The end of the big T

Tanya cycling through India

T is for Thailand, but it is also for Tropics. As our time here in Thailand end, so does our trip. For the past 10 months we have spent all of our time in the tropic, from the northern Thailand, northern Vietnam and middle of India. We have also been in the far south, in Singapore nearly straddling the equator. We have seen the season (hot, hotter and wet), and although hot season was hot when we arrived, it is now cold. Hotter is still hot and wet is wet. Torrential downpours have caused small streams to fill paths, make roads more like river instead of roads, and have transformed the landscape from yellow to bright green. The lethargic hot weather makes any task difficult.

Learning at the PDC

Taking our PDC in Malaysia during the hot season was tough, I remember laying on the cement trying to cool down. I also remember working on Grassroots farm during this hot period, hoping for rain just to keep cool. I also remember when it would get cold at night in Hampie and Dalat, having to wear a sweater and a toque (who knew?)

New tastes, Durian, the King of Fruit

We both embarked on this trip in hopes to see something different, and experience something different. Riding a bicycle through India was a great way to achieve this goal. We also wanted to get inspired, thanks to places like Sadhana forest and the Panya project we are inspired. But also to our PDC teachers and everyone else we have met along the way. We have learned so much on this trip. We have learned:

  • How to build with mud

  • How to make kimchi

  • How to make wine

  • How to live in a community

    Learning about biodynamics

  • The best way to find ones way around rural India

  • How to grow food

  • How to cook without a cook book

  • How to cook for a hundred people

  • How to make various Biodynamic perperations

It was damn cold in Dalat

I know there is so much more as well. I never thought that I could get sick of traveling, and although I’m not sick of traveling, I am ready to come home. There is so much I want to try, there is so much I want to do and I’m looking forward to doing it.

SE Asia is full of culture and history

I want to thank all the loyal readers of this blog, we appreciate you dedication and patients. The last couple of months have been pretty inactive (in terms of blog posts). Since the beginning of this trip there has been more then 16,000 views on grannygear, which is pretty amazing, so we thank you all for your support. For those that we met on the road, maybe one day our paths will cross and we can catch up. For the rest of you back home, we are looking forward to meeting up people we haven’t seen in about a year and just chillin. See you soon.

Odd jobs at Panya

Hand made Bougainville Bongophone

Panya has been a great learning environment because of the variety. Along with all that I have learned, I have also discovered that I enjoy working with wood. After watching the movie Coconut Revolution, Sam and I got the crazy idea to build and Bougainville Bongophone. It sounds complex, but it isn’t. All you need is some bamboo. You cut everyone to a different length and you get a great (and kind cartoony) sound. Sam and I worked on this project for three days, mostly cutting and chiseling. This is the parts that I enjoyed, I now want to make a Cajon when I get back home. We learned a tough lesson though, when trying to make something out of bamboo, make sure it is dried (yellow not green). When it dries, it tends to crack, which is what happened to us, and as such, our instrument no longer works.

you hit this side with some flip flops to make the noise

If one remember from a few posts ago, we got the idea of making a tree nursery, which required us to level some land…by hand. Leveling by hand took some time (and energy), but it was good.

Kelly and Sam discussing where we should shave down to make the site level


Tanya and Sam moving sand and gravel

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After that we had to move 6m3 of gravel and sand (once again by hand). The piles of material were all placed around the leveled area evenly. The next step was to make a well in the middle of the pile.

Some of the piles, ready for cement and water


Smoothing (you can use bamboo or pvc piping)

In the well cement and water was mixed with the surrounding material to make a mix and then we spread the mix out evenly. You repeat this a few more times and you have a super easy flat surface. This mix was ultra wet so it would self level, and the goal was to make all with a piece of bamboo (that didn’t work out for us). In the end the concrete dried, and although it isn’t super posh, it is pretty nice (considering it was done in 2 hours with 7 people that have never done it before). The next step is to put up wall and a roof and we got ourselves a weed free nursery.

