Wat Phra That Doi Suthep: Temple on the Hill.

If there is one temple everyone tells you to go to in Chiang Mai it is the one located on Doi Suthep, the mountain just on the edge of the city. After a winding, uphill ride to the base of the temple, you’re still not quite there yet. Pass the many stalls offering you an assortment of trinkets to purchase and make your way to the 309 stairs (or take the tram for a small fee).

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This temple attracts foreign tourists, local Thais, as well as monks and other Thai nationals from other cities. One of the pieces that you will see once you enter the pagoda is a statue of a white elephant. The albino elephant is rare and is historically held in high regard by Thai people. It is said that a monk once had a vision telling him to go to a certain spot to find a relic. What he found there was a bone. Some even say that this was the shoulder bone of Buddha.

The monk took the bone to a northern city in Thailand, where it apparently broke in two. One piece of this bone was put on the back of a white elephant by a king and the elephant was sent off. The story goes that this white elephant climbed up Doi Suthep where he let out three trumpets before dying. The king took this as a sign and thus, built what is now Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.

 

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When I visited, there was a monk and a shaman who were sitting in a temple and blessing the string bracelets (Sai Sin bracelet) that many travelers to Thailand come to know. These string bracelets are blessed by monks in Thai ceremonies and those who wear them are brought good luck – in travels, in their endeavors, health, success, and even wealth when blessed over a pile of money. They tell you not to cut these bracelets and either untie them or allow them to fall off, for cutting them diminishes all the luck they are meant to bring.

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This is also the temple where I was taught by a visiting monk how to pray.

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As you walk around the temple, you will notice a few areas where you can sit, relax, and take in the beautiful views of Chiang Mai that can be seen from both sides of the pagoda. Whether you are in Chiang Mai for a day or a week, this temple is one of the most beautiful in the area.

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Sunday Snapshot: Alberta Prairies

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Today’s snapshot features a photo from home, taken on a country road just outside of Edmonton. The more I travel the more I find that I appreciate where I come from. Nothing beats the Alberta prairies, yellow fields as far as you can see and wide open blue sky. Driving down those back roads always calms the mind and gives you a beautiful view like this one. You might even find yourself slamming on the breaks to jump out of your car and lay down on the road to snap a photo (watch for cars!) ;)

A Day in Chiang Mai

So you’ve found yourself in Chiang Mai, a large city in Northern Thailand. Maybe you were told by friends how great it is or maybe it’s just a random stopover before moving on. Whatever your reason for being here, you might be wondering how best to spend your day.

If you’re looking for cheap accommodation filled with young, lively folks like yourself, Little Bird Guesthouse and MD House might be two possibilities. Both located within walking distance from each other in the Old City, these two hostels are right where the action is happening but tucked away in their own little nooks so as not to disturb those trying to get to sleep at night.

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Start your day off with a trip to Somphet Market, where you can find Tip and her big yellow sign, serving up delicious fruit shakes and fruit muesli. This is also the market that many local cooking classes will take their students to collect fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and spices for their meals. If you enjoy cooking or simply want to do something you may not have done before, cooking classes are a fun way to spend the day and you have the choice of an in-city class or one on a farm in the countryside.

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After browsing around the market, flag down a songthaew, a truck with two rows of seats, to take you on up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, the temple on the hill and the most popular temple in the city. This alone could easily fill up your afternoon with the intricate detail of the temple and the beautiful views of Chiang Mai below.

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Interested in speaking with an English-speaking monk? Head over to Wat Suan Dok and make your way to the university that is attached, where “monk chats” are available by donation to learn more about Buddhism and their way of life.

As the afternoon comes to an end and night begins, the buzz of the night market comes alive covering nearly 2 kilometers of road. Selling beautiful handcrafted items such as paintings and jewelry, the night bazaar has become one of Chiang Mai’s most popular tourist attractions. If you happen to be around on a Sunday, there is the famous Sunday Night Market.

