Biking down the Mekong starts tomorrow

I have been in Cambodia for 10 days now...here is the route I have followed (with modes of transportation drawn in as close to scale as possible)

Here is the brief version of what has happened (with a blog on each step to follow in the coming days)
On the boat ride between Siem Reap and Battambang, I met a wonderful British school teacher who inspired me to do some bike riding. Kevin and I met up 2 days later in Phnom Penh where I rented a good mountain bike. He told me where in Cambodia he'd had some of the most beautiful riding of his past 3 months and Kevin even parted with part of his precious Cambodian map (actually quite difficult to come by in Cambodia...), only taking a small bit to the south of Phnom Penh where he is ending his journey by donating his bike to an orphanage. Excellent chap!

This morning, I miraculously boarded a 7am bus to Kratie and got my montain bike on for an extra 3 USD. This afternoon I spent in Kratie, resting up for tomorrow, watching the sunset accross the magestic Mekong river and buying snacks for the ride around all 4 blocks of town!

I was a bit nervous yesterday since I am recovering from some vomitting / nausea / fever 2 days ago but today I feel almost strong like horse and am looking forward to being out on the bike. My goal is to ride along the unpaved road that follows the river, listen to my body and be safe :)

Here is a cartoon from 2 days ago

There are absolutely incredible pictures that I can';t wait to share from earlier in the Cambodia venture, but those will have to wait until after this 2-3day bike trip (unless internet cafe's have made it to the fishing villages that aren't connected by paved roads...which is possible...).

With so much love. Your Cat-Biking-down-the-Mekong-river-Tomorrow


Practice clearly. Mindfully. Try your best. - Dr. Narong

Living and meditating at Wat Umong in a forest outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand has left a big impression on me.

Over the last 9 days I have essentially not spoken, written or read anything. For the 14hours of meditation practice every day, there was 5-10minutes of instruction from Dr. Narong. I now understand that retraining the mind takes a tremendous amount of focused repetition.

I can say the following with confidence: We meditate to train the mind to see the true nature of reality so that we may live happily; acting and speaking in ways that reduce suffering for ourselves and those around us.

This statement has both profound and practical implications for me that I did not comprehend 10 days ago. For now, meditation is an active work in progress. I woke up this morning and practiced for 2 hours on my balcony as the sun rose.

Here are a few more images from my stay at the temple
And finally, here are the guidelines for the meditation retreat and also the chant that we said together before every meal (I became very fond of this one).


Pictures from the temple life

There is a tremendous amount to say about the last 3.5 days. All wonderful. However, I only left the temple to make sure I could get to Cambodia on Jan 20th. Before I head back to temple-life here are some pictures I wanted to share with you.

This is our teacher, Dr. Nagau

Here is where I go during our relaxation times

This is the hot chocolate I drink in the afternoon because we don;t have any food after 12pm

This is where I practice

And this is one of my favorite temple dogs

And finally, this is my new room. It is about 4'6" by 5'10", and I am very fond of it.


Practicing being Gentle and Kind: Lesson 1

These are the brilliant flowers over my room  at "Smile House" in Chiang Mai". For the last 2 days I have biked 2 hours a day stopping at Wats and buying snacks, going to yoga class, swimming in a small outdoor pool and speaking with people in outdoor cafes and juice houses.

Yesterday morning I was worried because my plan was to go to Laos and travel down the Mekong river to get to Cambodia by Jan 20th seemed like a lot of work and travel. There were so many things I wanted to do and it would require me to keep moving almost every day. Not only was I worrying about what to do but I was judging myself critically for worrying about it, and then doubly-judging  because I wasn't being Gentle and Kind.
So...I asked myself what would be most Gentle and Kind? and the answer was very happily to stay in Chiang Mai. Oh, it was so easy! :)

To celebrate I rented a bicycle and visited some lager temple complexes a few km outside Chiang Mai. One was Suan Dok which was quite brilliant in the afternoon sun.

I also found another little Wat nearby that had a little jungle-scene behind my Golden Friendly that I really liked

I biked on toward Wat Umon and even as I peddled up the hill on my one-speed cruiser (complete with basket) I could already feel I was entering a much quieter area. I parked my bike in a pile of leaves and was greeted with a sign in english: "If you would like to help tie orange ribbons on the trees, please come see the Meditation Center Office"...and I thought: Oooh, I would really like to do that!

I walked along the concrete pathway flanked with ribboned trees...

and came to the main office where I took off my shoes and spoke with the monk. I asked him if I could stay here and meditate and he said " Yes, when would you like to come?" and I said "maybe tomorrow?...I will walk around and decide". He gave me a photocopied diagram of the complex and cirlced the places I should visit including the fish feeding pond:

One of the terraces for worship including a large and heavily ribboned tree

and the pagoda (the picture here is actually down the stairs from the pagoda but you can see how lovely the forest is in the afternoon light)

...So, I stopped back and said I would come in 2 days at 7:15am and bring my things and stay for at least 3 days. He said: I will see you on Monday before breakfast.

He gave me a pamphlet and I gave him my info and signed a sheet saying I would comply by all the rules on the Temple.

