The Splendor of Luang Prabang

Back to my travel stories…

Luang Prabang is a jewel on the Mekong river. The popular tourist destination nods to its native and colonial roots while maintaining an almost comical rate of change and modernization. Travelers who have been there more than once remark at the incredible rate at which the city is changing, for better or worse. That said, I greatly enjoyed my few days in Luang Prabang, especially after the claustrophobic river cruise that brought us there.

Alice and I claimed we already had a reservation and pushed past the touts, determined to find accommodations ourselves. I realize that the touts are just earning their bread, but I’d grown quite weary of the gentle but constant harrassment, and they consistently lead you to a more expensive place. We found a new, clean place with nice double beds and a beautiful garden and a friendly cat lounging in the entry hall. This last feature is what sold me. (more…)


Couchsurfing-Themed ESL Curriculum

The Impetus

As an English teacher in Korea, there are many things that I find myself motivated to work on. I have a laundry list of projects to which I’ve been dedicating time, including my “deskwarming” time at work. The only thing I haven’t been too motivated to further is my teaching itself. Indeed, it seems common for teachers to whittle away their deskwarming hours goofing off on the internet, sleeping, or working on their own personal projects. That’s not to say that these are a waste or even misuse of our time–we’re just taking the cue from our Korean counterparts–but the complete absence of planning from my “lesson planning time” has struck me, and I’ve been pondering this discrepancy between what my job is supposed to be and what I actually do at work. In a stroke of irony, I’ve been having this crisis of professional identity whilst sitting at my desk.

As a designer, I feel like I’m wasting my time if I’m not doing something remotely creative, and as such, my year as a teacher almost feels like a lapse in employment as far as my professional CV is concerned. Tired of thinking about my job this way, I decided to turn it into a design challenge. I was talking to my coworker about our plans for the semester, and before I knew what I was saying I had formulated an entire themed lesson plan incorporating the text books and practical, relevant, situational English into the lessons. With just a little motivation, I’d set myself on a new exciting course that will make the most of my remaining time in Korea as an English teacher. (more…)

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Floating Down the Mekong

The minivan deposited us at the side of the Mekong river marking the border of Thailand and Laos. We were all too eager to be out of the van, which was filled with young Europeans who were far too excited at the prospect of getting fall-down drunk and float down the river in Vangvieng. One confessed this was his only reason for coming to Laos, as if it’s some kind of cultural experience you couldn’t find anywhere else. We were clawing at the windows by the time we got to the border.

The riverbank was a dried mud mound, lined with a few food stalls, we had to walk back up to the street to get our passports stamped unceremoniously by Thai customs. A short longboat ride over the stagnant, tepid water and we were no longer in the land of smiles, we were in the land of $35 visas that ate up an entire page of our passports. (more…)

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My Final Thai Pitstop: The White Temple of Chiang Rai

I knew very little about Laos when we jumped in the van that morning; going there was Alice’s idea and she had a better idea of what she wanted to do, so I decided I’d just kick back and enjoy the ride. The minivan took several hours to get to the Mekong river that forms the border between Thailand and Laos, and we stopped in Chiang Rai, where an amazing temple was under construction.

Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple) is probably one of the most beautiful and elaborate temples I’ve seen anywhere; it’s done in a mix of traditional and contemporary style that packs so much detail, the temple is constantly being worked on. The artist responsible for the temple, Chaloemchai Khositphiphat, started construction in 1998, and reckons it will be completed somewhere between 60 and 90 years AFTER his death. He chose to make the temple white because he considers gold (the color of most temples in Thailand) to be suitable only for those who lust for evil deeds. (more…)

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My last days in Thailand

I walked down the long driveway to the road and sat down to wait for the bus. I took out my sewing kit and began to mend a hole in my backpack. Shortly afterward I was followed by a Quebecer couple who had only been at the monastery for a couple days. They immediately began flagging down overloaded pickups in attempt to hitchhike, and I found myself mildly perturbed by this, as they were just unwilling to shell out for busfare. They were resigned to their fates by the time the bus arrived, and they boarded the bus behind me.

The bus ride was just as long and winding as the van ride that brought me to the monastery, and the driver made no attempt to smooth out the curves in the road. We briefly stopped off in the quaint little town of Pai before getting deposited at the bus terminal just outside of Chiang Mai. I caught a Songthaew into town with a Norwegian guy I’d just met and grabbed a reasonable hotel room as I waited for my friend Alice to arrive. She was on the last leg of her trip around the world, and told me to meet her in Northern Thailand so we could tour Laos together. I had nowhere else to be so why not? (more…)

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Modern Topo Tech: Using Smartphones to Build Better Climbing Resources

After a couple months of slumming it with a clamshell prepaid phone, I got tired of playing the waiting game and picked up a new smartphone. I ended up with a meaty Samsung Galaxy SII LTE HD, one of the biggest and fastest phones available. So far, the phone has performed admirably in every way except for its disappointing battery life, which is quickly sucked down by its massive 4.65″ screen and 1.5Ghz dual core processor. To think, my first computer was a 286; my dive watch now has more processing power than that.