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Looking to get your drink on and let loose a little? THC Rooftop Bar is a good choice if you’re looking for something a little more chilled out. After climbing a windy staircase, you’ll find yourself in a colorful, shoes-off, chilled out atmosphere that overlooks Thapae Gate. Zoe in Yellow, or Zoe’s for short, offers a garden/seated area if you just want to sit down with a few beers as well as a big dance floor for when the night gets wild. It’s also where I spent my 21st birthday. Reggae Bar, just down the road from Zoe’s, is a fun place to go if you’re looking for some Jamaican music, live bands, and a dance floor.

With it’s mix of modern and traditional, Chiang Mai is a popular city that attracts thousands of tourists and is home to many expats who have fallen in love with the place and decided to make it their home.

Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Traveling Alone.

I recently wrote a post about having the courage to acknowledge and pursue a desire for an “unconventional” life, such as one of travel. That got me thinking about one of the biggest reasons people have that stop them from their travel journey:

“I don’t want to go alone.”

I can’t count the number of times someone has told me how much they would love to go somewhere, if only they had someone to go with. For so many reasons on why people believe they shouldn’t travel solo, I am here to tell you why you should.

To travel solo is to let go of everything that you have been certain about for all your life. It is the exhilaration that comes with uncharted territory, language barriers, plans that only last a day and just a backpack of belongings.

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To realize, particularly at a young age, everything that you are capable of doing entirely on your own is one of the best feelings of empowerment and liberation. With no friends to persuade you and no family to guide you, the only person you can count on is yourself. Across the world in an unfamiliar city, this can be slightly terrifying, but it’s the best kind of fear you can allow yourself.

This type of travel offers the freedom to do anything a traveler desires at any point during their trip and at the speed they are comfortable with. Decide halfway through the day that it’s time to move on to the next city? You can do that. Tired of constant travel and want to “settle” in one place for a few weeks? You can do that too. When traveling with a companion there is always a compromise that has to be made whether it be regarding what restaurant to eat at or what attraction to see. When you are solo you have the freedom to be spontaneous in any and all decisions.

This spontaneity is often the key exhilaration factor when traveling alone, as it often leads you to having amazing experiences that you never would have imagined being involved in.

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Loneliness is often people’s biggest misconception about traveling without friends. Sure, there are days that you might spend exploring new places alone. You may even come to prefer eating lunch in a restaurant on your own with a book or a journal to jot down the great things happening to you on your adventure. You may begin to appreciate the true beauty in the art of a museum when  you have the silence to contemplate on your own.

One thing that I’ve found on my own solo travels is that I am much more likely to push myself out of my comfort zone when I don’t have a friend traveling with me. If you’re worried about being constantly alone and bored of your own company, stay in a hostel. It is impossible not to make friends to spend your time with. In fact, it’s not uncommon for people to be heading the same way and decide to travel together for a little while. It is these passing strangers that you will share some of the best moments of your life with and remember whenever you tell a travel story.

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Through the moments of doubt, determination, and ambition that often accompanies solo travelers, a person you may not know even existed can emerge.

A trip like this can not only give you incredible memories and allow for unbelievable opportunities, but it can seriously boost a persons self-esteem and identity. I hope each and every person can find the strength to take a breath, say farewell, and board a plane to the destination of their wildest dreams. My only warning to embarking on a solo journey is the risk of falling so in love with embracing new cultures, people, and experiences, that you will be renewed with a new sense of passion and have to take many more adventures.

Sunday Snapshot: Lake Annette, Alberta

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It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a sunday snapshot up on the blog and since I’ve been busy with final exams and summer is just around the corner (or so I’d like to believe), now is as good a time as any. This photo was taken at Lake Annette in Jasper National Park, AB in the summer of 2013.  With crystal clear water and the mountains in the background, the lake makes an excellent day trip if you’re in the area.

