Snapshots of the Whole and Happy Retreat in Thailand

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It’s been nearly a month and a half since the first Whole & Happy Retreat in Chanthaburi, Thailand and yet my mind wanders back to that magical time almost every single day. I wanted to share a few film images and a general feel for the beautiful retreat week I spent at FaaSai Resort and Spa.

The Whole & Happy Retreat is the perfect laid back mix of travel, adventure, yoga and self exploration. Each day the retreat group met for yoga and meditation and each day a new technique, style, or focus was presented to us to play around with. As if the yoga and meditation wasn’t enough, the Whole & Happy Retreat involved so much more. We rode our bikes up steep hills, plunged into the Thai gulf waters, drank beer at sunset and toured the farm where our organic meals originated all the while still having ample time to laze about by the pool, sip papaya smoothies and trade book recommendations while devouring our current reads. breakfast-1 first-round-12

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The Whole & Happy Retreat seemed to rest in this perfect cosmos of flowed planning instead of precise scheduling. Each night there would be a new agenda and theme on the message board and every morning our group would work our way happily through the day. From farm tours to beachside bike rides, we would move through the hours crossing joyous adventures off our list and yet somehow barely checking the clock, instead checking in with each other and our energy levels.

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first-round-18As an experienced yoga practitioner, I was delighted at the variety of classes presented and how approachable and attainable the instructors made the content for the beginners in the group and yet I never once felt bored or that the classes were predictable. Beyond the yoga and meditation, it’s such a treat to enjoy new experiences with complete strangers, it’s almost like being transported back to the first day of school on the playground. You feel shy at first until a few minutes later you realize you’re having an insane amount of fun and you look around to realize the people you once thought were strangers are now your favorite playmates.

The Whole and Happy Retreat felt like an adult summer camp aimed at elevating the travel experience while incorporating yoga and introspection. As a seasoned traveler, I cannot recommend this experience enough to individuals who are a bit apprehensive about a trip abroad or solo travelers who would find comfort among company. It’s also the perfect break for someone looking to get away in order to recharge and reinvigorate themselves for a happier reintegration back into normal life.first-round-14first-round-41first-round-61

Come read books, sip smoothies poolside, bike through fishing villages, make new Thai friends and gaze up at the stars with me. I’ll be joining the Whole & Happy crew at the next retreat in Chanthaburi, Thailand from March 17-23 and I hope you’ll come. I’d love to flow with you! From now until January 15th, book with a friend and receive $50 off of the retreat cost for a total of $550 for seven days of retreat at Faasai Eco Resort and Spa. If you need help finding a flight (they’re less than $600RT from NYC right now) or help creating a budget, I would love to help, just reach out in the comments.

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Sticky Waterfall – Bua Tong

During my adventures, I’m often captivated by the natural beauty I witness. I’ve felt the sudden and overwhelming need to hug trees, lay down in the dirt, and literally salute the sun, but every once in a while there is a place that leaves me in complete aw. A place so magical that I know I will visit again because I must show someone else the wonder. Bua Tong is that place. All afternoon I felt dumbstruck. How is it possible that this type of beauty exists in nature? I felt like I was transported to Neverland, there was just no way that what I was seeing and experiencing was real. Was I asleep? Did someone slip me acid? Am I in a storybook? Nope, the earth is really this amazing and I had the opportunity to experience it.  Let me attempt at explaining what I experienced at Bua Tong although surely no words or images will come close.

What is Bua Tong, the sticky waterfall? As unbelievable as it sounds, it’s just that. It’s sticky not slick, so one is able to walk quite easily up and down the slope of it even with water rushing by. What makes it this way? An abundance of calcium carbonate runoff.  Calcium carbonate is commonly found in Limestone, which is what lies under the thick deposits that you see covering the falls. Even though I briefly researched the waterfall (I didn’t look at any photos) before visiting, it didn’t prepare me for the experience.


Walking up a waterfall. How absurd. That’s what I thought while reading about Bua Tong. Once I arrived, I stripped down and slathered on sunscreen all the while keeping my eyes on the handful of people walking up the falls. They were making it look so easy, but they looked athletic and young, surely it was harder than it appeared. Then it was time to try it for myself, I braced myself, felt my core tighten and prepared to face plant as I took my first step. Complete shock and amazement washed over me as I took one step and then another upwards through the rushing water. With my mouth hanging open and my eyes wide, I looked around at my friends, ‘are you seeing this!?,’ is what I’m sure my expression read. Pure bliss and bewilderment followed me around the rest of the afternoon and I climbed up and down, up and down, all around  Bua Tong. The mineral deposits look like white, cloud-like  sponges and actually feel similar though a little bit harder and slightly pricky, the surface even gives slightly under a firm touch.  There were a few patches that were slick, but it is because the calcium carbonate was covered with a mossy slime. These spots are easy to see and avoid.


