5 days on Koh Tao (sick in paradise)

A 3 hour flight got us from Delhi to Bangkok. We were headed to the islands as soon as possible. The climate in India was cool (it could be compared to our Canadian fall), and we were ready for the beach!

We exited the airport in Bangkok and hopped in a taxi. We must have been a bit flustered because we accepted a price from the driver before leaving, going against the advice we heard to always ask the taxi to run the meter. We realized about 5 minutes in that he had the meter covered by a towel. Not the end of the world but our 500 baht ride should probably have cost us closer to 300 baht.

Thats right, no more Rupees! Thailand deals in Baht. We quizzed each other on the plane to practice the currency. We figured the easiest way to remember  was that Rupees were kind of double (100 rupees equals 2 dollars), and for Baht we used that method but then doubled it again (100 Baht equals 4 dollars). You following? Well, it worked for us.

The taxi brought us to Khao san Road, the backpacker/tourist hub. The streets are lined with bars and seedy hostels. Its an entertaining place to say the least, but anybody that lives in Bangkok or has travelled the area more then a couple times will probably tell you to avoid it. “It’s not the real Bangkok”, they’ll say. That’s okay with us, and we enjoyed the short time we spent there. We only had about 8 hours to kill before our bus left the Khoasan area. We drank a few pints, bought a SIM card for the phone and sampled the street food. It was an overnight bus to Chumphon, then transferring to a high speed ferry that would take us to Koh Tao. The bus/boat combo took a total of about 14 hours and cost $40 each. We booked through Lomprayah Tours and everything went smoothly.

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Walking Khao San Road

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Khao San Street Eats

 

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Chumphon Pier. Waiting for ferry around 7:00am.

We arrived at the Koh Tao pier around 10am. We planned to stay in the Sairee Beach area and had to take a 10 minute taxi to get there. We checked into our private room at Khun Ying House, which was nice and clean. We shared a bathroom with the other rooms on the floor and we had access to a kitchen one floor below. When planning our trip we expected to spend some nights in dorm style accommodations, figuring it would be the cheapest, but we haven’t had to do it yet. While the average dorm bed can run you $5-$10 a night per person, it’s not hard to find private rooms for $20-$30. The extra couple bucks we spend is well worth the comfort.

Our first day on a romantic island ended up being Valentines Day. We spent the afternoon swimming in the ocean and lounging on the beach. Jeff got stung by a sea urchin and we ended up having to pull little pieces of the stinger out with tweezers. It wasn’t a bad sting or very painful but it does make you paranoid of swimming in the ocean when this happens 20 minutes into the first dip. We were feeling pretty tired by the time evening rolled around but still made plans to enjoy a Valentines dinner at a beach side restaurant.

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Sunset View from Restaurant

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and again…

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Pizza and Daiquiris for dinner! (side of anchovies for Jeff)

The next morning Britt woke up and went to check out a yoga class around the corner. Jeff stayed in the room, and by noon he knew something wasn’t right. He was sick to his stomach, dizzy and had a fever. This would be the start of almost 3 days spent laying in bed. On top of Jeff being under the weather, Britt was breaking out with huge welts all over that seemed to be from bug bites. We weren’t sure if it was mosquitoes or fleas or bed bugs. Who knows?

At this point we realized travelling isn’t always glamorous. When you expose yourself to changing climates, odd sleep patterns, new bugs, different foods etc… eventually its gonna catch up with you. We agreed that after 2 full days of no improvement that it was time to get to a clinic. Jeff had some blood work done and turns out he had an infection in his stomach. Maybe from the anchovies he had to have with his pizza? Maybe from that jerk of a sea urchin? It was hard to say, but we hoped the antibiotics would work there magic. The doc didn’t have much to say about Britt’s bites so we picked up some hydrocortisone cream, bug spray and citronella candles. Luckily by the end of day 3 Jeff was starting to feel like himself again.

It was a lonely, boring and painful way to spend the first part of our island adventure. It is this type of discomfort that brings on the home sickness as well. It sucks, but it’s an almost guaranteed part of long term travel. Hopefully we got that experience behind us.

Koh Tao is a divers paradise. You can become a certified diver in a few days for as little as a couple hundred bucks. It also has some of the best snorkelling. Of course we did neither of these things, haha. For the last couple days we were in good health we decided to rent scooters and explore the whole island. We drove to almost every little beach cove there was, taking in the views and trying out different places to eat and drink.

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Stopping to take in the view

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Scooter Cruisin’

We moved accommodations to a private bungalow on the beach for the last 2 nights and temporarily adopted a cat Britt named Mr. Chang. We had talked about staying in a beach bungalow since we started planning our trip and our little shack at Bewitched Bungalows was as cool as we imagined.

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Bewitch Bungalows

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Short walk to the beach

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Mr. Chang and Britt doing some hammock swingin’

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Beach views

Our last day on the island we rented stand up paddle boards for a couple hours around sunset. It was an amazing time paddling around on the water once we got the hang of it. It was also the closest we got to exploring things under the water, the turquoise waters were nearly crystal clear and from our boards we could see the fish and coral below.