Kelly working on some finishing

Kelly working on some finishing

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First of four levels that will makes up the walls

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Trip to Pae, unaware of the demise of Dam (the dog)

On a less possitive note, one of the dogs dies while we were on holiday. Panya being permaculture, we thought the best way to remember Dam (the dead dog) was to put her into a 18 day compost pile. There is a video of this happening.[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qY4pRB0vr4M]

One of the most important things I learned at Panya was how easy it is to do things. Things I always thought a professional needed to do, one can do oneself. Just do it. You want a nursery, build it; you want a musical instrument, build it; you want hoot water, build a solar water heater, you want a solar bread oven, build it.

Posted from Ban Pao, Chiang Mai, Thailand
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Natural Building Internship at Panya

The last month at Panya has been spent participating in a Natural Building Internship.  I went into it with a bit of trepidation, having never build or to have wanted to build anything in my life (I don’t even assemble Ikea stuff), and Kelly was intrigued and wondering how natural building could actually work.  The project was to redesign and rebuild the Sala which is the community space where we eat and relax.

What the sala looked like before we started and now

We started with building a proper office where people could set up laptops and which will house the hundreds of books available (I helped make the bookshelves).  We use mud bricks that are made in the dry season.  They are made of a mix of clay, sand, and rice husks.  The we use a fresh mud mix of the same materials as the mortar.  For this mud mix we dug a huge hole in the ground and every day about 5 people get to stomp around in the mud adding clay and rice husks to get the right consistency.  It amazing how fast walls come together, and what’s great is you can shave down the bricks easily so you can make all kinds of interesting shapes.

We also built some arched walls, columns, benches, and stairs.  There is still lots of finishing work to be done.  I really enjoyed doing things like plastering the walls and painting (we use paint made from water, tapioca flour, and natural color), but when it comes to doing things like taking out the support beams without the roof collapsing I tried to stay far away.  A great learning experience overall!

Posted from Ban Pao, Chiang Mai, Thailand
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The Panya Project

Grass, some cut, some not

Somewhere north of Chaing Mai, lost in the complex networks of roads, back roads, canals and rice paddies there is a place called the Panya Project. The Panya Project started about 3 years ago, it is about 10 acres of 5 year old mango plantation. Over the past three years, this mono-culture plantation has been transformed into a small community in which people come here to spend some time, plant some veggies, harvest some fruit and have a good time.

After the grass has been cut

The main part of the mango plantation is about to undergo a major transformation though. That is where Tanya and I fit in. We are long term volunteers, here to help plant thousand of trees in amongst the mango trees. We are turning this difficult to maintain one fruit crop into a multicrop forest of food. Instead of one season in which you can harvest fruit, fruit will be available all year. Two swales and a dam (or a reservoir, the Aussies like to call them dams), are on site to help keep this place green in the dry times of the year (however it is not currently working perfectly yet).

The sunseting from our mud brick hut

Moving into our place at Panya

Baby trees (aka seedlings), waiting to be planted out in the food forest

The rainy season is a time for plants to grow. In the past 1.5 months grass and vine have taken over the site. The job over the past week has been preparing the site so that we can plant some trees. This has involved cutting grass with a brush cutter, pulling vines off of trees, weeding the veggie gardens, maintaining the nursery and much more. It is amazing the transformation that has taken place, now the plantation looks like a well maintained orchard, but at several man days of work already put in (and it would have to be done every three weeks), finding a new system to use this land would be best. The food forest should be able to maintain itself much better then the mono-culture that is there now.

Posted from Ban Pao, Chiang Mai, Thailand
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Chiang Mai

For those of you that have been check often, I thank you. We have been lazy these past few days, not seeing too many sights in Chiang Mai, and as a result, not blogging too much. I’m sorry to report that it will probably be more of the same in the coming months. We will be heading up to the Panya Project on Saturday. We will be spending about 2 months there volunteering at the permaculture project. I expect that the posts will slow down even more. We will be coming back to Canada at the end of September, which means we are on the final leg of our journey.