In the company of only about two dozen other travelers, Bua Tong had truly felt like one of the most enchanting places I’ve ever visited. Usually while traveling you’re forced to share the magic, but here it was all our own. As I looked around, I saw that most people had carved out a little space on the waterfall’s slope to sit in the sun and marvel at where their life had brought them. It was only a few minutes later that I joined my best friend, Natasha, on a sunny log in the middle of the rushing current to simply be. As I lay meditating, tiny tickles of what I thought were mosquitoes kept dragging me back to the outer world. It was in the midst of one of these tickling sensations that I opened my eyes and realized, it wasn’t mosquitos at all, but dozens of colorful butterflies. I closed my eyes again, determined to be at peace with each coming sensation. As I reflected on my weeks in Thailand, the friends in my company, my path in general, I had the overwhelming feeling of gratitude that materialized as a single teardrop from each eye. Life is beautiful. There is magic everywhere and I have so much to be grateful for, sometimes it takes a trip to never never land to remind you that every single day is a gift to be cherished and spent wisely, whether you’re climbing a sticky waterfall or navigating your work week.


Are you ready for a spiritual awakening? Kidding, but here are more details on how to reach Bua Tong and what to experience while you’re there.

What to pack:

  • Money for gas and snacks
  • Bathing suit
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Book
  • Camera
  • Dry bag/waterproof bag if you have one
  • Long sleeve or sweatshirt (the ride home will be a little chilly)

 

How to get there:

Located over an hour outside of Chiang Mai, Bua Tong isn’t on the beaten tourist track, but still worth a visit. We rented motorbikes for the duration of our stay in Chiang Mai, which costs roughly 200-300b per day. I personally enjoy driving and navigating through crazy Thai traffic, but to some this may seem dangerous or unappealing. If you are in the latter group, you can ask your guesthouse or a tour operator for a songtaue to Bua Tong, but because it’s so far outside the city, it will be kinda pricy for Thai travel standards. I would find a cool crew the day before and convince them that they need to join you on this quest, that will surely reduce the price of the songtaue. If you’re in the former and you’re down to drive a motorbike, download either the app maps.me or google maps and download the northern Thailand map, while you have wifi that way you’ll have to problem navigating to Bua Tong. It really isn’t too tough and once you are about twenty minutes outside Chiang Mai, the traffic really slows down. I think driving the motorbikes to and from Bua Tong really added to the adventure and it was nice exploring the falls at our own pace instead of knowing a songtaue driver was waiting around for us.
What to explore :

Obviously you came for the sticky waterfall. If I were you, I’d take the stairs all the way to the bottom, stash your bag on a log (most people left their bags near the bottom of the falls unattended, I did the same and didn’t worry about my $3,000+ camera once, but do what feels comfortable to you) and start the climb up. Find a nice space to sun yourself midway or hike all the way to the top in one go. Now it’s time to hike down. Slightly scary, but equally easy. There are several ropes along the way to offer support in tricky areas  and ensure your decent is safe. Don’t you dare chicken out and take the stairs back down. You only live once. Once back at the bottom, continue a little further than the bag drop area where the stairs end. You’ll find another smaller waterfall with a shallow plunge pool at the bottom. Submerge yourself and dig your toes down into the soft, glittery sand, you did it.


After you’ve had your fill of the waterfall, hike back up to the tip and explore the natural seven colored fountain. Even if you’re famished and tired (we were both) you can make it to the fountain. It’s less than a five minute walk and it’s a wooden boardwalk the entire way. You’ll be amazed at how insanely clear the water is and you’ll enjoy leafy jungle views on the way to and from.

There’s also another short hike depicted on a large wooden sign near the entrance to the fountain trail, we decided against it only because we were sure to die of hunger (or morph into hangry demons) at any moment. We contemplated buying a snack from the small restaurant on site and then completing the hike, but we wanted to have time to stop on the road for a late lunch and return to Chiang Mai before dark.