Are You Breathing Just a Little and Calling it a Life?

“Listen—are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?”
–Mary Oliver

If you live in any of the Western countries you will know all too well the typical route that a life is supposed to take. Graduate, go to college, get a job, get married, buy a house, start a family… not necessarily in that order. But what happens when the idea of all of these things that equal a “successful” life fills you with dread and makes you want to run in the opposite direction? What happens when a university degree is not going to give you what you always wanted? What if marriage just isn’t in the cards for you? What if buying a house seems like the most absurd and impractical thing you have ever heard? Above all, what do you do if you’re okay with feeling this way and wanting a different life but nobody else quite understands it?

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The decision to reject everything that society has been telling you to strive for can be difficult. Scary. Nerve-wracking. Overwhelming. Exciting. Liberating. But all of these feelings regarding your decision are normal. In fact, they are necessary. The combination of fear and happiness is what works to drive you forward, to begin those steps in pursuing the life that you always wanted. One thing that I have learned from making decisions and following through with them despite discouraging remarks is that you should always stand by your decisions and feel proud of them. For myself, if I hadn’t got on that plane alone at 18, my favorite memories would not exist. Friendships I have all around the world would not exist. My sense of self and purpose would not exist. The person that I am today would not exist.

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There is not much that I am certain of. The only thing that I am one hundred percent sure of, without a doubt, is that I want to see the world, and that is enough for me. There is an inherent feeling of wanderlust that I have and it emerges after mere months of being in one place for too long. I have been living in a brand new city for eight months now, and by the sixth month mark I felt it again. That pull towards something greater, something farther, something more fulfilling. I began to feel claustrophobic in a big city once again, bored, lacking motivation to continue my current commitment of university.

It is these moments that reaffirm my belief that I am meant to see as much of this world as I possibly can. Long-term travel has had to be put on hold in order to get my degree (something that I do believe is relevant in my life and will get me to where I want to be) but I know without a doubt that as soon as I’ve accomplished this goal, there will be nothing stopping me from doing the one thing I know I want to do with my life.

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I saw the quote at the top of this post today and realized that right now I am just going through the motions and waiting until my life can really start up again. I also realize that there are probably hundreds of other people in the world that this quote will resonate with. People working at an unfulfilling job that they resent, bored with the progress of their life, dreaming of being able to do everything that they truly want to do but have put on hold because of society’s expectations of what a successful life means.

If that is you, then maybe now is the moment to change things. Now might just be the time to put all of those trips and ideas that you secretly have already planned out, saved in the files on your computer or your mind, into motion. The unease that you feel bubbling up through the excitement is okay, of course it is. You are leaving a comfort zone that has been built around friends, family, and a job you are familiar with. The world is a huge place filled with both beautiful and terrifying things, and if your dream is to explore it, then you should stick by those dreams, honor the person that you are and all that you want, and finally begin living the life that you want, not the one society has been telling you to have.

A Dip Into The Sorgeto Hot Springs

This isn’t the first time that I’ve written about Ischia. As mentioned in that previous post, Ischia was where I first had the opportunity to soak myself in a volcanic hot spring. Earlier that evening, seven of us crammed ourselves into a tiny mini van that managed to squeeze itself at a ridiculously fast pace in and out of the narrow alleys.

After a huge Italian meal with new friends, we all made our way to Sorgeto Bay at the suggestion of our hostel staff. To reach the beach itself, you need to walk down about 200 steep, stone steps. If you are coming with somebody who cannot make the trek up or down these steps, you can also reach the springs by water taxi during the day.

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The Sorgeto Springs are comprised of a number of different thermal pools, each one fluctuating in water temperature due to the natural heating of Ischia’s volcanic activity. Once we had stripped down to our bathing suits, we tiptoed carefully into the water, the smooth stones of the hot spring floor slippery beneath our feet. Luckily for us, we had the entire springs to ourselves and, at 2AM, the water is still comfortingly warm, with the odd areas of cold and scorching hot. If you come during the day, be sure to note the signs warning you where not to venture because some areas of the spring are inaccessible due to the overwhelming temperatures. It’s been said that some people even bring eggs to boil in the hottest areas of the springs!

