KAT // FIN

Dream. Do.

Bangkok + off-the-beaten-backpacker-track in Thailand!

What have we done in two weeks in Thailand?

WP_20150218_003 Fixed our visas to Myanmar in Bangkok…it took three days

DSC_2855 Had a walk in Lumphini Park in Bangkok and happened to crash a free park-concert played by Bangkok Symphony Orchestra!

10923282_10153080971573560_9068890945243438053_n Celebrated Chinese New Year with fellow travellers

WP_20150219_006 I went crazy in Bangkok…got anxious, got fever and almost felt like quitting travelling! Auli took me to hospital <3

WP_20150219_004 Auli thought that a relaxed holiday would do us good…holiday with no stress…

WP_20150224_004…so we booked a nice and pricey resort for 5 nights in Phuket (zero backpackers – only pensioners…so refreshing!)

WP_20150224_007…which had jacuzzi on the balcony. Seriously we left this hotel propably twice!

Plus we bought tickets. Not back to Finland but to Myanmar! There is highs and lows in travelling and especially I have been travelling in emotional rollercoaster for the last two weeks. Even it sometimes feels hard, we decided to keep going. Arrivederci guys!

-Katariina

Half-way check!

After my last post I got high fever during the same day. I never have fever back in Finland so it was strange and made me go to see a doctor after a couple of days. Luckily it wasn’t malaria nor dengue. I think it was my body’s way to force me to stop for a while. So I have been admiring Bangkok through our hostel’s windows. I’m fine with that. Actually it inspired me to make these lists of some of my top experiences so far!

MOST MEMORABLE EXPERIENCES

DSC_0735_edit Annapurna Base Camp Trek, Nepal

DSC_1283India – all of it!

WP_20141127_003 Goa…in many ways

DSC_2054 Living two weeks with locals in Ho Chi Minh City with the best morning coffee ever!

DSC_2362_edited Teaching local kids in english school, Angkor Borei Cambodia

FUNNIEST EXPERIENCES

DSC_1360 Transportation in India – all of it!

WP_20141217_001 Minibus-ride between Lao Cai and SaPa with locals who offered booze to us all the way. Half of the bus was throwing up because of curvy mountain roads. We had a party even we couldn’t understand vietnamese nor they could english.

DSC_1739 Making rice porridge and raisin soup in Sa Pa and after being invited to local’s christmas party!

BEST SUNRISES / SUNSETS / STARRY SKIES

DSC_0541 Poon Hill/Annapurna Base Camp Trek, Nepal

DSC_1293 Thar desert, Rajasthan India

DSC_2256 Mekong river, Koh Pdao Cambodia

DSC_2694_edited Angkor Wat, Cambodia

MOST PRACTICAL SKILLS I’VE LEARNED SO FAR :D

DSC_2024 How to make a proper Vietnamese coffee taught by Mr. Pham Trung

DSC_2220

    How to succeed growing a mango tree (also in Finland!) taught by Mrs. Vandara Chea

DSC_2779 How to tie your hammock properly instead of a lousy banana shape taught by Mr. Harald Vedø Tveit

PEOPLE WHO MADE THE GREATEST IMPACT

DSC_0566_edited Porters in Nepal

DSC_0703 People living in poorly accessible mountain villages, Nepal

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA People living as devotees in Amritapuri Ashram, Kerala India
picture: http://whatsupwithsara.files.wordpress.com

DSC_1663

    Mô, our guide in Sa Pa, who had lost his husband and who lived in very basic conditions with her two children but who was always happy

DSC_2324_edited Devoted teachers in Asean International English School, Angkor Borei Cambodia

DSC_2331 Cambodian people in many ways…

DSC_2348_edited Children who always seem so live their fullest no matter which their living conditions are!

I can’t believe that I’ve experienced all this!

-Katariina

I need a holiday from my vacation and from my mind!

Koh Rong island near Sihanoukville in Cambodia was the place where it started to hit me after four months of travelling. I had had some symptoms already for a while but when entering more quiet side of Koh Rong with 6 kilometres of white-sanded beaches, turquoise water and only handful of other travellers staying overnight, made the symptoms suddenly go worse. We were in the place where I ‘should’ have felt relaxed, calm and being able to process experiences we had had so far. Instead of these dreamy feelings I started to feel frustrated and anxious. It got that bad that it was difficult for me to fall asleep. It wasn’t these ‘exciting’ jungle sounds or the sounds of waves striking the beach near our bungalow that kept me awake during long nights. It was my mental shit.