Where to eat & stay:

On the way back to Chiang Mai, we stopped at the loveliest little guesthouse and restaurant. If we had more time, we certainly would have stayed the night. The guest house is called Howiman or Horwiman. You pull off the road across from Lhongkhoa Resort and head straight down the dirt hill, you’ll immediately see a grouping of dark wooden buildings on the left and you’ll probably hear a yapping little dog, and you’ll know you’re in the right place. If we could have stayed and drank our Chiangs in frosty mugs all evening we totally would have. Next time I visit Bua Tong I will.  


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Happy Mountain Day!

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Sup mountaineers! Did you know that yesterday was International Mountain Day? In 2003, the United Nations designated 12/11 as International Mountain Day. A day meant to encourage the international community to organize events at all levels in order to highlight the importance of sustainable mountain development. Of course, with all the crazy going on this month, we missed it. We missed national letter writing day too, but I’ll fill you in on that another day. Anyway, this year’s theme is Mountain Cultures: Celebrating diversity and strengthening identity. From hiking the Blue Mountains in Jamaica, to climbing Mt. Agung under the stars, to trekking the Annapurna Circuit, I’ve experienced enough mountain magic to be hook. Mountain spaces are sacred, enchanting and come with an immense feeling of satisfying insignificance like I’ve never experienced elsewhere.

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If you’ve ever wandered high up into the mountains, you will have noticed that remote mountain villages are home to ancient cultures and traditions. These traditional lifestyles are largely determined and linked to sustaining a living in harsh and remote mountain landscapes. Isolation helped to create and maintain immense diversity between villages and allowed these cultures to stay intact. Of course, as decades pass, mountain populations experience change and culture loss through migration and urbanization.

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Whenever I experience remote mountain life, I’m captivated by the use of land, for farming, raising animals and capturing fresh water. Mountain people are so in tune with their unique environment and how to properly respect it while gaining what they need to prosper. Mountain people’s deep respect and attachment to the land quite often has religious ties. Mountains have commonly been revered as the home of deities throughout history because of their fresh water sources and their seemingly close proximity to the sun. It’s no coincidence that you often see crosses, pilgrimage sites and places of worship high on mountain tops.

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Obviously I’m quite conscious of my place while visiting mountains. I’m always a guest, a traveler, an ambassador of society at large and therefore I take my role very seriously. As much as possible, I strive to find community-based tourism that I can support. Tourism that will help maintain the culture, not parade it around and inevitably degrade it. I also distribute my dollars broadly to local people. Spending a little bit here and there, not a bunch in one place. Lastly, I ensure everything I hike in with also comes back out and of course I respect the ecosystem by not wandering off trail. As a visitor to these spaces, I have a big responsibility in ensuring these ancient cultures continue for future generations to experience. Hiking into mountain villages is like stepping back in time. It’s absolutely breathtaking and there’s no way I can aptly describe it, but maybe these images from the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal will help a bit.  10-14-15-web-muktinah-3310-09-15-web-upper-pissang-77 10-09-15-web-upper-pissang-88 10-09-15-web-upper-pissang-10110-11-15-web-manang-57 10-11-15-web-manang-62 10-11-15-web-manang-8010-13-15-web-new-phedi-82

I’m planning a trip to Nepal for October & November of 2017. Want to join me on a trek?

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Travel to Bali Indonesia

Back in 2012 I traveled to nine countries in Asia. I’m starting to share all my adventures under the travel section. Want a cheap and beautiful destination? Head to Laos. Still trying to save up to travel? Here are a few tips! Also, several images from Bali are for sale digitally here.

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Happy Monday! Last week, I shared a Seasoned View of Bali because exactly four years ago that’s where my little feet landed. What a magical week! Before going to Bali, I balked at the idea. I had thought of Bali as one huge resort. That’s just the vibe I got from the few times I heard about it. Well, I was hella wrong. Yes, there’s a couple overcrowded and commercialized areas on the southern tip of Bali, but other than that the island is my definition of paradise.  I only had a week to explore Bali, so I headed straight for the heart of it, Ubud, and what I experienced captivated me. I haven’t stopped thinking about Bali since.  I can’t wait to go back and explore the entire island (especially the northern parts) by motorbike. One day, one day, these are what my daydreams are made of…

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Seasoned View : Vol. 24

Each month we share our Seasoned View.  Snapshots of nature and daily life taken by the Seasoned sisters. Find our archive of past months’ views here.