We met a couple Canadians who opened a little restaurant called “The Moose Knuckle”, we were happy to discover we wouldn’t have to wait to get home to feast on some poutine.

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Da’ Moose Knuckle Poutine

Our time on Ko Tao quickly came to an end. Jeff was feeling alive again and Britt’s welts were slowly fading. We boarded the boat, destined for Koh Phangan feeling good but also knowing we missed out on a lot of what Koh Tao had to offer.

 

Two Days (Back) in Delhi

It was 4:30am, cold and still very dark when we walked to the taxi stand and said goodbye to Rishikesh for the final time.

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The ride to the Haridwar train station took about 40 minutes. We had planned to arrive early to make sure all was good boarding our train to Delhi. We booked in chair class 2, definitely not the worst, but it’s no Via Rail!

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Chair Class 2 Hardiwar to Delhi

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The facilities on the train.

When the train pulled up we hopped inside the first car we thought might be ours. Turns out we were only off by about five. That’s a lot of isles to push through but we finally made it to our seats after asking a few questions. Four and a half hours later the train stopped at the New Delhi Rail Station.
If you read How to Get Scammed in Delhi, you will know our first attempt at exploring this city was a bust to say the least. We actually set out to make it to the same hostel, the same way we failed at last time…call us stubborn! We were armed with a screen shot of the walking directions and arrived at The Smyle Inn as planned. In the short treck to the hostel we encountered about 20 more scam attempts. Random people trying to make you think you are going the wrong way, or are in the wrong place, you name it. Basically getting you confused so they can overcharge you for a ride, take you to a fake tourist office, or their buddy’s hotel\shop. You are a huge target when you are walking through Delhi with your luggage and\or looking like a tourist. Know where you are going and ignore help from friendly strangers.

It was mid afternoon when we unloaded our bags into the room, and we set out to explore the Main Bazaar. It was right at our doorstep. Shops galore and typical Delhi sounds, sights, and smells overloading your senses.

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It was so much more enjoyable walking around without the burden of our packs. Not long into our walk we were both looking at each other and smiling. It is a crazy feeling being in such a foreign place. We checked out a few shops before stopping to eat. We couldn’t ignore our hunger any longer,  and the small bag of chips we had on the train ride wasn’t cutting it. Jeff had read about My Bar & Restaurant on Trip Advisor so we decided to check it out. That’s where we enjoyed our first alcoholic beverage after about 5 weeks of being dry in Rishikesh. It was everything we thought it would be.

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Connaught Place was just a few blocks away and a local (the rickshaw driver who had scammed us our first time to the city, actually) had described it as Delhi Central Park. Its a large green space circled by city streets lined with luxury brand shopping and high end dining spots. There is also an amazing underground market below the park, it’s full off knock off clothing and gadgets sure to break the minute you try them. Bartering skills are a must, and expect to pay a quarter or less of the original price. We spent a couple hours walking around the area while our appreciation for Delhi continued to grow. The city really does have both ends of the spectrum, from the amazingly rich to the horribly poor.

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These dapper young men wanted their picture taken with our camera.

We sat on our bed at the end of the day on the laptop and reading our Lonely Planet Guide book trying to figure out what we can squeeze into tomorrow. Suddenly we realized there was so much to do and we don’t have enough time. We decided to explore The Red Fort and the spice market, and walk around Old Delhi. We took the metro line to Old Delhi in the morning and walked to the Fort, meeting some friendly folks along the way who were from Germany, South Africa, and the States but were all living in Delhi.

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We then continued walking aimlessly through Old Delhi until our feet ached. It is truly a place that cannot be described in words.

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Delhi was a real treat, especially after getting off on the wrong foot. We are lucky to have been able to give it a second shot. India deserves the time it takes to really get to understand and appreciate it. It’s a world away from what we are accustomed to. During our visit we had to get use to a few, what you might call “cultural differences”.

1) Local men in general won’t show affection towards their wife in public but will walk down the street, holding hands (interlocked fingers I might add) with their male friends. We even seen some bros out borderline cuddling. It’s all good of course but why no love for the ladies?

2) Another one that foreigners might initially take offence to is the shameless staring. The local people will look you up and down and stare into your soul while time stands still. You can stare back, flash them a uncomfortable smile, but they just don’t stop looking. We learned to laugh it off, they don’t mean any offence for the most part.

3) Lastly is the picture requests. Not only do Indians seem to love having you take pictures of them with your camera, lots will want a picture with you. We felt like celebrities walking through town, often being stopped for pictures. The less shy folk will want different poses and even throw their babies and young children at you to hold for the camera. We just learned to have fun with this as well. One afternoon in Ram Jhula we did have to leave an area pretty quickly, a crowd started to form and we thought we might get swarmed (seriously!).

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India, you’ve been interesting to say the least!

Britt & Jeff.