DSC_2738_edited Long Beach, Koh Rong

DSC_2756 Long Beach, Koh Rong

After a couple of days confusion about what was happening to me, I diagnosed myself suffering from ‘travel fatigue’ at least in a medium level. It had started with feelings of not having interest to make any further plans. I felt exhausted about changing place often and always planning where to go next, where to stay overnight next and with which vehicle we should go next. It worsened by having feelings that even this paradise island’s landscape couldn’t impress me. Like if this couldn’t impress me, what would impress me?! I felt lost and alone even when being accompanied with other people. I didn’t feel like myself at all. I thought a couple of days relaxing holiday in Koh Rong would make it better but actually it didn’t. I felt I just couldn’t enjoy like other people seemed to do. I felt ashamed and had a guilty conscience. It was me who was supposed to have the greatest time of my life right now! Why I didn’t feel like that? Why couldn’t I enjoy and instead of hanging with people I felt more like spending time alone?

DSC_2759 Our bungalow ‘Tiger’

I did some self-reflection in order to solve why I felt like that. My organized mind always seems to want to plan the future even it isn’t yet processed things that happened a day or two ago. I feel happy when things go according to my plans. I need to feel that I’m in charge of my travels whether my plans turns out to be good or bad. I need to have some idea of what to expect of experiencing. That’s when I have time to dream about it and that’s when I have time enough to mentally prepare for it. Now my mind feels tired. Tired of planning and tired of looking things forward. I’ve been questionning what was my real dream in terms of this trip. I always thought that it would have been the feeling of freedom. Where is that feeling now when I feel that making further plans are more a burden than a pleasure? How well feeling of freedom goes together with too much planning?

I noticed that it started actually already after leaving India…when I started to go mentally downhill. I had been dreaming of travelling to Nepal and India for many years. I had some ideas in my mind what I wanted to experience there even we didn’t have 100% strict schedules. I wanted to do trekking, travel across India by public transport, do yoga and go to meet Mother Amma. All these things we did and my time in these countries was like one big firework. I was open to everything even we went according to this bigger plan. When we arrived to Vietnam, my passions for travelling suddenly disappeared. Auli was enjoying but suddenly I was lost. I didn’t know what I wanted to do next. I didn’t know what I should look forward of experiencing. Even we made plans together with Auli I felt like not having a clear enough idea on my own to be able to dream further things.

DSC_2741 Terrace views with unproperly tied, banana shape hammock tied by Kata

DSC_2760 Luckily met Harald and Eirin from Norway. Harald taught me how to tie a hammock right…with confidence, enthusiasm and skill of a serious climber :)

BUT…I need to change my thinking. There is no place which is 100% bad. It is up to you how you want to see things in life. We often see the faults in others (if it’s a place or a person I don’t really care…it seems that often there is someone else to blame if you are feeling bad) without realising that we can change only our own character. I don’t know if this is the thing they call a culture shock or if it´s just my internal shock which starts to affect now after four months of travelling. I hope it goes away…I try to convince me being not so hard to myself. I keep telling that during a trip this long, it’s natural to have many kinds of feelings. It can’t be only sunshine. It’s okay to feel a little bit lost. But still I have guilty conscience’s small sound in my head telling me that I should enjoy my fullest NOW…After all it’s my dream which I am now living real. I won’t give up it so easily.

DSC_2767_edited Our neighbour from Finland was often sitting on a tree playing guitar…

I wonder if this mental flow made any sense…Please send wintry pictures of Finland so that I could realize that it’s better to stay in this side of the world!

-Katariina

Stories behind the stones @ Siem Reap

No visitor in Cambodia should skip the temples of Angkor Archaelogical Park in Siem Reap. Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. These temples including Angkor Wat, are the greatest remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. Archaelogical park is huge covering approx 400 km2 and it consists of scores of temples, hydraulic structures as well as communication routes. Since Angkor is one of those once-in-a-lifetime-visit-destinations we chose to do our expedition properly instead of just going to ‘see some old piles of stones’ for a day. Actually we started by visiting Angkor National Museum in Siem Reap and got to know a lot about the history of the Khmer Empire. Temples represent both hindu and buddhist cultures and visiting the museum gave us hints of which details we should look carefully when visiting the temples. Have to say that visiting the museum was so inspiring that we spent almost 5 hours there…until our stomachs made noises so loud that we had to leave for lunch.

While many people buy only a one-day-pass to the area, we bought 3-days-pass. (For HC-temple-lovers there is also 7-days-passes available!) First day we rent a tuk-tuk with driver and did the so called ‘grand-circuit’ and went to see some smaller temples to arouse our appetite for the bigger ones. During the next day we rent bicycles and cycled to see the temples of Ta Phrom and Bayon. Even they call our second day route ‘small circuit’ we noticed by the end of the day that we had bicycled almost 40 kilometres back and forth to Siem Reap! We left Angkor Wat for the last morning and left our hotel by tuk-tuk at 5am in order to see the sunrise in Angkor. And yep, we saw the sunrise (with zillions of other people). But have to say that in order to have a nice pic I was more looking at the sunrise through a camera lens. Our definite highlight was seeing the bas-relief of great hindu mythology ‘Churning of the ocean of milk’ carved to the corridor wall in Angkor Wat. As a closure I would like to cite a tourist we saw in Angkor: “After three days, we had absolutely 0 percent of interest of any more temples”. But I’m glad that I can feel that three days was time long enough to get under the surface at least some of the stories of these stones!