Enough of that though, Chiang Mai is great. This city is pretty small, somewhat historic and filled with good food and many temples. Since we have been here we have seen a handful of Buddhist temples (they all look pretty similar to me now), went to the Sunday night market, rented a tandem bicycle, got our visas extended, I had a 24 hour bout of food poisoning, and Tanya has been going to some yoga classes.

The food here has been great, from traditional Thai food to modern pizza, you can have many tasty meals here. One of my favorites have been the ripe mango on sticky rice. The mango is sweet and ripe (they don’t taste like this back home), and the rice is slightly salty, slightly sticky. It’s a great combination, combine that with an orange juice and a coffee, it is a great way to start the morning (only 1 Canadian dollar, perfect). There is lots of other food in this town as well, too many to name, all are cheap and tasty though.

Mango and Sticky Rice

The Sunday night market is not an event to be missed. A couple of intersecting streets, about 1km long each all provide thousands of people with something to do on Sunday night. Hundreds of stands lite by bright compact fluorescent lights sell all sorts of stuff. From trinkets to t-shirts there are stalls selling almost anything. The real treasure is the food however. For 10 bhat (25 cents) you can get a big spring roll, or Pad Thai, or fresh juice or any other number of great fare. The food is spicy and the atmosphere is electric. It was great fun, and after walking the market Tanya and I wondering why our grocery/big box/small box stores give us such an un-inspiring bland experience.

Tandem Bicycle

One day we found a tandem bicycle that you can rent. If you remember, we rented a really old, poorly made one in Da Lat, Vietnam. The one here was much nicer then the one in Da Lat. We rented it and headed out of town. We first had to get out of the city though and that was somewhat stressful. Although Thailand traffic isn’t the worst traffic around (like India or Vietnam), maneuvering a tandem makes everything a little more challenging. We did get out of town and it was great, the scenery was filled with green fields, a brown river and smiling faces. As many people would wave, smile or honk their horn at us, we felt that same feeling we felt back in India. It was great, and it really made us start to miss our cycle touring days. By the looks on the faces of the local Thia’s we passed, they don’t see tourists very often, never mind two on the same bike, pedaling in perfect sync. To me, that is what makes traveling great, making someone smile.

After a tiring 3.5 hour ride we headed back. We walked back to our hotel, tired and stiff (we haven’t been doing much exercise lately). Renting bikes are great, seeing the rural area is great, doing both at the same time is perfect. After spending the last couple of month backpacking, I know that having your own two wheeled mode of transportation is the best. You get off the main track, you see things other don’t and you have a great time. Although our trip isn’t done yet, I feel I have learned a great deal in the past 8 months: bicycles are fun, rural areas are nice (especially in the morning), having some meaning to your traveling makes things much more rewarding and 99.9% of the time, people are nice and helpful.

Posted from Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, Thailand
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Thailand

Thailand

We have now arrived in Thailand. We got here a couple days ago. Before coming here I didn’t know what to think of this place. Most people who backpack SE Asia come here. I know there are a lot of beaches and that the food is delicious.

These patterns were on all the doors of the Wat

When you have been on the road for 8 months, things don’t really shock you as much. Nor are you as impressed as much. One thing that was amazing was how nice this place is for backpackers. There is a couple of streets lined with cheap t-shirts, cheap food, cheap beer, cheap CDs, cheap books and cheap fake driver’s licenses. The streets are full of street food. You can get a really good cheap meal just about anywhere, and there are all sorts of meat being shown for display on the side of the road. The streets are a little dirty (but not as bad as some places), the traffic is nice to pedestrians, and there are a fraction of the motorcycles there were in Vietnam.

