cleared. And I was suddenly exposed to the beautiful blue shades of a clear sky. Vayalada is a small hill-top – about 500 metres height from sea level – with a beautiful view of the Kakkayam dam and some of the islands ahead. I figured out that there were 2 paths to reach the viewpoint: one for motorbikes and another for people walking. The amazingly lucky guy that I am, I had picked the one for the walkers!

 

Ignore my sarcasm, as there was nothing to complain. The view was splendid – a verdant canopy covered the horizon as far as my eye could see. One could see both the Kakkayam dam, and the Peruvannamuzhi dam from this rocky abode. And the landscape was dotted with small islands that were part of the Peruvannamuzhi dam.

vayalada viewpoint view

The view from the vayalada viewpoint.

vayalada viewpoint

And thats me. Perched up on top like a bird watching the beautiful nature below.



Kakkayam Dam



From Vayalada, I continued my ride. Towards Kakkayam dam, which I had just seen from the viewpoint a few minutes ago.

 

The first few kilometres were painful, as the downhill roads were in quite bad shape. But after Thalayad, the roads became much more decent. It was still narrow, and there still were some potholes – but nothing apocalyptic. I had to follow just one road all the way from Thalayad to Kakkayam, but the road wound through some of the most twisting, turning routes you can imagine. Mind you, this route is not for a newbie ride/drive. At some points, you will be riding along the kakkayam hills, and there are no barriers on the side.

The risk is compounded when you are riding during monsoons. There are plenty of small waterfalls along the way where you could stop and take a quick picture. But please be generous to other drivers, and park your car/bike in a spot that doesn’t take too much of the already narrow road. Much better if you just rode along, enjoying the view of the wild peas along the way.

kakkayam waterfalls kozhikode

Parked my bike on the side, and discovered the inner Shahrukh Khan in me, near a small waterfall.

kakkayam dam road kozhikode

The narrow, winding road leading to the Kakkayam dam site. Notice the cliff drops on the right.

 

After a while of the scenic ride, I reached a spot where the signboard proclaimed that tourists needed to buy a ticket. I think the ticket was 30 bucks, but I could be wrong. Yeah, I am a travel blogger who doesn’t remember all the details!

Ticket to kakkayam

You know you are on the correct path when you see this board.

After purchasing the tickets, I rode a few minutes further to the checkpost. The checkpost being a place with a small café and a 4D movie house (which was not working when I visited). I had to pay another 40 bucks here, which I am guessing was the parking fee. After parking my bike, I walked through the neatly paved pathway, which would lead me all the way to the Urakkuzhi waterfalls.

 

But first, I had to stop to admire the catchment area. I had seen this scene before. In countless movie scenes and songs. But had always thought that it was somewhere in Ooty or Munnar. Never did I imagine that it was just 60 kms from my own home! The monsoon season was slowly ending, and one could see the water had receded quite a bit. I could see a depth gauge, and was told that the depth gauge was completely covered during the monsoon season; barely a few of the steps leading to the catchment area were visible. But even with the low water in the catchment, the boating activity still went on.

kakkayam dam catchment area

The catchment area at Kakkayam dam. See the sides for the water having receded.

I passed by the dam itself. Before I had left home in the morning, my father had warned me that it was prohibited to take pictures of the dam. So, I hadn’t planned on doing that. However, at the dam, there was absolutely no board anywhere signifying that picture-taking was prohibited. And there was an army of teenage kids taking away pictures, selfies, wefies, groupfies – whatever you can think of. So, I didn’t hesitate. I took one too. I mean, why on earth would you prohibit picture-taking at such a beautiful place, yet allow plastic to be brought into the forest by visitors and have them thrown around everywhere? Priorities, people.


kakkayam dam kozhikode

The Kakkayam dam itself. It was not possible to go on top of it, but there were no restrictions (as far as I could see) to take pictures.



To read: To visit another famous dam in India, click here for when I passed through the Tungabhadra Dam.



The monkeys came out to see me along the way. I was told that there were plenty of king cobras and elephants in this region, so I was happy to deal with these pesky primates with a reddish face. And these guys were quite civilised: must be the interaction with humans before.


Note: It is not cool to feed the monkeys! Especially if your idea of food is a bag of lay’s potato chips!

monkeys kakkayam reserve

The only wildlife that I would see for the day, were these red-faced guys.



Urakkuzhi Waterfalls


I heard the Urakkuzhi waterfalls even before I saw it.

And to be frank, I don’t think I saw it properly at all. What I ended up seeing was the opening of the waterfall, surrounded by mighty huge rocks. There was a hanging bridge too, but the bridge was closed for entry. The notice said something like ‘not yet marked safe for usage’. Ok, that was good enough reason not to use it.