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Bali! Before heading to Bali, I groaned at the thought of it.  I had only ever heard Bali mentioned during prize puzzles on Wheel Of Fortune and it was always preceded by ‘an all inclusive 9-day getaway!’ blah, blah, blah. I imagined it to look like one huge Sandals resort. Ick. Not my kind of traveling (I apologize if it’s yours!) I thought, no way, not going to Bali, any other Indonesian island, yes, Bali, nope! Holy crap I was wrong. Bali is amazing.  There are a couple touristy beaches on the southern side of the island, but beyond that Bali is an amazing, lush, green gem of an island.  More on that in another post, but for now here’s a few new Seasoned Views for your April desktops and backgrounds. Usually we share images that Kate and I took over the past week, but we’re taking it wayyyy back this month and sharing photos of where I was exactly four years ago. Welcome to time traveling with the Seasoned sisters.

You can upload one or all of these photos to use as your desktop background or even as phone and tablet wallpapers.  Simply click on the download link below each photo and save the image.  Enjoy!

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Why I Fell in Love with Laos After Only Five Days

If you are curious about exactly where I went in Laos and how it all went down, here’s a detailed (might I say too detailed) account of my trip in 2012.
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Laos! A country most people have never heard of or at least could not place on a map. The same was true for me before I lived and worked in Thailand. Once I found myself in southeast Asia, I became aquatinted with small countries that surrounded me as I hoped to explore each of them. Laos had always intrigued me because I heard so very little about it.  I must admit, I did very little research before heading to Laos, which is how I go about most trips (for better or worse), but nothing I read hinted at exactly how beautiful, calm, sleepy, and kind Laos can be to travelers.

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Traveling by Plane vs. Bus

liveseasoned fall15 kathmandu pokhara nepal6t There are plenty of ways to travel abroad: trains, planes and buses are some of my favorite. In Nepal there are typically two viable options: a loooong bus ride or an often delayed flight.  Today we’re going to look at the positives and negatives of both options that way when you come visit you’ll know exactly how you want to travel. As I write this post, I’m thinking mainly of the trip from Kathmandu to Pokhara. Continue reading

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Tips For Visiting Temples

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Visiting ancient temples and beautiful mosques abroad is quite popular and enjoyable.  It surprised me a little bit since I’m not religious at all, but it’s more of a cultural experience than a religious one.  If you’re new to traveling or have never visited a temple abroad there are a few things you should know before you go.  I’ve learned some tips and tricks along the way and thought it could be helpful to share them here.  I feel so lucky to have visited dozens of religious sites in Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Kathmandu, India and beyond.  Read on to discover all the things I’ve learned along the way.

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Traffic in Kathmandu, Nepal

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If you have ever traveled internationally, you know there are certain aspects of life you will observe time and time again.  You’ll notice the way Europeans dress differently than Americans even though they all tend to wear pants and tops of similar brands.  You’ll certainly notice how Hindu and Buddhist populated countries dress more conservatively and almost always cover their shoulders and knees.  You’ll probably eat out while abroad and you’ll admire the way Vietnamese people can sit on furniture made for preschoolers and still look comfortable or how Indians eat with their right hands only.  You’ll also walk around abroad and you’ll notice how easy it is to shop and walk in countries with pedestrian zones. You’ll wish America (or your home country) adopted a few more car-free areas in your city too.  You’ll also notice how hard it is to cross the street safely in some countries, especially if the traffic moves in the opposite direction than what you’re used to.

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To say crossing the street in Kathmandu, Nepal is difficult, is an understatement.  First off, there are no traffic lights or at least none that I have observed in the city center so you won’t see any flashing walk symbols.  The main streets are very wide too and there are certainly no lines painted on them.  If there are crosswalks painted, it’s almost irrelevant because of the lack of traffic lights.  It’s almost impossible to interpret which lane has the right away, when cars will be turning into the intersection, and at what point will the wall of traffic lurch forward.

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Gardens of Nepal

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Namaste from Nepal!  I arrived in busy Kathmandu on Tuesday afternoon at which point I found a cozy little guesthouse in thamel and promptly went to sleep.  I was so worn out from thirty-six hours of travel that I needed a long nap.  I ended up sleeping from 6p.m. on Tuesday until 4 a.m. on Wednesday morning.  When I woke up, I decided to go up to the rooftop garden to read until the sun came up.  Later in the afternoon, I ended up wandering into another lovely garden that I enjoyed so much I spent four hours there.