 

My Experience With Yoga Teacher Training: Expectation Vs. Reality

On January 9th, 2016, I started my journey into becoming a yogi with the 200-Hour Registered Yoga Teacher training at Vinyasa Yoga School in Rishikesh, India. The course started off with a hawan on the Saturday night (read more about that here) to get us acquainted with our teachers, fellow classmates, and some Indian culture. We received our class schedules and were told we were starting the next day (Sunday, our scheduled day off) because we had only a short time to fit everything into the month.

Our daily schedule was as follows:

5:30-6:00am Tea and fruit time
6:00-8:30am Vinyasa class
45 minute break
9:15-10:15am – Pranayama (breathing techniques)
10:15am-11:30 Breakfast
11:30-12:30pm Yoga Philosophy
15 minute break
12:45pm-1:45pm Physiology and Anatomy
1:45-5:00pm Lunch break
5:00pm-7:00pm Hatha class
30 minute tea break
7:30-8:30pm Meditation
8:30pm Dinner

(Thursday’s we only had Vinyasa and Hatha classes, and Sunday’s we had off completely.)

The next morning when my alarm went off at 5am, I thought someone was playing a cruel joke. As a rule I’m a morning person but getting up at 5am when you are fighting jet lag isn’t my idea of a good time. I dragged myself upstairs to make it on time for tea, made small talk with my classmates, and laid my mat out in the yogashala in preparation for my very first class. I breezed through my first yoga class with ease, marvelling at how flexible and strong I already was.

Just kidding. I thought I was going to die. I was shocked at how weak and out of shape I was. I try to make exercise a priority at home, but during the last month (okay, maybe two months) I had majorly fallen off the bandwagon of running and yoga, all the while fully indulging in the delicious drinks and eats that come along with the holiday season. During the class I was constantly comparing myself to the others, thinking “all these people are so much better than I am, I’m the fattest one here,  I’m so bad at this”, and all the other things our ego puts in our heads to tell us we aren’t good enough. I left the class feeling defeated and negative. Not a great way to start a month long course.

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Beatles Ashram grafitti.

But, as things always seem to do, it got better. Once I got used to being exhausted most of the time, and with the support of Jeff, my attitude changed and I started enjoying my time. We both had tried to come to India and into the course with no expectations, which as we all know can be harder then you’d think. The following are the expectations vs. the realities that I encountered during my time at Vinyasa Yoga School.

Expectation: I’m going to be so flexible and skinny when I’m done and I’m going to be able to bend my body into a pretzel and do the splits.

Reality: Hell frickin’ no. I’ve noticed a change in the way I look, but can’t say I’m more flexible. After the first two weeks of the course, I found myself less flexible and poses that I used to be able to do before I came (poses that stretch your hips) were really difficult. Our classes focused more on strength then flexibility, so I did notice my strength improved considerably over the month, and I am able to do some poses that I never could (forearm stand). I wish our course would have focused a little bit more time increasing flexibility, but now I have something to work towards! It will come with practice.

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Laxman Jhula street art.

Expectation: I’m going to be so good at teaching after this.

Reality: I feel like I have a lot more self exploration and personal practice and learning to do before I will be ready to teach as a job. That was one of the complaints of the course and a few of us didn’t feel like we had gained enough knowledge of how to actually teach. I can only speak for this course as I don’t know if it is synonymous with teacher training in general, but I know I’ve got some more work to do 😊.

Expectation: Since I’m doing so much yoga and eating vegetarian, I’m going to feel so good all the time and sleep like a baby.

Reality: For the first week I had insomnia. If I was lucky I would get 3 hours of sleep a night, which isn’t near enough for the activities we were doing, and I could only fall asleep during class! That improved and then the second week I got a nasty head cold, and the third week I got the flu. Almost everyone got sick at some point, which is common when you are sharing a small space with so many people. At one point I got a knot in my shoulder blade that was so nasty I couldn’t practice yoga. The course kicks your ass, and during the first couple weeks your body is detoxing and getting used to the four hours of yoga you are putting it through, so getting sick is likely. Homesickness is also inevitable , but luckily Jeff and I had each other and with technology these days keeping in touch with family and friends is easy.

Expectation: I’m going to find my inner peace.

Reality: India isn’t really a peaceful place. With the pollution, poverty, horns and droves of people it can be difficult to focus on anything but. (India is a lot more than those things though!) We’ve realized that inner peace is exactly that. You do not need to fly halfway across the world to find it.

Expectation: I will learn to meditate properly.

Reality: Aside from the fact that during the first couple weeks every time I’d lie down for meditation or for savasana at the end of class, I would fall into a deep sleep, I’ve learned that meditation takes a lot of work and practice, and it isn’t really something can be taught to you. It isn’t a black and white subject and is your own personal journey.

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Expectation:  This experience is going to be challenging and life changing.

Reality: Finally I was right. This experience challenged me in ways I didn’t know were possible. It has helped give me the tools to hopefully become a teacher someday, and has helped put me on the path to healing the issues that we all have but sometimes don’t want to deal with. India as a country ripped my heart wide open and I’m so grateful for Jeff being there to support me through it all, and for the beautiful souls that I’ve met during my time at yoga teacher training in the little yogi town on the banks of the Ganga.