DSC_2474 Welcome to the Angkor Archaelogical Park

DSC_2473 God ‘Deva’ pulling a snake ‘Vasuki’ as descridbed in hindu epic ‘Churning of the ocean of milk’ which is one of the best known hindu mythologies. Snake can be found in many balustrades in South-East Asia.

DSC_2531 Route to some of the temples was truly scenic!

DSC_2486 Temple of Preah Khan was full of stone carvings

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    Temple of Preah Khan with hindu God Shiva carved to the stone

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    Temple of Preah Khan with holy man ‘rishi’

DSC_2556_edited_2 Sunset at Pre Rup-temple with Auli and Shinn from Malaysia.

DSC_2549 Tuk-tuk drivers have lots of time to chill when tourists are touring temples.

DSC_2557_edited ‘Postcards for one dollar!’

DSC_2560 Sunset at Pre Rup-temple with Auli and Shinn from Malaysia.

DSC_2596_edited Day two’s highlight was a mahayana buddhist temple ‘Bayon’.

DSC_2625 Bayon has 54 towers each decorated with four ‘Avalokiteshvara’s’ head. For buddhists Avalokiteshvara means personification of perfect Compassion.

DSC_2626 Avalokiteshvaras’ heads are enormous.

DSC_2604 Bas-reliefs in Bayon describes daily life in 12th century Cambodia.

DSC_2608_edited_edited Funny detail one guide told us…turtle is biting man’s ass. Bayon.

DSC_2599 There were many ‘Apsaras’ carved to the stones. Apsara is a female spirit of the clouds and waters in Hindu and Buddhist mythology.

DSC_2676_edited Sunrise over Angkor Wat was impressive.

DSC_2667 Once again we weren’t the only ones there…

DSC_2707_edited ‘Churning of the ocean of milk’ carved in the corridor of Angkor Wat. On this side demons ‘Asuras’ are pulling a snake ‘Vasuki’ in order to churn the milk from the ocean. Apsaras can be found flying above them.

DSC_2711_edited ‘Churning of the ocean of milk’ carved in the corridor of Angkor Wat. On this side monkey god Hanuman helps Gods ‘Devas’ to pull the snake ‘Vasuki’. Apsaras can be found flying above them.

DSC_2724 Happy to leave Angkor after 3 intense days!

-Katariina

Doing good in Angkor Borei

We got to know about Asean School in Angkor Borei by accident. We met polish Pawel during our last night in Phnom Penh before leaving to Kratie. Hence he talked about the place so warmly (and since he had spent there the last 4 months so he had to know) we decided to go and take a look ourselves after our trip to Kratie. We arrived to a very poor rural village of 4000 inhabitants. It was hot and dusty. Past us went loads drewn by horses, hen were poking around piles of rubbish and as soon as we left our stuff unattended there was one huge pig going around them way too interested. We got a simple accommodation in volunteers room with bed, blanket and a mosquito net.

DSC_2285_edited Asean School in Angkor Borei

DSC_2310_edited Front yard of accommodation building

DSC_2293 Typical street view in Angkor Borei

DSC_2317_edited Evening snack – grasshoppers and beetles

Asean School teaches english and computer skills. It aims to help the poorest kids in Angkor Borei for improving their working possibilities in the future. Director of the school is 23-year old Mister Sro. There are 2 other local full-time teachers and 1 part-time teacher. They teach at the school 3 times a day, in total of 8-9 hours. There is around 150 children willing to learn. To cut the costs of the school, Sro has decided to do as much by himself and with fellow teachers as possible. That means they don’t have any extra person to cook or to drive school’s minivan. It in turns means that these three teachers wake up at 6.00 to pick up kids to school by 7.30. They will teach between 7.30-10.30 and after, they’ll drove kids back home. Then they’ll prepare luch for themselves and to volunteers. Afternoon classes are held between 13.30 -16.30. Once again they pick up kids to school and back to their homes. Evening classes take place between 17.30 and 19.30. After, they’ll prepare dinner. During late evening Sro does ‘paperwork’…he replies to volunteers’ emails and seeks for donors to support with school’s funding.

