Thursday, 18 February 2010

The road to China

As per usual with me there is a new adventure cooking and I write this from Chiang Kong, on the Laos border, where my new adventure begins shortly. I have been so inspired by the type of travel that riding a bicycle offers, that I have decided to keep riding into Laos, China and onwards to Europe. As it turns out, Chris and I will be riding together for a few more days, across the Laos border, where I will follow the mountainous road to China and beyond. Wooh!

You may have noticed there has been a short hiatus in blog posts since I reached Pai a couple of weeks ago and this is because I have just come out of a 15 Vipassana retreat in a Thai Buddhist Temple. I am so grateful to have pursued it, even though there were many times when I wanted to take my bicycle and leave. I honestly feel as though the trip to Pai and everything I have done up til this point was working towards me arriving at this place, meeting my teacher and coming out feeling as I do now.

Over this past 15 days, I have gained much clarity and have less doubt/worries about what lies ahead. It has made me more confident about travelling alone and I have three months of that to look forward to! But with my new practice, and greater insight about myself I do believe it will be ok.

Farewell Thailand for now - see you again soon!

As a parting gift (there won't be anymore posts for a while)I wanted to share with you a blog entry which encourages me (and I hope some of you)to keep travelling by bicycle.


How To Travel The World For Free (Seriously)
Written by Tim Patterson - 04/29/08

You can travel the world for less money than you spend each month to fill up your gas tank.

World travel is cheap and easy. In fact, with a little practice and effort, you can travel the world for free. The idea that travel is expensive and difficult is bullshit peddled by tour companies, hotel chains and corporate media.

The tourism industry wants you to buy cruise packages and stay at all-inclusive resorts. They want you to choose a travel experience the same way you would choose a new jacket at the mall. They want your Credit Card number.The tourism industry doesn’t want me to reveal the simple secrets of free travel, but I’m going to share them with you anyway.

It can be scary to venture into the world with nothing more than optimism and good-will, but personal freedom begins with a leap of faith.

1. Embrace the Simple Joy of Travel
The joy of new experience is the most wonderful thing about travel – and new experiences are free. Travel frees you from the grind of daily routine. You will explore new places, meet new people, try new foods and learn things about the world – and yourself – that you never imagined were possible.

The joy of new experience is the most wonderful thing about travel – and new experiences are free. Walk the streets of a city. Stop and chat with a local. People watch in a public park. Climb to the top of a hill and watch the sun set over the ocean.

The simple joy of being in a new place is just a matter of…wait for it…going someplace new. No tour package required.

2. Keep Your Needs To A Minimum
The modern American economy is built on the false premise that people need to buy new goods and services all the time. Again, I call bullshit.

People need fresh air, healthy food, clean water, exercise, creative stimulation, companionship, self-esteem and a safe place to sleep. All of these things are simple to obtain. Most of them are free.

For fresh air, go outside. For exercise, take a walk. For creative stimulation, go somewhere new. For companionship, make a friend. For self esteem, turn off your TV, breathe deep and open your spirit to the basic goodness of the world.

Things like food and shelter are much cheaper once you get outside the United States. See # 5 below for ways to obtain food and shelter for free.

3. Go Slow
If you live in New York and want to take a 2 week vacation to Africa, it will be very difficult (though not impossible, see number eight) to travel for free. Indeed, as long as you believe that time is money, you will spend money all the time.

Time is not money. Time is free. You have all the time in the world.

Instead of buying a plane ticket, catch a ride out West, or remodel an old sailboat, or just hop on your bike and ride away from town. The slower you travel, the less money you will spend.

4. Leave Your Possessions and Obsessions Behind
When you travel, you don’t need to pay rent. You don’t need a car. You don’t need an oven, a washer-dryer, electricity, Cable TV, a gym membership, a sofa and loveseat or a closet full of clothes.

You don’t need a suit and tie to wear to your job because you don’t need a job. You don’t need to worry about paying the bills, because there are no bills to pay.

You are free.

5. Trust People and you will Receive Free Food and Lodging
Many people are willing to open their homes to travelers. Chip in with a few chores, and they will give you a free meal, too.

CouchSurfing and WWOOF are two phenomenal online networks that help travelers connect with local hosts. CouchSurfing members are willing to give travelers a place to sleep for a night or two. WWOOF connects travelers with organic farmers who want to trade room and board for an extra hand.