The following are some pictures Jeff snapped during our graduation ceremony.

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If you have any questions more specific to Vinyasa Yoga School in Rishikesh, email me!

Britt 😊

Time Well Spent in Rishikesh

We’ve spent almost 5 weeks in Rishikesh, mainly the Laxman Jhula area and were able to do almost everything that peaked our interest. We agree that for someone just visiting town and not enrolled in some type of program, one or two weeks is plenty of time to experience most of what this area has to offer.

Most travelers spend their time here bent in a yoga pose, deep in meditation and/or smoking their way to enlightenment in one of the many cafes overlooking the Ganges. Bungee jumping and water rafting is also possible for the thrill seekers (sounds fun but we passed on it). Treks are supposed to be amazing as well.

A lot of our usual shenanigans we already covered here, Rishikesh: First Impressions.

Here is a few different activities we enjoyed.

Unguided Hike and Waterfall Tour

Word on the street is there are two waterfalls within walking distance of Laxman Jhula. It was my day off yoga and we decided to go find them on our own. Guides are available but really cramp our style. Heading north on the main road leaving Laxman Jhula we noticed we were being followed. Turns out we did find a guide, this mother and pup team joined us for the full trek. Here’s a picture of them napping at the waterfall.DSC01589

About 20 minutes out of town we came across a small temple. This is where we were told to start walking up in the jungle to find the first waterfall. The police were setup at the temple and told us the area was closed and we cannot see the waterfall. Not really understanding why, we walked up the road a bit further. Five minutes later there was a small food stall selling chai. Just behind it was a trail leading into the jungle. We decided to explore and felt confident with mama dog guarding us. Our intuition told us it looped back to the waterfall trail the police told us we couldn’t go on. We were right, after a fairly intense 15 minute uphill hike we came to a big cave and the waterfall, which we had all to ourselves.

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There is a bigger waterfall close by which we tried to check out the following Sunday but were never able to find it. Mama joined us on this hike as well, minus the pup this time.

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Scooter Cruisin’

There is nothing better then wind in your hair, one hundred and ten cubic centimetres of pure Honda goodness beneath your seat and the arms of your lady wrapped around your waist. We spent the day winding around the back roads with Macklemore’s hit song Downtown on repeat in our heads. 350 rupees ($7 CAD) well spent!

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We enjoyed the road on the hillside that runs from Laxman Jhula to Rishikesh on the east side of the Ganga. It was away from the in-town crowds but still poses some safety hazards like road side cliffs, blind corners, animal crossings and potholes. Rishikesh isn’t the safest place to rent a scooter, but luckily they aren’t necessary to get around either. Just a fun way to spend the afternoon.

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Ganga Aarti Light Ceremony

Every evening at dusk on the banks of the Ganga at Parmarth Niketan ashram, locals and tourists gather for the daily Ganga Aarti ceremony. Aarti is a devotional ritual that uses fire as an offering to the Goddess Ganga, goddess of the most holy river in India. The ritual takes place facing the river, where lamps are lit and circled around by the pandits (Hindu priests) while songs in praise of Mother Ganga are played. The idea is that the lamps acquire the power of the deity.

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The ceremony commences with a Hawan, a fire ceremony in which we burn our ego to reveal purity, allowing us to learn without doubt. During the ceremony, the Hindi word “swaha” is chanted to the fire by all in attendance, which translates in English as “take it” (asking the fire to take our ego). During our time in India, we were able to attend three of these ceremonies, as they seem to take place quite often.

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The ceremony is completely free and everyone is welcome. It is a great way to spend the evening and immerse yourself in the culture.

Hair Cut and a Shave

Maybe not the most thrilling experience but getting a haircut and shave is worthy of mention. There are plenty of salons to choose from. We managed to find this highly recommended, yet extremely small shop located underneath a set of stairs in the Tapavon area. This guy is a true master of his trade. Armed with scissors and a straight razor, he does great work and includes a head massage. Cost is “as you wish”, 100-200 rupees is customary ($2-4 CAD).

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Final Thoughts

We really enjoyed our time in Laxman Jhula and the surrounding area, but as we said, 1-2 weeks would be enough time if you weren’t enrolled in a course. The town has an almost magical vibe about it, but there is as much darkness as there is magic. The more well-known it gets, the easier it will be for people to exploit the spirituality and the faster that magic will disappear. Until then, it will remain the little yogi town on the banks of the Ganga.

We will leave you with some pictures we snapped from around Laxman Jhula.

Britt and Jeff 🙂

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The Beatles Ashram (Chaurasi Kutia)

We couldn’t help ourselves from indulging in some western pop culture while half way around the world in India. So Chaurasi Kutia or more commonly known as the Beatles Ashram, was definitely on our to-do list. We took the 20 minute stroll from Laxman Jhula down to Ram Jhula, wandering the back roads, stopping to say hi to some animal friends along the way.DSC01407DSC01410

Rishikesh was relatively unknown up until 1968 when the Beatles arrived here seeking peace and spirtuality in the height of their popularity. They wrote over 40 songs, some of which were later featured on the “The White Album” and “Abbey Road”. The guru they came to see Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was famously known for Transcendental Meditation. John Lennon would later write “Sexy Sadie”,  a song exposing Maharishi for trying to get with one of the bands lady friends (allegedly).