If you’re seeking a luxurious, spa-like activity, these thermal springs should be at the top of your list. Oh, but there’s one more little tidbit of information that will give you no excuse to miss out — access to the springs is free! So even if you are a penny-pinching backpacker, you can still take advantage of what the springs have to offer. If you ever find yourself on the island, I would highly recommend stopping in to the Sorgeto Hot Springs. I can’t say personally what it is like in the daytime, but I know very well the beauty and fun to be had in the late hours of the night (preferably with some wine!).

A Home Away From Home

When all of the commitments and repetition of ordinary life get just too much to bear, there has always been a place that I can go to escape. Imagine yourself in a yellow car, the blazing heat of summer beaming into the sunroof (you decided a sunroof was better than air-con, and quickly realized that was a mistake) as you drive past miles of prairie land. As you get nearer your destination, the radio signal cuts out and you end the drive with nothing but the soothing silence of nature.

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This is my “Home Away From Home”, a place that I grew up as a child and continue to return to as an adult. With nothing but a trailer and a shack on an allotted piece of land, I am back to the basics. There is no electricity here, no running water, and the outhouse is as old as I am. With no WiFi and finicky cell reception, I am finally able to disconnect from everyone and everything that is going on in the city. To someone else, it might look like little more than a disheveled shelter surrounded by trees. But with my eyes, it’s a piece of my family and a part of my history. Built by my father with his bare hands, my home away from home grew up from nothing and was transformed by the people who stayed here and the memories that run through my mind as I bring myself back here year after year.

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Over there is the spot where a huge swing set once rested between the trees. It’s where I sat and watched with disbelief when two full-grown bears walked into the property just feet away from me before coming to my senses and rushing inside. It’s where I first felt strong and “grown-up” when I was allowed to help cut down a tree that had grown too tall and too old. It’s where I fell, dozens of times, leading to stitches on one occasion and right off a roof in another. It’s where I took my dog on long walks through the forest. It’s where a big garage-looking shelter once stood, a spot where laughter-filled parties took place around a campfire on those cold or rainy nights. It’s where I made lasting friendships with people I otherwise would never have had the privilege to meet.

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The swing set and the garage-shelter are gone now. There are fewer trees, as some have come down with old age. But it is still my home away from home. This is still the place that I return whenever I need to recharge and escape the monotony of city life.  As an adult I now have the courage to come out here all on my own even when I know there won’t be a soul around to help me if I need it. As much fun as I have coming here with friends, where we spend our days in the lake water or quadding through the forest, I have enjoyed my time up there alone as well. It holds a different meaning when I am there on my own, when I practice yoga on the beach, or spend the entire day reading a book in the sun and then by the fire when the night’s grown dark.

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North Buck Lake in Alberta, Canada is my home away from home. It’s a safe, comforting, place that is filled with fun, laughter, and memories that are both strong and hazy. At the end of my time spent here, as my car pulls into the city, I am the happiest and most refreshed than I have ever felt.

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This post was written at the request of DogVacay.com as a part of their “Home Away From Home” project, where they turn to people to find out their home away from home and what that means to them. DogVacay works to find an insured dog sitter for your pet while you are away. They pride themselves on finding local, safe, happy, and comfortable environments for your furry friend.

Braving a Chilly Afternoon, Pt. 2: Devonian Gardens

Nestled up on the fourth floor of Calgary’s downtown shopping centre, The Core, is an indoor oasis filled with palm-trees, flowers, ponds and fountains. After spending our morning having brunch at The Coup, mom and I made our way to the mall, Starbucks in hand, and ventured on up to the fourth floor. Before we knew it we had crossed over from bustling shopping centre into a garden filled with the sounds of flowing water and the color green all around. It may have been in my mind, but instantly I even felt warmer, like it was summertime at last!