Monetary situation is pretty desperate. Monthly costs of Asean school are approx 2500 dollars covering the rent of two school buildings, electricity, water, minivan’s petrol and teachers’ wages (only 150 dollars per teacher!). Monthly income comprises 20 dollars a week paid by each volunteer. In January total income was approx 900 dollars. I counted that they would need 125 volunteers per month (and each one should stay at least one week) to cover all the costs by volunteers. During our time, there were 3-4 volunteers at the same time.

Their dream is that school would be free to everyone. It’s not yet completely happening and they have to ask money from students. They have also not yet donors. I asked Mr. Sro how they cover rest of the costs. He said that sometimes he might ask money from his parents. I asked what do his parents do for living. He replied that they are farmers but sometimes they might sell something – for example their car to help him and this school. It’s crazy I thought…they really sold their car to support him? Does Mr. Sro ever ask anything for himself? All his energy and money goes directly to make his dream school come true. That is only admirable.

As Mr. Sro said to me (quoted freely):
‘Many times my parents doubt that if this what I’m doing is any wise…as I’m putting so much energy to this and it takes all my time. I have to answer to them that I’m working for my dream. As far as I have my belief and my energy I will continue. If I lose them and see it is simply impossible to continue, then I will stop. But it’s not until I have given everything there is in me to possibly give.’

I’ve rarely met a person this determined and selfless.

DSC_2381 Last dinner with Asean School team; from left to right – Sokun, me, Auli, Yayi, Mr. Sro, Mr. Sophea

There was running water in the accommodation building (which propably 90% of the villagers had not…I saw many of them bathing in Mekong). One morning I was very annoyed though. After having a nice and swetty morning run I noticed there was a water-cut at the accommodation building and showering was no-possible. Being annoyed of such a tiny and unimportant thing made me even more annoyed. As if not being able to take a shower would kill me…Anyway, I’ve never been so bit by mosquitos and propably I’ve never enjoyed showering and having a clean bed as much as I did after one week in Angkor Borei.
Selfish, selfish, selfish…I wish I could be more like Mr. Sro.

DSC_2309 Volunteers room

What about the kids then? They were amazing. So funny and most of them really willing to learn. We taught 3-5 hours a day. It is must to teach 2-3 hours as a volunteer. We taught 3 different groups; children below 8 years old, teenagers between ages 11-16 and high school students between 16-19 years old. All of these groups were very different. Basically we just played with youngest kids (‘Color’, number bingo and hangman were most successful and kept them paying attention). With teenagers we did different kinds of conversation exercises. To most of the lessons we invented the program ourselves. Some of the teachers gave specific instructions of what they wanted us to teach.

DSC_2324_edited Sokun teaching kids

DSC_2344_edited Auli teaching kids to play ‘color’

DSC_2345_edited My computer became popular

Especially I remember one boy amongst our youngest students. His name is Nara and he is 6 years old. He is really good in english already and always wants to understand. We did a small conversation exercise with our youngest kids. Conversation was very simple;
What is you name? (Students needed to fill up their answers like this: My name is ____.)
How old are you? (I am ____ years old.)
What is your favourite color? (My favourite color is _____.)
Poor Nara didn’t quite understand what was the point of this conversation since they learn almost everything by heart and keep repeating sentences like ‘This is my chest.’ Many students filled up words from the exercise they did on the previous day. To that exercise they needed to fill up words which were missing and which they heard as we read them. (My name is Nita. I am eight years old. My favourite color is orange.) They remembered these answers from the previous day and it was hard for them to understand that we were asking about their own answers. So Nara didn’t understand this and suddenly he just started to look up. We wondered what he was doing until their full-time teacher Sokun said that he would cry soon. He always cries when he doesn’t understand. So Nara started crying a bit. Sokun said that he is so determined to understand that if he doesn’t understand, he wouldn’t go out to have a break but stays inside instead and keeps practising until he’d understand. I really felt that these students are determined and it would truly pay them back in the future to study english this hard.

DSC_2347_edited Children of the afternoon class <3

DSC_2352_edited Children of the afternoon class with teacher Markkula

DSC_2355 Children of the afternoon class <3

DSC_2362_edited Children of the afternoon class <3

DSC_2368_edited Children of the afternoon class <3

DSC_2374_edited Children of the afternoon class <3 Nara

DSC_2379_edited Children of the afternoon class <3

If small Nara had to stop studying english just because the school wouldn’t have enough money to carry on, it would brake my heart. After finishing teaching I still felt like giving something back to the school. 10 dollars a month wouldn’t cause any big damage to my life back in Finland but it would pay 3 childrens’ studies here in Angkor Borei for a month. If more volunteers would do that, maybe it could have a significant effect. ‘How could I make a money transaction to the school’s account’, I asked Mr. Sro the day before we were leaving. He said he didn’t know. He said that he had used his own bank account last time in the year 2012…

- Katariina