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Maharishi started building a massive ashram in 1961 focusing on this type of meditation practice. It operated until 1980 when he left to continue spreading his teachings around the world, at which point the Indian government took back the land. It has since been part of Rajaji National Park and left to be consumed by the forest surrounding it.

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Still a popular tourist spot, up until recently people would sneak in through the unguarded fence, wander around the many vacant buildings and sit in some of the 84 meditation chambers that still stand today.

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Beautiful graffiti style art is painted inside and out of the partially crumbled structures, especially in the Satsang Hall where you can see murals of the famous band and their memorable lyrics written on the walls.

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The rumours were confirmed when we arrived. Sneaking into this place is no longer possible or necessary. The Indian government has recently started to clean up the grounds, cutting brush, posting signs and making paths. Realizing the popularity of this unofficial tourist attraction, they are now charging guests to get in. We were disappointed it was no longer free. They charge 600 rupees for foreigners (150 for locals), equal to our daily food budget while visiting India. Maybe it was the luck of Buddha, or our Canadian charm, but as things would have it we met a group of very friendly American tourists when arriving at the gates. Before we could decide whether or not the experience would be worth the rupees, one of them had paid our way.  Feeling very grateful we joined their tour and exchanged contact info before they left. We snapped some pics of their group and plan to send them as a thank you.

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We then spent the next couple hours alone exploring the living quarters, the yoga hall, the meditation chambers and the roof tops, imagining what this place was like in its prime.

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We think the decision to revitalize this place is a good one, it sounds like they have big plans for it. Its a little hard on the wallet in comparison to other local costs, especially for a couple cheap backpackers. But the experience is great, there is so much to take in, and you don’t have to be a Beatles fan to appreciate this place… but who isn’t?

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The tour guide explained Rishikesh is very lucky to have been visited by the Beatles. It has put the town on the map and made it the tourist destination it is today. But it is not only the band to thank, it would not have been possible without the work of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the man they came here for.

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Our day wrapped up by taking part in the Ganga Aarti Lighting Ceremony at the banks of Ram Jhula (another great experience we want to write about), and of course stopping again to visit some smaller animals on the walk home.

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Britt and Jeff 🙂

Rishikesh: First Impressions

Its January 15th and we have been in Rishikesh one week. Rishikesh is a meat-free and alcohol-free city located in northern India, nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas along the Ganges River. The river is considered holy (known by the locals as The Ganga), and the city is known as “the birth place of yoga”, and is filled with places to study and practice yoga. There are many temples and ashrams (centres for spiritual studies), and the city attracts hippies, backpackers and people seeking personal and spiritual growth from all over the world.

Britt is 6 days into her month long Yoga Teacher Training Course at Vinyasa Yoga School (she will post an update on that soon). Our time has been spent exploring most of the area around Laxman Juhla, a large suspension bridge crossing the Ganges. We have yet to venture downstream to the further reaches of town.

During the day, the streets are filled with scooters, cows, and folks eating, shopping, taking classes, and taking in the sights. Here are some pictures of our favourite things to do here.

Cafe Hopping/Eating

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One of our fav spots Little Buddha

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Some live music inside Royal Cafe

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Chai Tea time inside Little Buddha

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The evening view from Krishna Cafe

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Israeli breakfast at Pyramid Cafe ($2.50 CAD)

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Dinner time! Veggie Masala at Little Buddha

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Pizza at Little Buddha (we told you it was our fav) ($3.50 CAD)

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Nutella and Banana Crepes at Devraj Cafe, a popular spot! The coffee was very strong but we hadn’t drank one for a while so it still hit the spot.

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Protein Packed vegan pancakes and green tea at Delmar Cafe aka 60’s Cafe, a tribute joint to the Beatles.

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Indian Breakfast at Cafe De Goa, great view of the bridge. The Indian style pickles that come with this dish are so strong but delicious.

 

Walking the Streets

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A look down the street, close to Hotel Qube where we are staying.

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One of many vendors selling colourful bags and fabrics.

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Fruit stand and a cow peeking down from above. You can buy whole fruits or have them pressed into juice right before your eyes.

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We’ve been leery of the Lime Soda Stand, as refreshing as they look we don’t know if they use safe water. The Butter Cookies we have tried, and they are awesome!

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Shiva is the most popular Momo spot in our area.

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Fried Momo’s from Shiva. (50 IRN – 80 cents CAD)

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Tons of options for street food here. Everyone seems to be eating it but we heard it can make you sick…the odd meal out is totally worth the risk! So far so good.

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Cuddling cows!

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Monkeys are all over Rishikesh, especially around the bridge. They are cute but they will steal your food and are known to get aggressive, don’t make eye contact!

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These larger black faced ones seem to be the most aggressive. We were sitting in a cafe when one jumped in the window and stole food right off someones plate!