This is what the next few days will look like starting tomorrow morning:
4am Wake up
5-7am Meditation practice
7-7:20 Cleaning
7:30-8 Breakfast
8-9am Relaxation
9-11am Meditation practice
11:30-12 Lunch
12-1:30 Relaxation
1:30-3 Meditation practice
3-3:15 tea break
3:15-4:30 Meditation
4:30-6 Breaking Time
6-9pm Meditation practice
9pm Bedtime

...I think there is about 13 hours of meditation...and only 2 meals... a day. I am not going to comment at this point on the daily schedule except to say that I am excited to see what unfolds and I can't imagine a more perfect place for me right now, than this forrested temple complex filled with stone sculptures, monks and  trees with ribbons.

Last night I went to the night market and got my required outfit. here is me giving it a whirl after I showered. I am so happy to be going on this adventure and it wouldn't have happened if I hadn't given myself space from my original plan. I am learning that being Gentle and Kind means not clinging to what I thought the answer should be and being willing to step back and trust my intuition.


Chiang Mai: I dub thee City of Golden Friendlies

For your traveling pleasure, we have put you in an adjoining cabin to a charming British- Ukrainian family. The husband is a restaurateur in London and the wife a teacher and they will shower you with stories of Russian and British aristocracy (and cocktail offers).
You arrive at 9:30am and you decide to walk the mile into town from the train station since it is cooler in Chiang Mai and you are looking forward to stretching your legs. You are also a bit proud to walk past the frey of tuk-tuk drivers as if you actually have a destination and know how to get there...You take a picture of some flowers because you like flowers and the color orange...but you know, and the flowers know, there is a lot of gold in this town...

So without further ado...here are some of the Golden Friendlies of Chiang Mai (queue music sanctioned my the King of Thailand, who is now 83 but was very handsome in his youth)

On the second day, after a wonderful morning or yoga, meditation, peaceful eating and slow wandering you hop in a red truck and head up the winding 15km road to a Wat at the top of a steep hill called Doi Suthep. Your driver's name is Chia and he is 75. During the Vietnam war, when he was 24, his job was to halp the American soldiers relax and have a good time spending their money in Thailand. He said he was trained in how to administer medication in the case of too much drinking.

After you arrive, there are some magnificent stairs you get to climb (and are pleased about how in shape you are compared to the gasping Japanese school children).

You arrive at the top and the view of Chiang Mai is lovely and you look exactly like Cat with short hair and that is a bit weird but the monks near you don't seem to mind.

And so you wander around this hill-top Wat and find many more golden buddhas 
You even decide to sit down for a while in a courtyard and read because it is so pleasant and a little cat comes up behind you and walks across your bag and into your lap and you pet it quietly while you continue to read. Then you think it would be nice to have a picture with more than just your head (because your arms are not abnormally long) and so you ask some japanese women who do a very professional job and you thank them. You also go speak to one of the monks about living here for a few days and meditating and find out that there are only 10 rooms and they are booked at the moment but may be free in 1-2weeks and you think about coming back.
Finally, as you are entering the center of the city with Chia again, he offers you a fruit you have never seen before. He says he grew them in his garden and starts handing you a whole bunch of them. You thank him profusely and say your goodbyes. You sit by the river and try one.

The shell is like a smoother,more delicate and larger peanut shell and inside you have strings (like in an orange) surrounding a fruit that tastes like a candied date around  several very hard seeds. You like them!


I am here

When I left San Francisco, I hadn't cracked the cover of my guidebook. Here is a picture of my parents and me before I left. Unfortunately, you can tell from the picture how my parents felt about this course of non-action by their weirdo daughter. (The backpack I am wearing in the picture has everything I have with me - I love having just a few things!)

Despite explicit concern from my parents, I felt pretty good about the natural unfolding of my trip, and so with only a little guilt, I watched 4 movies on the 12 hour flight to Korea instead of reading about Thailand, since I had in fact booked my first night's hotel.
With plenty of time to spare on the flight between Korea and Bangkok I looked at the map of Bangkok and figured out how much a taxi should cost in Bhat. It all worked out perfectly and in my travel delerium at 1am local time I practiced the pronunciation of street names with my first friend and taxi driver in Thailand.

So here I am on my second morning, practicing listening to myself and evolving my trip accordingly. What feels gentle and kind now? This morning I woke up without an alarm at 5:30am and did yoga and meditated in my room until 6:30am and then went to breakfast where I lingered over eggs, a chinese steemed cabbage and carrot dish with rice and watermelon and papaya. I then went to the pool and read until I felt like swimming. I swam laps for 45min and then cleaned up and went out to lunch.

At lunch I met my new friend Shantanu, a massage therapist / IT specialist / vegitarian cook / amateur asrologist from Delhi. We had a lovely conversation that sparked the following sketch in my journal. The chilli peppers in the picture were not from the conversation - those are a reminder that when the waitress says "one? two Chillies?" she is not asking you about the American scale of hotness (e.g. mild / medium) she is asking about the number of whole chilli peppers I would like diced into my papaya salad. I can confirm that I am not man enough for 2 - it was rough...

The area around my hotel is called Banglamphu and is in many endearing ways aptly termed a "tourist ghetto". At night, it is equally lively and yesterday evening I parked myself at a colorful little table where I could watch people go by and these lovely lanterns blowing in the breeze.

So much food everywhere at all times of day

Yesterday I made friends with a tuk tuk driver (like the Indian autorickshaws) and we spent most of the day together. We made a deal that benefitted both of us.

I loved this school bus! Also, my tuk tuk friend and I went to a Wat and saw this giant standing buddha.

Love you all very much. Thank you for checking in. I am doing wonderfully and can't wait to wake up in Chiang Mai tomorrow and see what is in store for me there.