 

To the right of the hanging bridge, there was a huge rock, perched quite higher than the other rocks, which you could climb for a better view. There were a couple of security guards along the way, and the only thing that separated you from a fall of countless meters, was these guys. I wanted to climb up the rock to get a better picture, but I saw an army of families – with toddlers included – already stationed on the rock. And more were climbing up. It was one of the most dangerous scenes that I have seen. The security guys were trying to keep everybody to the safe part of the rock, but every once in a while, one of the guys would lean forward to take a clearer picture of the opening of this massive waterfall. And he did that on a monsoon rock where the moss was running amok, and slipping was quite easy.

 

I am not scared of heights, but I was positive that if I climbed up that rock – along with that army – I would be. So, I stayed put where I stood.

urakkuzhi waterfalls hanging bridge

The hanging bridge at the urakkuzhi waterfalls. I couldnt get on top of it, so I got under it.

urakkuzhi waterfalls kakkayam kozhikodeq

The water at the mouth of the waterfall was like a fresh breeze of air, in what has been a sweaty day so far.

 

On the way back, we stopped at the little café at the checkpost. It was pretty small, but had enough for a decent Kerala lunch. The Mallu that I am, I had to try some Porotta with beef curry. That is a taste which is unique to Kerala, and can never be explained through words. However beautifully I may try to write them.



Kariyathan para


 

There was one last place to stop by on the way back.

 

Kariyathan Para (‘Para’ is rock in Malayalam) is actually a small village that borders the catchment area of the Peruvannamuzhi dam. It’s ironic when a place is named after a rock, but people come here to see the water at the catchment instead. But dear god! Were those waters beautiful?!

 

In the last few years, Kariyathan Para has become quite popular among the locals. So, you would see a road with vehicles parked along the way, and entire families picnicking along the road. I rode right past them. I wasn’t planning to enjoy this scenic spot in the company of a large crowd that resembled Thrissur Pooram. I knew there were several entrances to the catchment area in Kariyathan Para, so ended up going through some small alleys. I don’t want to share the details here, lest this area of the place also become crowded. But eventually, I found a path that led me to a clearing, with one of the most beautiful views that I have come across.

 

Take a look for yourself.

 

Instagram Photo
kariyathan para kakkayam kozhikode

And that is Kariyathan para. Without me spoiling the view.




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A sonnet to Australia http://iamnothome.net/2017/10/a-sonnet-to-australia/ http://iamnothome.net/2017/10/a-sonnet-to-australia/#respond Mon, 23 Oct 2017 08:56:10 +0000 http://iamnothome.net/?p=8566 This is part of a series called ‘A sonnet to the world’, which I have been working on. You can read about the project here. The idea is to write a 14-line Shakespearean Sonnet for every country I visit (and hopefully and eventually, the whole world). And this one is for Australia. It didn’t hurt, […]

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This is part of a series called ‘A sonnet to the world’, which I have been working on. You can read about the project here. The idea is to write a 14-line Shakespearean Sonnet for every country I visit (and hopefully and eventually, the whole world). And this one is for Australia.


It didn’t hurt, nor was there a flavor of fallen grace.

It didn’t feel like the rain, nor bursts of thunder.

It was a rather banal affair, very commonplace

When I finally lost my virginity, down under.

 

The winter hesitated, then shoved its deep claws

Into me, while King’s cross pulled out my eyes.

Sydney had welcomed me with all of its flaws.

All of it’s spectacular lows. All of it’s spectacular highs.

 

Through St. Mary’s cathedral, to the cupids of the park.

I stepped out for a glorious sunrise with only love’s cloak.

Before venturing into the blue mountains in the cold dark.

And admired the 3 sisters: A lustful masterstroke.

 

To the drunk Aussie weather gods and goddesses,

I said a solemn cheers. For all their winter excesses.





Poet’s notes
1) I visited Australia in the bitter-cold month of July. Probably, not the best travel decision of my life. So, please forgive the slightly disappointed verses. Australia was great. Australian winters are not.
2) Also, I have only been to Sydney, Katoomba and Melbourne in Australia. I know, that is not enough to make an honest impression of the whole country.
3) King’s cross is the crazy street in Sydney where I spent a lot of time, due to the presence of all the hostels there. It’s quite close to the St. Mary’s cathedral, the Royal Botanic Gardens.
4) Blue mountains and 3 sisters peak in Katoomba were probably the best memories of my Australia trip. Despite the winter cold.