 

Yoga and Meditation

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Classes and retreats literally everywhere.

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Britt studying for her course

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Britt after her welcome ceremony at Vinyasa Yoga School.

 

Taking in the View

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Dip in the Ganga

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Some locals and tourists going for a dip in the holy waters.

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Jeff getting his feet wet in the Ganga with a young lad who is hustling flowers for Buddha.

 

Hanging with the Locals

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This is a list of our favourite things to do, thus far. We have only been here a week, and we still have about four weeks to go, there is much more to do here.

How to Get Scammed in Delhi

At 6:30 in the morning, our plane touched down in New Delhi, India. The air was heavy and you couldn’t see out the plane windows due to the smog. Delhi is the most polluted city on the planet, and the second largest city in the world (behind Tokyo), with a population of over 18 million people.

Delhi is not to be taken lightly. It is crazier, dirtier and smellier then we could have ever imagined. No amount of research could prepare you for how amazing and awful this place is. The intention of writing about our bad experience isn’t to speak badly of Delhi, we haven’t experienced a fraction of what it has to offer. We will go back.

By 8:30am, we were standing out front of the New Delhi railway station. We just got off the express line from the airport, feeling quite accomplished for having navigated this portion with ease. All that was left was following the hand written walking directions we had jotted down from the Smyle Inn website. A quick 10 minute walk would get us to this hostel located in the Main Baazar, a ghetto backpacker neighbourhood full of super cheap accommodations.

Things went downhill real quick from there. We started down the sidewalk flooded with people, vehicles, stray dogs and garbage. We were greeted by a ton of locals offering cheap rickshaw rides. Initially we declined, but ended up accepting an offer because 30 rupees (60 cents) sounded like a good deal and it beat walking. We loaded all of our gear into his sweet ride, and set out for the hostel. He was super friendly, spoke good English, and we felt pretty safe and comfortable. We made a couple turns and then pulled up to the entrance of what looked to be a parking lot. The guy manning the gate walked up and asked, “where are your permission passes?”. He explained the Main Baazar was holding a festival, and because of the recent terrorist attacks in northern India the city was on high alert and we could not enter the neighbourhood unless we had our passes. Sounds legit? He told us in order to obtain these permission passes we had to go to a government tourist office, show our passports, and we would receive them, free of charge. He wrote down the name of the office. He cautioned us to not have any money out, and not flash any belongings because it was unsafe. We were a little leery, but didn’t really have another choice, being that we had all of our stuff and had no idea where we were, so we let our rickshaw driver take us there.

The “tourist office” was a tiny hole in the wall storefront, we walked up some stairs to a little room where a man was sitting behind a desk. We explained our situation but he already knew what we were talking about, and he asked us if we had a reservation at the hostel we wanted to stay at. We said no, and he kindly said he would call and see if there was room for us there.

Now we are aware of the typical scam “oh that hostel burnt down/is full/is closed, I’ll take you to a better one”, which earns the scammer a commission.

He called our hostel (ya, right), and of course they said they were full. He said that there was no way we would be able to get into the Main Baazar area, and the only options for us were to get a hotel in the city center (where prices are 500 dollars and up), or to get a taxi out of the city, because it may not be safe for us anyway. At this point we knew for sure that something was up, and walked out.

Our rickshaw driver was waiting for us outside. Still trusting him, we got back into his rig, and asked him to take us back to the train station. He was hesitant, making up excuses why we shouldn’t go back there, and at this point we were getting nervous, so we were pretty firm with him. He took us to this street he was claiming to be around where the train station was, and it looked nothing like where we had started out. As we spent more and more time with him, his English got worse and worse,  and all of a sudden he could barely understand us. We pulled over to the side of the road, where a well dressed local claiming to be the Delhi Police approached us, telling us the same story that the guy at the parking lot had (festival, terrorism, blah blah blah), and gave us another tourist office to go to, claiming that the one we had been at was fake. He also stressed about keeping all money and belongings hidden, reinforcing the scare tactic. Again, not having much of a choice other than getting out of the rickshaw on a sketchy street with all of our stuff, we set out for the next tourist office.

The next one wasn’t any better then the first. Same look, same style, another guy sitting behind a desk. He didn’t really seem to push the whole Main Baazar being closed thing, but he was pushing the hotels in city center or a driver to take us out of town. Our original plan was to stay at our cheap hostel, and to take the train to Rishikesh in the morning; But with the bullshit these guys were spinning, that plan seemed like a fairytale.  So a hired driver striaght to Rishikesh seemed like the lesser of two evils.

That is unfortunately what we did. Booked a driver at their tourist office and worked out a price that should have included a luxury sedan, a gourmet dinner and a tour of the Taj Mahal.

Thinking about it now, the rickshaw driver, the parking lot guard, the first tourist office, the “police officer”, the second tourist office, and the bank, was a tangled web where everyone gets a cut for bringing the naive, jet lagged tourist to pay huge money for a hotel or a car ride. Even both the men saying for us to keep our belongings hidden was a way for them to make us feel that we needed to stay with the rickshaw driver because we wouldn’t have been safe otherwise, which isn’t necessarily true. Could we have walked out? Could we have booked it cheaper somewhere else? Absolutely. There is no question they wanted our money. But they didn’t seem to want to hurt us, rob us, or any of the other terrible things we thought might happen if we continued to walk around this unknown world loaded with all our belongings.