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These Devonian Gardens fill up an entire hectare of the fourth floor of the mall, allowing guests to walk along the paths and enjoy. There was quite a number of people in the gardens, doing whatever they pleased. Strolling around the garden, children playing in the playground, couples having a coffee date, students studying, homeless folks finding shelter from the cold, teenagers practicing their juggling skills, and people having their hand at the piano set up for public use.

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While there has long been an interest among people to throw coins into ponds, help keep the fish here safe by not doing so.

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After walking throughout the garden and snapping a few photos, we seated ourselves beneath the palm-trees and I imagined myself on a warm, sandy beach with the waves of the ocean crashing before me. I was just about to take a sip from my pina colada when the sound of my mom’s voice brought me back to the reality. Thankfully, there were actually some palm trees in reality.
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With a good three months of winter left to go here, I definitely think I will be finding myself here more and more, particularly when the time comes to study for university exams! The Devonian Gardens are open to all ages, is wheelchair accessible and is entirely free. If you need a mini-vacation away from the cold Canadian winter, take yourself here, sit under a palm tree and imagine the sound of the fountain is actually a waterfall in the tropics.

Braving a Chilly Afternoon, Pt. 1: The Coup and Meet.

As is typical for the middle of winter, this last week in Calgary has been bitterly cold with temperatures dropping below -30 C. A summer girl through and through, winter time makes me want to hibernate in my cozy home with the tea flowing, heat up, and a devilishly handsome cat to snuggle with beneath my pile of blankets. With my mom in town for a much needed mother-daughter visit this simply couldn’t happen and in our best efforts to make the most of our weekend together, we braved the cold. Only so long as to get from one building to the next, of course.

The Coup and Meet

After an evening of food, movies and wine, we woke up slowly and made our way over to a popular restaurant in the heart of the city: The Coup + Meet. The Coup offers menus (adjusted for each season) for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that are all 100 % vegetarian and use as much local, organic products as possible. Not only are they an animal-friendly establishment, they’re environmentally conscious as well, composting all raw material, planting trees, recycling all that they can, and being entirely wind-powered. Definitely my kind of place.

The restaurant itself is small with uplifting blue walls and an always-lively chatter and energetic atmosphere. The waiting staff are more than welcoming, accommodating of dietary restrictions, and greet you with water served out of a tall, glass bottle.

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I was infinitely more excited about the idea of this restaurant than my mom, who is definitely not a vegetarian and isn’t too keen to try vegetarian food. But even she lit up as we walked inside, sat ourselves down, and perused the menu. From the huge variety, choosing my tea was just as difficult as choosing my breakfast! In the end, we settled on green tea for mom and earl grey for myself, each served in it’s own piping hot mini teapot with a side of organic sugar.

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For our mains, “the untraditional” for mom (2 scrambled eggs, muesli toast, rosemary hashbrowns, and smoked maple baked beans) :

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… and “the iron board” for myself (gluten free waffles with coconut-banana-butter, cinnamon, banana, and a tequila shot of maple syrup)

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Without much of a wait at all, our breakfasts were delivered and delightfully devoured.

This was my first time at The Coup but it certainly won’t be the last. If you plan to give it a go, I’d recommend arriving right at opening time for lunch and dinner. Rumor has it that fans of the restaurant will line up before opening time, particularly in the summer, as it can be filled quickly due to it’s small size. However, if there is a wait when you arrive, it is definitely worth it and there is a nice little area for you to sit and relax while you’re waiting.

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For more information, you can click here for the hours of operation, here if you’d like to check out the menu before hand, and here if you wanted to take a look at some of their products for sale. They’ve got a cookbook available to purchase, which I am secretly trying to restrain myself from buying until payday.