It’s really amazing how far handheld technology has progressed in recent years, in particular the advent of phones with wayfinding capabilities. Smartphones have all but replaced dedicated GPS units, and their versatility as mini-computers has led to a number of useful applications that can enrich our experience of activities of all kinds. One activity I enjoy on a regular basis is outdoor rock climbing, and an important part of climbing is actually finding the rocks in new or developed areas. (more…)

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Wat Tam Wua Forest Monastery

This was written over the course of seven days I spent living and meditating in Wat Tam Wua Monastery in northern Thailand.

Wat Tam Wua is a different kind of paradise. One of my goals for Thailand was to spend time at a Buddhist monastery so I can practice meditation and a simple lifestyle. I’ve always been drawn to insight meditation but I’ve often found myself blocked out by my own thoughts. My lack of control over my own mind has frustrated and inspired me to further my practice. So I found myself crammed into a van with 15 other passengers weaving through winding mountain roads from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son in Northern Thailand. Everyone in the van is Thai, but me, and no one knows about this monastery but me, and hopefully, the driver.

Just after the deep red sun set behind the hills, the van pulled up next to a turnoff with a sign that said “Tam Wua Forest Monastery.” The driver hastily deposited me on the side of the road and sped off, leaving me alone, a bit confused, and quickly running out of light. I slung my pack over my shoulder and started walking. (more…)


Phuket is Pronounced “Poo-cat”

As hard as it was to say goodbye to Tonsai and all my new friends there, I had to move on to the next destination. I’d already overstayed my intended visit by about a week, and if I didn’t leave I wouldn’t have been able to dedicate an entire week to the Buddhist Monastery in the north before meeting up with my friend to go frolicking through Laos together. As it turns out, a lot of my friends were leaving the day after me, so it was less like I was leaving everyone behind and more like I was just excusing myself from the table early. Grischa made one last effort to convince me to stick around as he was going to stay in Tonsai another month, but the ticket had already been bought and there are no refunds in Thailand. (more…)


Perseverance part 2 – Humbled by the Highline

As I explained in Perserverance – The Tale of a Thailand Highline, I’d only been leashed to a slackline once before, and it was relatively low one at that. 10 meters in the air doesn’t seem like much when there are people walking hundreds or thousands of feet in the sky, but being tied into a safety line doesn’t stem the tide of adrenaline pumping through your body. That fight-or-flight reaction is one of the most frightening and exhilarating experiences one can have. I never considered myself an adrenaline junkie–despite my antics I don’t usually get that addictive rush that drives so many over the edge. Even when I climb I tend to forget where I am and focus solely on the task at hand; once I’m on the rock it’s easy to forget how far or high I’ve pushed myself. But there’s something about the precariousness of the highline, the sway in the webbing under your weight. The winds remind you that you are standing in the sky. You feel so exposed, surrounded by nothing but the air, with a thin slice of fabric the only thing holding you up. It’s so easy to fall. It’s so easy to wonder whether the anchors will hold up, and what would happen if they were to fail. You don’t want to fall, but you have to be prepared for it.

It’s just a slackline, everything else is in your head. It’s an exquisite anxiety. (more…)

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Perserverance – The Tale of a Thailand Highline

I’ve been slacklining for some time now, but I mostly stay pretty close the earth when I go bouncing around on a narrow strip of webbing. A while back my crazy friend Peter set up a line up in the trees by the river for us to play on for his birthday barbecue. It was about 10 meters up, but still pretty heady; despite being leashed to a safety line overhead I couldn’t help but feel incredibly exposed up there–my palms sweaty and the line fluttering unrelentingly in the delta breeze. With some encouragement from Peter, I took a deep breath and dove off the line–taking the whipper, as it’s called. To my relief, I didn’t plummet to the earth; the safety line did its job and arrested my fall, forcing me to roll upside down and heave myself up the leash to hook my feet back on the slackline. Sometimes, you have to take the fall the learn to trust your gear; to relax and forget where you are.

Height has a way of getting in your head; despite evolving from a family of brachiators, humans have developed this innate fear of what used to equate safety from predators. Vertigo is the result of the evolutionary imperative that brought man down from the trees and across the plains. We have shunned our life in the canopy in favor of a more grounded existence, and it’s the most daunting obstacle for climbers and slackliners who want to break free from the chains of gravity, to fly again.

I’ve had an irrational fear of heights since I was a kid. Scratch that, I’ve had a fear of falling. It’s less the falling itself, or even the landing that gets me, it’s the anticipation, that apprehension of the moment where you lose control and your fate is in the hands of Newton’s second law. rather enjoy freefall–if my roller coaster and bungee jumping experiences have taught me anything–but that fear of losing my balance and plummeting back to the earth has been my Achilles heel. I guess I’m keen on facing my fears, what with all the extreme sports in which I partake. I hide my phobias well.

So, when my new friend Grischa started talking about his new highline project on the back of Thaiwand wall, my reaction was a mixture of excitement and anxiety. It all started over drinks (as most crazy ideas do), where a pile of tourist pamphlets lay on the bar next to him. He picked one up and scrutinized the image on the front of the majestic Thaiwand wall, easily the most recognizable, proudest feature on the coast. He pulled out a pencil and drew a line between the backside of the cliff and the feature behind it, a sharp pillar of karst that had no climbing on it and was mostly covered in foliage. He then drew a little stick figure in the middle of the line. That was his schematic. (more…)

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