But luckily 6 hours later we arrived in Rishikesh in a run down van, driven by an old man who didn’t speak a word of English and spent the ride coughing up bits of what we could only assume to be his lungs. After reflecting on this experience, we realize what we could have done differently. We are regretful and bitter about how things went down, but still appreciate the beautiful chaos that is Delhi.

We did not manage to pull out our camera amidst all of this, however we snapped a few pics with our phone of New Dehli and some smaller towns on our commute to Rishikesh.

Britt and Jeff.

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Layin’ Over in London Town

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Last night we took a red eye flight from Pearson International in Toronto to Heathrow International in London. Our plane left at 10pm Ontario time, it was about 6 hours long (for some reason I thought it would take way longer to fly across the Atlantic Ocean) and arrived in London at 9:30am, London time. Which works out to 4:30am Ontario time.

We are flying with Finnair (British Airways) this time. We’ve only ever flown coach, because let’s get real, who the hell has that kind of money for first class tickets. But let me tell ya, if we had a couple extra grand to blow on plane tickets, we would be first-classin’ it up. It is ballin’ in there. You basically have your own private hotel room on the plane. Coach ain’t that special. But we were pleasantly surprised to find in-seat entertainment, they give you blankets and headphones and all that fancy stuff. And they feed you. And the booze is free.

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Anyway, 9:30 this morning rolled around, and we got off the plane groggy, confused, lost and excited. The airport is about an hour ride on the tube (subway) from downtown London, and being that we only have about eight hours total here, we decided to play it safe and skip the sights. A fella we talked to said the only other proper thing to do on a short layover is to hit a pub and sample the local fare. So like the respectable Canadians we are, that’s what we decided to do. He recommended a place called The Pheasant, which was a short (free) bus ride and walk from the airport.

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Now neither one of us are opposed to breakfast beers, but still having our internal clocks set on Ontario time, and indulging in a meal of fish and chips and chicken and mushroom pie for breakfast, was pretty heavy. But it was so delicious. Ordering was confusing, as etiquette in English pubs is  different from the practices that we are accustomed to. The server doesn’t come to the table, you go to the bar to order your drinks, and if you want food, you go to the bar to order that as well. Once we got that figured out, we were good to go.

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The surrounding neighbourhood is interesting. A combo of newer and kinda haggard row houses, some with either a Range Rover in the driveway or an old worn-out mattress. It’s strange.

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Now we are back in the airport, where Jeffrey is rocking a nap looking sweet with his eyeshades on.

Jeffsleeping.jpgAnd that’s about it for the London layover. If you find yourself in Heathrow Airport with a short layover and nothing to do, check out The Pheasant!

Britt

In Our Backpacks: Packing List for 3 Months in Asia

I’m a list maker. I make lists for everything. Grocery lists, to-do lists, you name it. So it was natural for me to want to make a packing list, three months before we started packing.

We’ve never been overly light travellers, nor have we ever been on a trip longer than two weeks before. Most of our travelling has been done on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, where the pack list doesn’t need to be too complicated. A few bathing suits, couple pairs of shorts, some tank tops. The less clothes the better, in humidity where your hair frizzes instantly and your wet clothes never dry.

This packing list is different. WAY different. The main differences being:

  1. We are going for three months.
  2. We will be journeying through a number of different climates.
  3. We need to take into account that in Asia, less isn’t always more. From what we have read, there are certain ways you are expected to dress when you are visiting different places, temples especially.

Disclaimer: We are totally new at this. These are not our suggestions of what we think you should bring backpacking. For all we know, we may be outrageously overdoing it. It is just a product of the research we’ve done, combined with the type of people we know we are and the certain creature comforts we will think we will need. When we get home from our travels, we will update you on how things worked, what we needed and what we didn’t. Any suggestions, let us know! 🙂

The Gear

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Both of our packs are made by Osprey. We have had them for a couple years now and have held up great. We went with Osprey packs mainly because of the lifetime warranty the company offers. They are both 60 litres. Jeff’s is the blue one, the Aether 60, and mine is the green one, the Volt 60. 

For our carry ons/daypacks we have these JanSport knapsacks. They were cheap, are decent size, have a sleeve for your laptop or tablet and a space for your water bottle. We are going to dress them up with buttons so we aren’t “that couple” who matches.

What Did They Wear?

Clothing

As I wrote up above, it was a bit of a struggle deciding what to bring, due to the fact that we are going to be travelling through a few different climates.  Where our first home base will be (Rishikesh, India) is pretty chilly right now, in January (as low as 5 degrees at night). Thailand is relatively hot and humid most of the year. I also had to take into account the way I need to dress during my yoga teacher training, and what to wear when we visit temples and places that require you to dress modestly. Below are two separate lists, what clothing Jeff is bringing and what clothing I am bringing.