Many members of both CouchSurfing and WWOOF are seeking an alternative to high-impact consumer culture.

6. Learn a Useful Craft or Skill
If you have a skill, such as cooking, animal husbandry, massage, musical ability or basic carpentry, you can barter for free food and accommodation as you travel.

The slower you travel, the easier it will be to work out a mutually beneficial arrangement with a local community or host.Universally appreciated skills like cooking are best, though niche skills that are in high demand, like website design, are also useful. Native English speakers can often travel the world for free by teaching language classes in each destination they visit.

The slower you travel, the easier it will be to work out a mutually beneficial arrangement with a local community or host.

7. Get Out of the City
Although it’s possible to travel for free in a big city, it’s damn difficult. Cities are built on money, and necessities like fresh air, clean water and a safe place to sleep are difficult to come by in cities.

Go to the country, where people are more relaxed, food is plentiful and there’s ample room for one traveler to lay out her sleeping bag under the stars.

8. Find A Job You Love That Entails Travel
If you need an income in order to pay off loans or support a child, find a job that calls for extensive travel. There are millions of jobs available in the global economy that demand travel.

Of course, some jobs are easier to love than others, and much work that involves travel also involves the destruction of local ecosystems and traditional ways of life. Avoid unethical work if at all possible – it is bad for your health and worse for your soul.

For job ideas, check out the Travel and Adventure jobs section here at the Traveler’s Notebook.

9. Embrace Serendipity
Traveling the world for free requires a blend of advance planning and the willingness to seize opportunities and go with the flow.

Does your new CouchSurfing friend want company for a drive across the country? Grab your pack and ride along! Does an organic farm in Thailand need a farm sitter for the rainy season? Get in touch with Christian Shearer at Panya!

As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”

Go dancing.
Read a response to this article at Brave New Traveler – The Tao of Vagabond Travel

Oxfam Project Visit - Organic farming practices in Chiang Mai

Whilst resting in Chiang Mai, Chris and I were invited to spend a day with another Oxfam GB supported project in Northern Thailand. This project is run by a Thai NGO called the Institute of Sustainable Agriculture Community (ISAC), which exists to support sustainable agriculture communities in Chiang Mai and help develop a competitive consumer market for their continued success. A Sustainable Agriculture Community is one which is built on close and collaborative relationships between all community members including organic producers and consumers. The main objectives are to provide safe access to food, self-sufficient economy, healthy environment and general social well-being.

We were picked up early by ISAC’s director, Khun Chomchuan, a charismatic Thai man who has been working to help promote organic farming in Thailand’s north since 1993. The first stop was a morning market in the city, where producers from the region come on a weekly basis to sell their organic produce. Working with the Thai Government to promote organic agriculture and self-sufficiency, ISAC has established a thriving market for organic produce in Chiang Mai. There are currently over 15 different locations where farmers can sell their produce directly to the consumer at fresh food markets held in schools, universities, hospitals and direct from ISAC’s organic warehouse.

Over the past five years, ISAC has trained over 2500 farmers, including members of Chiang Mai Organic Cooperative. Although some local farmers have been practicing organic agriculture for the past 18 years, ISAC trains others to convert from traditional farming practices to sustainable agriculture and also offers capacity building in fair-trade business and marketing.

We had the chance to chat with some consumers, many of whom have been buying from the market since its inception. These people told us that they prefer to shop at the market for their fresh produce as they can be guaranteed that the food they buy is organic, local and in season. They still have to source some of their dry goods at the larger organic chain in Chiang Mai which unfortunately is very expensive for Thai people, as most items are imported from overseas.

Later, we visited ISAC’s model sustainable agriculture community in Chiang Mai. Their small farm on 8 rai (approx 12800 Sq.m) of land is only 2 years old and produces around 800kg of organic rice which is eaten by the local community each year. Ironically, their land is surrounded by other farms which still use chemicals. We ware impressed to learn that there are a variety of natural ways (such as surrounding the farm with banana trees) to convert soil which has previously been tainted by chemicals to organic agriculture.

It wouldn’t have been a visit to an Oxfam project in Thailand without being served am extremely delicious (organic) lunch. When we visited the ISAC office, there was a training in session, so we sat on the ground with approximately 40 farmers and enjoyed a fantastic meal of vegetables, fish and sticky rice all sourced from ISAC’s farm. Aroy mahk mahk!