Buddha Statues

Nearby our area is the Grand Palace, the Emerald Buddha and Wat Pho. One day we went to see all three. However the price of the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha where a little to expensive for us. One thing that really bothers us is how much palaces charge to see them. It is not like the royal family really needs the money. I think the problem lies with the fact that people will pay it. As long as people are willing to pay to go in, a couple of cheap backpackers are not really going to make much of a difference.

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Big sleeping Buddha

After the trip to the gates of the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha we headed to the Wat Pho. The Wat Pho is a pretty big complex, the entrance price was reasonable and we enjoyed ourselves. In the days since that we haven’t been doing to much. Just killing time before we start our internship at the Panya Project, you will get more on that later. Tomorrow we will be in Chang Mai (northern Thailand).

Posted from Bangkok, Bangkok, Thailand
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Ha Long Bay

Tanya gazing at the scenery

After much debate we decided to go on a 2 day boat ride on Ha Long Bay.  Ha Long Bay is a World Heritage Site in Northern Veitnam and is about 1,500 square kilometres in size.  The bay has thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes.  Arguable the most popular attraction in Vietnam for both Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese tourists is a boat trip around the bay.  You can take either a 1,2, or 3 day excursion and you sleep on the boat.  We decided on two days and being the low season we where able to bargain down the cost one of the nicer boats on offer (there are literally hundreds to choose from).

In Surprize Cave

At dusk

In the bay, there are over 500 boats

Mystical, maybe a bit too much so

Fishing boats, the lights help attract the fish

After a 4 hour mini-bus journey we arrived at Halong City and jumped on the boat.  We were not dissapointed.  The boat was really clean and nice (we heard stories of rust buckets and rats) and had the second most comfortable bed I’ve slept in.  The meals went on and on, upward of nearly 10 courses  (we tried to count but lost track thanks to the bottle of wine and good company) of tasty Veitnamese (mostly fresh seafood) at dinner.  Other than that you just lounge around on the upper deck, enjoy the incredble scenery, and chat with the others on the boat.  We did stop at a “surprise cave” which was lit up with tacky strobe lighting but was also pretty amazing because it was so incredibly huge!    And we did some kayaking around the karsts and a floating village.  All in all is was a great trip (the pictures don’t do it justice at all though)!

The limestone islands covered in greenery

Posted from Vietnam
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Streets of Hanoi

We walked on the streets of the old town of Hanoi. We saw a few sights (temples, churches), nothing too crazy or different from the usual sights. Hanoi does have an interesting street setup. The names of streets are named after the guilds that used to line them. After reading about this in the guide book, I had visions of streets lined with goods of one kind. Modern times bring modern changes, and this part of town has largely been devoted to tourist (many cafes, bars and tour offices). There were some similarities among the streets though, below I will share with you the different streets (or at least what I would have named the streets due to their merchandise) and some of the sights that we saw.

Posted from Hanoi, Hanoi, Vietnam
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Hue

Hue is a pleasant place to ride a bicycle

Hue is a town which houses the an Imperial Citadel. The citadel is a huge complex in the middle of the city. There is an outside wall, which houses many buildings, shops and houses. We rented bicycles and crossed the moat to check what was on the inside of the huge walls. Inside the walls is similar to that outside the wall, a Vietnamese city. As we have been moving north on our journey though Vietnam, we have noticed that the farther north you move, the more chilled out the country comes. In Siagon, it was crazy, a ton of motorcycles and many cars. The past week, we have seen more bicycles, less motorcycles and way less cars.

Inside the citadel

This is understandable as the wealth seems to be more concentrated in the south. Vietnam appears to have the most fairly distributed wealth out of all the countries we have visited. Saying that, there are some houses which are large (not huge), and there are some people living in poverty, but no where near as polarized as India, Cambodia or Malaysia. Everyone seems to own a motorcycle, and a surprising number of people own electric motorcycles.