His

  • (5) pairs each of socks and underwear
  • (3) pairs of swim shorts
  • (3) pair of regular shorts
  • (1) pair of jeans
  • (1) pair of khakis
  • (1) pair of track pants
  • (4) muscle shirts
  • (4) t-shirts
  • (2) hoodies
  • (2) plaid button up shirts
  • Rain jacket
  • (1) pair of flip flops
  • (1) pairs of running shoes
  • (1) pair of water shoes

Hers

  • (6) t-shirts
  • (6) tank tops
  • (1) maxi dress
  • (1) maxi skirt
  • (4) pairs of shorts (a mixture of comfy and jean shorts)
  • (5) pairs of leggings/yoga pants
  • (1) pair of hippie pants
  • (1) dressier shirt
  • (2) hoodies
  • (1) poncho
  • (2) kimonos
  • sarong (can double as a blanket, scarf, towel, anything really)
  • (1) rain coat
  • (3) pairs of socks
  • (10) pairs of underwear (I always pack way to much underwear)
  • (4) sports bras
  • (2) regular bras
  • (3) bathing suits
  • (1) pair of flip flops
  • (1) pair of running shoes
  • (1) pair of water shoes
  • (1) pair of Toms (so comfy and easy to travel in)

I know, its crazy. It looks like way too much, and it very well may be. But when you pack all of those clothes into these handy dandy garment bags from the dollar store, all of it compacts into this.

Clothes in bags

I read quite a few blogs where fellow bloggers were raving about packing cubes, like these. Although we would have liked them, we personally couldn’t justify the price. These bags cost $1.50 each, are breathable mesh and are easy to find things in. They probably won’t last half as long as an actual packing cube, but it won’t hurt our feelings to toss them if they rip.

The Toiletries

Toiletries

Perhaps the most important section, the stuff that is going to keep us clean and healthy while we are away, the toiletries and hygiene items.

His

  • Deodorant
  • (2) Razors
  • Cologne
  • Sunscreen (SPF 60)
  • Tea Tree Shampoo
  • Ibuprofen
  • Hair paste
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste

Hers

  • Favourite shampoo and conditioner (I have unruly hair that tangles if you look at it wrong, so I have to be picky with what I use on it)
  • Hair straightener (This isn’t a definite. I’m hoping I’ll have a last minute moment of strength before we go and I will be able to leave this at home)
  • Leave-in conditioner
  • Face wash
  • Deodorant
  • (2) Razors
  • Hair brush, hair elastics and bobby pins
  • Lip balm
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss
  • A couple headbands and a few bracelets/pairs of earrings
  • Mascara and undereye concealer
  • Nail clippers and tweezers
  • Laundry soap sheets
  • Probiotics
  • Essential oils (lavender, peppermint, eucalyptus and tea tree oil)
  • Vitamin E oil for moisturizer
  • Activated charcoal

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  • Electrolyte salts
  • Melatonin

The Gadgets

Gadgets

Also really important, the things that we are going to use to document our trip and to stay in touch with family and friends.

  • Macbook Air
  • iPad (I use mine as a Kobo and download books from iBooks)
  • Sony Alpha a6000 Camera
  • GoPro Hero  with mounting hardware
  • iPhone 5C (if you get your phone unlocked at home, you can purchase a SIM card wherever you are for cheap, for unlimited data usage)
  • Bluetooth speaker for beach days

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  • Mini tripod
  • Various charging cables for gadgets
  • Headphones (just cheap ear buds)

Miscellaneous Items

Miscellaneous

The stuff that didn’t fit into any other category…

  • Airplane pillow x 2 (these ones are from Canadian Tire, they are memory foam and are amazing)
  • Plastic bowl and Spork
  • Hammock that folds up really small (from Ticket to the Moon) and hanging straps (not pictured)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Earplugs (a must for hostel dorm rooms and overnight trains)
  • Eye mask x 2
  • Travel toilet paper (a lot of public toilets don’t have toilet paper)
  • Nalgene water bottles x 2
  • Yoga mat (my favourite is The Mat 3mm from Lululemon)
  • Lonely Planet’s Guide to Southeast Asia and India
  • Some travel reading  (Wherever You Go, There You Are and the Bhagavad Gita)
  • A colouring book of mandalas (and markers)
  • Pacsafe Bag Protector
  • Turkish Towels x 2 (super absorbent, fast drying, and a fraction of the size of a beach towel)
  • Cotton/silk sleeping bag liners x 2 (in case of questionable hostel sheets)
  • And last but certainly not least, a personalized blanket of our cat, Miguel

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Not Pictured

  • Extra bag lock
  • Electrical outlet converter
  • Money belt that goes under your shirt
  • Miggo camera wrap (we didn’t want a big camera bag that would take up a ton of space, considering it will be in our day packs most of the time, plus this one has cats on it :D)
  • First aid kit
  • Pocket knife

 

And that’s it! Our three month pack list for Asia. We will update along the way to let you know how we are making out with the items we packed. Thanks for reading!

Love, Britt