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In Photos: A day at the Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia http://iamnothome.net/2017/10/angkor-wat-angkor-thom-bayon-photos/ http://iamnothome.net/2017/10/angkor-wat-angkor-thom-bayon-photos/#comments Fri, 20 Oct 2017 12:41:49 +0000 http://iamnothome.net/?p=8542 Note: The Angkor archaeological park is a giant area, and it is impossible at this age for me to remember all the details (yeah, I am blaming the 30’s for everything nowadays). Hence, this post is not very descriptive, rather more of a photo-story. The sunrise was upon us. And the Tuk Tuk driver couldn’t […]

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Note: The Angkor archaeological park is a giant area, and it is impossible at this age for me to remember all the details (yeah, I am blaming the 30’s for everything nowadays). Hence, this post is not very descriptive, rather more of a photo-story.



The sunrise was upon us. And the Tuk Tuk driver couldn’t have found a better place to drop us off. Right in front of the magnificient Angkor Wat temple complex!

 

We had spent the last night getting knackered in the party streets of Siem Reap’s Club Street, and walked in tripping, into our hostel. The mad monkey hostel is as mad as the name suggests, but at 1 midnight, the madness had subsided and all the revelers had been put to sleep. So, we had slept too.



To Read: Going to Phnom Penh, and not Siem Reap. Well, you can also check out my photos from the streets of Phnom Penh.


 

Only to wake up at 5 AM, as we had planned. If we were going to explore the grandest temple complex ever built, a few hours of sleep was a worthy sacrifice.

 

Obviously, we were not the only people who planned on this, as the Tuk Tuks lined up outside our hostel clearly proclaimed. We found 2 tuk-tuks (we were 6!) and squeezed in.



Note: We first had to buy the passes for the Angkor area, which are funnily sold near the Angkor Panorama museum, about 9 KM away from the Angkor wat itself! If the Tuk Tuk driver had not told us, we have never even known this.


 

I must have dozed off a little bit on the way to the temple, because I was woken up by the majestic sight of the sun just having risen behind the temple, as we looked at awe at the 190 m wide moat that helped preserved the Angkor wat from being completely encroached by the jungle. And of course, the monks who had woken up early and were heading into the temple complex.

 

And that – for us – signaled the beginning of a long day of walking.

Angkor wat western gate moat

Sunrise at the Western Gate of the Angkor wat

angkor wat monks

The monks wake up pretty early too. They were already at the western gate!



At the Angkor Wat


 

After grabbing a cup of coffee outside the moat, we entered the Angkor archaeological area, through the west entrance: straight away being greeted by the Angkor Wat Gateway. From this point on, we stayed together as a group, because the place was literally a giant maze! A multitude of corridors stretched every way, and we often found ourselves coming back to the same point we started from. Not once, but multiple times.

angkor wat gateway

One of the columns of the Angkor wat Gateway

 

corridors angkor wat

The endless corridors at the Angkor Wat

 

One of these points was the central courtyard, surrounded by 5 towers – each representing a peak of Mt. Meru, the home of the gods. And in most of the corridors of the courtyard, we ran into small groups of kiddie monks. These guys were the cutest thing that I have come across. They even made faces!

monk kid angkor wat

Those kid monks are the cutest.

Angkor wat courtyard

The courtyards of Angkor wat



Angkor Thom and Bayon



After spending the first half of the day at the Angkor Wat, we decided it was time to move on to the rest of Angkor Archaeological area. That meant, Angkor Thom, which was a good 2 km away. Luckily, there were bicycles available for rent at the Angkor wat itself. We rented a bicycle each and cycled towards the Angkor Thom. Of course, this meant cycling back to the west entrance of Angkor wat, and towards the South gate of the Angkor Thom.

angkor wat reflection pond

A quick photo of the Angkor wat before we go, from the northern reflection pond.

 

angkor thom souther gate

Statues along the souther gate of the Angkor thom.

angkor thom exterior

One of the many exterior walls of the Angkor thom

 

Unlike Angkor wat, which was built as a temple complex, Angkor Thom was an entire city. (which probably explains the translation of Angkor Thom: “Great city”). It was the last capital city of the Khmer empire. And although it is not designed as a temple complex like Angkor Wat, it did have one spectacular temple in the middle: The bayon. Most probably best remembered for the scenes from ‘Lara Croft: Tomb raider’, when Lara Croft visits the Angkor thom to search for some historic relic.

 

 

The most captivating aspect of the Bayon temple has got to be the “face towers”, which have smiling faces on them. It was a little creepy at first, but 5 minutes in the place, and we got used to all those faces.

bayon temple face tower

The face tower of Bayon temple



Finishing the day at Ta prohm and the River


We rounded off the day by visiting the Ta Prohm temples, which was slightly outside the Angkor Thom. But we had to! I mean, even Angelina Jolie was there, right?

Ta Prohm temple angkor

Ta Prohm. Remember this tree from the Lara Croft movie?

siem reap river

The perfect view of the siem reap river




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