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The rooftop garden at my guesthouse is so quaint and beautiful that I had to share it here today.  It is the perfect representation of so many small rooftop gardens all over the city of Kathmandu.  While there is currently a broader initiative to promote vegetable rooftop gardening in Kathmandu, it is already widely popular to cover roofs with potted plants of all varieties.  I most often see jade, spider, and coleus plants with a bunch of other beauties sprinkled in.  I admire the simplicity of the rooftop garden.  Nothing too fancy just a whole lot of potted plants.  I love how my guesthouse rooftop garden was arranged by type of plant.  That is something I probably would not have done.  I’m always mixing and matching plant types on shelves and windowsills, but now I think I’m doing it all wrong. What do you think?

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The view looking down from the roof at the courtyard isn’t too bad either, right?  I couldn’t have been more lucky with my choice of guesthouse this time around.  If you’re staying in Kathmandu, I highly recommend Pilgrims. Don’t be afraid to haggle on the price either, I shaved a few bucks off of each night.

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After watching the sunrise and having breakfast, I took yet another nap.  I woke up around lunchtime ready to explore Kathmandu by foot.  I decided not to take a map since I giggle at tourists squinting at their paper maps in the sun and the last thing I want to be is a hypocrite, but really, Kathmandu is a fast paced city and there is no time or space on the sidewalk to be looking at fine print.  Instead of relying on a map, I made sure to be extra observant about where I was going, when I was turning or crossing streets, and any major landmarks or buildings that seemed unique and memorable.  After a couple hours of wandering around, I conveniently ended up near the border of thamel again.  Just as I heard my belly growling and felt my feet aching, I passed a small sign that said, Garden of Dreams.  There was no other hint at what might be beyond the ten foot wall so I figured what’s there to lose and I wandered through the small gate and into an oasis.

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After paying a small entrance fee of 200 rupees ($2), I was granted access to a beautiful neo-classical garden that spans over 74,000 square feet.  The Garden of Dreams was also known as The Garden of Six Seasons, but I must admit, if it was named Kathmandu Botanical Gardens or something similar I would have passed right by.  There is something enchanting about a mysterious high-walled garden sitting right in the middle of crazy Kathmandu, with a name like Garden of Dreams, that encourages the passerby to stop and explore.

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The Garden of Dreams sits across the street from the former Royal Palace and was originally thought up by Field Marshall Kaiser Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana in the 1920s.  (Imagine trying to remember that name at a cocktail party.)  Apparently upon completion, the Garden of Six Seasons (as it was known then) was considered one of the most sophisticated private gardens of that time, which surprises me none at all.  Traditionally Nepal has six seasons: spring, early summer, late summer monsoon season, early autumn, late autumn and winter.  The garden was designed by Kishore Narshingh, a prominent architect who designed and constructed Singha Durbar (a massive palace) in 1907.  In the 1920s, the Garden of Six Seasons had six pavilions, numerous fountains and sunken pools, verandas, pergolas, urns and birdhouses. He erected six impressive pavilions, each dedicated to one of the six seasons of Nepal.  Today, only half of the original garden and three pavilions are in existence, but the renovations pay homage to the beautiful garden of the past.

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It was interesting to learn that the Garden of Dreams was restored in cooperation with Austrian Government in the early 21st century.  Inside one of the buildings, there is a photo gallery with images of the garden in complete ruins during the nineties and what it looks like today.  It was really neat to see the comparison of what looks like an overgrown jungle to the beautifully manicured lawns of the present.  Several changes have also been made that lend well to transforming the private Garden of Six Seasons into a space that can be utilized by the public for events and leisure.

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While the Garden of Dreams boasts itself as a tourist destination, I must admit not one person recommended I visit or even mentioned the gardens to me.  I hadn’t read about it in a guidebook or seen flashy photos of the garden on any brochures or signs and a selfish part of me is glad.  When I first arrived at the garden around 2 p.m. there were only five other people on the grounds.  I loved wandering around taking photos uninhibited by crowds.  As the hours moved on dozens and dozens more people arrived and it overjoyed me to see that all but a couple were native Nepalese.  The Garden of Dreams is their garden and knowing it is affordable, accessible, and actually used by Nepali people made me really happy.  Seeing all the couples and throngs of friends gathered in the gardens that afternoon had me feeling like I was in on a local secret.  I just had to share it with you in hopes that you’ll make it to the Garden of Dreams one day.

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