Not really sure what this circular sign means, but it is everywhere in Vietnam

Another example of porcelain, and the symbol

A nice partially of restored house in the citadel

We went to see the imperial citadel the other day. It was great, there was a ton to see. The complex is huge, and as a result from its size, they were many times you could escape the crowds. It was great, Tanya and I would have a chance to walk alone, in quiet (the walls of the citadel cut out the traffic noise). We walked along the stone sidewalks, looking at the interesting use of porcelain to decorate the walls of the buildings. We even had the chance to watch a cat “play” with a small lizard, although, I’m sure the lizard wasn’t enjoying its last few minutes of life.

The lizard didn't really like this exercise

Tanya couldn't get enough of this wall

A dragon as a railing

Some of the colours seen

Kelly

Bright orange pillars stand against drab walls

Tanya, and the interesting windows

Some of the contrast of colours

Inside the one of the nicely restored building

The complex has many stages in different stages of restoration, as some parts are pretty much fully restored, many parts are not. Which is nice, there seems to be a nice balance of what it used to look like, and now, what it looks like after it has been neglected.

Tanya had to get a closer look too

I really wanted to get a closer look

The orange wall, the tiled walls, the big vase and the red and grey lines

An example of the nicely restored buildings

A detailed look at how the decorated their walls

Every entrance was nicely decorated

Golden roof, red walls, you see the Chinese influence here

The colours were truly amazing, full bodied reds, mixed with shimmering gold. Walls had the red brick colour, and were stained with years of tropical weather. Blue porcelain accented many buildings and green plants bordered nearly every wall. It was truly enjoyable way to spend the morning.

These archways are restored very nicely

Another example of the great porcelain work

Where's my beer?

Tanya hanging out

Posted from tp. Huế, Thua Thien-Hue, Vietnam
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Hoi An

No cars are permitted in the centre, it was great

Hoi An is charming riverside town (I copied that description from the Lonely Planet) in the middle of Vietnam. There is a distinctive French influence…in the old town buildings, architecture, and the food (baguettes and pastries). Once again, Vietnam is tops on the awesome value accommodation and we found a great hotel with an even greater indoor-outdoor pool and our 3 days here went like this:  Wake up and eat all the fresh fruit we want at the free breakfast by the pool, rent bicycles and ride for 1-2 hours along a beautiful road on the ocean that is basically free of any traffic, come back sweating hot and jump in the cold pool, lounge in the sun, go for lunch, type up a post like this in the afternoon because it’s way to hot to be outside, then once it starts to cool down we hop back on the bikes to explore the streets and alleys of Old Town (which is closed to vehicle traffic – although it allows motorcycles).

Two spoons were needed to finish this dessert

The beach, and no one was on it

Looking down the river

Plenty of shoes to go along with all the clothes

Night Time in Hoi An, old buildings, great food

Lanterns on the side of the road

Clothing shops everywhere (every 2nd or 3rd shop)

Besides the historic old buildings, Hoi An is famous for Tailor-made clothing.  I’d say about every second or third shop is a tailor shop with enticing looking apparel…suits, jackets, tops, skirts, and dresses.  You can either a) choose from their samples b) you can bring in absolutely anything and they will copy it, or c) you can look through their stacks of photo albums full of magazine tear-outs of designer clothes they will make you for a fraction of the cost…in one day or less.

I couldn’t bear to spend money on something without knowing what it will look like in the end, however Kelly decided to take the plunge.  He brought in his favorite pair of shorts, picked out the material and color of the copy and that’s it…come back later that day!  We came back and overall they looked very similar to the original pair of shorts, though the sides of the sorts looked a little funny…too much material maybe…no problem though, the tailor comes right over and knows exactly how to fix it.  The next morning we go back and Kelly’s got himself a perfect copy of his favorite shorts.

In the centre of the city

A bright blue window, drab yellow decaying walls

Good to be back on bikes

Posted from Hội An, Quang Nam province, Vietnam
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